The Importance of Proper Child Protection

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CC image courtesy of Flickr, Nadeem Abdulla.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Nadeem Abdulla.

I recently read an article about efforts churches and homeschool organization are taking to incorporate increased screening processes into their employment policies. While I would normally applaud such efforts, the ones I read about were motivated less by an interest in protecting children and communities and more by insurance companies wanting to protect themselves. As the article notes, “These groups want to know the personal histories of prospective employees in an attempt to protect themselves against liability for potential sex-abuse scandals based on the false belief that victims of sex abuse as children are destined to become abusers as adults.” One could see the wrong motivation manifest in how these churches and homeschool organizations were going about their child protection efforts: they were asking potential child workers about whether they were abused as kids, about whether they were LGBTQ, and about their personal pornography usage. 

While every church and organization has the legal right to ask potential employees and volunteers some of these questions, they are not helpful—in fact, they are counter-productive—with relation to the work of child protection. Take the question asked by Trail Life about being LGBTQ*: “Have you ever been convicted of, accused of or practiced homosexuality?” It is understandable that some conservative Christian organizations might ask this, considering that notable conservative Christian advocates like the Family Research Council have long perpetuated the myth that there is “a disturbing connection” between being LGBTQ and being a child molester.

But here are the facts about child abuse and LGBTQ individuals: LGBTQ individuals have a statistically higher risk of being victims of child abuse, whereas child abusers are statically more likely to identify as heterosexual, even married to a member of the opposite sex. Organizations that screen for child abusers on the basis of LGBTQ* identity, therefore, are not only targeting a population that is less likely to be abusive and more likely to be abused, they are also sending a counterproductive message to their own members: that heterosexual, married individuals should be seen as safer or less likely to be abusers.

Even the question asked by the National Black Home Educators Association—”Have you indulged in any form of pornography in the past 2 years?”—is a red herring. The fact is, child molesters are statistically more likely to be attracted to children, not adults. According to the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, child molesters seek out specific types of pornography, not pornography in general. They seek out either illegal pornography (i.e., child pornography) or legal pornography involving related themes.

So if an organization like the National Black Home Educators Association really wants to ask about pornography usage in the context of child protection, they should be asking about child pornography viewing, not general pornography viewing. Otherwise they are again sending the wrong messages.

Though, to be clear, the idea of a professional organization asking a potential employee or volunteer about pornography usage makes me feel uncomfortable in general. There are so many ways that could go awry or the knowledge obtained could be abused by those in the organization with power. Think, for example, what powerful and now disgraced homeschooling leaders like Bill Gothard or Doug Phillips might have done with such information.

If Christian and homeschool organizations are going to take child abuse seriously, they need to take it both seriously and correctly. They need to look to best practices established by professional child abuse prevention organizations. Continuing to hold onto damaging myths—like child abuse is determined by being abused as a child or by being gay—does not help protect children. Instead, it marginalizes the most vulnerable people in our communities who desperately need that protection.

Additional reading:

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Author: R.L. Stollar

R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.