Key point 7-20.06. Many churches have installed sound rooms on their property to centralize and enhance to audio quality of worship services and special events. Sound rooms involve unique legal risks that must be recognized and managed.
Many churches have sound rooms in which a volunteer or employee operates and controls sound equipment during religious services and other events. Such rooms are often enclosed, and are magnets for minors who are attracted to the technical equipment. A number of cases of child molestation have occurred in church sound rooms. Often, the sound technician invites minors to “assist” him in operating the equipment, and arranges “training” at times when the room is isolated and unsupervised. It is a perfect arrangement for a child molester.
In a case in Georgia, a church choir director also operated the church’s audiovisual equipment during various events. He sexually molested two minors who were assisting him in the sound room. The offender was charged with aggravated child molestation, and was convicted. A state appeals court concluded that there was ample evidence for conviction, but ordered a new trial due to ineffective trial counsel.281 Johnson v. State, 643 S.E.2d 556 (Ga. App. 2007).
This case demonstrates the risk posed by sound rooms. Church leaders should recognize this risk, and take steps to manage it. Here are ten precautions to consider:
(1) Do a thorough background check on any persons who have access to the sound room.
(2) Prohibit any “training” of minors in the sound room at any time, unless there are two prescreened adults present at all times. Risk is reduced even more if all training of minors is prohibited, even with two adults present.
(3) Do not let minors “assist” sound technicians in the sound room unless there are two prescreened adults present at all times. Risk is reduced even more if minors are prohibited from helping in the sound room, even with two adults present.
(4) “Training” of minors in the sound room during times when few if any persons are present at the church should be strictly forbidden.
(5) Display a large and conspicuous summary of your restrictions in the sound room.
(6) Any sound technician who violates any of your restrictions should immediately be relieved of all responsibilities in the sound room.
(7) The sound room should be locked except when needed for church use (services and other events, repairs, installation of new equipment, etc.).
(8) Check with a local attorney for additional recommendations.
(9) Check with your insurance agent for additional recommendations.
(10) Check with other churches and charities in your area to see what kind of restrictions they have implemented.