Tag Archives: sexual abuse

TEN THINGS THE CHURCH CAN DO TO HELP ABUSED CHILDREN By Victor I. Vieth, 1st Year MA DL, Sr. Director and Founder, National Child Protection Training Center, Gundersen Health System, La Crosse, WI


“It is to the little children we must preach,
it is for them that the entire ministry exists.”
–Martin Luther

The academy awarding winning movie Spotlight has again focused attention on the relatively recent and widespread failure of the church to protect children from abuse or to respond with compassion when abuse is discovered. Although the church has made important strides in the past twenty-five years, church policies and training continue to lag behind research and what many national experts consider best practice. Although this article includes a checklist for improving church responses to the needs of maltreated children, it begins where it should–with the teachings of our Lord and an exploration of early church views on the maltreatment of children.

Jesus, child abuse and early church history

Jesus scolded the disciples for keeping children away from him and warned that it would be better to be drowned in the sea with a millstone around our neck than to hurt a child (Matthew 18:6). Jesus also had strong words for those who preached in His name but failed to care for those who were suffering—promising to one day tell these false Christians “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23; Matthew 25:41-45).

The early Christians took seriously the words of Jesus and distinguished themselves by opposing the abuse and neglect of children that was common in the Greco-Roman world. In his book Bad Faith, Dr. Paul Offit writes:

Jesus’s message of love for children was embraced by his followers…the church was the first institution to provide refuge for abandoned children [and] the church put pressure on the state to legislate against practices that endangered children.

Ten things the church can to do help abused and neglected children:

  1. Make sure church child protection policies meet minimal standards 

The Centers for Disease Control has promulgated guidelines to assist churches and other youth serving organizations in developing and implementing child protection policies. The CDC guidelines, published under the heading Preventing Child Sexual Abuse within Youth Serving Organizations, are free and online. All churches should review and adhere to these guidelines.

  1. Make sure child protection policies address all forms of abuse

Most child protection policies, including those promulgated by the CDC, focus only on preventing child sexual abuse within a church or another organization. Although commendable, these policies exclude from protection children who are physically abused, emotionally abused or neglected. These policies also fail to protect most sexually abused children since the vast majority of these children are violated in their own homes. Since it is inconceivable that Jesus wanted his followers to protect only a fraction of the abused children in our pews, churches must expand their policies to include all the children in their care.

  1. Require pastors and other called workers, as well as all staff working with children, to be rigorously trained in recognizing and responding to child abuse and neglect

According to numerous studies, the vast majority of clergy and other mandated reporters fail to report even obvious signs of child abuse. When working with survivors, clergy often fail to make appropriate referrals or to coordinate pastoral care with medical and mental health care. In these and other failures, a lack of training plays a significant role. Seminaries should work with child protection experts in addressing this issue before graduating clergy or other called workers and major denominations should require continuing education on these issues.

  1. Provide personal safety education to children participating in church programs 

According to several studies, children are more likely to disclose abuse if they have received personal safety education. This instruction is easily provided and numerous organizations, including the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, have a wealth of information to help churches in providing this essential instruction.

  1. Develop effective child protection and faith collaborations 

The Office of Victims of Crime encourages churches to collaborate with child protection agencies. In Minnesota, for example, an organization called Care in Action helps churches connect with child protection agencies to meet the needs of abused and neglected children in their communities. When an abused child has a need the government can’t provide, such as the entry fee to little league baseball, faith communities share this need with their parishioners and, invariably, one or more Christians agree to help. It is a simple way for churches to share their faith—and to make at least a small difference in the lives of maltreated children.

  1. Have church resources for child abuse survivors 

Clergy and churches should have brochures and other information for families seeking counseling or other services in response to maltreatment. Church libraries should have books and other materials families can easily access. Church websites should include helpful links that will aid families seeking help discreetly.

  1. Address the spiritual impact of child abuse 

Dozens of studies, involving more than 19,000 abused children, document that many abused and neglected children are not only impacted physically and emotionally but also spiritually. This may happen when religion is used in the abuse of a child or simply because the child has spiritual questions such as unanswered prayers to stop the abuse. The American Psychological Association has noted the importance of addressing the spiritual impact of abuse and numerous experts have called for coordinated medical, mental health and pastoral care. The church should be front and center in meeting this critical need.

  1. Tell parents God allows them to discipline their children without hitting them

According to the CDC, as many as 28% of children in the United States are hit to the point of receiving an injury. Often-times, this is done by parents who were lead to believe the Bible requires corporal punishment. Numerous biblical scholars, conservative as well as liberal, have concluded the scriptures do not require parents to hit their children. Unfortunately, pastors are often afraid to make this clear to their parishioners because corporal punishment is deeply ingrained in our culture. Every major and medical health organization in the United States discourages hitting children as a means of discipline and it is time for the church to join this chorus.

  1. Deliver a sermon or conduct a Bible study on child abuse 

Over the years, numerous survivors of child abuse have told me they left the church not because clergy or other faith leaders abused them but because these leaders never spoke up about abuse. One survivor told me that during the years her father was sexually abusing her she desperately wanted to hear a sermon or a Sunday School lesson condemning the abuse of children. She never heard that message and, when she became an adult, she walked away from a church she deemed indifferent to the suffering of children. Still another survivor told me “I used to spend my Sunday evenings listening to the podcasts of all the area churches desperately hoping to find a message about child abuse. I never heard that message and I finally just gave up.”

  1. Listen to the needs of survivors 

Many survivors want the simplest things from their pastors and churches. A woman abused while her father hummed a certain hymn wanted to return to the church but was afraid of hearing that hymn and losing control of her emotions. Another survivor was abused on a church altar and needed to be ministered to in a facility without altars or the traditional symbols that comfort others but were used to violate her tiny frame. These and other survivors are not asking for much but, in order to meet their needs, we must first hear their voices. 


Although millions of child abuse survivors have fled the church, many of them tell me they still cling to Christ. “I love Jesus,” one survivor told me, “because he knows what it is like to be abused.” Another survivor told me that when he feels abandoned by his church, he recalls that Jesus was also rejected by the religious leaders of his era. The fact that so many survivors align themselves with Christ, but not organized religion, is a stark reminder of how far the church has fallen away from the teachings and example of Jesus. It is also a reminder that if we truly desire to find Jesus, we will need to look among the children.

Prayers for Sexual Assault Awareness at Wartburg Seminary by Mary Wiggins, 2nd Year M.Div

The community of Wartburg Seminary, during the week of April 25th 2013, prayed for those impacted by Sexual Assault. April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. This effort was coordinated by the Global Concerns Committee and the Chapel Staff and planning groups. Although Sexual Assault and Abuse primarily affect women, it does not discriminate for men and women, young and old from all over the world are survivors of rape, incest, and abuse. It is estimated that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are impacted by sexual assault in their life time.  

What makes sexual abuse so vile? Its power to isolate and to silence.

Fifty-eight candles were lit in the chapel to represent how sexual abuse statistics would look in a community of Wartburg’s size. These candles were accompanied by prayers for victims–survivors and those who did not survive, supporters, advocates and perpetrators. With sighs too deep for words to express these candles were a visual prayer for all the people whose voices were silenced by abuse.

Image of candles on the Table in Loehe Chapel.

Holy One, you do not distance yourself from the pain of your people, but in Jesus you bear that pain with all who suffer at other’s hands. With your cleansing love bring healing and strength to victims of sexual assault and by your justice, lift them up, that in body, mind, spirit they may again rejoice. In Jesus name, Amen.” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 84)

Photo credit: Mary Wiggins


An Interview with Norma Cook Everist

Lori Bruflodt has persistently provided a listening ear and a voice for people in crisis who have suffered some sort of loss or tragic event. She has been a volunteer at the Y Domestic Violence Program in Dubuque for the past seven years and at Riverview Sexual Assault Center for eight. “I heard about these centers locally and their need for volunteers and I knew I wanted to do this.” Both places provided 40 hours of required training.

Lori went on, “Riverview had a whole curriculum with topics such as, ‘What are you going to do for self care when you come home from the hospital where you helped someone who has just experienced a rape?’ and ‘Dealing with different cultural groups.’” Lori said there are significant differences. “Some groups, because of cultural views of the victim, will not report as easily as others. In some groups the entire family comes to the hospital after the incident.” Rape and domestic violence are part of every social economic group. Lori believes training is essential. “We learned a lot of useful statistics and a lot of myths about sexual assaults and domestic violence.”

One statistic: A woman has one of the highest chances of being raped in the first 6 weeks of her freshman year of college.

One myth: That most rapes are stranger rapes. “In all my years of dealing with rape victims, only one was a ‘stranger-rape.’ The others were by people who were related, an old boyfriend, or an acquaintance, a ‘friend of a friend.’ That’s a big one. You don’t really know the person, but your friend knew him and so you are hesitant to pursue legal charges or sometimes even medical attention.”

There are many sources of myths and facts about sexual assault and domestic violence. A good example is http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/3925/myths.html

Domestic violence is usually done by a spouse or a partner. When the victim is a youth under 18, criminal charges may be pressed by law enforcement. Victims over 18 years of age in most cases,can decide for themselves. And because of the familiarity they don’t press charges because they are afraid, “It’s my word against theirs.”

“As an advocate we don’t tell the victim what to do, but we explain to them their options and the steps they need to take now. Most of all I let them know ‘I’m here for you,’” said Lori. “That’s who an advocate is.” Lori went on, “And that may mean standing up to law enforcement or hospital staff for the sake of the victim. You speak for the victim.” That’s a persistent voice!

Who speaks for those who can’t speak because of Cerebral Palsy or intellectual disability? In those situations Lori has had to work with medical staff to make sure there is needed medical attention for people who might easily be dismissed because of their inability to advocate for themselves. Likewise, sometimes people do not take victims who live with mental illness seriously. Lori listens, sorts through the complexity of the conversation and then may say something such as, “What can we do with tonight’s crisis?”

The role of an advocate is important. Victims need to know they have a voice and choices: she needs an exam; she needs STD testing; the choice of whether or not to have a rape kit collected and the importance of timing if they choose to. The volunteer victim advocate can be called the night of the incident and often that hospital visit may be only contact the agency will have with the victim. It’s so important the victim receives clear, caring help at that time, and good information on referrals for help afterwards. Victims have been betrayed, often by a family member or friend they thought they could trust; it’s important they not feel betrayed again after the rape

Lori went on to describe her work on the domestic violence hot line and at the shelter. She has been called in when the shelter was short on staff and relied on volunteers to fill in. Lori said, “When women come to the shelter they will be living in community. They usually come from having lived in a violent situation and there are issues. It’s tough. It’s stressful. They come to the shelter because they have no one else with whom to live. They bring their children, often fleeing a dangerous situation quickly. The whole family has one bedroom no matter how many children. They have no storage. The residents all share a living room, kitchen and bathroom with people who are at first strangers. We help facilitate living in community.

I would also answer the 24-hour hot line. As I sat by the phone in the shelter, women would come in and talk. We would have conversations about their options. You listen, particularly when they wonder if they should go back to the abusive situation, and you say, ‘What would it look like if you went back? How would it be different or not? What other options might you be able to find?’ They prepare a safety plan before they leave the shelter. ‘Could the situation be lethal? Do you need a restraining order? Do you need a 911 cell phone? Do you have people who could check in with you to see how you are and how you are doing?’ ”

The issues are long term and complex. If there has been a separation or divorce, and there are children involved, there can be issues of joint custody and visitations. Where is it safe to meet to exchange the children if the parents can’t get along? One local church had provided a safe place for such meetings. Lori went on to describe how volunteers help victims of domestic violence make safety plans and action plans for life. “If you need to leave the shelter in sixty days, what do need to do to be able to find work? To find housing?”

Sometimes a woman leaves her family and needs to tell no one where she is going lest she be found by the person looking for her who could be dangerous. The result is a combination of fear, and the resulting loneliness. Lori recalls a woman at the shelter on Thanksgiving by herself because she had to leave her situation and tell no one where she was, so had nowhere to go for the holiday meal. “That woman’s situation sticks with me,” says Lori.

Lori said that people sometimes ask about her volunteer work, “Don’t you get paid?” “How awful to go to the hospital and hear the story of rape. I could never do that.” Lori says, “If I can find the strength and have skills to do this, then I need to. Somebody has to be there for these people. There are lots of ways to volunteer. You have to know what your gifts are. There are other things other people volunteer to do that may not be my gifts. When I come home at 3:00 a.m. from a hospital visit and need to work the next day and lay there awake because I can’t get to sleep, I sometimes ask, ‘Why did I do this?’ Then I remember the times I made a difference. I may never know what became of the person afterwards, but I know I did the best I could and was there for the victim when she or he would not have had a voice.”

Lori Bruflodt soon will be taking a new position as a Crisis Recovery Team Counselor at the Hillcrest Family Services Crisis Center here in Dubuque. She hopes that in two years she will be licensed as a Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in the state of Iowa. She received an M.A. degree in Clinical Counseling from Loras College in Dubuque in December, 2008. She has been Director of Information Technology for 18 years at Wartburg Seminary and will continue part time at Wartburg for awhile to make the transition as smooth as possible. She knows she will miss Wartburg, but also knows that counseling has been dear to her heart for a long time. Lori says she will hate to give up some of the volunteer work she has done these years, but with her new employment cannot be on call for three places at the same time. Lori is so well known at Wartburg and her work here is deeply appreciated; the total impact of her persistent service as a volunteer may never be known but has no doubt changed countless lives.