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Child Abuse Prevention Month: Awareness to action

Pinwheels - courtesy of Edmund Garman via Flickr

As many of you may know, April is designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month.  What does this mean for us?  More importantly, what does this mean for children?  I have little doubt that most reading this post acknowledge the evil of this offense and would be overjoyed if no more children were ever abused or neglected.  Unfortunately, taking a few minutes during one month of the year to give thought to this evil with the hope that it will end is simply not enough.  I am convinced that in order to prevent child abuse, the world community (that means you and I!) is going to have to become much more aware of its prevalence and its destruction.  An awareness that will hopefully become the fuel to action.  An action not limited to thoughts and hopes.   I plead with you to be aware:

Be aware that in 2013, over 3.5 million children were reported as abused or neglected involving over 6 million children.

Be aware that a report of child abuse in the United States is made every 10 seconds.

Be aware that in 2013, approximately one-fifth of every child abuse report was found to be “substantiated”. This means that almost 700,000 children were confirmed abused or neglected. For every 1000 children, 9 of them were victims of abuse or neglect.  Keep in mind, this doesn’t include the vast majority of child abuse that never gets reported or investigated.

Be aware that child sexual abuse is 75x more common than pediatric cancer.

Be aware that there is at least one child molester per square mile in the United States.

Be aware that approximately 38% of all girls and 16% of boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday.  With 75 million children in the United States, this translates to almost 15 million children who will be sexually victimized over the next 18 years.

Pinwheels - courtesy of Edmund Garman via Flickr

Pinwheels – courtesy of Edmund Garman via Flickr

Be aware that child abuse is all too prevalent inside faith communities…and I don’t just mean the Catholic Church.  In fact, there is persuasive evidence that sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the clergy/church staff is actually greater within Protestant communities.  A few years ago, three of the major protestant church insurance carriers reported that they receive a total of approximately 260 reports of minors being sexually victimized by clergy or church staff/volunteers. In contrast, the Catholic Church has reported that there have been approximately 13,000 “credible” claims of child sexual abuse against Catholic clergy since 1950.  Doing the math, this means an average of approximately 228 reports a year.  I realize that these numbers are far from scientific and are open to various interpretations.  However, I also realize that child sexual abuse is one of the most underreported crimes and that the numbers children being abused in both the Protestant and Catholic communities are far higher than we will ever know.

Be aware of the lifetime health effects of child abuse and neglect?  The Adverse Child Experience study has found that that adults who suffered one or more “adverse childhood experience” are at a much higher risk of suffering from alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, depression, attempted suicide, obesity, liver disease, heart disease, and numerous other health related problems.

Be aware that the lifetime spiritual effects of child abuse and neglect are often no less devastating than the physical and emotional costs.  One study of child abuse survivors found many suffered from a significant “spiritual injury” such as feelings of guilt, anger, grief, despair, doubt, fear of death, and belief that God is unfair.  In a recent informal online survey published by GRACE, many abuse survivors corroborated the study results with deeply painful disclosures:

I thought I was unlovable. God only “loved” me because he had to since he said he loved the world, but he didn’t really care about me. I had a bowling God-he set up the pins just to knock them down again. God could never love me, because I could never be good enough for him to love me.

 Since God didn’t like me, I lived for 50+ years convinced he’d throw me out if I bothered him too much. I’m still trying to learn how to live loved, 60 years late.

 It took me years to believe that God did anything more than merely tolerate me.

Be aware that we must all make a difference in bringing an end to this nightmare.  We must all begin relentlessly seeking ways to deliver hope to precious children who wake up each day fearing that they will be once again be hurt.  We must all begin relentlessly seeking ways to reach out to those little ones who live in fear each night about what will happen when the lights go off.  We must all begin relentlessly seeking ways to unconditionally love those survivors who continue struggling with being “unlovable”.   We must all begin relentlessly seeking ways to live out the amazing love of God to those who have all but given up.  We must all be relentless.  Children and survivors deserve nothing less from us.

Let me encourage you to take a first step on this relentless journey by sharing this post and initiate conversations with your family, friends, and co-workers about how each of you can play a part in ending abuse and bringing safety, dignity, and hope back into the lives of so many beautiful image bearers of God.   I can think of no better month to begin such a relentless journey.

About the author

Boz Tchividjian

“Boz” Tchividjian is a former child abuse chief prosecutor and is the founder and executive director of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Boz is also a Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law, and is a published author who speaks and writes extensively on issues related to abuse within the faith community. Boz is the 3rd-eldest grandchild of the Rev. Billy Graham.

He is a graduate of Stetson University and Cumberland School of Law (Samford University).


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  • Thought-provoking, Truth-bearing post, as usual, Boz. Thank you so much for donning this horrendous mantle for all innocents.
    What would you say to those within ‘churches’ who choose to hide child molesters among the innocents, whether he be a leader or a visitor brought in by a leader with absolutely no vetting nor parameters set, no church policy in place, and absolutely no communication to other subordinate leaders nor parents of young children? They are quick to use the ‘WWJD’ argument and accuse those asking for clarification and/or protections to be in place of judgment, etc. And in the end, children are still unprotected!!!
    I KNOW that both groups can be provided for within the church….predators can be held accountable (nearly impossible to do while maintaining secrecy surrounding the perp), they can be lovingly but WISELY shepherded into the saving knowledge of Christ through repentance and the corresponding Grace granted by the Cross. A predator who is honestly eager to be freed and healed wants no part of hiding, lying, deceiving, etc. To me this one point is paramount as to ‘judging’ the prudence of bringing a sinner such as this into the realm of women and children.
    Additionally, children, families, and the church, in turn, can be protected AND allowed to be used by the Holy Spirit in an active, informed (but guarded) relational dynamic toward his release from bondage and continued sin! After all, the power of prayer by knowledgeable members over the molester is inexplicably effective, having seen this demonstrated in a house church several years ago! What on earth does the church stand for if not for that???
    Any wisdom, biblical counsel you could share on this scenario (very real in my area) would be humbly appreciated!
    With much admiration for your service to the innocent…

  • Interesting numbers, Boz. Are you going to provide any references for 38% female adolescent abuse rates? Prevalence of protestant perps? Validity of the ACE index? Your first paragraph was fine, but I’m turned off by bogus data.

  • Let me get this straight, Boz. You said there’s “at least one child molester per square mile in the United States.” The USA has 3.8 million square miles. There are 747k registered sex offenders in the USA. I’m missing 3 million perps here. Help me out.

  • Thank you for keeping the focus and shining light. Pray that God will empower you more in your mission.

  • It’s a valid question and merits a good investigative answer. Unfortunately I’m no expert on what happens in the U.S., so can’t provide any real insight.

    But to give you some idea of where I come into this, the protestant mission boarding school I went to as a child had six active paedophiles. I knew each one well and I knew their victims (and the damage they have endured). Four were U.S. citizens, none were prosecuted because the mission let them get home and disappear back into society. The New Zealand citizen was prosecuted and jailed.
    It was only a small base of much less than one square mile.

  • I tried to respond to this the other day, but couldn’t. I feel shame at how quickly tired and overwhelmed I get in this fight. At the same time, I am overwhelmingly thankful for those who are able to stay steady and keep fighting.
    I don’t think the fight for survivors will ever end, but I so often grow weary and struggle to hold onto hope. Watching how BJU responded to the GRACE report was a significant challenge to me. I couldn’t help but wonder if our efforts / my efforts mean nothing. I struggled with hopelessness and wondered if the sacrifice of the past few years made any difference to anyone.
    I am writing now to say that GRACE’s efforts made a difference for me. I am only one person and am insignificant in the grand scheme of life, but over the past two years or so, I have seen clearly a very different picture of God. I have seen people who call themselves Christians, pour out kindness and love into people who have nothing to return. It has given me a clear glimpse into the heart of God. While BJU may perhaps never know or fully understand and be able to demonstrate God’s love, I was able to get to know some who know him personally and show it in their actions. I know that there are others like me who are finding hope. This story comes to my mind when I am struggling to hope for change. I know it is a familiar story, but it means everything when I realize that I was one who was rescued. I look at my children and realize how that will affect them and generations to come. I look at friends who are among those rescued and this story comes alive.

    The Starfish Story
    A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.
    “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks.
    “Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”
    “But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”
    The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”

    I hope that those who read this story will remember it when you meet a survivor. Reaching out and loving ONE can make all the difference. If one in every 4 or 5 true believers reached out to ONE survivor, wouldn’t almost everyone be reached? Is that so hard to imagine?

  • Tom – Unfortunately, you overlooked the at least 3 million unregistered sexual offenders living in the US – by the way, these offenders love when they are overlooked. Child sexual abuse is one of the most underreported criminal offenses, which explains why so many offenders have never been caught and remain free to victimize. I encourage you to speak with any experienced law enforcement officer who investigates child sexual offenses (including online child pornography) and you will find that 3.8 is most likely a low estimate.

  • It is unfortunate that you don’t seem to be open about the prevailing research that overwhelmingly supports what I have written. My guess is that I could post research by Finkelhor (Finkelhor, D., Hotaling, G., Lewis, I. A., & Smith, C. (1990). Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence, characteristics and risk factors. Child Abuse & Neglect 14, 19-28. doi:10.1016/0145-2134(90)90077-7) and Abel ( and you’d still call it “bogus”. I hope I’m wrong.

  • If one in every 10 believers actually got off their backside and did something genuine for child abuse victims and held filthy offenders responsibe, I’d be amazed!!!!!!!!

    Look I don’t mean to be unkind, but believers don’t generally care, most don’t want to know, until it is one of their kids who is completely messed up by one of these villains.
    The person who reached into the gutter and got me on my feet again is not a believer, they had that knocked out of them by the same people who don’t want to know!!!!!!! They are a fellow victim who managed to get on to their feet by their own guts and courage, then turned round and helped others who needed.
    When it come to the crunch, the average believer wants to hand out forgiveness to the perpetrator not genuine care to the victim, because it takes to much effort to do the latter and the former is real easy, just get God to do it!!!!

    Hey don’t get me wrong, there are some great people throwing them starfish back in the sea, but if we assume that because they are doing it they must be good Christian folk, we have just made a very big mistake.

    Blessings my friend.

  • Thank you! I’ve heard you speak in conjunction with Biblical Seminary. It’s empowered my mission to help adults begin the conversation regarding CSA with kids.

    Please check out our weekly “What If” question for adults to ask kids during the month of April.

    Helping parents and children BE AWARE in my little corner of the world.

    Working together to protect kids,
    Carolyn Ruch, Rise and Shine Movement

  • Thx for the references. I generally give Finkelhor higher marks than others, but the article you site is 25 year old and is based on early research that is 30 years old. It is no longer “prevailing research.”

    Gene Abel’s prevention research is by no means “prevailing research.” It is suspect among researchers for the following reasons: 1. It was self-funded, 2. it’s methods are not disclosed and the AACI tool that resulted from it is sold for profit 3. In two court cases the AACI it did not pass Daupert scrutiny, thus comes with a legal label of “unscientific” 4. It has never been submitted for peer review, which is the most basic standard of scientific accountability. It is also pretty old stuff – late 90’s.

    Abel is also marketing a sex offender screening tool called the “Diana Screen” which Abel has also shielded from peer review. It is known to have a false positive rate of 50%. That ought to scare you.

    Boz, this is pretty basic. It appears at least one of your sources may be a quack.

  • Boz, you could be right. But who knows? Are these registered-unregistered sex offenders? Is this an estimate or a good guess? Based on what? What I’d really like is your source. Where did you get the number? Gene Abel, whom I mentioned above, suggests that 15% of american males are pedophiles (20 million?). That makes your estimate low.

    And where did you get the 38% figure for female adolescent abuse? Diana Russell used that figure back in 1988, I think. That number would have a hard time standing up today.

  • Hey Tom,

    I think it is fair enough to ask these questions too. I respect Boz and I like the fact that he has provided answers to your questions.

    Most people will read this and make no comment, just share it on their facebook sites and then feel that they have made a contribution. But that’s hardly making a contribution in my book!!!!!!!!

    Look at other blogs and see how many comments and how robust the exchanges are. If it comes to discussing what two consent adults get up to in their private lives, then the debate is endless. But when it comes to adults preying on innocent children, it doesn’t raise much interest and I personally think that is appalling.

    Yet children are our worlds future and if we stuff them up, we stuff up our world!!!!!!!

  • I can’t speak for statistics, however, I can answer from personal experience. I grew up the child of those in full time ministry in a primarily BJU world. I experienced sexual abuse multiple times as a child, as a teenager and once as a young adult. I grew up knowing that it was a part of being the child of those in Christian ministry.
    I did not know the experiences of my peers at the time, but in later life, as we have reconnected, my experiences are the pretty common experience of my peers.
    I lived in numerous different places growing up and have not reconnected with people in all of those locations, however, the peers that I have reconnected with don’t seem to include many who escaped sexual abuse. Religious ministry is seemingly a pretty safe place for offenders. Of the offenders I grew up knowing, I don’t believe that even one was ever brought to justice.

  • I should have worded my comment differently. I agree with you that few “believers” seem to care. I suppose I just think that if there were enough people who truly cared, statistics would HAVE to change.
    I participated in the GRACE investigation of BJU. The GRACE team was made up of people who seemed willing to take the time to try to offer hope to each one of us.
    However, by in large, it appears that the Christian world in general AND the rest of society, are mostly ignoring the things that were exposed at BJU. Why is that? I don’t understand?!
    BJU has a great deal of influence over likeminded schools, churches, missions and various other ministries all over the world. Even though the GRACE group was objective and unbiased, what they found was horrific, but nothing seems to be happening with that information. BJU has simply decided they aren’t going to acknowledge the evidence. So, is that where it ends? Who can or will challenge them?
    You are right. The churches won’t do…

  • Thanks for sharing this, it rings a lot of bells.

    I grew up in a mission boarding school in a third world country. It was a cess pool of abuse, but cleverly covered up so that each victim knew little about what was happening to others and it probably would have remained that way, except for the advent of social media and modern communication.
    The principal of the school was a BJU Jesus Boy, who taught a racial gospel of hate. He knew about the sexual abuse, but did nothing. One offender was prosecuted, but the rest were allowed to “disappear”.
    One field of the mission was expertly investigated by GRACE, but the recommendations were not followed and despite all the propaganda the abuse still goes on, as proved by the arresting and jailing of an offender a year ago.
    The good news is that international governments have now started to take action. They are working together and penalties are being imposed (the aforementioned offender got 58 years).

  • Oscar,
    I’m so sorry. 🙁 I didn’t experience mission boarding schools, but experienced the MK world. It was a terror that I still am not really able to face. I try hard to keep the memories blocked out of that time period. Like your world, it was a BJU environment and sexual abuse and all sorts of other abuses were just part of MK life.
    As far as I know, none of the offenders from that time period have been prosecuted.
    Am ecstatic to hear that international governments are getting involved!!! That is very hopeful! I hope to see that continue. All abuse is horrific, but it astounds me how many missions knowingly send offenders to the mission field with no sense of responsibility for all the innocent victims. 🙁
    Oscar, I hope you find continued healing!

  • Hi Boz,

    Do you have any comparable statistics for other western countries?

    Sometimes posts come up on other websites regarding this and it would be good info to have and be able to compare.

  • According to one New Zealand report I found 17 – 25% of women in a large population area, when interviewed said they had been sexually abused as a child. The definition of sexual abuse ranged from indecent exposure to rape. The figures for males were about a quarter of the female figures, which would be 4 – 6%.
    Nationally the figures would be a little lower, due to the ethnic makeup of the sample pool, being done in an area where the ethnic makeup contains higher percentages of groups that alas have higher rates of abuse.

    Australian statistics are generally similar. Hope this is of some use.

  • Thank you for taking the time to post that.

    To be honest I am not surprised to see that there is a marked difference in the figures. I grew up in both American and Australasian cultures and the attitude difference between the two groups of men was considerable.

    Australasian men had a far less sexist view of women and they did not seem to think the world existed for their exploitation!!!!!!!

    I grew up with some great American men, but there was a lot of bible thumpers who preached during the day and molested at night. And no one did anything about it!!!!!!!!!