Wednesday, April 8, 2015

G is for Grooming

TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses aspects of child sexual abuse.

In 2002 I began volunteering with the sexual assault hotline for the city of Alexandria. My training was excellent, and included extensive education about sexual assault and abuse. We had a special section for how to work with adult survivors of abuse. Sexual abuse of children is disruptive to the person’s entire life, so much so that adult survivors call hotlines to deal with the problems inflicted upon them by their molesters. In 2005-2009 I got a Master’s degree in pastoral counseling, which included education about sexual molestation and abuse. So I guess it’s fair to say that I’m more educated about sexual abuse than the average jane.

But it’s time for people to learn more about this troubling topic. A friend of mine has recently decided to leave a church she was considering joining because they do absolutely no screening of the volunteers in their kids ministry. And I know this church is, sadly, not the exception. There seems to be this assumption that if the members of the community know a person, or if the person has children, s/he is fit to work with other kids. And that’s not necessarily true.

Which brings me to the letter of the day: G. G is for grooming. Grooming is what child molesters do, both to their victims and to the adults around those victims. A quote from the linked article states: The child molesters will “then proceed to impress (or ‘groom’) the adults around them by becoming the most reliable on-call volunteer, the most generous friend, the most giving neighbor or the favorite relative.” Do you see the problem? Not only are children most likely to be molested by people they know, they are likely to be molested by people who are friends of their parents.

This is why churches would be wise to carefully screen all potential volunteers for their children’s ministries. Background checks will not uncover all potential predators, but it at least provides some oversight, and it keeps sex offenders out*. It also demonstrates the will to take child abuse seriously, which can deter potential predators who will move to easier targets.

I would always be willing to be investigated – in fact, I would rather a church investigate me and reject me than assume that I’m a fit volunteer simply because I was blessed with a child.

If you participate in a church, how do they screen the children’s volunteers? If there is no screening, consider speaking up. You could save a child from unthinkable treatment. 

*I know not all sex offenders were convicted of crimes with children. Obviously each ministry can tailor their program and their requirements to suit their particular congregation.

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