Churches, ministries, and youth-serving organizations today must recognize that child sexual abuse is a critical issue. The prevalence rate of people who are victims of child sexual abuse is estimated to range from 1 in 12 to 1 in 7 (8–14%) for men and from 1 in 6 to 1 in 2 (17–51%) for women. Estimates of abuse within organizations and institutions are not available, but media, lawsuits, and anecdotal information suggest it is significantly higher. Child sexual abuse is now the number one reason that churches are sued.
I know that reality only too well. For 11 years, I was the Deputy General Counsel and then General Counsel for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). I saw first-hand the cases of child sexual abuse and how devastating they can be on children, families, and even organizations. Organizations and institutions have historically focused on protecting children in their care from sexual victimization from “external threats” (e.g., “stranger danger,” such as breaches of facility security, intercepting children traveling to or from locations or activities, and so on). Particularly because of the experiences of BSA, it has only been over the last two decades that the attention has been turned to the victimization of children from within an organization by those inside, or affiliated with, that organization.
There are many lessons that churches and ministries can learn from the failures of BSA to protect children and protect ministries from the devastating consequences of child sexual abuse.