In our 24/7 news saturated world, we are kept apprised of the traumas around the world: earthquakes, famines, nuclear catastrophes, mass murder, ethnic cleansing, rape as a tool of war. Of recent months, we have heard much about child sexual abuse. Most of what we hear has to do with abuse having taken place years before, sometimes decades ago.
Nonetheless, we could easily label 2011 as the year of abuse allegations against those who were thought to be respectful citizens. This year, the ones that got the most attention were male child sexual abuse allegations.
But I prefer to think about 2011 as the year where child sexual abuse reporting broke through the veil of secrecy. Abuse has been happening ever since our loss of Eden. And cover-ups are the norm. Maybe this year we saw a bit more willingness to speak out about past abuse. That would be a good thing if this continues.
Does it seem to you that we are having more abuse reports? Well, you are not alone in that opinion. Check out this recent Reuters reporting on the uptick of abuse calls to organizations like RAINN and the national Childhelp hotline after the Penn State and Syracuse abuse cases. RAINN reports a 54% increase in contacts and the Childhelp line reports a 20% increase.
Could there be an increase in false allegations? Sure. And every false allegation hurts not just the one being falsely accused but also every abuse victim who may not be believed. However, let us remember that when child abuse was first discussed in psychology (think Freud), it was treated as hysteria. Most allegations are true. It requires too much sacrifice of public dignity, too much loss of family relationships to have many false negatives.
An idea for 2012
How about this year we commit to child safety and prevention of abuse? 2012 as the year the church takes the lead in wholistic care for abuse victims? This means we speak up when we see inappropriate behavior. We develop appropriate policies (and then carry them out) for all in the church, including pastors. This means we preach and teach on child protection. This means we assess our own attitudes and actions that might support child abuse (e.g., use of porn, failing to hold each other accountable, etc.). Finally, this means talking about restorative justice for victims, hope-building for victims, and care for those who abuse.