Many states require pastors and church leaders to report allegations of abuse. If you are a pastor, do you feel comfortable in your ability to follow the law?
Laws vary from state to state but generally speaking Hambrick said reporting abuse is mandatory if it Involves abuse against a minor.
Abuse is defined as:
- Inflicting or allowing non-accidental, serious physical injury
- Creating or allowing a substantial risk of non-accidental, serious physical injury
- Using or allowing cruel or grossly inappropriate procedures or devices to modify behavior
- Committing, permitting, or encouraging the rape of the child or other sexual crimes
- Creating or allowing serious emotional damage to the child
- Encouraging, directing, or approving delinquent acts involving moral turpitude committed by the child
Pastors are also expected to report neglect based on these criteria:
- Does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline
- Not provided necessary medical care
- Lives in an environment injurious to the child’s welfare
- Has been placed for care or adoption in violation of the law
Hambrick warns that many may fail in their reporting responsibilities because they’re unsure if abuse truly occurred. But he points out that a “reasonable suspicion” is all that the law requires and the authorities don’t expect pastors or others to be investigators. They have trained social workers to vet the charges.
When abuse is against an adult, the abuse victim is granted the choice of pressing charges or not. Hambrick said allowing the victim to make the decision of whether or not to report the alleged crime is part of restoring their voice and giving them back a sense of control over the major events of their life.
Another area for church leaders to consider is church discipline or confrontation with the accused abuser.
Hambrick said the church should stay out of the process until the victim has a plan and is emotionally ready to withstand the reaction of the abuser. “Premature confrontation of the abuser,” Hambrick warns, “places the disciplinary responsibilities of the church ahead of the well-being of the abused spouse. Discipline should happen WHEN-AFTER the abused spouse is ready for the additional distress this will bring.”
Hambrick acknowledges this is a difficult topic for pastors but points out “when someone talks to you about their experience of abuse they are giving you a high compliment. This kind of disclosure is risky and vulnerable. The level of trust they are investing in you speaks to how much they trust you and value your friendship. Because God loves the oppressed (Psalm 9:9) we must take seriously our call to be both God’s ambassadors and part of His refuge.”