Shining light on Baptist clergy sex abuse  
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Alarming Numbers

Ninety percent of active sex offenders have no criminal record that would show up in a background check. Other studies reflect numbers even more frightening. An FBI bulletin estimates that only between 1 to 10 percent of child molestation incidents are disclosed, much less prosecuted or convicted. And an Emory University study indicates that only 3 percent of child molestation incidents are detected. This means most perpetrators are not going to show up in any sex offender registry. It's why background checks aren't nearly enough.

An Emory University study concluded that the average male who sexually abuses minor girls has 52 victims, and that the average male who sexually abuses minor boys has 150 victims. These are averages, and other studies reflect different numbers --  for example, this report says the average perpetrator molests between 12 and 77 children. However, what ALL studies show is that, far too often, child molesters have numerous victims. Therefore, the best way to protect kids is to treat every allegation seriously and to remove a perpetrator from trust whenever there is substantial evidence of even a single incident. If Baptist leaders choose blindness - and do nothing - even when they receive a substantiated report about a minister molesting a kid, then many more kids are likely to be horribly wounded while the man continues in ministry.

An estimated 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Most are abused by people they know and trust, and most never talk about until much later in life, if ever.

The Journal of Pastoral Care reported on a survey in which 1000 senior Southern Baptist pastors were randomly selected from 15,000 churches in 6 states. The number of pastors who anonymously reported that they had engaged in “inappropriate sexual behavior” was 14.1 percent. And 70.4 percent had knowledge about other ministers who had engaged in "inappropriate sexual contact" with church members.*

Studies such as this are necessarily limited by the honesty of ministers who self-report. Some ministers may be incapable of getting past their own denial enough to candidly answer even an anonymous survey. And many authorities would say that the only time most child sex offenders will admit their conduct is when they are definitely caught and if an admission will buy them a lesser punishment. So...the numbers may be even much higher than what the survey reflects.

Darkness to Light reports that 70 percent of reported sexual assaults involve minors.

A Baptist-published brochure states that 35% of ministers surveyed "had engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior." It also states that Protestant clergy are "sexually exploiting their parishioners at twice the rate of secular therapists." (Broken Trust, published by the Christian Life Commission of the BGCT)

Other studies "have shown no differences" in the frequency of clergy sexual abuse "by denomination, region, theology, or institutional structure." Thus, "the problem of clergy sexual abuse is not just a Catholic issue - the problem extends to Protestant denominations as well." (Ministerial Ethics at 162*) Penn State professor Philip Jenkens reported that between 2 to 3 percent of Protestant clergy are pedophiles. His same study reported that less than 1.7 percent of Catholic priests are pedophiles. There is simply no reason to think that clergy child molesters are solely a Catholic problem.

Insurance companies receive from Protestant churches each year about 260 reports involving allegations of sexual abuse committed against minors. This is LESS than the annual number of 228 abuse incidents reported against Catholic priests. That reality is particularly noteworthy because Catholics keep track of even "credible accusations," which Southern Baptists don't even bother to determine or keep records on.

Dee Miller, an author and former Southern Baptist missionary, has been ministering to sex abuse survivors for the past 15 years. She reports that, from Christian faiths, about 2500 clergy abuse survivors have contacted her during that time, and that at least 300 of those were people abused by Southern Baptist clergy. One-third to one-half were abused as minors. Dee's ministry is conducted on a shoestring - with no funding, no resources, and no support of any kind from the denomination. How much greater would these numbers be, and how many more abuse survivors could be helped, if the denomination would provide the funding and commitment for a genuine outreach and education effort?

In just 9 months time during 2006-07, Christa Brown of SNAP-Baptist was contacted by about 100 people who reported having abused by Baptist clergy. Again, this is a ministry conducted without funding or resources. People simply saw a news article or found the website. How many more abuse victims would be located, and how much more likely would they be to speak up, if there were some support from the denomination? When victims aren't supported in speaking up, perpetrators stay in their pulpits.

Now consider these numbers from a 2004 study in the journal of Child Abuse and Neglect: "Sexually abused adolescents were much more likely to report having had 'thoughts about killing themselves' [73% abused, 25% non-abused]; to have "made plans" [55% abused, 12% non-abused]; to have "made threats" [45% abused, 9% non-abused]; and to claim attempts to kill themselves [24% abused, 5% non-abused]....The strong association between sexual abuse and suicide attempts, even after controlling for depressive symptomatology, hopelessness and family functioning, is in agreement with other studies...."

If clergy sex abuse were a disease, we would likely see national telethons to combat it because its impact is so devastating and its prevalence so widespread. Yet, even in the face of such alarming numbers, Baptist leaders blindly talk of "congregational autonomy" rather than taking action to protect kids.

*The results of this survey were reported in the book, Ministerial Ethics by Joe Trull and James Carter (2d ed. 2004), and in The Baptist Standard editorial, “Churches must act to prevent clergy sexual abuse,” 4/22/2002.