act pre-emptively to reduce risk of abuse
Katy Attanasi (7/25/04)
In the wake
of sex abuse scandals involving various denominations,
Assemblies of God churches and organizations are taking
additional steps to examine their responsibility in
acting pre-emptively and preventatively in order to
protect children from harm.
A new and
innovative Web site — www.reducingtherisk.com
— contains a wealth of information, including
an updated “Reducing the Risk of Child Sexual
Abuse” resource kit developed by Richard Hammar,
legal counsel for the General Council of the Assemblies
of God. When first released in 1992, the kit set the
standard on protecting against child abuse in churches.
More than 120,000 copies were distributed.
revamped kit has been reissued, and the Web site has
every form that a church needs to implement a risk management
program. It also contains online seminars that include
the issuance of a certificate upon successful completion
of an examination.
has produced a spectrum of resources on the subject
of sexual abuse in churches, is widely viewed as the
foremost expert on the topic.
new tools, church leaders can verify that youth workers
are trained in reducing the risk of child sexual abuse.
With the new comprehensive support program, which is
being promoted by insurance companies, church leaders
can demonstrate that they are exercising reasonable
risk, many churches do not take measures to protect
children from potential abuse for a number of reasons.
“There is the impression that churches should
‘trust’ people rather than question their
motives and background,” Hammar says. “There
is also an impression among church leaders that screening
workers will make it more difficult to recruit volunteers,
and there is a pervasive view that ‘such incidents
could never happen in our church.’ ”
Ministry Resources, a tax and legal advice publisher
serving more than 75,000 congregations and 1,000 denominational
agencies nationwide, reports volunteers are more likely
than paid staff to be abusers in Protestant churches.
associate pastor at Crossroads Cathedral (Assemblies
of God) in Oklahoma City, credits screening procedures
with preventing a convicted sex offender from working
in their Royal Rangers program for boys. Almost two
years ago a man visited the church and soon expressed
interest in assisting with Royal Rangers.
requires completion of a background check prior to involvement
in children’s and youth ministry. Inconsistencies
in the man’s application raised red flags. With
the help of local police it was discovered that the
man was a convicted sex offender, was using a false
identity and had a warrant out for his arrest. He is
now in jail.
the event, there was a sense of confidence in the procedures
of the church,” Gullion says. “We care about
the children of our community and church and are willing
to take extra measures to be sure they are protected.”
As with Crossroads
Cathedral, Freedom Valley Worship Center in Gettysburg,
Pa., has made protecting children a priority by screening
workers and implementing a number of safety procedures.
to requiring mandatory police checks and references
from each worker, there is a church-wide policy that
an adult should never be alone with a child for any
reason. Ushers make rounds through children’s
areas to ensure that this policy is upheld. All rooms,
with the exception of restrooms, have windows in the
doors. Church staff members, ushers and children’s
ministry leaders are aware of potential problems and
are instructed to alert the police should a questionable
assistant professor and director of the criminal justice
program at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo., agrees
with Hammar that the threat cannot be ignored. “Many
people have the attitude that this cannot or will not
happen in their church,” he says. “People
don’t want to have to admit that they have to
protect themselves from pedophiles, or that they have
to take steps to protect their congregation’s
safety. We know from experience that it can happen in
like any other criminals, are looking for the weakest
link,” says David Boyd, director of the Assemblies
of God’s National Children’s Ministries
Agency. “They will visit a church, express an
interest in helping with the children, then carefully
listen to the requirements associated with that involvement.
They go to great lengths to earn the right to be alone
with kids. So you have to go to great lengths to protect
yourself from those individuals.”
figured out a long time ago that most churches don’t
screen people,” says Cirtin, whose book on the
subject is due to be published next year.
social work program field coordinator at Evangel University,
recommends that churches implement a multipronged preventative
abuse strategy that includes:
thorough background, criminal and child abuse screenings
on all individuals who work with children in the church.
allowing individuals to work alone in nursery programs
or in any children’s program.
out reference checks.
a six-month waiting period before allowing volunteers
to work with children.
windows in doors in children’s areas.
these precautions are crucial. “It is a tragedy
if we do not protect our children,” Gullion says.
“This is one of the ways that is provided for
us to do so. Many churches are facing lawsuits, which
can destroy a church, hurt the community and hurt the
message of Christ.”
issues surrounding child abuse are complex and vary
from state to state. “Churches are not guarantors
of the safety of minors,” Hammar says. “They
are legally responsible for the molestation of a child
only if they were negligent in the selection or supervision
of the offender.”
churches that do nothing to screen volunteers and employees
who may have unsupervised access to minors could be
opening themselves to liability, Hammar says. Churches
that implement safeguards are not only protecting children,
but also establishing a defense against a charge of
The new “Reducing
the Risk II” resource kit devised by Hammar includes
training videos on making a church safe from child sexual
abuse, understanding the profile of child molesters,
selecting and screening workers, principles of supervision
and responding to allegations of abuse.