On-the-job training isn’t working

Religion News Service

Boz Tchividjian | May 30, 2014

The on-the-job training of pastors and other faith leaders in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse isn’t working – it is dangerous and all too often has devastating consequences. A problem with on-the-job training is that it allows for mistakes. That is okay when you are cooking hamburgers, but not when it involves the safety of children. It is not okay when it involves an abuse survivor who quietly suffers in the pew. It is not okay when it involves a perpetrator who exploits ignorance in order to victimize children and avoid getting caught.

Inadequately trained leaders are simply not equipped to protect the children under their care from offenders who spend a lifetime perfecting their ability to gain the trust of adults in order to access children. According to a national survey conducted by Christianity Today, 20% of Christian church leaders said they knew of at least one convicted sex offender who was attending or was a member of their church. This doesn’t include the sex offenders in their midst who have never been caught! Without pastors receiving substantive training about the dynamics of child sexual abuse and those who abuse, churches will never be safe places. On-the-job training all too often results in greater harm to the very individuals who are most in need of protection and help.

When it comes to responding to abuse, the Christian community has been shackled by inadequate preparation and training. For example, most pastors don’t know how to recognize abuse, report abuse, or to work with families impacted by abuse. I once read about a study of 143 clergy of various faiths in which 29% believed that actual evidence of abuse, as opposed to suspicion was necessary before a report could be made. Such a mistaken belief naturally results in the under-reporting of suspected abuse cases. This same study concluded that at some level, the 143 clergy participants impacted the lives of 23,841 children!

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