Handling Awful

I attended a five-hour seminar at my church, First Baptist of El Dorado, led by Greg Love, a sex abuse litigation attorney from Ft. Worth, Texas. He challenged the 100 or so volunteers in our children’s and youth ministries present to learn more about a problem I’d just as soon not think about. A problem I’d prefer to think of as occurring somewhere else. A problem that well-meaning people have been incorrectly thinking isn’t relevant, or ineffectively trying to stop: sexual abuse of minors.

Attorney Love gave a brief history of how he came to the forefront of this despicable crisis. Through his and his wife Kimberlee Norris’s persistent and engaged dedication to actually addressing this problem, they have both become much-solicited experts in this field. And they’re none too early to confront this epidemic: 30-40% of girls and 13% of boys will experience sexual abuse before age 18. Even more unbelievable: 77% of all sexual assault victims are under 18.

Attorney Love demolished our confidence in being prepared by demonstrating ways that we, as practically all good people do, perceive this problem. Only 4% of cases involve a sleazebag in a trench coat, offering candy or puppies to little girls. 90% of all children are victimized by someone they know and their parents trust, someone who “looks like you and me.” He explained that while we think of perceiving the problem visually, we must perceive the problem behaviorally.

Love displayed image after image of clean-cut, successful looking pedophiles. 90% male, 10% female (facts from Department of Justice), these deviants are educated, articulate, and attractive, often married with families. Shocking statistics: the average male predator begins abusing victims when he is 13-14 years old. By the time he is prosecuted (which is rare, though the average age of the prosecuted deviant is 35), he has molested an average of 150 victims. One abuser acknowledged over 1,000 victims. And less than 4-10% (depending on which source is used) of these abusers will ever encounter the criminal justice system, rendering faith in background checks nearly useless. Another astounding statistic: 66% of molestation victims will not tell until adulthood (if ever).

Love pointed out patterns when abuse occurs: staff or gatekeepers fail to recognize risky behavior, staff fails to communicate concerns to leadership, leadership fails to comprehend and therefore act on information. We were repeatedly warned to “be prepared for the allegation difficult to believe about someone difficult to suspect,” calling to mind the Penn State meltdown, where such abject evil was so incomprehensible that it wasn’t dealt with. We were compelled to realize that we as responsible adults can’t waste time muddling over it not making sense; we must handle “awful” so that something awful doesn’t happen to a child.

We learned to recognize patterns of behavior leading to abuse: the abuser “grooms” both victim and responsible adult, overcoming barriers by appearing helpful, trustworthy, and responsible to the gatekeepers (rendering policy-dictated probation times for working with children ineffective because the payoff is so worth it to the abuser that he’ll happily wait six months). The abuser uses age-appropriate gifts to meet a child’s needs, from trust and seeming care in young children to money, alcohol and pornography in teens (although a statistic cited claimed the average age of pornography watching or being introduced to—weak on my info here—is 10 years old).  The abuser tests barriers, pushes playful or rough-housing behavior beyond acceptability (or with young children consistently tickles, especially at naptime). The abuser keeps victims silent through secrets, shame and embarrassment, and ultimately threats.

A breakdown of perpetrator profiles in churches shows that 50% are volunteers, 30% are staff, and 20% are other children, exposing children who are victims themselves, acting out behaviors foisted upon them. It was noted that a child must cry out (appeal for help) an average of seven times to be heard.

Attorney Love groaned the five-word combinations he hates to hear (and they’re uttered frequently in these scenarios): “Now that you mention it…” or “Come to think of it….” If we get lots of things wrong, we as responsible adults must become proactive in protecting vulnerable children from this life-changing injury. To insure the most inviolate safety of “the least of these,” please call 817-737-SAFE (7233) or reach out to Ministry Safe, a “consulting organization designed to help churches and Christian ministries understand and address child safety risks related to sexual abuse,” where Love and his wife are directors.

In many states it’s the law that everyone’s a “mandatory reporter.” It’s a federal law within sports activities. Whatever state you’re in, it’s a moral law to keep these monsters away from children and youth. Please don’t think it’s too unbearable to think about, or that you’re safe by screening creepy-looking people, or that it could never happen to you. Please be grown up enough to safeguard the children in your life.



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