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A faith community can provide the support and stability that may keep someone who has offended, or might be at risk to offend, from harming a child.

People who sexually abuse children can change

People who sexually abuse children can change and go on to live a healthy lifestyle free from abuse. Specialized treatment for people with sexual behavior problemsi is an important tool to prevent future abuse of children. And, treatment works. National studies have shown that of people who complete treatment, less than 15% will sexually abuse again.

Accountability and support

Accountability and support are important tools for keeping someone who has sexually abused children from abusing again. Some people who have sexually abused children compare their journey to healthier choices as similar to that of a recovering alcoholic. The likelihood that they can successfully change behaviors and stay on top of the feelings, attitudes, and beliefs that led them to harm a child in the first place, is much greater when they are supported and held accountable by their family, friends, and very often, by their faith communities.

Being sorry and promising it won’t happen again are not enough. Faith communities often struggle with their beliefs about confession and repentance. It can be tempting to believe that someone who is genuinely remorseful can control themselves and stop harming children on their own. Too often this is not the case without outside help, particularly professional help. People who have been sexually inappropriate or abused a child benefit from specialized treatment, which helps them to understand why they harmed a child and how to prevent themselves from harming children in the future. They also benefit from being part of a system that holds them accountable for their behaviors.

Accountability and support require someone who has sexually abused to be honest about their past, to discuss openly the signs that they may be at risk to behave inappropriately, and to stay away from situations that put them at risk to behave inappropriately. People who have sexually abused benefit from having people “in the know” who will call them on inappropriate behaviors. Faith communities can provide this type of caring but tough support.

Why reporting abuse is important

Reporting sexual abuse can mean both the person who behaved inappropriately and the child who may have been harmed get the help they need. While it may be tempting to handle a situation within your faith community, one needs only look at the recent sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church to be reminded that ignoring concerns won’t make them go away.

Sometimes adults don’t report their concerns to authorities about someone who has behaved inappropriately or illegally towards a child, because they don’t want to cause harm to that individual. Too often, this decision leaves other children vulnerable, and sends the damaging message that the adults are more concerned about the person who hurt the child than they are about the child who was hurt.

Culled from