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Child Abuse in Churches - Human Rights

The spotlight is again sadly shining on the abuse of children as another woman has been arrested in the murder of a child. This time, the alleged killer is a Sunday School teacher and while the motive is unclear at this time, what is clear is that we all need to take extra steps to insure the safety of our children--no matter where they are. Sadly, our children can be at risk even at the places where we think they are safest and when in the company of the people we trust most.

Years ago, when the Catholic sexual abuse scandal stories began appearing in the media, one of the more disturbing aspects of the cases was that the abuse was not only being perpetrated by priests, but that people in higher positions of power knew about the abuse and actually helped it spread by not reporting it or by moving priests around from parish to parish hoping to avoid the very scandals that were being reported.

The problem of abuse in churches is not a problem limited to the Catholic faith.

In fact, churches lacking any kind of hierarchical leadership may often be more vulnerable than those without one as there is no governing body in place to track suspected abusers when they change churches. There is no committee to insure that abusers aren't just being shipped from location to location. Just because one's church has a state, regional, or national affiliation, that is not a guarantee that that organization is keeping tabs on its ministers. In fact, just the opposite is true. Associations, in many denominations, have no power to enforce laws or punish offenders. And sadly, some have no interest in doing so either, as the potential for scandal overrides the interest in children's safety. This is not always the case; this is not a blanket statement or condemnation of churches or church leadership. This is simply a matter to keep in mind when considering the safety of your child.

All churches are vulnerable to infiltration by predators. In fact, predators often prey on churches because they know that trust is a given when a caretaker entrusts a child to a minister's care. Never assume that simply because a person is a minister, that person in incorruptible.

Never rely on church officials as the sole source of assurance that your child is safe. Do your own homework. Find out if your church has done background checks on its staff. Ask if your church has anti-child abuse training and procedures in place. Get to know your staff, especially those caring for your children. Familiarize yourself with their background on your own. And never, ever, ignore those feelings that something isn't quite right with someone. Intuition can often see through the veils our eyes cannot.

That we do not live on the edge, expecting danger at every turn is not a condemnation of who we are as parents and caretakers--it's actually a commentary on basic human goodness. We expect that people will love and protect our children as much as we do, especially those we trust, those who work in places whose names are synonymous with safety. We expect that human beings are good. And most human beings are. But sometimes, human beings do not possess the same goodness that we trust they have. And sometimes, those people rely use our goodness, faith, and trust as a weapon against children. And too many times, we think that abuse only happens "somewhere else" only to find out that elsewhere is where we're standing.

*~Aisling Ireland~* is long time human rights activist, a member of Amnesty International, a One Campaign supporter, writer, and an ordained Spiritual Counselor.

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