Over the last twenty years, news headlines have shown the criminal convictions of priests, pastors, and other religious leaders brought to justice for sexually molesting children. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has not been exempt from these criminal involvements with this grievous misconduct. However, the overall trends are turning in a more favorable direction.
The church has taken progressive steps to prevent these crimes against minors, resulting in the decrease of incidents that involve Adventist clergy, teachers, and volunteers. Appropriate screening of those who work with young people and other steps to safeguard children from preying adults have had a positive effect. However, there is a growing trend in sexual abuse cases: child-on-child sexual abuse.
In 2014, Adventist Risk Management, Inc. (ARM) received 13 reported claims of sexual abuse from insured church clients. This number was down by nearly 50 percent from 2013. However, of the 13 new cases over half involved child-on-child abuse. This reported number is only a slice of the incidents that take place. There are organizations whose incidents ARM doesn’t hear about because they use other insurers.
Many cases go undetected or unreported to us because they don’t become insurance claims. ARM finds this trend alarming for several reasons. General abuse prevention scenarios are ineffective to prevent child-on-child sex abuse cases. Screening children is not going to detect the potential for abuse. Children are with other children in nearly every kind of normal activity – Pathfinders, Sabbath School, in the classroom, and on the playground. Thus typical rules for adult-child interactions are not applicable in these settings.
Is the Church Responsible?There are many reasons why children sexually abuse other children. In some cases, it is a teenager who abuses a younger child. In others, allegations are of peers the same age or even two children who sexually abuse another child the same age.
The issue of church responsibility is raised when parents entrust their children to the care of the local church such as with Pathfinders, Sabbath School, Vacation Bible School, classes, or even out on the playground. When it comes to children in the care and custody of the church or school, the responsibility to care for them becomes paramount. In legal terms, the organization acts in loco parentis, which means to act "in the place of a parent." This concept requires that organizations take on the legal responsibility of the parent when the child is in its care, to protect and provide a safe environment. If child-on-child abuse occurs in a church or school setting, liability may be created for the church or school acting in the place of the parent to provide reasonable supervision for the child. If the organization is negligent in providing that supervision, then liability arises.
Leaders must carefully contemplate the matter of proper supervision. Based on case histories, it is advised to consider how and where children interact. Consider all aspects of their activities. These include group events, as well as informal settings such as the playground, outings that allow for one or two children to go unnoticed even for a short time, and in restrooms. These settings provide the opportunity for abuse to take place.
By: Bob Kyle, Former President, Chief Executive Officer
Adventist Risk Management