Registered Sex Offenders and the Church

I have been pretty hesitant about using my voice in this manner. It seems it would be much easier to just let people figure it out on their own. But I know God would not have placed it on my heart or placed me in the center of so many recent discussions about this topic. Please know that I have given much careful thought and prayer about how to present my views in a non-condemning, gracious, and open-minded way. I recognize that it will be difficult and uncomfortable for many to read and think about. But, I believe it is of utmost importance that we talk about sex offenders and the church.

Over the last month, I have found myself in multiple discussions regarding how to respond when a sex offender attends your church. This is not something I had given any thought to prior, primarily because my abuser did not attend church. It will require multiple blog posts to provide a well-informed and multi-faceted view of this topic. Between researching the legal statutes pertaining to registered sex offenders and the church, to studying the range of protocols currently employed by churches, to asking for opinions from individuals with backgrounds in law, law enforcement, higher education, pastors, and from fellow survivors.

I hope that by the end of the series, churches will begin having more conversations about how to protect children, empower survivors, and implement best practices if registered sex offenders are allowed to worship corporately.

In this post, I just want to introduce a few different scenarios that could occur in your church. I’m not going to post my responses to these scenarios today because I hope to hear some of your thoughts first.

***Trigger warning***

 

  1. Mr. S is 65 years old and has multiple aggravated child abuse convictions that span over 20 years and involve multiple victims. He is classified as a Tier 3 recidivist sex offender. He comes to your church and shares his status as a sex offender with the pastor. He also shares how he has come to Christ and it has changed his life and he wants to join a church that will welcome him despite his past. His life has changed.
  2. Mr. T is 28 years old. He was placed on the sex offender registry at the age of 20 after he was found guilty of indecent liberties with a minor. He was 19 year old when he was in a sexual dating relationship with a “consenting” 15 year old. He shares with a church leader his status as a sex offender. He desires to learn more about God and be more involved in church.
  3. Mr. J is 48 years old. He was placed on the sex offender registry for multiple counts of indecent liberties with a minor. He was in his 30’s and the minor was 8 when the crimes occurred. He has completed his probationary requirements. He initially does not share with the pastor or church staff that he is a registered sex offender, but because he lives in a small town several congregants recognized his face from the registry. The congregants went to the pastor concerned.
  4. Ms. R is 30 years old. She was placed on the sex offender registry following multiple arrests for prostitution in her late teens and early 20s. She never abused a child. She grew up in church and wants her kids to have that same upbringing. She is concerned about how people will respond to her status as a registered sex offender, despite prostitution not being her choice. She states she was a victim of sex trafficking. She meets with the pastor to share her concerns.
  5. Ms. M is 45 years old. She was convicted of indecent liberties with a minor and sexual abuse by a teacher. In her late 20’s she was found guilty of having sex with a 17 year old student. She has abided by the requirements of the registry. She hopes to join a local church that will allow her to participate in various aspects of ministry and service. She does not initially disclose her offender status, however, when she began attending regularly she asked the pastor for a meeting.

***These scenarios are fictitious although similar or exact circumstances could arise at your church. These are just a few samples of the many possibilities that could occur. No case is the same.***

Who gets to worship regularly at your church? Who gets to join in membership and/or serve in some capacity? What regulations are in place to protect the children in your church? How will you address the concerns of other church members? Do you know what legal rights both the church and the offender have? Do you know how to access court documents that corroborate the offender’s story? How does the church extend grace as Christ would desire? How do we hold people accountable for their actions? How will this impact survivors of child abuse in your church family?

In my next post, I will share my thoughts on one scenario in which I wholeheartedly believe the registered sex offender should NOT be able to attend at a specific church.

Share your thoughts! I would love to hear them and value any input you are willing to share. Have you had any experiences like this? Leave a comment or connect with me via the “Contact Me” tab.

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This is my home church in NC. It is a place that fostered healing and hope in the most loving community I could imagine. It is my desire that every survivor can have that experience. 

Trust Your Gut

I’ve always heard the phrase “trust your gut” but it was not until I was an adult that I realized the magnitude of this statement and the immense truth it holds. Over the last several weeks, I have had very similar conversations with multiple people about the importance of listening to our instincts, or commonly referred to as our gut. In many cases, this gut feeling manifests and there is no explanation for having the uneasiness accompanied by internal alarm bells.

My thoughts in this blog are primarily spurred by a specific incident that occurred some time ago. I was in the presence of an acquaintance. In previous encounters with this person, I recall feeling some uneasiness- it is that feeling that you can’t exactly put into words, but you know something just isn’t quite right. It’s that gut instinct. But, because I could not identify a precise or logical reason for my feelings, I pushed them down and ignored what my body was trying to tell me.

With each encounter with this person, I pushed those feelings down even further because I could not find any reason to think this person was unsafe. In my mind, I questioned whether I was just overreacting because of the trauma I experienced as a child. There was nothing noticeable about this person that I believed should signal these alarm bells. This person did not act in any way that scared me or made me nervous. I never saw this person interact with others in a way that concerned me. There was nothing outwardly happening to cause this gut feeling, something just did not feel right.

Eventually, I learned that gut feeling was there for a reason. Those alarm bells were going off to protect me. Eventually, this person crossed the line and made me regret not listening to that gut feeling. From that moment on, I made the decision to listen to that gut feeling and not question it. I will thank my body for protecting me, rather than assuming it’s just some crazy overreaction.

Now, I need to clarify that I do not get this feeling often. Of all the people I encounter in a year, only a few interactions have ignited this gut feeling and internal alarm bells. This is why I have promised myself that I will never get mad because I have a gut feeling I can’t understand and I’m not going to push that feeling down out of fear that it may be wrong. Acknowledge the feeling, trust it, and do what you have to do to stay safe. butterfly

The Second Hand Keeps Ticking

I can’t believe today is the last day of 2016. This year has challenged me, strengthened me, molded me, and made me more brave.

A little over a year ago, in December 2015, I sat in my local District Attorney’s office at the court house in the center of town. I anxiously watched the second hand move slightly with each tick as I waited for the ADA to call me back. As I reflect on this year, this particular meeting served as a launching point for some of the pivotal events of this past year for me. The meeting led to the creation and publication of my blog, which is now on the verge of 4,000 views. The meeting led to further research of laws governing the sex offender registry and allowed for contact to be made with a NC Senator. The conversation with the Senator placed me in contact with the North Carolina Conference District Attorneys. Nearly a year after my meeting with the local ADA in December 2015, I sat in another waiting room watching the second hand continue ticking. This time I waited for my appointment with the Child Abuse Resource Prosecutor at the NC Conference of District Attorneys office. It was somewhat surreal to meet and discuss further legislative efforts to better serve victims of child sexual abuse, not just through the court proceedings but in the years after when offenders reach the date of being able to petition for removal from the registry. During this meeting, I was given a copy of the publication in which my impact statement was featured. I was overwhelmed with emotion to see not just my statement, but line after line of words contributed by the local ADA I met with a year ago as he detailed the impact of our meeting. I hope to be able to share the publication soon, so stay tuned. I thank God for preparing me, strengthening me, and giving me the courage to sit in that office a year ago, bravely waiting for my name to be called as the seconds kept ticking.

Making my blog public earlier this year was a frightening choice, but I knew in my heart it was the next step God was calling me to take. Clicking publish has opened the door for me to educate others about laws governing the sex offender registry and the impacts of abuse that are not always discussed. It has given me the opportunity to be a safe person for people to share their story. Clicking publish has resulted in being given the honor of speaking at Triad Ladder of Hope’s 3rd Annual Gala Fundraiser on January 28, 2017. If you live in the area, I hope you will pray about attending or supporting this amazing organization. You can find out more information about the event here.

I am incredibly excited for what 2017 may hold. The blog will continue. The fight for strengthened legislation will continue. Thriving and braving this world will continue.

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Riding in the “Big Truck”

Recently, a trigger reminded me of one of the earliest abuse experiences I can recall. I am so thankful that this trigger no longer causes emotional turmoil and strong physiological responses. Instead, I could reflect on the incident and consider how I might provide useful knowledge that may help someone today.

My abuser’s profession when he first entered my life was driving trucks. I have many pleasant memories of traveling down to Wilmington on Friday nights with my immediate family in the “Big Truck” to eat at Western Sizzlin and pick up or drop off a trailer at the port. My siblings and I would ride in the cab on the bunk bed and occasionally we would get the chance to blow the horn. I can remember walking to and from the truck feeling like the coolest kid in the world. Unfortunately, that truck soon became a place I feared to enter.

If you knew me as a child, you may be aware that my favorite word was “go.” I was always excited to travel. One day I was given the opportunity to accompany my abuser to work, riding with him in the big truck to and from his destination for the day. We left the house around 3 or 4 am because the location was about three to four hours away. On the way, I slept in the cab of the truck. We arrived before the warehouse opened where we would deliver the shipment. During the time between our arrival and the opening of the warehouse, my abuser abused me. While I can identify grooming behaviors prior to this time, this incident is the earliest remembrance of being sexual abused.

What stood out to me recently, after being triggered, is the immediate feeling of fear, confusion, and guilt. As a child, I felt like I was thousands of miles away from what I considered my safety net and support system. I thought my abuser was a member of the “safe people” in my life. Yet, this incident caused me to question his status. I was conflicted with feeling like something was bad and wrong with the situation, yet I also believed that adults in my life would always do the right thing. I became confused about whether this was just a normal part of life. The guilt response has resulted in much reflection this last week.

This was the first incident of sexual abuse. All it took was this one incident for life to be forever altered. The entire ride home I felt like I, a 7 or 8 year old child, was going to be in the worst trouble when I got home. I can remember hoping and praying that my abuser would not tell my mom what had happened between us. I could not see this single event as a crime my abuser committed, instead I believed that I had done something wrong. One of the questions I’ve been pondering is how do we equip our children with protection from the response I had (and my others have had) as a result of being abused? I was trying to think about what I could have known or been told as a child so that when my abuser abused me for the first time I would have been able to tell an adult immediately rather than feeling like I would be the one to blame.

Honestly, I am not totally sure what the answer is to this question. I know my responses were normal for a child experiencing abuse, especially with an abuser that is a master manipulator and expert groomer. However, I want something different for other children. I want them to know that acts of abuse are never their fault. I want them to know (and I want to know) that a trusted adult is going to hear them when they speak up and believe them without hesitation and take action to provide them with safety quickly. When I was a child I was able to connect wrongdoings with consequences, generally some form of punishment. If I hit one of my siblings, I was going to be sent to my room for timeout. If I got in trouble at school, I would lose some of my extracurricular activities for a period of time. I had a feeling the abuse was a wrongdoing, but I was not able to perceive it as something my abuser was doing wrong.

I believe one of the important lessons to teach children at an early age is what to do if someone does something wrong to them. It will accompany educating our children about good touch/bad touch and ensuring they know who to turn to for help. I think we need to specifically state the abuse is never the fault of the child. If a person engages in bad touch- whether the abuser touches the child or the child is forced to touch the abuser- it is not the child’s fault (there are a multitude of other crimes against children that can be listed). The child is never to blame and they need to know they will never be in trouble for telling an adult about such incidents. If children fear adult’s responses, their opportunities to speak up about abuse are limited. An environment that fosters safe, open, and loving communication is absolutely necessary for children to acquire the courage to speak.

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Your Response. It matters.

Sexual abuse is not a single-victim crime. It impacts families and communities worldwide. Most people know someone who has experienced sexual abuse. How will you respond when you learn someone you love and care for has been hurt so deeply by this heinous crime? In the years following my disclosure and people learning about my experiences, the reactions have varied across the spectrum from outright rage to assuming I was lying. Each response impacted me- some were extremely comforting and healing, while others caused added distress in my life (unintentionally and intentionally). I hope that through sharing my encounters more people will be aware of how important their responses are to learning of abuse. In this post, I am going to discuss the reaction of wanting to inflict significant injury to an abuser.

 In the days following social services’ intervention and the separation from my abuser, some of the people closest to my family, including extended family, were informed about what had happened. Anger, rage, and the desire to hurt my abuser were very frequent and common reactions. These emotions are absolutely justified and warranted. They are normal reactions and it is okay to experience and express these emotions (not actions)- just not to the person who experienced the abuse. (Just a reminder that these are clearly my opinions and do not apply to everyone). I found myself pleading with people not to “kill” my abuser for what he did. Thus, I experienced further emotional turmoil because I found myself “protecting” my abuser, but also feeling thankful that someone did want to make him pay for what he did to me. I recall thinking “if you kill him, then I’m going to lose you too!” What I could not articulate at the time is the fact that even if someone had inflicted pain on my abuser, it would not have changed what he did to me or erased the impacts of being abused. I was going to have to work through those things despite the condition of my abuser. So, for someone to go and cause him pain, it would only have further negative impacts on me.

“What I could not articulate at the time is the fact that even if someone had inflicted pain on my abuser, it would not have changed what he did to me or erased the impacts of being abused.”

 I do not want to discourage people from expressing their understandable and normal emotions of fury, anger, and rage after learning someone you love has been abused; however, it is more beneficial to the person you love if you can find healthy ways of coping with those emotions. It is also best to avoid expressing these emotions directly to the victim and rather than worrying about the abuser, turn your focus to the needs of the people impacted by the crimes. What are some healthy coping mechanisms to consider when you learn someone you love has been abused and you become consumed with anger?

·       Find a trusted person to talk with about your emotions and reactions

·       Exercise to release some of the intense feelings of anger

·       Focus on the person who was abused and seek to bring them comfort

·       Pray for the strength to not act on your emotions

·       Find a way to turn that anger into pro-active action such as raising awareness about childhood sexual abuse, fighting for stricter penalties for child abusers, etc.

·       Journal – write a letter to the abuser to express the anger you feel, then shred it (probably not a good idea to mail it)

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 Due to the staggering statistics regarding childhood sexual abuse, it is unfortunately likely that at some point in your life you will have to choose how you will reach in this situation. What are your thoughts?