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Child Abuse is an Epidemic: The Church Must Do More | Provoketive Magazine
03 Dec 2012

The Author

I am a doctoral student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. I am currently studying Christian spirituality and, within that context, the spiritual words of abused children--namely, that is, how abused children experience the healing touch of God. In my free time, I enjoy writing poetry and children's stories, being in nature, and watching The Wonder Years. Over and over again. And then over and over again. I was born and raised in San Diego, California, and feel madly in love with God on those shores. http://asocialspirituality.wordpress.com


Child Abuse is an Epidemic: The Church Must Do More

Child abuse is a social problem of epidemic proportions.

Even though it is difficult to understand the true scope of child abuse—studies have found that only one third of child abuse is reported, for example[1]—the reports that are available, however conservative in nature, paint a horrific picture.  In one 2008 study, researchers found that one in five children will experience child abuse—or 15 million in total.[2]  Another study found that 1 in every 3 girls and 1 in every 8 boys will experience sexual abuse; roughly half of which being incestuous.[3].  In 2009, 6 million children were reported to Child Protective Services.[4]  A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds,[5] and it takes the life of more than five children each day: that is seventy-one classrooms full of children that die every year as a result of child abuse.[6]  David Finkelhor, a leading researcher on childhood victimization, has argued that children are in fact the most victimized population in the United States.[7]  In addition to experiencing the same rates of victimization as adults, he argues, children also experience victimizations unique to their own status such as child sexual abuse and neglect.  “They are beaten by family members, bullied and attacked by schoolmates and peers, abused and raped by dating partners, and targeted by sex offenders in both physical and virtual realms.”  “Childhood,” Finkelhor asserts, “is indeed a gauntlet”.[8]

Millions of children across America are suffering: crying out in desperate need.  Has the Church heard their cries?  These children are sleeping underneath blankets of fear, walking to school in dread, and playing on the street corners we pass by on our way home from work: crying out in desperate need.   Has the Church heard their cries?  These children are waiting in emergency rooms, visiting mental health clinics, and are often engaging in risky behavior, confounding their trauma all the more: crying out in desperate need.  Has the Church heard their cries?  These children are sitting in pews and benches, coloring in Sunday school rooms, and clapping their hands and singing to worship songs in churches all across America: crying out in desperate need.  Has the Church heard their cries?

The needs created by the problem of child abuse are vast, and the Church is in a remarkable position to be able to respond to these needs.  To be a healer.  To be Christ.  To help them move into, in both their interior worlds and their social circumstances, a lived experience of God’s love.

This is not to suggest that the Church is not already responding.  Organizations like Marie Fortune’s Faith Trust Institute and the evangelical Royal Family Kids Camp are good examples.  There are more.  And, to be sure, one shouldn’t be naïve: churches are understaffed, underfunded, and attendance in many denominations is very low.  The resources are limited; time is lacking.  Yet, amidst this EPIDEMIC—where children, the most vulnerable people in our society, are the most victimized–it is clear that the Church can do more; that is has to do more.  It must learn to trust that the Holy Spirit will make a way for it to respond to the needs of abused children.

I have been wondering what it might look like for all churches—if even for a year—decided to respond collectively to the most victimized population in the United States: if every church in America dedicated some of its energies to creating a campaign against child abuse in response to the needs of abused children. In addition to meeting the needs of abused children, it seems that such a campaign would be an excellent way for the Fragmented Body of Christ to become more unified—and could also serve as a catalyst for interfaith dialogue and collaboration.  Theological and sociopolitical issues aside, certainly we can agree that this epidemic necessitates a more comprehensive response, and that the Church has the power and responsibility to meet the needs of those that are suffering.  Perhaps we can all agree with Dietrich Bonheoffer when he said, “the ultimate test for a moral society is the kind of world it leaves for its children”.

What kind of world have we created for our children? What kind of society is ours when children are the most victimized population–and they are suffering, often in a screaming silence, amidst so much wealth and affluence?

The Church has to do more.  We have to find a way.

To be continued …

[1] Sedlak, A. J., & Broadhurst, D. D. (1996)

[2] How Common is Maltreatment: 5

[3] http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/factsheet/pdf/childhoodSexualAbuseFactSheet.pdf

[4] National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS)

[5] http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics#2

[6] United States Government Accountability Office, 2011. Child maltreatment: strengthening national data on child fatalities could aid in prevention (GAO-11-599). Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11599.pdf

[7] David Finkelhor, Childhood Victimization (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) 3.

[8] Ibid.

photo-credit: foreign policy association

  1. I read this article with great interest. I am a church leader and I recognize the need to do more for children. But the article was incomplete. The writer basically said: “The church needs to do more to deal with child abuse.” My response was: “I’m all ears. Tell me. Give me some ideas. Where do I start?” Nope. Nothing like that in the article. Next time, wait until you have more than a rant if you truly want to call people to action. At least suggest an action.

    • Thanks for your reply, Richard. I appreciate your argument. Before one can respond, one must be educated. Part of the action/response is education itself. Education is also a form of action. Another element, implicit in my argument, is that we need to act by acting together–I suggest creating a national campaign in which all churches participate. Also see the line at the end of my piece: “to be continued”. In my next piece on this issue, I am going to do precisely what you requested–provide one specific example of how the church can response to the problem of child abuse.

  2. one of the biggest things the church can do is to believe people who say they are being abused–even/especially if they are being abused by a respected church member or staffer.

    so many victims/survivors are disbelieved or even blamed in cases of rape and sexual abuse. and we often privileged abusers with out narratives of grace without creating safe spaces, accountability, or room to heal.

    as for tangible help, locally churches participate in a “suitcases/backpacks for foster kids” project. so many kids get taken from abusive and neglectful situations with nothing but the clothes on their back–and sometimes less. this project provides practical basics and toys for kids showing someone is looking out for them. congregants can train as court appointed special advocates, too, to help kids or find out from child and family services what kind of needs they can fill.

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