Ministry leaders need to build the right ‘fences’ to protect children from abuse

Greg Love speaks to Georgia Baptist ministry leaders in Duluth.

Ministry leaders need to especially be on the lookout for signs of child sex abuse as church ministries reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the nation’s leading experts on the topic told Georgia Baptists on Wednesday.

Greg Love, managing partner of the Texas-based law firm Love & Norris, told pastors and children’s ministry leaders at a workshop in Duluth that, while they take steps to prevent abuse on their own campuses, children face the greatest danger in other places.

“Most children are not victimized in our children’s ministry,” he said. “Most children are not victimized in school or in an after-school youth program. Most children are victimized in what we call their core world. During the pandemic, our children were forced to stay in their core worlds, and the people who presented the most harm to that child were forced to stay there, too. And the offset was taken away because the child did not have the interaction with the teacher, the coach, the children’s minister, the daycare center.”

Love said churches should continue to provide all the traditional safeguards against abuse, like criminal background checks on staff and volunteers, check-in systems for kids, video cameras and uniformed officers, but, he said, the most important safeguards ministry leaders have are their eyes and ears.

“Most of us are starting to open up our children and student ministries, and, as we do, get ready for a wave of children who are communicating to you what they’ve experienced over the past 20 months,” he said. “This problem has grown and each of our ministries need to be prepared.”

Having dealt with hundreds of child sexual abuse cases, Love said he has seen patterns of behavior in the perpetrators.

“If something has a pattern, it’s predictable,” he said. “If something is predictable, it’s preventable.”

Child sexual abuse continues to be a problem, Love said, because people are doing the wrong things to prevent it.

“The type of fence you build is driven by what you want to keep out,” he said. “Let’s say you have a beautiful garden that you want to protect it. If you want to protect the garden from the neighbor’s livestock, what kind of fence do you build? A barbed wire fence is perfectly acceptable to keep livestock out. But your beautiful barbed-wire fence is absolutely worthless at keeping the bunnies out.”

That’s why there’s no replacement for observant ministry leaders.

“It is important that church leaders have eyes to see, but equally important that ministry leaders have a mouth that speaks,” he said in an article promoting Wednesday’s workshop. “Like many other states, adults in Georgia are mandated to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect. Abused children need us to take that mandate seriously – now more than ever.”

Founded in Washington, DC in 1822 by legendary Baptist leader Luther Rice, The Christian Index is the nation's oldest continuously published religious newspaper.

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