Of all the public places in the world, a child ought to be safe from harm in a church building. As news headlines have indicated, it isn’t always so. In fact, many sexual predators deliberately target churches. Christians who take God’s Word seriously want to protect the children in their midst, but they often don’t know the best ways to do so. Deepak Reju has written On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church to teach how.
Informing the reader of the nature of the problem, Reju describes the techniques of a sexual predator. How does he gain access to children? How does he groom them for his goals? What makes church people so vulnerable to accepting sexual predators in their midst?
He describes how churches tend to be vulnerable. Feeling the need for more children’s workers, churches sometimes fail to screen the volunteers and fail to practice policies that increase the safety of children. Smaller church assume they are immune because they know everyone in their congregation. Predators perceive Christians as naive and manipulable. The offender counts on impunity, that if caught he won’t be reported to the police but will be quickly forgiven if he just shows tears and contrition.
After alerting us to the problem, Reju outlines eight strategies for protecting children from abuse. He explains the general idea of a Child Protection Policy, the need for a process of checking children in and out, processes of membership, screening, and training. Churches should remember two general principles for child safety: “the risk of abuse increases when a child is isolated with an adult” and “the risk of abuse increases as accountability decreases” (p. 51).
What about when abuse has already occurred? Reju provides guidance to church leaders and members on reporting the abuse and on how to respond to victims and to the molester. Do you know whether you are a mandated reporter? If you aren’t, what is your responsibility? Or, if you are suspicious that a child is being abused, to whom do you report it? If you tell your pastor and he doesn’t report it, could the law hold you accountable for not reporting? What should the church do if a convicted child molester attends its services?
The book is stuffed with good counsel. One point I appreciated is the recommendation to appoint an advocate for the victim/s. The advocate would stay in contact with the victim for at least a year to listen, help provide resources of the church, advocate for the victim and keep church leadership current.
The appendices cover these topics: How to write a child protection policy, child-on-child sexual abuse, how to talk to children about sexual abuse, a sample screening application for children’s ministry workers, and a training guide. The last appendix provides training scenarios–short-paragraph cases followed by questions to consider. There are eighteen for prevention and ten for responding to abuse situations.
Pastors, staff, leaders, volunteers, parents, members–this book is a must-read.