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What’s a 6-year-old to do? advocate asks

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“It is unrealistic to expect a 6-year-old to fend off sexual advances from an adult,” Lane Aspinwall says.

“Adults are responsible for the safety of children,” said Aspinwall, who works with Darkness to Light, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the incidence of child sexual abuse.

“We strap them into car seats; we walk them across busy streets; we ask them where they are going and who they will be with — all to keep them safe. Adults also should be responsible for protecting children from sexual abuse.”

A child “can’t even recognize sexual advances for what they are,” Aspinwall said. “A 6-year-old has been taught to ‘mind’ adults who are authority figures.”

Churches that don’t take steps to prevent child sexual abuse leave their children vulnerable to predators. Many churches allow virtually unfettered access to large numbers of children, allow people to come and go at will and have no mechanism in place to protect the children.

One predator may molest as many as 400 children over the years and leave them traumatized for life, Aspinwall said.

People who might say, “That wouldn’t happen in our church,” should talk with Carol Hogue of Northwood Baptist Church in Charleston, where Darkness to Light is based. Her 9-year-old son told them he was being sexually abused by the organist at the church where her husband was pastor.

“We were horrified,” Hogue said. “We watched as our son, our family and our congregation had to deal with the effects of child sexual abuse up close and personal.”

According to Darkness to Light statistics, two out of 10 youth group members were molested as children — one in four girls and one in six boys. Nearly a third of them will never tell anyone.

That’s why Darkness to Light trains adults to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. The organization has 1,300 facilitators who lead a two-and-a-half-hour “Stewards of Children” training to help adults understand the nature and impact of child sexual abuse and establish conditions to protect the children in their lives. More than 1 million copies of the Darkness to Light’s free booklet, “Seven Steps to Protecting Our Children,” have been distributed.

Cynthia Putman was so impressed by the Stewards of Children training that she incorporated it into her teacher education program at Charleston Southern University.

“I worked in the public schools for 30 years as a teacher, principal and special education director,” Putman said. “I have seen firsthand the trauma and damage that occurs to children who have been psychologically, physically and sexually abused. This fall will be the third semester I have led the training at CSU. As Christians, we should make the safety, care and nurturing of children one of our top priorities.”

The constant stream of stories in the news about crimes against children should be enough to mobilize churches to take action, said Jana Jackson, director of church and community ministries at the Dallas Baptist Association and a Stewards of Children facilitator.

In one week, for example, families in the Texas association’s area “experienced horrific acts of violence,” Jackson said. “A mom was charged with setting her children on fire. A man was accused of killing his wife and stepsons. Our churches should be grieving over crimes against children and the brokenness of families in our city. We should be praying for the peace of our cities and seeking to be used as Jesus’ instrument for healing.”

Jackson regards Stewards of Children as an excellent source for healing — and preventing — child sexual abuse. Information on the program has been made available at the association’s annual meeting and she also uses it in a childcare providers’ workshop and to train summer missionaries and camp staff. The association also is collaborating with the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center to provide facilitators for churches and community organizations that request training.

Too many church leaders don’t think child sexual abuse will happen in their ministries and too few have policies and procedures in place to prevent it, Aspinwall said. Many church leaders don’t realize how often sexual abuse happens in their members’ homes and haven’t trained adult workers to recognize the signs of abuse and to intervene.

That’s why Carol Hogue is so passionate about persuading churches in the Charleston area to get Stewards of Children training for their workers.

“Our journey was long and at times painful,” she said, “but we have seen victory. God has given us His grace, peace and wisdom. He also has given us healing, the ability to forgive and restoration.

“As churches, we minister to hundreds of children each year through our programs,” Hogue added. “We have a God-given responsibility to provide a safe, loving and protected environment for those children.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor at Baptist Press. Information about the Stewards of Children training is available at darkness2light.org.

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  • Mark Kelly