*All opinions are my own and in no way represent those of my employer.
For years now, activist bloggers, including the Wartburg Watch, Boz Tchividian of G.R.A.C.E., and I have posted again and again about the rampant sex abuse of children in churches and church leaders horrific responses to sexual abuse of children in their congregation.
See these posts for examples:
- The Next Christian Sex Abuse Scandal This article is a great starting point for those who are just becoming aware of the sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Evangelical churches in the last several decades.
- The Wartburg Watch is an excellent resource for compiling abusive churches and logging their tactics on the internet. Their latest post Tim Challies, Along with Other Neo-Reformed and/or SBC Leaders, Have a Child Sex Abuse Problem is especially comprehensive.
Here are some of my posts that I have written on the topic:
- Do We Take Sexual Assault of Children Seriously Enough?
- Why are Churches Prioritizing Protecting Pedophiles?
- The Duggars: Be Careful of Who You Imitate (Which I wrote before the sex abuse by Josh Duggar was revealed).
- Why Pastors Should Not Date Their Congregants: My Story
- Sexual Assault of a Child is Not an Affair
However there is little evidence that the powerful in the church (and shouldn’t that phrase be an oxymoron?) take sex abuse of minors seriously. In fact, many of the most heard voices in the Evangelical community continue to cover sex abuse and even make jokes about the cover-ups. Recently, while SNAP (Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests) protested CJ Mahaney’s inclusion as a speaker in the 2016 Together for the Gospel Conference , Al Mohler, the head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and regarded as one of Evangelicalism’s most influential people, took the podium and used the opportunity to make a joke at the victim’s expense. He stated “I told C.J. that in getting ready to introduce him I decided I would Google to see if there was anything on the Internet about him.”, referring to the activism online calling out Mahaney for years of covering up sex abuse. There are far too many cases to list here of powerful men in Evangelicalism who have attempted to cover up the crime of child sex abuse or rape or who have sided with the perpetrator showing little to no concern with the victim, but here are just a few:
- CJ Mahaney’s cover up of the widespread sexual abuse of numerous minors
- Doug Wilson’s victim blaming and siding with a child rapist and presiding over the marriage of a known pedophile to a church member and asked for leniency after the conviction of the pedophile and then presided over the pedophile’s marriage to a church member.
- Ken Ramey’s insistence that a mother of a developmentally delayed youth who had been raped so severely he required medical attention keep quiet about the situation and to submit to a church mediated reconciliation process and put her under discipline when she refused. See sources here and here and here. (This has been updated for accuracy. The child is not developmentally disabled but is delayed and the mother had already contacted authorities/medical attention by the time they met with Ken Ramsey as opposed to him requiring her not to call).
In fact the number one reason that churches end up in court is because of sexual abuse of a child. (Credit Church Law and Tax)
However despite all their covering of their own behinds, patting each others backs and recklessly disregarding victims to the point of making jokes at their expense, suddenly all these people seem to care about is the SAFETY of CHILDREN from sexual assault. I should be happy about this right? Isn’t that what I have been asking them to care about all along? Except the way they are going to protect children is to not allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choosing.
Although transgender people, especially transgender women, were far more likely to be victimized than the general population, at a rate of as high of 66% being victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes, they feel that further putting transgender people in danger will help to make children somehow safer. They used the argument while transgender people wouldn’t be perpetrating the abuse, cisgender males would take advantage of dressing like women to perpetrate on women and children in women’s bathrooms. This point was made especially clear with Libby Ann’s blog Conservative Rhetoric and Transgender Bathroom Battles. (As a side note the emphasis is on a fear of transgender females rather than transgender males, who would, under the South Carolina law would be forced to use the women’s restroom. Most likely this is due to the predominate patriarchal culture’s belief that a male having feminine traits is horrible while a female having male traits is accepted, since male traits are seen as superior or naturally desirable).It is especially ironic that many in the far right, who traditionally believe in less government control are asking for more laws and more government control in regards to this issue. For years, transgender people have been using bathrooms that correlate with their gender and nothing happened. Suddenly, in the far right there is an outcry for states to make new laws, even though videotaping, spying, and any form of sex abuse in a bathroom is already against the law. It seems those in the far right want the government out of their private business unless it’s someone else’s business and then it’s ok, especially if they are a minority. Since when does one have to carry a birth certificate to go pee? And what if one is born with genitals that are not easily classified as either male or female, which is fairly common. For instance, Nate Sparks points out that the rate of people who are born intersex is more common than being born with red hair.
This clearly isn’t about protecting children. It’s just not. It’s about fear of other people and about those in power (READ: white, cis, Christian men) marginalizing other people even more. The reality is, is while it does rarely occur, statistically very few child sexual assaults are committed by strangers. At least ninety percent of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child and I suspect the number is much higher than that, due to the far greater likelihood that a child would report against a stranger rather than someone he or she knew and who had been actively grooming them. I have worked in child protection for eight and a half years. Our office receives around 50-100 reports of suspected child abuse and neglect every month and I can’t remember even one of them being perpetrated by a stranger in a bathroom. Most sexual abuse is perpetrated in the child’s home, school or church. In fact, the very cultures that these powerful men of Evangelicalism create, makes it more likely that children will be sexually abuse. For instance, according to the CDC it is more likely that sexual abuse of children will take place in environments with hostility towards women, adherence to traditional gender role norms and hyper-masculinity. The people we should be concerned about are people that the child knows and trusts such as relatives, teachers, neighbors, and pastors.
So what can people actually do to help?
- Teach children body autonomy. Make sure the child knows that their body is theirs and no one else. Allow your children to say no to physical touch starting from a very young age. See some really great tips in starting to teach this are found in 5 Phrases That Can Help Protect Your Child from Sexual Abuse and starting conversations in When Kristoff asks Anna for Consent in Frozen
- Listen and believe victims. I can’t stress this enough. Our entire culture is primed to believe adults over children especially when it comes to sexual assault and most often churches and pastors take the side of the perpetrator rather than the victim.
- Report to proper authority immediately. This includes the police and CPS. Do not let this be handled “in-house” in churches. Sexual abuse of a child is a crime not just a sin. And in many places, not reporting it is also a crime.
- Stop victim blaming. Sexual abuse of children is 100% the perpetrators fault. Full stop. No matter what the victim was doing, wearing, or drinking. If there is no consent (and there can’t be with children due to their age) it’s rape.
- When there is doubt, over protect. Even if the accused is innocent, there is absolutely no harm in putting additional safe guards in place. There is no reason for anyone who has been accused of sexual assault to be alone with a child at any time, even if that person is thought to be innocent. Most people who are not predators actively try to make sure they aren’t put in a position where they are alone with a child. If someone tries to isolate children, then is defensive of their position, the community should be on high alert and should never allow that person alone or in a position of power over children.
If you really want to stop sexual abuse, start the conversations at the top, call out those who are protecting perpetrators or covering up abuse, call for longer sentences, over protect, believe victims and teach consent and body autonomy. However marginalizing transgender people and making it more unsafe for them in a public restroom is not in away safeguarding children. It’s just another way the powerful have twisted information to make it seem like they care, when they are actually just using it as an excuse to discriminate.