One of the hardest things your church may ever deal with is an allegation of child sexual abuse. These allegations create responsibilities for reporting to law enforcement, for ministering to people who are hurt, evaluating child safety procedures that are in place, interacting with media, dealing with offenders, considering legal issues, and other tough challenges.
Usually, though not always, a church in the United States will not have to carry out its own investigation, because Child Protective Services or law enforcement will do that. If official agencies do not undertake the investigation for reasons such as lack of evidence or a case that is too old, the church may also have to handle that, and it will need legal help to do so.
Gary Friesen has written an excellent article, “Responding to an Allegation of Child Sexual Abuse,” to help churches through this process. His article walks church staff through various steps in understanding what has happened and how to respond. It gives helpful suggestions on whom to contact, what steps to take—and just as important—what steps to avoid. He also talks about the process of bringing in a Christian mediator or peacemaker for healing and reconciliation.
While you may need more information and help from church leadership or an attorney experienced in this area, especially if you have to do an investigation, this article is a good starting point.
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- Think Through Clergy Communications: Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse