I spoke with a co-worker about clergy sexual abuse today. She is a Sunday school teacher in her private life, but at work is a smart woman with opinions that I respect. She told me of her church’s approach to preventing sexual abuse. It starts with a background check, and then training, and then refresher training every year. It’s encouraging to hear her church takes preventing sexual misconduct so seriously.
I asked if she thought there was anything else that could be done. She suggested that all doors must have windows so that the assumption of privacy is disrupted. It creates a “no safe place for sexual abuse” environment. I like the suggestion and I will incorporate it as a recommendation in my clergy sexual abuse PowerPoint lecture deck.
We also talked about the need for one-on-one sessions between a youth pastor and a child or teen. I benefited from this type of relationship as a child, I can see why others would too. I explained my preference for counseling in a room with a privacy mirror or window that opens on a common wall with another room where observers can watch. A youth pastor can be alone with a child while at the same time being monitored by a parent or chaperone. She suggested an alternative. It’s brilliant. Use Starbucks. A youth pastor can meet with a child (or more likely a young teen) over tea. A chaperone can monitor the meeting from another part of the coffee shop. The child and youth pastor should arrive by separate cars too, and leave the same way. This applies to pastor/adult counseling as well. There is no need for a private office meeting with the pastor on a Thursday afternoon back at the church. Go to Starbucks instead.
It’s easy to protect our children from abuse, but it requires some dedicated hard work. The church must be willing to take a few small steps in the right direction. Make the church a low risk environment for abuse in the same way a business will meticulously remove risks to employee safety. For example, confined spaces are known risks in a manufacturing business. People die in confined spaces all the time. Businesses spend millions of dollars removing confined space risks, often through construction, equipment change outs, and lock out procedures. They also invest time training employees about the dangers of confined spaces. If a church were to consider a private office a high risk space enabling sexual abuse, and then invest in eliminating this risk, one whole contributing factor to clergy sexual abuse can be eliminated. It’s something to think about.
By the way – I’ve started accepting invitations to speak at local churches on the subject of preventing clergy sexual abuse. More on this later.