Sunday, June 9, 2013

What to do when your pastor, priest or a trusted person is accused of abuse

In planning for our SNAP awareness event at the SBC annual meeting this week in Houston, we have put together a list of helpful tips on what to do when a pastor, priest, or trusted person is accused of abuse.

It is important to carefully consider our responses. The full, detailed list of tips is available on the SNAP website here.

1) Remain open-minded. 
The natural human instinct is to recoil from alleged horror, and to immediately assume that the allegations are false. But the overwhelming majority of abuse disclosures prove to be true.

2) Pray for all parties involved.
Every person involved deserves and needs prayerful support.

3) Let yourself feel whatever emotions arise.
You may feel angry, betrayed, confused, hurt, worried and sad. These are all natural, "typical" responses to an allegation of sexual abuse. None of these feelings are inappropriate or "bad."

4) Remember that abuse, sadly, is quite common.
It's far more widespread than any of us would like to believe. Experts estimate that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be molested in their lifetimes.

5) Don't try to "guess" or figure out who the accuser is.
Abuse victims, like rape victims, need their privacy to recover from their trauma.

6) If you do know the victim(s), protect his/her confidentiality. 

7) Understand that abuse victims often have "troubled" backgrounds (i.e. drug or alcohol problems, criminal backgrounds, etc.)
Instead of undermining the credibility of accusers, these difficulties actually enhance their credibility.

8) Don't allow the mere passage of time to discredit the accusers.
Stress to your fellow parishioners that there are many good reasons why abuse victims disclose their victimization years after the crime.

9) Ask your family members and friends if they were victimized.
Many times, abuse victims will continue to "keep the secret" unless specifically invited to disclose their victimization by someone they love and trust.

10) Mention the accusation to former parishioners/students and parish/church/school staff now living elsewhere.
They may have information that could prove the guilt or innocence of the priest, pastor, teacher or coach facing allegations.

11) Contact the police or prosecutors.
It's your duty as a citizen to call the proper civil authorities if you have any information (even if it's "second hand" or vague) that might help prove the guilt or innocence of the accused. It's your duty as a Christian to help seek justice and protect others from harm.

12) Don't allow other parishioners to make disparaging comments about those making the allegation. Remember, the sexual abuse of children has terribly damaging effects. Tell your fellow parishioners that hurtful comments are inappropriate. Remind them that they can defend their priest, pastor or trusted person without attacking his or her accuser.

13) Educate yourself and your family about sexual abuse.
Check out the web site for clergy abuse victims: www.snapnetwork.org

14) Support the accused priest or pastor, teacher or coach PRIVATELY, if you must.
Calls, visits, letters, gifts, and prayers - all of these are appropriate ways to express your love and concern for the accused priest or pastor. Public displays of support, however, are not. They only intimidate others into keeping silent.

15) Don't be blinded by the pain you can see.
The trauma of the accused priest/pastor or trusted person and those who care about him, is obvious. You can usually see it in his/her face, posture, and actions. But please try to keep in mind the trauma of the accuser too. Because you rarely see his/her pain directly, it's important to try and imagine it. This helps you keep a balanced perspective.

16) Try to put yourself in the shoes of the alleged victim. 

17) Use this painful time as an opportunity to protect your own family.
Talk with your children about "safe touch," the private parts of their bodies, who is allowed to touch those parts, what to do if someone else tries, and who to tell. Urge your sons and daughters to have similar conversations with your grandchildren.

18) Turn your pain into helpful action.
In times of stress and trauma, doing something constructive can be very beneficial. Volunteer your time or donate your funds to organizations that help abused kids or work to stop molestation.

19) Keep in mind the fundamental choice you face.
On the one hand, at stake are the FEELINGS of a grown up. On the other hand, at stake is the PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, SPIRITUAL AND SEXUAL SAFETY of potentially many children. If one has to err in either direction, the prudent and moral choice is to always err on the side of protecting those who can't protect themselves: children.



20) Ask your pastor to bring in an outside expert or a therapist who can lead a balanced discussion about sexual abuse. 
G.R.A.C.E. is one example of an outside expert. GRACE is a non-profit organization made up of highly trained and experienced multi-disciplinary professionals who seek to educate and empower the Christian community to identify, confront and respond to the sin, crime of child abuse. 

Sandusky Victim 1 Steps Out of Shadows, Silent No More





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