Thursday, August 16, 2018

Hey Fletch … I’ve been reading in the “Hey Fletch” columns about sexual abuse. Normally I think of that as between an adult and a minor. What about sexual activity between two minors? What if that happens on church property? Do I need to report it? Is our church a mandated reporter when two minors are involved?

DRF—You are asking a question with enormous legal implications. Pastors are mandated reporters when a crime involves a child. I have a hunch about the answer to your question, but we should really hear from a professional for the answer. Let me ask attorney Gregory Love, XPastor’s go-to expert for sexual abuse issues, to respond. Let me also mention the Sexual Abuse Summit that Greg and Kimberlee host.

Greg—You are right that questions involving abuse reporting have enormous legal implications and are the most commonly mishandled.

Every state has legislation regarding reporting child abuse. The legislation will define abuse very broadly, such as verbal abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is often referred to as ‘maltreatment.’ Not only does each state have its own unique reporting requirements, these laws are changing rapidly in response to high-profile situations like USA Gymnastics. In Texas and Oklahoma, for example, all adults are mandated reporters. In Washington D.C., there is a list of people who are mandated to report; all adults in DC not on the list are considered permissive reporters and highly encouraged to report to the appropriate DC authorities.  Almost all state legislatures are amending their respective state reporting requirements in such a way to make more people mandated reporters and shrink ‘safe harbors’ that may prevent a report, such as clergy privilege.  

First—Learn what the reporting requirements are for your state. If you are in a state that lists certain professionals as mandated reporters (nurses, teachers, counselors, day care workers), keep in mind that most churches have programming that will include positional mandated reporters. Periodically check for legislative updates; when the legislature changes the law, they will not send you a memo. The reporting laws in Colorado changed without notice which led to the arrest of 2 pastors and 3 elders at VineLife Church in Longmont.

Second—The best practice is to make it church policy that all church staff and volunteers are required to report—regardless of whether the respective state requires such a report.  

Third—Peer-to-peer sexual abuse is reportable. The first step to resolve is whether the behavior is abusive, as opposed to play or curiosity. This will often involve an aggressor child and a child that does not want the sexual interaction. There will be an imbalance of power.

If these concepts are foreign, I highly suggest the MinistrySafe Sexual Abuse Awareness Training, which covers peer-to-peer sexual abuse.  If the person seeing the behavior or receiving the report believes the behavior to be abuse (regardless of whether both involved are children), the behavior is reportable.  

Frankly, it doesn’t matter if the behavior occurred on your church property. If you have a suspicion of abuse, it is reportable regardless of where it happened. If the behavior happened on church property, it is likely that a report should also be made to your insurance carrier.

Fourth—When in doubt, report.