June 11, 2018

Can You Recognize Predatory Behavior?

This week, David Pittman returns and shares how GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) is training members and leaders of faith communities to identify predators and protect children.


Last week, I asked if we are people of Faith or Fraud.

I asked the question and gave only a brief response as to what I was doing about it personally. Today, I want to give more detail how we, those who call ourselves people of faith, can do something in our own faith communities to keep our children safer and better recognize predatory behavior.

Anyone who follows the news or hasn’t been living under a rock, knows the names of infamous child sexual abusers Larry Nassar at Michigan State and Jerry Sandusky at Penn State. What many don’t know is they were both heavily involved in their church. Child sexual abusers are common in all institutions with children, and churches are no exception. We want to believe churches are different yet sadly this is not the case.

All these predators sexually abused children. All did so under the seemingly safe environments of a church or school. All were reported to people within their respective church or schools. And all of the organizations who are responsible for the protection of these children failed them. We must learn from these failures and bring substantive reform to these institutions of faith.

As I mentioned last week, in addition to my duties for Together We Heal, I started working with GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). GRACE does independent investigations of sexual abuse within faith-based organizations. In the last few years they developed a Child Safeguarding Certification for churches.

As a survivor of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy, this is especially important to me. I have been grateful and honored to be a part of this program with GRACE since its inception, roll out of the pilot program, and implementation in churches across the USA.

While there are a few "child safe/ministry safe" online programs offered by several companies, usually at the behest of each church’s insurance company, they are most often done, not with child safety in mind, but to "cover their asses" if a lawsuit were brought against them. It allows a church to say in court, "See, we were doing all that was required to keep children safe."

The VAST MAJORITY of these online program have NO TEETH.

They are simple, multiple-choice tests that any primate with a keyboard could pass. As can any sexual predator within your church. And since it’s done online, there’s no way to actually prove who really took the test. Is that truly the "best" your church can do?

The difference in what we do at GRACE is this:

We have a ½-day leadership session in-person/on-site and a ½-day session open to the entire membership, also in-person/on-site. Before either of these we help the church develop its own child safeguarding policy that’s tailored specifically to the needs of each church. Many hours of reading materials and videos to watch take place even before that.

It's detailed, faith-based, and comprehensive. And as a survivor, I can say with complete confidence, that it actually gives a church the material needed to TRULY keep children safer. (Don’t let anyone fool you into believing there’s such a thing as a totally safe place). It’s what I wished my family and church had known 40 years ago. It arms parents and leaders with REAL, ACTIONABLE material to proactively, better protect children.

During these sessions, we give parents and leaders the opportunity to ask ANY question they want. They can ask the tough questions and we give honest, frank answers. There’s no candy-coating or white-washing.

We teach about sexual abuse, the impact of abuse, offenders within the church, and how to minimize opportunities for abuse. We instruct the proper way for a church to respond to abuse, both legally and morally. We give churches the materials to teach safety awareness for children and youth. We do a property walk-through to explain the places a predator can use. We help them establish community resources.

My colleague and friend, Boz Tchividjian, gave me this incredibly insightful example that I now use every time I speak:

Since approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused as children, this means that our churches are filled with abuse survivors. For example, a church of 200 members (100 women and 100 men) will have at least 41 child sexual abuse survivors...20.5%! 

Yet, sexual abuse is still too seldom talked about inside our churches.

How would your church respond if?

20.5% of the congregation had cancer; or
20.5% of the congregation had lost a child; or
20.5% of the congregation lost their homes in a natural disaster?

Is it safe to predict that addressing this issue would become a primary focus of the church ministry? Is it safe to predict that pastors would preach sermons addressing the spiritual issues associated with trauma? Is it safe to predict that church members would expend themselves in love and service to those experiencing such deep hurt? Is it safe to predict that the church would not respond to this criminal offense in silence?

As a faith community, we must learn to approach the horror of child sexual abuse no differently. Perhaps these statistics can help drive our faith communities to become places of refuge and healing for abuse survivors who are silently suffering all around us.

When it’s all said and done, it’s up to you. You can choose to use the resources of GRACE or an organization like them, or you can choose to keep things the same believing that this doesn’t happen where you live. As someone once said, "If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice."

Your children, grandchildren, those you know and anyone within your social circle will either reap the benefit of knowledge or suffer the consequences.

So, I’ll ask the question again…

Are you a person of faith or fraud?

What are you prepared to do?

Read Part 3: Hope Is a 4-Letter Word


David is the Executive Director of Together We Heal. Its purpose is to provide guidance for those who suffer from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. It works to educate through public speaking, collaborates with other groups to raise awareness and expose sexual predators and their methods.

In 2015, David was asked by Boz Tchividjian, founder of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to become part of their Child Safeguarding Certification team. The mission of GRACE is to empower the Christian community through education and training to recognize, prevent, and respond to child abuse.

David represents TWH & GRACE all across the country as a public speaker and instructor, teaching churches, schools and families how to talk with their kids about sexual abuse, how to better identify predatory behavior and sexual predators grooming methods.

For more information on GRACE Child Safeguarding Certification please email certification@netgrace.org

Or you may email me at dpittman@together-we-heal.org if you’d feel more comfortable.

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