For Everyone, but Especially for Parents from a 2×2 Perspective
In polite visiting in our fellowship child molestation, especially by a minister, is a taboo topic. Even in the fuss of a full-fledged gossip session, to propose a plan of action to combat it seems equivalent to heresy. Yet it does occur. We are at no greater risk than any other congregation, but it is safe to say that the number of people in our fellowship who know of a specific case is probably greater than the number of those who do not.
Unfortunately, the victims of such molestation are still assigned to a lifetime of guilt, shame, isolation, and frequently much worse, while the perpetrators appear to survive unscathed. Not all such incidents actually get mentioned around. The most commonly voiced grievance is that all is “swept under the carpet”, allowing the perpetrators the comfort of a “great cloud of supporters” while the victim is in effect gagged to preserve everyone else’s reputation but their own. Interestingly, the two matters that appear to be least appropriately addressed are care for the victim and recognition of the root problem. In fact, such situations are typically handled in a manner which contributes to the problem. To describe it in legal language, the investigations are so badly bungled, the evidence so tarnished, and the judges so incompetent that no justice may be found. This state of affairs is often more destructive to lives, families, and a person’s faith than the molestation itself.
The Parents’ Responsibility
Parents have a moral and ethical responsibility to love their children first. No one loves them as much as they do, not even the ministers. God entrusts children first of all to their parents to be taught by demonstration of love that is untarnished by compromise. Parents need to be encouraged not to be distracted from this responsibility because they will surely be asked to compromise.
Because these cases become so laden with emotion, and because the outcome is of such great interest to so many people, parents are pressured to consider the consequences to others – the reputation of the ministry in general and the offending minister in particular. This concern does not take priority over their child’s well being, and in these situations such concern is in fact found to be in conflict with the child’s well being. Because this is the case, then it is inappropriate for the parent to involve himself in that conflicting interest. Indeed, for anyone to suggest that parents modify their response to such a heinous act on their child is to disrespect the role of a parent and the dignity ascribed that role by God. Not only does it offend the principles of the Scriptures, it violates the law of the land. One presumes that when such requests are made that they are wrapped in the rhetoric of Christian virtue and respect for the perpetrator’s role in the fellowship. From a neutral standpoint, this constitutes spiritual blackmail.
What should never be ignored is that parents also have a legal responsibility to their children. To permit a child to be subjected to molestation is a crime in most countries, and parents have been imprisoned for permitting it. It is further required by law that parents provide a safe environment for their children. It is not unthinkable for a parent to be prosecuted for child endangerment if he allows a child to be exposed to a known child molester, even if the child is not molested; or neglects to provide treatment for a child to avoid having the incident reported to legal authorities. Further, there are laws that require caregivers and educators to report their suspicions of child abuse to investigative authorities, and parents are the first suspects in those cases. The message to parents is clear: society has finally determined that child molestation is intolerably commonplace, their laws are child-friendly, and the penalties extensive.
Parents have an obligation to familiarize themselves with the laws of their state. Another responsibility of parents is to get treatment and counseling for their children, no matter who the perpetrator is. Unfortunately there remains a considerable number of people in our fellowship who disapprove of psychological counseling. Parents need to be assured that this is the wisest and the only right move for them to make, and also to be alerted to the likelihood that some will attempt to discourage them from seeking such counseling. But the fact of the matter is that being a parent or being a minister does not qualify one to counsel molestation victims. Neither should they assume that they are competent to determine if the child needs such treatment. Rather they should go to a professional counselor who is better equipped to determine what kind of attention the child will need. It is more appropriate to expect that the parents and certainly the minister will themselves be in need of counseling by a licensed professional.
What Actions Should Parents Take?
When a molestation incident is discovered, it must first be determined whether the child has sustained any physical evidence. If so, the child should be taken immediately to a hospital, and the circumstances of the situation clinically and honestly disclosed. This is the parent’s obligation to the child. Medical personnel are appropriately trained to deal with these situations, and parents need their advice. Also, parents should remember that “immediately” in this kind of case means just that – if at all possible before the victim has time to shower, wash up, or “dress for the visit”, and the hospital emergency room is by far preferred to the doctor’s office.
If there is no physical evidence of molestation, then the parent must take a greater responsibility in seeing that the problem is appropriately taken care of. The child should be taken to see a professional counselor. The counselor will not view it as a nonsense visit, and he will be able to discover problems that are frequently not obvious to parents.
A parent will need his advice.
The parents should have no contact whatsoever with the accused person. This is because the law can contain provisions which allow the accused person to be excused from prosecution if the parent has contact with him. Even if no such prohibition exists, having contact with the accused before getting legal advice can compromise any criminal case later on. Parents are advised to accept the advice of the health and counseling professionals on this question.
What is Child Molestation?
We all have a reasonable understanding of what child molestation is. Yet, more often than not, when an incident gets reported there turns out to be a debate about whether it actually was child molestation. Child molestation is not primarily about “having sex with a minor”. It is more about taking advantage of the vulnerability of people, in this case, minors, for one’s own satisfaction. It also happens to adults, but other words, such as “abuse”, may be used to describe it.
One common misconception is that child molestation is an offense of immorality. If this were the full and appropriate designation the offender could abandon the practice as does one who becomes personally convicted that his philandering behaviors are immoral. Child molesters are not known to be able to do that. Another misconception is that it is an assigned sexuality such as homosexuality. This ignores the fact that the vast majority of homosexuals, if practicing their sexuality, do so as and with consenting adults as any other single adult would practice his sexuality. If a homosexual is a child molester, it is because he has two problems, by coincidence – and the child molestation problem is the one that endangers our children.
Child molesters suffer, rather, from a mental illness akin to addiction that is characterized by their lack of control over it. This is why there are victims. Consent is not normally forthcoming and rarely legal, yet the compulsion persists. There are treatments, of course, but to address the concern of parents, “No, there is no cure.” The bottom line for parents, then, is to secure isolation of the molester from their children. In all other circumstances there is risk.
How Does One Recognize a Child Molester?
Child molesters are normally not recognizable ahead of time. They are usually people parents know well, have trusted in the past, and who have established reputations. These types, not the “creepy” ones, do the most damage to the children of good parents because they do not arouse suspicions. In the words of a supervisor of convicted sex offenders, they “… appear very normal. They have average to above-average intelligence. They are often very charming and witty. They function on the exterior as upstanding citizens, holding good jobs, etc. It’s always the same story – ‘I never would have thought he would do that!’”
Child molestation has been called the “most private of crimes”. This is because the offender needs a prior intimate relationship of some nature with the victim, and/or secure privacy, and/or a “screw” to turn on the victim should he be inclined to report the incident. In all cases the offender must have a logical explanation for any suspicious circumstantial observations of others. The very private and secretive nature of these offences is accompanied, not illogically, with one classic characteristic – denial, persistent denial, to the point of being pathological.
Children are at risk in the company of adults who have unusual interests in children, especially if they discuss such interests openly. Children are not at greater risk when they are in the company of people who live openly immoral lifestyles, though some parents feel uncomfortable allowing their children to be in the company of such people. Children are most at risk when adults want to be alone with them for any reason other than childcare or medical care.
Child Molestation and the Law
The word “molest” means “to annoy, interfere with, or meddle with so as to trouble or harm, or with intent to trouble or harm.” It is quite non-specific. It is a catch-all word for what in law is called “sexual assault”, “sexual seduction of a minor”, and “lewdness”. Sexual assault and sexual seduction both refer to sexual penetration. Sexual assault implies non-consent by the victim at any age, and sexual seduction normally applies in cases where one consenting partner to the act is under the age of 18. In law, sexual penetration typically means “cunnilingus, fellatio, or any intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person’s body or any object manipulated or inserted by a person into the genital or anal openings of the body of another, including sexual intercourse in its ordinary meaning.” [Nevada Revised Statutes 200.364(2)]
Lewdness with a child typically means to “willfully and lewdly commit any lewd act or lascivious act, other than acts constituting the crime of sexual assault, upon or with the body, or any part or member thereof, (of a minor ….) with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust or passions or sexual desires of that person or of that child.” [Nevada Revised Statutes 201.230] Depending on the jurisdiction, it can be punished by life in prison. For what activities are not included in the above categories, there are such offences as “annoyance” or “molestation” of a minor, both of which are punishable by fines and imprisonment.
In practical terms these considerations are necessary because the objective of child molesters is not necessarily to have a satisfying sexual experience as most people would expect but to satisfy indecent curiosities. Legislators have been made aware of the wide array of activities that such people participate in and have written them into law. It is not unwise for parents to become familiar with what legally constitutes sexual seduction and lewdness in their jurisdiction.
The law of course can be and has been abused. It is frequently used to prosecute individuals for having premarital sex. Child molestation laws were never intended to deal with such situations, but in some jurisdictions such abuse of the law is frequent. Truly, sexual relations between people involved in a legitimate love relationship do not constitute child molestation, and readers are advised that this article should in no way be interpreted as support for such abuse of molestation laws. The Scriptures also concur on this point. Paul advised that if “….anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to ….” that he should marry if he pleases. [1Cor.7:37] This also conforms to the law of the land.
How Is Justice Procured?
In all child molestation cases involving a minister there comes a time when the proceedings terminate. For sure some are satisfied with the conclusion, but it is truly doubtful if there is ever such a case where everyone involved is satisfied. The common refrain is, “There is no justice.” Be assured, there can be justice. It is just that it will not be accomplished within the fellowship. To begin with there is no established forum within the fellowship to administer justice. Such a forum is necessary, because justice systems, to be successful, must also be perceived to be successful. Justice is as much about trust as it is about judgment. Such a tribunal within our fellowship would undoubtedly be fraught with conflict of interest on all sides.
Parents, however, need to know that they have no responsibility to see that justice is accomplished. Their responsibilities do not exceed those already described. In fact, if they confine themselves to their own responsibilities they will be relieved of any need to pursue justice, and justice will be more easily accomplished.
In any justice system, there are three principal parties: the accuser, the defendant, and the judge. As well there are the defense counsel (attorney) and possibly a jury. It is not ethical for any one of the principal parties to have a vested interest in the outcome for either of the other two. In fact, it is the nature of dictatorships and corrupt systems that the judge (and his jury) have any association to either of the other two. This, as mentioned, is how justice is impeded within the fellowship. This is not a criticism, it is merely a reality that results from the nature of the fellowship. Justice will be accomplished only in a court of law.
The parent, it turns out, is not the accuser in court. Child molestation is not a civil matter where one party sues the other. It is a criminal matter, and it is the prosecutor who brings the charges. In most jurisdictions, the parent cannot take responsibility for bringing the legal charges or for having them dismissed, because it is normally not permitted that they involve themselves in that decision. Neither do the parents need to take responsibility for presenting witnesses – that too is the prosecutor’s responsibility. Parents are further advised that they need not – in fact, they MUST not – communicate with the accused concerning the case. Indeed, it is a crime for the defendant to attempt to communicate with the parent or the child.
Once the prosecutor has made his case, the defendant will make his case. He, of course, will have representation as does the parent have the prosecutor, but it is not inappropriate for him to have an advocate. His advocate is as important to the accomplishment of justice as any other person in the court. His job is to present all evidence in defense of his client. It always appears to those who distrust the system that he is attempting to get the defendant off at any cost. His job, however, is to assure that the justice process remains fair. He is the only person in the courtroom who is responsible for assuring that the defendant has not been falsely accused. If he does his job well, and there is a conviction, it will be because he required proof of the accuser. An accusation by itself, after all, is not proof.
The judge is responsible for assuring that the evidence presented is pertinent to the crime. After hearing the arguments, he will be responsible for applying the law to the evidence and weighing the arguments for guilt or innocense. It is the judge who will prescribe any measures necessary to prevent the defendant from committing any further offenses, and in civilized societies he is the only person who has authority and the wherewithal to do that.
The justice system addresses virtually every concern surrounding a child molestation case. If such cases are settled in this manner there will still be dissatisfied people when the matter is terminated – but everyone concerned will have been heard. It is the height of naiveté and a serious error to believe that the ministry could accomplish the results of a court. Not only are they compromised by their positions, they are woefully unequipped to perform any role in the process. The court system, in the end, is the surest provider of protection for the innocent.
Justice and the Scriptures
The idea of going to the courts with such problems is still repulsive to most in our fellowship. They have generally been taught to avoid the courts if possible, citing the Christian virtue “forgive and forget”. This is honorable, but in the process, they are never given the tools to do that and still provide for the welfare of their children. They are left instead with a disgusting, living monster in their lives and a code of silence to keep it there. This, in plain language, is the rape of the soul. This article hopefully will help parents to be proactive and avoid such dead-end conclusions.
In the most often quoted Scriptures on this matter, believers are warned against taking a fellow believer to the law. Let us review the passage.
“If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take if before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? 2Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6But instead, one brother goes to law against another – and this in front of unbelievers! 7The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.” [1 Cor.1-8]
This is very strong language and a stern warning. Yet, there are problems applying this Scripture to child molestation cases. This Scripture is about disputes, civil actions – not crimes. If the guidelines for parents in this article are followed there will be no dispute – the parent’s only concern is to care for his child. Parents are not equipped to handle such a dispute and should not permit themselves to be drawn into a dispute. Paul referred to the problems in this Scripture as “trivial cases” and “lawsuits”. Child molestation does not make a trivial case, and neither is it a lawsuit. It is a criminal matter that is prosecuted by the state. It is not distantly removed from murder, yet for murder, we easily understand that the criminal laws of the state must be respected.
Another Scripture is very commonly quoted in this connection, involving the presentation of witnesses. “15If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” [Mat.18:15-17]
The nature of child molestation precludes any effectiveness in the application of this Scripture. In the first place, it is the epitome to naiveté to expect that the apparently honest offender would confess, repent, be forgiven, and no longer offend. It is perfectly logical to expect that such an agreement with the parents is exactly the gag on parents that such closure infers. For a child molester, this is equivalent to being set free to offend again without a warning to the parents of the future victims.
Another problem with this approach is that, as mentioned, there are no second or third witnesses to the act. All that any such witnesses would say would only be hearsay. But there are indeed other witnesses. If the parents do not err in dealing with the case they will have them. They are the professionals who are trained to investigate such matters and their testimony will be factual, and not hearsay. The church is not prepared to hear such testimony in a professional manner, so parents are far better advised to allow the professionals to do their work according to the law.
In an effort to resolve the horrendous confusion of such cases many people have searched the Scriptures looking for guidance. Much, in fact, is written there about improper sexual couplings. But these Scriptures do not bring any resolution to this matter in our day because child molestation most often does not involve sexual intercourse. Also, most prescriptions for these offences are written in Old Testament law and offer no solution because they involve punishment, even stoning, that no one in our fellowship has the authority or the will to administer. On the other hand, the Old Testament provides plenty of support for what we today consider to be the most horrendous of sexual crimes. Even if the fellowship could justify a punishment, it is yet another crime in our society to punish people outside the authority of the state. It is a futile exercise to expect that the fellowship in general and the ministry, in particular, has any means to resolve these cases.
Accusations, Confidentiality, and Secrecy
Invariably in child molestation cases in our fellowship, all concerned will be encouraged to keep the matter quiet. Concern for a person who is falsely accused is one reasonable consideration in this respect. It is also reasonable to be concerned that our fellowship not be damaged by slanderous gossip. Silence, however, does not accommodate either of these concerns and in reality, is damaging to both the victim and the perpetrator. What is desperately needed is an understanding of everyone’s responsibility so that all the dialog necessary about the case can be appropriately directed and the dignity of every person respected. Otherwise, the handling of the case will disintegrate into a maelstrom of conflicting roles and interests.
The first appropriate dialog on such a matter will be an accusation, a charge of wrongdoing. It occurs when a child reports an incident to his parent(s), or to some other person. It is healthy that such an accusation be received in its fullness and without judgment. At that point, it is damaging for the confidant to attempt to explain it to the victim, and it is destructive to the case to revise the wording. A child’s worried comments are a satisfactory accusation.
Once an accusation has been made, it should appropriately be followed up with an investigation by the appropriate investigators who are licensed professionals. As recommended, they should be consulted immediately. Of course, the cry would be that the “accused” was not informed before the professional was consulted. But the virtue of this approach is that the parent will become competent to address the accused when the appropriate time comes. An accused person has no greater advantage than when his accuser is uncertain of the accusation and is unprepared to present it. This is the bane of any justice system. A parent has the opportunity to overcome these disadvantages quietly and before any distracting furor can be raised surrounding the case. In any case, parents and victims are best served by having no contact with the accused until the case has been resolved.
If it is determined by the professionals that there should be a legal indictment, it will be prepared by professionals and will not be groundless. From the very beginning, whatever steps are taken in those proceedings would be directed by an impartial judge who has a responsibility to see that the rights and dignities of both parties to the case are respected. Of course, this indictment may lead to the arrest of the accused person. This is so that it can be determined whether there is a likelihood that the person would offend again before the matter can be settled by the court. This is a preventive measure that cannot be dispensed with.
Unfortunately, indictments bring publicity, but this is both necessary and beneficial. As already mentioned, it must be seen that justice is being fairly administered for it to be respected by all. Furthermore, the record of the proceedings is a sure antidote for the speculation and gossip that is spawned by secrecy about such matters.
The Responsibility of the Ministry
Child molestation is in itself a despicable act, but when the perpetrator is a minister the controversy is amplified. This is not because such acts by ministers are more severe than those perpetrated by others, but because of the magnitude of the breach of trust that it represents. For many in our society, it is hypocrisy at its finest. Invariably they will be accused of maintaining a double standard if the offending minister is not given equal treatment with other such offenders.
This state of affairs, unfortunately, can distort everyone’s perception of what the ministry, in general, is responsible for in these situations. Some will expect that the ministry perform every role from investigator to prosecutor to defense counsel to judge and personal counselor. They are, on the contrary, not responsible to perform any of these roles.
They do, however, have some responsibilities. They have a responsibility to care for their fellow minister. They also have a responsibility not to interfere with the process of justice. This precludes any private compromise with the parents of the victim. Such proposals should be made to the prosecutor in the case. Because of the manner in which the ministry handles their finances, they should also be prepared to provide for the legal defense of the offender. If the offender is convicted, they may be held responsible for the financial consequences to the victim. It would not be surprising for them to be ordered to pay for reparations and treatment for the victim. If they renege they may find that both the prosecutor and the defense attorney have an interest in seeing that they do contribute.
The ministry also has a responsibility to assure that they are not sheltering a child molester. This is a moral responsibility, of course, but it is also a legal responsibility. It is a crime to endanger a child by allowing a known offender to have further access to children.
The ministry has a responsibility to respect the role of parents in protecting their children. To this end, they must accept that for a parent to make an accusation is not an affront to the ministry. They should, in fact, warn parents of “suspected” molesters. They must accept that the safety of children is better served by warning and caution than by the good name of ministers. They need to refrain in all circumstances from correcting or disciplining minor children, except in matters of common politeness. They need to refrain from asking children questions about their private lives and about the private lives of their parents. They need to resist the temptation to give parenting counsel, even when parents ask. Above all, ministers must understand that these instructions are as much for their own protection against accusations as they are for the concerns of propriety.
If the procedures described in this article are followed, there will be the greatest opportunity for closure. Granted, it will create inconveniences for many, possibly for years to follow. But when the whole matter of child molestation in the ministry is considered, one of the real problems with closure has been avoidance of the inconveniences to others if the offender is prosecuted. By so avoiding these inconveniences the fellowship is not only deprived of a clearly defined settlement to the incident but also the opportunity to practice in a full and unencumbered measure the love and forgiveness that is becoming of Christian brothers.
The consequences to the convicted person may be severe. Depending on the jurisdiction, sexual assault and sexual seduction can both be punished by as much as life in prison. Lewdness may also be punished by imprisonment. If probation is recommended, the offender will be under supervision for that period of time and will be restricted in his movement and will be subject to random searches of his residence and property. He will not normally be permitted to leave his state.
Judges may order psychological testing and mandatory treatment. An offender normally is forbidden to be present in any place frequented by children, and he normally may not communicate with minors except in the presence of their parents and with specific permission from the legal authorities for each and every child. He will be required to register as a sex offender with law enforcement authorities, and may also be entered in a permanent national index of sex offenders. Depending on the likelihood that he will reoffend, his name may be published in the vicinity of his residence. This is ample protection for children – if the judge’s orders are respected.
The challenge to the ministry and the fellowship alike is to rise to the necessity of accommodating such an offender so that he may also have fellowship. The greater challenge is to the ministry because the responsibility of organizing the fellowship into meetings falls to them. Not only must they understand the court’s restrictions on the offender, they have a responsibility to help secure the permission of parents for the offender to be allowed to be in meetings with their children. Traditionally, because of the avoidance of legal action, this challenge has been avoided with what some call the “geographic solution” – moving the offender to another area. A judge, on the other hand, will strip the ministry of this option. Even if the offender is allowed to move to another place parents will appreciate that every restriction placed on him will remain in force and be monitored wherever he goes.
Responsibility of the Fellowship
The challenge for the fellowship is to participate in the restoration of a brother. Paul, in the Scriptures, reminded us of our responsibility in this respect. “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” [Gal.1:1-2] Indeed, Jesus in His model prayer gave us to believe that the measure of forgiveness we have for others is the measure to which we ourselves will be forgiven.
Parents have always been reminded of this, but their attempts have most often been aggravated because the source of their grievance is not removed. The ministry may adamantly maintain that they have taken care of such problems, but parents know that expelling someone from the ministry, and even expelling them from fellowship, is only a variety of the geographic solution.
If the recommendations of this article are followed, parents will be free from the responsibility of further policing of the offender and may have unimpeded access to every source of help they and their child will need. The truly uncaring are quick to advise that the victim and his family should forgive, but the offender will more than likely be forbidden to have any communication with the victim and his family. In all fairness, it is appropriate to allow the victim and his parents this reprieve. It would also seem self-righteous of anyone to expect the victim and his family to be forgiving if they themselves cannot abide by a court’s decision on such a matter.
In the sum of the circumstances of these kinds of cases there are two prevalent temptations for parents; to exact revenge or to isolate oneself in some manner from all who accommodate the “way things are”. Revenge is not justice and in the end will be damaging to both the victim and his family. Isolation, though it avoids the confrontation and further endangerment, is an impediment to the working of the Holy Spirit through fellowship.
For the rest of the fellowship there remains the challenge of Christian forgiving. A parallel may be drawn between child molestation and leprosy. In Bible times leprosy was considered evidence of sin, and lepers were isolated from all other people. Fortunately Jesus did not condemn leprosy, but neither did he suggest that they be allowed to infect the rest of society. The lesson for us today is to accept that child molestation is indeed a mental illness, and as preposterous and offensive as the idea may be, we may understand that child molestation is possibly no more “sinful” than leprosy. What will surely blind us from ever coming to this conclusion is to burden a victim for a lifetime with a problem that is not of his own making, all the while condemning the only effective solution to the problem as an affront to the Holy Spirit.
For parents, there will undoubtedly be outrage from those who feel they have betrayed the ministry. But there will also be the consolation of knowing that it is right for parents to refuse to allow their children to become pawns in the game of “he said she said”. What happened to their child may not be undone, but not all of the damage in child molestation cases is necessarily at the hands of the perpetrator. Neglecting proper treatment and counseling makes recovery much more difficult, if not impossible, and parents are urged to be diligent in following up with these measures.
Can Parents Prevent Child Molestation?
The only true prevention against child molestation is to heed the warnings of other parents. In the absence of a warning, parents need to exercise caution when allowing their children to be alone with even trusted friends, and to teach their children that they have no obligation to do anything they, his parents, would not be pleased with. Children should be taught to report to their parents every occasion on which others, especially adults, make them feel uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, some parents subscribe to parenting philosophies that are convenient to child molesters. The most notable of these is that children must be punished for wrongdoing, even when they confess. The apparent effect, of course, is well-behaved children. The lesson to the child is that “to tell is to be punished”. Most molestation victims suspect that they have in some manner contributed to the molestation event, and they are programmed not to tell.
In some families children are taught that all authority must be obeyed, with ministers, one would expect, being the most godly of the authorities to obey. Without apology or exception, this predisposes prospective victims, because of their immature judgment, to abuse and molestation.
Another popular maxim is that “children should be seen and not heard.” This is not so. Children must be taught that what they have to tell is important. Parents must learn to listen until they have heard all their children have to say. Children, after all, will not have had opportunity to become articulate about child molestation unless they have in fact been exposed to it!
What Symptoms Should A Parent Investigate?
There are some symptoms that, especially in young children, are readily apparent, demand medical attention, and should raise a parent’s suspicions. Among them are bladder and vaginal infections, vaginal and anal tears and bleeding, and mouth abrasions. They should also be concerned about such things as role-playing sexual positions or acts, torn underwear, or a gagging reflex that suddenly shows up. Other symptoms that are not so readily suggestive of molestation but may nonetheless be related are bed-wetting, insomnia, nightmares, and an excessive fear of any older person – relatives, siblings, or other adults.
Among young adolescents and teenagers, other symptoms become apparent. Such things as depression, suicidal tendencies, use of sexual intonations, excessive masturbation, dressing “sexy”, and excessive or age-inappropriate seductive behavior may indicate molestation. Sudden changes in personality are frequently triggered by molestation and should be investigated. Parents who feel baffled by these changes and unsure of what to do about them should not hesitate to consult with school counselors or other professional people who can help them.
Above all parents need to discuss all sexual matters openly with their children. Sex education is also a powerful weapon in the prevention and uncovering of child molestation. There is no age level for which there is no appropriate program of sex education. The best rule of thumb is this: if a child is old enough to ask the question it is time that he be given the answer. The moral of the story is this: if the parents don’t tell the child about sex someone else will, and in that case, the child will be less likely to tell the parents if something goes wrong.
Child molestation is a crime. The summary of this whole matter is that, on all sides, there is a great lack of understanding of child molesters and child molestation. Because of this, and not surprisingly, such molesters are typically always a step ahead of everyone else. Hopefully,everyone, the ministry, the fellowship, and the parents, will not only become educated about the complications of child molestation and the ministry
but will take more responsibility for their own role in these matters and not sabotage the resolution of such incidents by compromising everyone in the process.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q: What if the perpetrator is someone other than a minister?
A; There is no different plan of action for any person accused of these things.
Q: What if the perpetrator is female?
A: A female perpetrator should receive the same attention as a male perpetrator. It is rare that any law that applies to these cases distinguishes between males and females.
Q: Why does one need such a plan of action ahead of time?
A: Without a clear plan of action a parent runs the risk of floundering among advisers (most of whom are not competent to give advice) and accomplishing nothing, perhaps even damaging his own reputation in the process.
Q: What part of the plan of action may be negotiated?
A: For the parent to negotiate any part of it would damage the integrity of his actions.
Q: What if the child says it will all be OK?
A: All it means is that the child has sustained no apparent physical harm from the incident. A child, however, is not competent to determine if the event will predispose him to become a molester himself. The molestation of young adolescents frequently distorts their perception of what constitutes appropriate behaviors in adult relationships.
Q: How does a parent determine if the child has made a false accusation?
A: This is always a possibility, but it is not the parent’s primary responsibility to show false accusations. In reality, the more likely possibility is that the child, when he perceives that there will be great controversy over this intimate experience, will be inclined to avoid the issue. A parent is advised to formulate his accusation on the advice of the child’s counselor, who will have an interest in the authenticity of the child’s report as well as the expertise to detect “fabrication”.
Q: Why should the parent go to the hospital or counselor first instead of to the minister?
A: Whether or not there is physical evidence, and whether or not the child needs further counseling, these professionals provide non-biased care of the child, and a parent needs their advice. It is unwise for a parent to make such an accusation without the moral support of such a professional.
Q: Why not give the accused any options?
A: There are no other legal options to effectively deal with child molesters. Not only does this procedure accomplish protection for the victim and future victims, in the end, it also delivers the offender from the destructiveness of his closed cycle of enabling reprimand and compulsively reoffending.
Q: Why the seeming distrust of the accused?
A: The norm when dealing with child molesters is denial until conviction. Then their cry is that it is not fair. This, of course, is true because they understand that their “affliction” is as damaging to them as it is to their victims. One also needs to remember that, when confronting a child molester, his motivation for denying the event will be multiplied by the number of other such offenses that he may have committed.
Q: Why should the parent not ask the accused person what happened?
A: “What happened” is not a pertinent question, and it is dangerous for a parent to entertain an answer to that question. That question implies an invitation to discuss what may have provoked the incident, which inevitably ascribes a measure of guilt to the victim. The important question is “What did the offender do?” These kinds of questions are much better asked by professionals.
Q: Why would a parent need an attorney?
A: It is true that, in the event of a prosecution, the state would provide the prosecutor to handle the case. But it must be remembered that in court such a case is not about the victim, it is about the defendant. The parent and victim may still be required to testify, however, and it is not unwise to provide oneself with personal legal counsel to be properly aware of one’s own rights and protections.
Q: What if the accused has a logical explanation?
A: If asked, an offender will probably be able to offer a logical explanation. However, there is no legal permission to commit child molestation, so the explanation will excuse nothing. In fact, an adult has no legal defense against seduction by a minor and is himself held responsible because of his age.
Q: What about “innocent until proven guilty”?
A: This will always be the cry of the accused and his supporters. This is primarily motivated by concern for the reputation of the ministry rather than a concern for truth or justice. There is adequate provision in the justice system for the vindication of falsely accused persons, and their reputations are much better served by a public acquittal than by the rumors spawned by secrecy.
Q: What should the parent tell other ministers who may question him about his accusations?
A: An appropriate answer would be that, if ministers wish to be supportive of their fellow minister’s defense (which is entirely honorable even if he is guilty), they should not discuss the case with the parent.
Q: Why should the parent inform other parents in the area?
A: This is common courtesy among parents.
Q: How likely is the ministry to be sued in a molestation case?
A: It is unlikely that a co-religionist would bring a civil suit against a minister, but it should be anticipated, especially in cases where the victim’s family decides to disassociate themselves from the fellowship because of the incident. In fact, such a lawsuit against the offender has a much better chance of succeeding than a criminal proceeding because in civil suits there is no need for proof beyond a reasonable doubt – all that is necessary is a preponderance of the evidence.
Q: How could a court award damages against a minister/ministry that has no money?
A: This is not a pertinent question. The ability of the accused person to pay damages is of no concern to those who would decide what the damages are. As well, we are now aware that courts are well prepared to assign liability to the hierarchy of an offending minister’s church.
Q: What does it mean if the majority of acquaintances of the accused say they do not believe the accusation?
A: All it would mean is that the accused, if guilty, is a typical child molester.
Q: What is the statute of limitations on a molestation incident?
A: Statutes of limitations vary among jurisdictions, but many states of the United States have lengthened the statute of limitations on child molestation to 40 years for the benefit of people who were molested as children and could not report at that time. The longer the lapse of time between the event and the indictment the more difficult a prosecution is, but the nature of child molestation makes it difficult to bring timely indictments.
By Bob Williston