Tag Archives: child abuse

Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting Rule Changes in Pennsylvania


This is a reminder to Pennsylvania counselors, pastors, and Sunday School volunteers: as of January 1, 2015, Pennsylvanians must abide by a new set of child abuse reporting rules. The majority of the changes have to do with who must report suspected child abuse and how the report will be made. I will give a few of the changes but I encourage you to use this link to get a free training. This link will give you a summary of the changes plus links to each rule.

Who must report suspected child abuse?

1. All therapists and mental health practitioners who learn of possible child abuse of any child, whether a client or not.

Change? Gone is the “child coming before you language.” What this means is that you are now responsible to report all child abuse whether you are serving the child or the family. You may not remove the mandate to report just because it is something you see in your neighborhood or hear about from another (e.g., your mail carrier tells you his grandchild is being abused). Consider yourself a mandated reported in every situation you find yourself in.

2. Anyone who educates and/or works with children. Pastors, teachers, volunteers, are all mandated reporters when they are overseeing children. They cannot just tell a supervisor but must report themselves.

Change? Even lawyers representing churches or other organizations are mandated reporters if they learn of child abuse in the institution. Interestingly, the pastor who learns of child abuse in a confession from an abuser may still have some protections. But, if your denomination doesn’t practice confessions, then this loophole won’t work for you.

3. Licensed practitioners (licensed by PA) must complete 2 hours of child abuse reporting training before next licensure period. For LPCs, that is before end of February 2015. Those seeking licensure for the first time must complete 3 hours in order to be considered for licensure.

Change? New requirement. Must be training approved by Dept of Public Welfare and may or may not count toward their required continuing education requirements. The first link above is one of those approved trainings.

4. Reporting now is done online for mandated reporters (while permissive reporters–everybody else–may still call in).

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Filed under Counselors, pastors and pastoring

Join me in Brazil, March 23-27, 2015!


UPDATE: Conference registration cut in half! Now only costs $250 instead of $500.

I will be attending and speaking at the 2015 General Assembly of the World Reformed Fellowship in Sao Paulo, Brazil (March 23-27, 2015) on the topic of recovery from child sexual abuse. Boz Tchividjian, Diane Langberg, Jim Gamble (N. Ireland) and Beatri Kruger (S. Africa) will also be covering topics such as preventing child abuse, sex trafficking and counseling.

These conversations are important everywhere, but this audience will be representing Reformed church communities worldwide, and that makes it very important conversation since churches worldwide need to keep talking about abuse that takes place within Christian environments. ! If trauma and abuse aren’t your cup of tea, there are parallel tracks covering everything from transdenominational ministry, Islam, church ministry and sexuality, church planting, and prosperity gospel.

See WRF GA Assembly for more information about the conference program and how to register for the conference.

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Filed under Abuse, conferences, trauma

Institutional betrayal: Secret ingredient to PTSD


We live in the world where human frailty and pathology is viewed in individual terms. When we see sickness we imagine that the person must have some weakness in biology, faith, or behavior. Rarely do we think about the role the system or community has played in the development of that person’s pathology. This is true when we think about a person diagnosed with PTSD. We therapists hypothesize about individual factors (personality factors, early childhood experiences (a slight nod to external causes) and neurobiological risk factors) and situation factors (the frequency, duration, and intensity of overwhelming trauma events) when we try to answer the “why” of the development of PTSD in a person.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it fails to take into consideration of known research that suggests that environmental response to an individual’s trauma experiences may be a determining factor in whether PTSD or chronic traumatic reactions form.

In the most recent American Psychologist (2014, 69:6, 575-587), Carly Parnitzke Smith and Jennifer Freyd write about the concept of institutional betrayal. Traumatologists recognize Freyd’s name as the researcher who developed “betrayal trauma theory”, pointing to the especially toxic form of PTSD caused by those who were supposed to be safe and protective. These begin to examine “institutional action and inaction that exacerbate the impact of traumatic experiences…”

How can an institution betray a victim?

When a person trusts that a system designed to defend, respond, protect, or seek justice will do its job after an interpersonal trauma, and when that system either chooses not to respond (omission) or worse, chooses to lay blame at the feet of the victim (commission), institutional betrayal occurs. Examples include law enforcement accusing rape victims of “asking for it” with their clothing, church leaders allowing offender clergy to “leave with their reputations” or refusal to investigate a case of date rape when the reported offender is an important leader in the community.

In summarizing a couple of studies, Smith and Freyd point out that institutional betrayal after a trauma experience leads to higher rates of dissociation, sexual problems, and health difficulties. This is even more likely when the trauma takes place in an environment where protection of the members is trumpeted (i.e., church or military).

What are the common characteristics of betraying institutions?

Smith and Freyd note several characteristics found in institutions at greater risk for betraying members.

  • membership requirements to define in group identity. This produces a need for members to act in ways to maintain such an identity
  • Prestige (both leaders and institutions). Prestige produces both trust and fear, dependency and power
  • Priorities. “Institutional betrayal may remain unchecked when performance or reputation is valued over, or divorced from the well-being of members.” As the authors note, maintaining reputation as a priority will lead to neglect or attack of those who challenge reputation
  • Institutional denial. Blame a few bad apples, avoid institutional blame or responsibility

Those institutions that do make efforts to prevent abuse within its community may still yet fail to respond well. They may fail to use adequate screening procedures, normalize abuse, fail to utilize or follow appropriate response procedures, punish whistleblowers, and aid cover-ups.

What to do?

Smith and Freyd argue that transparency (about past actions/failures to act as well as power structures) and priority to protect the well-being of all members will move institutions away from the risk of betraying individual members. I would argue that the shift to protect moves from the institution as a whole to protection of the most vulnerable.

Let me recommend a few resources that have appeared here in the past:

  1. Diane Langberg’s 5 part video about narcissistic leaders and the institutions they lead. She too describes systemic narcissism.
  2. Why some spiritual leaders abuse (and systems allow it)
  3. Narcissistic systems
  4. Resources to combat narcissism one person at a time

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Filed under Abuse, personality, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychology

Preventing & Responding to Abuse in Christian Contexts: Plenary Presentation


Check out the link to slides (below) from my talk today in Potchefstroom, South Africa. I spoke on the topic of preventing and responding to abuse in Christian contexts and how this work is THE work of the Gospel.

Responding to Abuse South Africa

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What makes a PTSD friendly church?


In a few months I will be speaking to church leaders as to how to improve the capacity of the church to be a safe place for victims of abuse. I have a number of suggestions for them but I am interested in hearing from readers things that churches (leaders) do that make the church a safer place for those who have been abused by those in positions of power. What have you actually seen done that helped you (or someone you cared about) feel at home and increasingly safer in the church community? Of course, consider the flip side as well: what has been done that made you feel less safe.

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Tuza 2.0: Day Five


[June 27, 2013]. Day two of our three day conference. Today Dr. Barbara Shaffer talked about the problem of marital rape and reviewed 6 common characteristics of some abusive spouses. The participants were very involved in this presentation and the discussion about sex in marriage provoked some interesting debates among the group. The large group discussed the matter of dowry. In Rwanda, a husband’s family agrees to pay an amount to his bride’s family. The price is in terms of a number of cows. A friend told me that nowadays, “cows are kept in the bank.” This tradition gives many men the belief that they have purchased their wife. Now the wife is his (cherished) property. As such, he has rights to her body. Based on the conversation, I would argue that the concept of marital rape might indeed be foreign. One participant asked how 1 Corinthians 7 fit into this discussion. We were able to examine that this passage offers women the right to control their husband’s bodies just as much as he gets to have a say about her body. Not being sure where everyone stood in the debate, I concluded with a reminder that Philippians 2 requires that we emulate Christ in not demanding what we are due but giving it up so as to shine like stars.

After lunch Dr. Langberg presented on dissociation and a group of Rwandan counselors illustrated a counseling scene of dissociation and a counselor’s techniques in calming and grounding. Very well done! Just before the end of this day’s training, Rowan Moore gave a talk about child abuse. Kivu boats

Before dinner, we hired a local young man to take us out onto Lake Kivu in his boat. Ten of us motored out toward Peace Island. We didn’t have enough time to go all the way to Napoleon Island but we rounded several small islands and enjoyed the setting sun. We passed several fishing boats netting the tiny fish that are in the lake. We could feel the stress of the day fade with the lap of the waves. [photo courtesy Laura Captari]

After dinner, we had an evening of celebration. We identified our Barnabas’ (each person secretly wrote notes of encouragement and prayer to another). And of course, there was dancing and laughter. I have come to love the fluid hand motions during dancing and the energetic movements of men and women. Sadly, I  cannot dance to save my life. I have not rhythm. Of course, there was a dance where I had to be front and center. I tried hiding behind a camera but even that did not save me. Still, it was sweet medicine after 2 days of talking trauma, abuse, and violence.

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Filed under AACC, Abuse, counseling, counseling skills, Rape, Rwanda, Uncategorized

How one church has taken up the task of addressing sexual abuse


As a christian psychologist, I work with disasters of the church. No one comes to me to tell me how their abuse was handled in a fabulous way. I get to hear all the mistakes. So, it can be tempting for me to believe that no church handles sexual abuse or abuse allegations in a healing manner.

But that would not be true. Many churches do a phenomenal job addressing this problem. Below is a link to a site illustrating how one church handled the topic. This church put a lot of time into crafting an event with aftercare, resources, and prevention plans. Check out this link to see what pastor and counselor Brad Hambrick’s church did: the sermon, video of the after service care, additional resources including other media and policy on dealing with child abuse allegations.

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Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling

Public responses to allegations of wrongdoing by your friends


You’ve seen the little clip: a person does something wrong and the camera crew films a neighbor–or family member–making a comment about the character of the person.

“He was a quiet boy, never caused any trouble.”

So, let’s say one of your good friends was accused of abuse of children. How would you respond to reporters (or bloggers asking for you to weigh in)? Should you speak? Stay silent? Would it matter if the friend was a regular Joe or a famous leader of a church? Would it matter if you were famous or in leadership? Would it matter if you both served on an important ministry together? Should you wait until the court case has finished or speak your mind about what you know even if the case is not completed?

This is the question that has been raging a bit regarding the ongoing complaints of clerical and child abuse (and now a civil lawsuit) against Sovereign Grace Ministries leaders. After many calls for colleagues of SGM leadership to speak out against child abuse as they had against Penn State, two different sets of public letters were published commenting on the cases.

You be the judge: would it have been better to publish this and this explanation or to remain silent?

It seems to me that silences and then explanations of any length rarely serve any good purpose. Those who wish for you to speak will not be happy you waited. Then when you speak, you are likely to say things that will say more than you intended and reveal more than you care to reveal. For example, if you point out the fact that civil lawsuits are notoriously hard to litigate, may arise from those desiring to receive monetary damages, may damage innocent reputations, you would be speaking the truth. All of these things are possible. But it is easy to reveal more than intended,

  • when you speak after a significant portion of the lawsuit has been dismissed, not on fact but due to missing a statute of limitations deadline
  • when you speak more sentences about questions of merit and only a few sentences about the need for justice for victims
  • when you raise doubts about civil allegations while you hide behind the fact that you are not finder of fact (AKA the judge or jury)

A better response?

Say something immediately or nothing at all.

Of course, it is ALWAYS easier to criticize and to offer hind-sight answers. I do not think that I am above protecting a friend. I suspect I would be tempted to act in just the same way. We want to protect those we know and love and to doubt those we do not know. But, consider for a moment, how this response:

Our friend has been accused of doing some very horrific acts (or failures to act). These are serious charges. We love our friend. These charges doe not seem to fit the man we know, and yet we know that anyone is capable of [sin/crime]. We will support him. And yet, our support does not hinder the need for truth, justice, and healing for all victims. We will be meeting with our friend and encouraging him to speak the truth, to admit any wrongdoing, no matter the risk to so-called reputation. We will examine whether we have any information that would help bring justice in this case and we will not hold this information back to protect our friend. If others have information, we implore you to bring it so that this case can be quickly concluded. We want you to know that we will not tolerate [sin/crime] in other leaders or ourselves. We serve the glory of God and not the glory of each other. We will not be making any further public comments until the case has concluded. This is a difficult time, please be in prayer for all those involved in this case.

Would that be enough? Probably not for some readers, especially if there were longstanding behaviors in question that suggest a system of cover-up. And yet, I think an early statement like this probably eliminates the firestorm that silence or blanket statements of approval create. Once the firestorm starts, there is almost nothing that can be done without a very simple, “we have erred in our silence.” Anything else will be an attempt to parse the silence and so any later words will be parsed by others…and found wanting.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Justice, news, Relationships, Uncategorized

Repost at AACC: Seven Questions About Your Church Abuse Prevention Policy


The AACC has reposted my blog designed to help church leaders and counselors review current child abuse prevention policies. You can see the post at their site by clicking here.

As I say in the post, every church with any insurance policy likely has some measure of policy. However, why settle for something designed only to limit liability? Such an approach does not seek first the protection of the vulnerable. Rather, limiting liability places the protection of the organization ahead of the protection of children. In fact, policies that are tools of protection of children will also limit liability. We just need to get the order straight.

For further information and help with child protection, don’t forget to check out G.R.A.C.E.

 

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Filed under AACC, Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, ethics

The problem of abuse and avoidance of grief


Last Monday night we had the privilege of having Dr. Diane Langberg on campus to speak to our counseling students. One of the 4 talks she did was entitled, “The Spiritual Impact of Child Sexual Abuse.” She stated that it was material that she developed after publishing her book, Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse. As you can imagine, she gave us a very powerful talk. But of all the things she said, one idea seemed to hit students and faculty alike. I do not have her quoted here but rather the essence,

  • Grief may be the most powerful emotion in sexual abuse survivors, more powerful than the pain of the abuse
  • Most clients work really hard to avoid grief; encouraging good grief is difficult work

I’m not doing justice to her thoughts here. But, I think she nails it. Sexual abuse destroys relationships, faith, trust, identity, and physical bodies. To grieve is to name and acknowledge what was lost, broken, stolen, etc. and to admit that many of the broken things cannot be restored in this life–at least to the levels that we desire. The work of counseling surely includes coming to a correct understanding about guilt, shame, love, boundaries. The work of counseling is about reconnecting with God and others. The work of counseling is about rebuilding identity. But, all of these activities require grieving what did take place, grieving what was lost (real or symbolic).

Most of us, whether we have suffered abuse or not, would rather not sit with grief. And so, we run. However, if the heart of God is shown in lament for the world that is not as it should be, then we ought not to run from grief.

May God show us how to lament and live in peace at the same time.

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, counseling, Diane Langberg