The information provided for discipling registered sex offenders, addresses known offenders who have been detected, charged, arrested, convicted and placed on the National Sex Offender Registry. But 86% of sexual assault goes unreported to authorities and only a portion of the reported cases have sufficient evidence to press charges, let alone secure a conviction. So the offenders that appear on the registry represent a very small portion of the sex offenders who actually pose a danger to your children. This is why our prevention program and on-line training for all staff, volunteers, and parents are an integral part in God's plan to protect children.
86% of Sexual Assault Goes Unreported to Authorities
There are three other groups of potential offenders that may present a danger to the children in your care that you should know about and plan to disciple:
There may be times when offenders disclose to a church leader that they have sexually abused a child. Your first responsibility is to ensure the safety of the children in your care and all access should be immediately suspended until an appropriate investigation has been completed by the authorities.
Clergy are mandated reporters in about half of the states and are thus required by law to report suspected abuse to either law enforcement or child protective services. Some of those states but not all, provide an exception for privileged communication between a clergy member and someone who discloses as part of the process of confession. It is very important that you know the mandated reporting laws in your state, including specifications for clergy, and adhere fully to the law (https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/clergymandated.pdf) However, I highly recommend that your child sexual abuse prevention policy designates all staff members and volunteers as mandated reporters with no exception for privileged communication, regardless of state law. Some denominations have made this policy across all of their churches. So either based on state law or organizational policy, you will need to report the disclosed abuse to local law enforcement or child protective services so that an appropriate investigation can be completed. Investigations should never be handled within the church and you cannot depend solely on the details disclosed by the offender.
Offenders often disclose to their church leaders that they have sexually abused a child because they long to be free from the secret and they truly want the help of God and the community to keep them from re-offending. However, they may not disclose all of the pertinent facts or they may twist the truth to indicate the incident is outside the statute of limitations or that it happened when they themselves were a minor, in an effort to get the support they need without you involving the authorities. It is important that you let them know that you will support them through the process but that you will need to contact the authorities to ensure all legal aspects of the case are resolved.
Depending on the initial discussion with the authorities, you may end up providing spiritual support during the legal process if charges are brought against the offender, during a period of incarceration if convicted, or the authorities may not press charges for a variety of reasons. In which case you will need to support the offender with a strong safety plan and no access to the children in your care - refer to our recommended options for registered sex offenders. Remember, the offender told you for a reason. Do not let them down by not providing the kind of spiritual support, structure, boundaries, and referrals to professionals that are necessary to ensure the offender has the best possible chance not to re-offend.
Self-Disclosed Minor Offenders
Forty two percent of childhood sexual abuse is at the hands of another child. If a minor has sexually abused and been detected, they were most likely sentenced to a treatment plan versus juvenile detention. In most cases, juvenile offenders' records are sealed and they would not appear on the sex offender registry. However, they or their parents may inform you of the incident. Similar to adult offenders who self-disclose, you have an obligation to talk with the police to ensure all necessary investigation and treatment has been completed and you should let the minor offender and their parents know your intent to do so. The minor offender was under no obligation to tell you about the abuse and you will need to determine on a case-by-case basis if it is appropriate to allow them to participate in your youth programs. If you do, you will need to provide spiritual support, structure, boundaries, and close supervision to ensure the safety of the other children in your care.
Minor Attracted Law Abiding Citizens (MALACs)
Every person who is sexually attracted to children and crosses the line, thought about it for a period of time first. Imagine if this had happened to you or maybe even one of your children. Where would you turn? Who would be safe to talk to? Who could help you before you act on the urge?
A third of the men were under the age of 16 when first attracted sexually to children. All of these men committed their first offense as juveniles, 1 to 3 years after becoming sexually attracted to children.
One study of offenders found that “A third of the men were under the age of 16 when first attracted sexually to children. All of these men committed their first offense as juveniles, 1 to 3 years after becoming sexually attracted to children.” and 83 percent of the offenders said they didn’t seek help because they either didn’t realize they needed it or there was no help available. We cannot be silent or even vague, and expect our youth to have good sexual boundaries with peers or with younger children. There are just too many inappropriate sexual influences in the world today. My book, 8 Ways to Create their Fate, details what we need to talk with our youth about to ensure we set them up for a life of successful appropriate relationships.
Whether it is a youth or an adult, there are people who are struggling with inappropriate sexual thoughts about children and you have the opportunity to be the one person they can trust with this shameful secret. Speak about this openly from the pulpit so that they know they can come to the church for help. If you have someone come to you for help with inappropriate thoughts and they have not acted on these thoughts and abused a child, there is no reason to call the authorities. Seek God's wisdom and discernment in your conversation to determine if a child has been hurt.
All that said, the person who is struggling does need professional help to create a strong safety plan and to determine the underlying cause of these inappropriate thoughts. Sometimes it is nurture and sometimes it is nature and the recommended treatment plan differs based on the cause. There are going to be a limited number of therapists who are willing to treat offenders and even fewer who are willing to treat MALACs without feeling the need to report them to authorities. I recommend you do your research ahead of time and have a referral list of therapists willing to treat both offenders and MALACs.
Of course, MALACs will need on-going spiritual support - sound theology, structured spiritual disciplines, intercessory prayer, healing ministry, and a small group to hold them up and hold them accountable.