Coming Soon to Your Church: A Child Molester
Share This article
(Book excerpt from Protecting Your Church Against Sexual Predators by Kregel Publications).
In church after church around the world, reports have come to light about children being molested by someone in the place where they should feel safest. The Roman Catholic Church is reeling from staggering financial judgments in lawsuits filed by molestation victims. Most of these cases have come into the spotlight many years after the alleged sexual crimes occurred.
For decades, the Catholic Church quietly settled abuse cases out of court and shuffled pedophile priests to different parishes. Not until the early 1980s did the news media start digging into allegations that had surfaced in places such as New Orleans, Louisiana.1 In 1992, the Boston scandals began a nightmare of litigation for Roman Catholic diocese administrators in the United States. After more than a decade, the end of litigation is not yet in sight.
But the Roman Catholic Church is only the most visible defendant. Lawyers also have other church organizations in their sights. In some of the targeted churches, leaders have made the same mistakes that got the Roman Catholic bishops into so much trouble. Incidents were concealed. Law enforcement agencies were stonewalled. Safeguards were lacking. Misconduct was not subjected to church discipline.
Sexual misconduct toward children in the church is not new, but attitudes and perspectives about child molesters have changed and absolutely must change. Otherwise we will continue to cope with devastated lives, financial disaster, and member disillusionment. Church leaders had better take a long, hard look at this issue.
To begin with, let us look at some facts about these crimes:
1. The vast majority of child molesters are male.2
2. Victims may be male or female.
3. Child molesters tend to work hard to win positions of trust. Authority, trust, and respect enable molesters to manipulate children, parents, and other leaders.
4. A child molester will create fear in the child, so that the child is afraid to tell anyone.
5. There are no “typical” child molesters. They may be of any age.
6. A child molester in the church looks for and tries to create opportunities to be alone with a child or children.
7. Prior to being caught, the typical child molester attacks thirteen children.
8. Child molesters often are married, may show evidence of
a strong Christian witness, and may be in positions of responsibility.3
9. Child molesters often do not recognize that any harm has come to their victims. Frequently, there is more remorse from being caught than for injuries inflicted by the crime.
10. A child molester is very likely to return to criminal sexual behavior after release from prison.4
FAQ: Why should I expect a child molester to come into my congregation?
ANSWER: Churches provide one of the best sources for children to be found. An atmosphere of trust and acceptance makes the church one of the easiest places for predators to find opportunities to attack victims.
Child Abuse Statistics on the Rise
Since the 1970s, child abuse is far more likely to be reported than it was before. In California, for example, the number of reports investigated rose from about 119,000 in 1976 to about 475,000 in 1988.5 A similar statistical increase occurred throughout the United States and Canada. In 1976, fewer than 6,000 incidents of a sexual nature involving children were reported to law enforcement and child welfare workers.
Once sexual abuse became more widely recognized and reporting was encouraged, the number of reports increased to 130,000 in 1986. The number tripled between 1980 and 1986 alone. Today, more than 300,000 child sexual abuse reports are investigated annually in the United States.6
So, whereas the church might have been forgiven for being caught unawares by pedophiles in the 1970s, there is no excuse today. Ample warning has been given. The church is a natural magnet for children. Pedophiles hunt children. Thus, it would be foolish to think that pedophile child molesters wouldn’t regard the church as a hunting ground. However, in an interview with Christianity Today, attorney Richard Hammar, an author and expert in legal aspects of church life, said, “Our research indicates that 70 percent of churches are doing absolutely nothing to screen volunteer youth workers.”7
Molesters May Assault Many
There are no “absolute” statistics on the number of children molested every day in the United States, Canada, or any other country. Despite the increased awareness of the problem, and the likelihood that a sexual incident will be reported, many still go unreported. In some nations, molestation is not discussed as freely as it is in North America. We can only trace numbers of complaints, investigations, arrests, convictions, and releases.8 Research on adults who were sexually abused as children suggests that the large majority of victims do not report their abuse at the time it occurs. Children often keep their history of abuse a secret because they fear their parents’ rejection, punishment, and blame.9
In a typical church environment, guilt and the potential stigma associated with abuse, coupled with the understanding of how homosexual acts are viewed by the church, often will silence an abused child, particularly if he or she is in or near the teenage years. Younger children are often sworn to secrecy with threats of violence or some vague, undefined “doom” that will occur. The real tragedy is that, while their little lips are sealed, so are their hearts.
Remember, the typical child molester does not wear a sign. And the victims are not clamoring to tell their stories of molestation. They are sitting in church with sad eyes, quiet, confused, and hurting.
The typical child molester has a string of prior victims and may or may not have been detected yet. He is calculating and cunning, waiting for opportunity. The only question is whether the particular church he has chosen (or that chose him) will afford him the opportunity he needs.
One attempt to estimate the number of victims in 1998 was published in the 2001 Annual Review of Sociology. For all kinds of violent crime in 1998, including sexual attacks, 87.9 of every thousand U.S. adolescents between the ages of twelve to fifteen became victims. A slightly higher rate of 96.2 of every thousand teens between the ages of sixteen and nineteen became victims.
For people in their twenties, the chance of becoming a victim of violent crime drops rapidly. At age sixty-five, only 4.4 of every thousand persons are victims. Ross Macmillan, who wrote the report, observed that the age variables apply to all the kinds of violent crime studied. Robberies and sexual assaults were ten times as likely among adolescents. Other assaults were twenty-three times more likely.10
Sixty-seven percent of all victims of sexual assault reported to law enforcement agencies were under the age of eighteen; 34 percent of all victims were under the age of twelve. One of every seven victims of sexual assault reported to law enforcement agencies was under the age of six.11
Population and Pornography Increase Sex Crimes
Several reasons might be suggested for actual increases in crime numbers, as opposed to increases due to better reporting and a greater willingness to talk about behavior that might be identified as sexual. Natural increases in population certainly play a part in crime statistics. Another factor that is increasingly being blamed is the easier availability of child and adult pornography on the Internet, which may come to the attention of people who have sexual proclivities that they might not have acted upon in the past. Assuming that Internet pornography will not become more controlled and less available, we can expect that the rate of sexual assaults, including child molestation, will continue to outpace population growth. This increases the chances that our communities and our churches have pedophiles or people with pedophiliac tendencies. In short, pedophiles are all around, and some are church members.
FAQ: What does a child molester look like?
ANSWER: He looks like you, especially if you are a man.
• Pedophiliac child molesters are invariably male. Although there are some female molesters, they are few and their victims are typically males in their teens. The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children reports: “In both clinical and nonclinical samples, the vast majority of offenders are male.”12
• A significant percentage of victims are males. A study undertaken by the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, of 457 male sex offenders who had committed crimes against children, found that about one-third of these sexual offenders targeted male victims.13
• Child molesters can be preteens or grandfathers. A U.S. Department of Justice report, titled “Criminal Offender Statistics,” found that criminal offenders who had victimized a child were on average five years older than violent offenders who had committed crimes against adults. Nearly 25 percent of child victimizers were age forty or older.14 Forty percent of the offenders who victimized children under the age of six were juveniles under the age of eighteen—one reason to keep male teens out of the nursery.15
A Child Molester May Have Been a Victim
It is not uncommon for molesters to have been victimized in their own childhood. There is also evidence that the greater number of male child molesters are homosexual. Quoting Journal of Sex Research statistics, David Wagner, an associate law professor at Regent University School of Law, said that heterosexuals outnumber homosexuals by a ratio of at least twenty to one (in other words, homosexuals comprise about 5 percent of the population), yet homosexual pedophiles commit about one-third of all child sex offenses.16
FAQ: Christ forgives sinners. So if a repentant child molester comes into my church, shouldn’t I treat him just as I would any other sinner?
ANSWER: No! If you do that, you may one day be called to account for your failure to recognize the danger posed by such an individual. Ignorance may not be a valid defense.
Taken from Protecting Your Church Against Sexual Predators: Legal FAQ for Church Leaders © 2005 by Voyle A. Glover, Esq. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Share This article