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Safeguard against sexual abuse and misconduct

Six things your church should do now

Churches that have experienced sexual abuse and misconduct all share one characteristic: they did not expect or intend for these acts to take place. Sexual abuse and misconduct takes place throughout all types of religious entities and can manifest itself at your church, too. A well thought out, well executed program can provide protection and a defense for preserving the sanctuary of your church ministry.

What you can do to prepare and control

1. Develop a formal sexual abuse and misconduct prevention program. Create a program to include a zero-tolerance stance for sexual abuse and misconduct for anyone involved with the church and particularly for at-risk individuals. The program should require at least two complimentary controls for every high-risk activity. For example:

  • Chaperones: background checks should be required for all volunteer and paid chaperones. Chaperone behavior should be monitored and coached by church leadership.
  • At-risk individuals: children and individuals with diminished mental or physical capacity should be attended to by more than one person, eliminating one-on-one interaction.

2. Implement sound selection and work practices. Keeping individuals with a history of sexual abuse and misconduct from employment and volunteer positions is critical to your church's program and is the most effective way to prevent misconduct.

3. Utilize physical controls. Classrooms should have secured doors to eliminate one-on-one misconduct, play areas should be fenced to avoid children from wandering away, and windows and open viewing should allow for monitoring.

4. Establish training and communication. Training should be provided to workers, volunteers and any service providers contracted to work with or around your at-risk individuals. The basic components of your program and prevention tips should be communicated to at-risk individuals and their parents/guardians.

5. Plan your response to allegations. Your church’s response to allegations of possible sexual abuse or misconduct should include the involvement of top leaders, governing bodies and legal counsel. Your program should identify who will respond to and investigate allegations. When an incident or report of sexual abuse or misconduct occurs and becomes public, it is important to have an appropriate person for media relations and a spokesperson to speak on behalf of your church.

6. Maintain oversight and validation. Identify a designated person or group charged with responsibility for oversight and enforcement of the program. The program should validate that at-risk individuals are being protected and that the program is evaluated annually.

Try using this checklist when developing your church's sexual abuse prevention and control program. It can walk you through the steps from start to finish. You can do what's right for your church — provide protection and defense again sexual abuse and misconduct.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice. Readers should use this article as a tool, along with best judgment and any terms or conditions that apply, to determine appropriate policies and procedures for your church's risk management program.