Sex Offenders and the Church: A Response, Part 2

Discovering the facts is integral to any policy regarding sex offenders and the church. In my earlier post, I identified a few different scenarios. In some of those scenarios, the sex offender immediately disclosed to the pastor of the church his/her status as an offender. In this post, I will share concerns pastors and church leaders should immediately address in this case.

First, pastors and church leaders should have a set of questions prepared to ask the offender during this conversation. Questions should include the following, but are not limited to these specifics:

  • What were the charges the offender was convicted of?
  • How old was the offender at the time of the abuse?
  • How old was the victim at the time of the abuse?
  • What was the relationship of the abuser to the victim?
  • What was the nature of the abuse- even though the specifics may be uncomfortable for you to hear, you need to hear how the offender words his actions because it will be important to recall when you do your own research.
  • How does the offender view his recovery/repentance?

Second, pastors and church leaders should know how to access online state sex offender registries. You can click on the tab, “Sex Offender Registry,” to retrieve links to each or simply google “[your state] sex offender registry.” Click on the state in which the offender resides and search the offenders name. The registry will provide you with the offender’s current address, aliases, convictions, incarceration time, etc. Verify the offender’s story with the information you find on the registry.

Third, contact law enforcement in the geographic area where the offenses occurred and charges were filed. While law enforcement will not be able to share all the details, they may be able to provide some insight on the case, particularly regarding the perceived “threat of recidivism/re-offending.” They may be able to provide more information than what is available online, such as the original charges filed against the offender.

Finally, do not base your threat assessment simply on the charges of which the offender was convicted. Unfortunately, with many sex crimes cases, plea agreements are reached to avoid the trauma of trials. Due to delayed disclosures, physical evidence is often extremely limited or non-existent. In my case, my abuser was charged with three counts of indecent liberties with a minor; however, that should not reflect the frequency of the abuse that occurred. If my abuser was charged based on the number of times he abused me, it would have been in the hundreds which would likely have a significantly different impact on how pastors and church leaders would view his attendance at a church.

I hope this post has spurred thoughts and questions to consider regarding policies on sex offenders and the church. Please, feel free to send me your thoughts or questions and I will gladly share my input. I will be creating a page on this blog dedicating to resources for helping churches develop and implement healthy policies.

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A Sample of the NC Sex Offender Registry

 

 

Non-Existent Address?

Last week, I shared in a post about my experience with the victim notification system. However, I did not share the whole story as I found myself in a period of waiting to see how things would play out. What I did not disclose is that when I googled to find the mapped location of my abuser’s “new address,” I could not find it. I searched for the location via every method I could imagine- even dragging my cursor over the entire zip code seeking my abusers’ pin on the sex offender registry map. When my exasperated efforts failed to turn up any information on this new address, I reached out to someone familiar with my case who continues to work in law enforcement.

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When his efforts of finding this street address were thwarted, I became panicky and entered survival mode. It seemed that my abuser had listed a bogus address and was potentially non-compliant with the registry requirements. For what seemed like much longer than it actually took to get the answer I needed, my brain was in overdrive. I caught myself lost in thought trying to figure out why my abuser would at this point not comply with the registry requirements when he had for 12 years. I became frightened that either he had hurt another little child and was trying to get away or that he was possibly going to try and find me. I was annoyed that the registry had failed me because they “lost” my abuser- he was going to get away. The physiological trauma responses I experienced in years past returned rapidly. The whole situation caught me completely off guard and I struggled to find my ground.

As law enforcement sought answers, I informed the ADA of the latest happenings. I am so thankful for the law enforcement in Duplin County that monitors the offenders on the registry and the ADA. It is clear through their swift actions that they truly care about the people they serve. Thankfully, this story has a “happy-ish” ending- my abuser actually has not moved, the name of the road he has lived on for years is changing/has changed and technology simply has not caught up yet. While I find comfort in knowing that law enforcement knows his exact location, I find greater comfort in knowing that I still have advocates in my life fighting for me when I can’t. I find the most comfort in knowing that God is my greatest source of protection and that he has placed people in my life to help.

I wholeheartedly believe that God allowed me to experience this event because it exposed the area of my life that I am not entrusting to Him. During the waiting period I wrestled back and forth with God- trusting Him with the outcome then before I knew it, yanking it right back- wanting to take action immediately, rather than allowing for the appropriate chain of response patiently. When a person experiences traumatic events, control is often difficult to relinquish once it is regained- for obvious reasons, we did not have control in the trauma. My prayer is that I will continue to let go of the ropes that are not mine to hold.

Responding to Disclosures #MeToo

Over the last several months, we have watched #MeToo permeate news cycles. The movement has resulted in many people coming forward to share their stories of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. We have watched as powerful  and/or highly-regarded men, particularly in media and politics, have finally faced consequences for the crimes they have committed. This movement has challenged people to consider how they will respond to these types of disclosures. How did you respond when the news broke about Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, or Roy Moore? Overwhelmingly, the response has been supportive for the incredibly brave individuals who have courageously shared their stories; however, there have been many instances of questioning the validity of such disclosures. Before this movement, society was not as welcoming towards disclosures of sexual crime. Victims were often blamed, rather than believed. Sexual harassment was considered the norm, just a piece of the “boys will be boys” culture (although women are perpetrators too). The #MeToo movement has initiated a change in the way disclosures are regarded; however, there is still a ways to go. 

I want to share two things about disclosures of sexual crimes that are often points of contention for people who are unsure about the validity of such disclosures. 

1). Disclosures are not always timely- in fact, more often than not they will come in the months, years, or decades after the incident. Many times, our lives are threatened, our family’s lives are threatened, our careers are threatened, etc. Too many times our abusers have been accurate in their statements that “no one will believe you,” which reinforces our silence. We were likely manipulated to believe that the abuse or harassment was either the norm or somehow our fault. Please, do not blame or fault us for not coming forward immediately. 

2). Disclosures probably will not include all the details. First, if the abuse or harassment occurred frequently or over an extended time, it is impossible to recall each incident in a moment. Sometimes, our disclosures may include only a small piece of our story in an effort to see if that piece will be believed before we share the painful details of our experiences. Most of the time, our brain simply can not piece everything together to form a coherent narrative until we have had the time to process the trauma with a counselor. It takes time. When I reflect on my timeline of disclosure, it took several years before I felt safe enough to share most everything that happened to me. Please, be patient and do not assume we are lying or making things up because we do not recall everything that happened when you ask. 

In my conversations with people who have experienced sexual assault, sexual abuse, and/or sexual harassment, and in my life, more than anything- we want to be believed and we want our experiences to be validated. #MeToo has created a place where this occurs, and my hope is that it will continue to change the societal response to disclosures. 

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Photo by: Mihai Surdu via Pixabay

I would love to hear your views on the #MeToo movement! How has it changed how you view disclosures either positively or negatively? How have you responded to the “downfall” of well-known individuals who have been accused of sexual crimes? 

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section or via the Contact Me page.