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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)
Jill Rowbotham

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