By RICHARD KOE
Christian News Northwest
PORTLAND — More than 70 pastors and church leaders got a heavy dose of information about sex offenders in the church and faith community at a seven-hour advanced workshop on Oct. 25 at the Quality Inn & Suites in northeast Portland.
The main message they received from four featured speakers — a treatment specialist, lawyer, and police members of a child abuse team — was to simply report any incident of child sex abuse in a church or faith community, and let the professionals investigate and follow up.
The conference was organized and co-sponsored by Eric Bahme of Eastside Foursquare Church and Jim Cottrell of Freedom House, Noting that some 3,500 churches nationally have responded to allegations of sexual misconduct in programs involving children and youth the past 10 years, they said the conference sought to help reduce the rate of child victimization in the faith community.
Cory Jewell Jensen, co-director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention in Beaverton, treats adult sex offenders and provides training or consultation to the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse as well as law enforcement and advocacy groups.
She suggested a safety plan for churches regarding child sex offenders who may frequent their organization, such as treating everyone the same, training the pastor and staff, reviewing work contracts, checking a person’s history, requiring workers to sign a release, and encouraging offenders to keep up their training.
Churches have been too forgiving and gullible and need training, Jensen noted. Leaders should be informed of any sex offender in their midst, and share that information with other churches and within their denomination.
She listed warning signs, saying sex offenderstend to be preoccupied, to flirt, to touch private parts, to ignore or overrun parents, to hang out with kids and spend much time with them, to buy gifts for no reason, and to offer to baby sit.
Jensen also discussed the impact of sexual deviancy and criminality on today’s faith community, seduction of children, high- and low-risk offenders, the rise of adult sexual re-offenses, and common traits of child molesters.
She recommended several books and videos, plus local workshops on child sexual abuse for individual churches.
Kelly Clark, an attorney and leading advocate for victims of child abuse in Oregon for nearly 20 years and co-author of the state’s child abuse statutes of limitations and the ban on child pornography, also emphasized the need for churches to report child abuse.
He said the main problem of churches is negligence. They make the mistake of not acting in a reasonable way or seeking advice. A church, pastor, or worker is liable if they fail to make a mandatory report of any physical or sexual child abuse to law enforcement.
He said many church leaders fear intimidation and ill repute to the gospel, and believe that reporting child abuse doesn’t apply to them. If in doubt, Clark said, report first and then call your lawyer.
Another mistake churches make, he said, is not realizing that child abuse happens more than once, and leaders are both morally and legal obligated to seek out other victims in their midst.
Clark said sometimes the victim won’t tell because he or she is ashamed, confused, and feel guilty. Perhaps there’s a special friendship with the abuser, sacred bonds, or the victim is sworn to secrecy.
When a church has a child abuse problem, it tends to keep it quiet, which is a basic reaction to the problem, he said. But it’s the wrong instinct. Get the truth out and the church will be OK and survive, he said.
Clark said the Roman Catholic Church, because of the many civil lawsuits it has faced, is a better and safer institution today than years ago. The lawsuits have prevented child abuse in the church, and civil justice is also healing for the survivors.
Sex abuse victims need outreach, and need to told by the church that it is sorry and seeks forgiveness. Do the right thing, Clark urged.
Clark has some recommendations for churches: Don’t allow a one-on-one relationship up to age 18, keep your eyes open, consider the time spent between an adult and a child, and err on the side of believing the child’s story.
Karen Mack of the Portland Police and Bran-don Kapoiki of Gresham Police also spoke. Both are members of the Multnomah County Child Abuse Team and Multi-Disciplinary Team. The police officers urged church leaders to report any information of child abuse at all hours, and let them investigate it. Cases are assigned and CARES (Child Abuse Response Evaluation Services) conducts medical exams and interviews.
The Multnomah County Child Abuse Team does criminal background checks in cooperation with Oregon and Washington, detects potential problems and finds solutions. Phone is 503-823-0090.
Mack and Kapoiki noted the role of computers in child sex abuse, with child pornography that is easily accessed and shared, followed by online solicitation. The trend of actual child sexual abuse cases in Multnomah County has gone up during 2001-07.