Churches Warned On Youth Sex Abuse
CHILDREN are at the greatest risk of
sexual abuse in churches when they are
members of a youth group, a child protection expert has warned.
Professor Patrick Parkinson told a National
Council of Churches of Australia conference in
Canberra that Sunday schools in which there was
a group of children with several leaders were
relatively benign environments because there was
limited potential for an adult to be alone with a child.
However, he said, youth groups could be a problem.
"I am saying, do not just appoint youth leaders and
leave them to it - keep an eye on them," the head of
the University of Sydney's law school said.
"(Because of) the emerging sexuality of teenagers you
get quite a few cases of apparently consensual
relationships; the kids are willing participants
because they are 'seduced' by a charismatic youth leader.
They are more likely to be alone with the leader and there
is more likely to be social interaction outside of the youth group."
Professor Parkinson said supervisors should be aware of any
leader who appeared to be focusing on individuals in the youth
group, against the rules of the organisation.
Relationships between leaders and teenagers should be
forbidden. "I say, look out for the youth leader who
does not have age-appropriate adult friends. The person
could be fantastic with teenagers but have no close adult friends."
The three-day program was the second part of an NCCA
consultation, Safe as Churches?, which began last year,
in which 120 church leaders and workers discussed issues
related to sexual abuse and misconduct.
It included sessions about investigating complaints of
abuse, assessing the needs of abuse survivors, and ways
in which church workers could support congregations in
which sexual abuse allegations had been made.
"The issue is critical for the churches," NCCA general
secretary Reverend John Henderson said.
"No one should have to suffer abuse or harassment. It is
tragic that so much abuse has occurred."
In Adelaide yesterday, anti-child abuse campaigner Freda
Briggs told a National Whistleblowers Conference that child
sexual abuse was "one of the most hated crimes but one of the
most frequently denied", not just by offenders, but by the community at large.
"Child sex offenders are probably the most protected criminals
on earth," Professor Briggs said, noting that churches and
schools frequently blamed the victims of abuse rather than
acknowledging that a crime had been committed.
The Australian (12-9-2005)