A church is known as a place where people of all ages go to feel safe and protected, but leaders of congregations could be preying on young ones while flying under the radar.
The Executive Director of the Benton County Children’s Advocacy Center tells me the headlines are just the surface of the issue.
“There are 70 allegations a week just against the church itself,” Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center Natalie Tibbs said.
Because to many, the environment seems foolproof.
“They are giving things the child has never had,” Tibbs said. But there is this dark side as well. So if I report on it then I lose the good side.”
Tibbs sees the victims after the leader has ” groomed” the child sometimes for several years.
“You start with very small things,” Tibbs said. “They will keep very small secrets so then when it comes time they will keep the bigger secrets.
According to experts, there’s neurobiology behind the trauma.
Oxytocin is a chemical released by the brain when a woman is in childbirth – mitigating the pain.
The hormone is released when a sexual abuse victim is attacked – causing an attachment to be formed.
“I think it’s part of the faith based community to be forgiving and to be accepting of persons and to give that second chance,” Area Manager of Sex Offender Services for Arkansas Community Corrections said.
But forgiveness isn’t the same as accountability.
That’s according to Jenni Dean Jordan – the Area Manager of Sex Offender Services for Arkansas Community Corrections.
“The reality is sometimes past behavior is a great indicator of future behavior,” Jordan said.
A task that isn’t easy in the Natural State.
According to Arkansas Law, Level One and Level Two sex offenders – who’s victims are over the age of 14 – are not on the public sex offender registry – causing an inconsistency among states.
“That’s why the church always needs to do a thorough background check,” Jordan said.
But those are expensive.
And the lack of funding could cause another loophole.
“Many times people will volunteer and then without the background checks, you are just opening the congregation up for victimization,” Jordan said.
One congregation out of Jordan’s control- the Catholic Church.
In September of this year, the Diocese of Little Rock dropped a bombshell.
“It is my hope that bringing this painful truth into the light might bring some sort of healing,” Bishop Anthony Taylor said.
A disclosed clergy list was published from the last 70 years.
12 priests were credibly accused of the sexual abuse of minors.
9 of them committed the crime while serving in Arkansas cities including Springdale, Tontitown, and Fort Smith.
All taking place before 2002, the vast majority of these cases appear to have involved fondling, and a few cases involved more.
“We were not forced to release this,” Bishop Taylor said. “I am simply acting on behalf of my commitment of being transparent.”
Different denominations have different policies, but all are bound by legislation to report any sexual abuse – a level of education the CAC is proud of.
“They are mandated reporters so it’s important that they understand what Arkansas law says about mandated reporting,” Tibbs said.
Just like looking for a new home – Jordan recommends finding the highest standards for the church members you call your family.
“You check out a church on how it fits your lifestyle and what it offers your children,” Jordan said. “Why not ensure that they are offering protection for the children that you are sending there?”
According to the Children’s Advocacy Center, in order to see a change in reporting sexual abuse.. a minimum of 5% of the population must be educated
That’s why the CAC is hosting a workshop called Safe Environment Training – Your Faith Community in December.