Offenders in the Church: Who they are and how do they operate?

The following video is a ‘must see’ for all pastors, church leaders and congregants of all denominations. You can visit GRACE on Facebook or visit their website.

What is GRACE?

GRACE is a non-profit organization made up of highly trained and experienced multi-disciplinary professionals who seek to educate and empower the Christian community to identify, confront and respond to the sin of child abuse.

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Offenders in the Church: Who are they and how do they operate? from GRACE on Vimeo.


The Prevalence of Child Abuse in the United States

  • Child sexual abuse is 75x more common than pediatric cancer.
  • One child molester per square mile in the United States– Dept. of Justice
  • 38% of all girls and between 9%-16% of boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday. (With 75 million children in the United states, this translates to almost 15 million children who will be sexually victimized over the next 18 years!!)
  • 40% of children between 10-17 have been sexually solicited online.

The Prevalence of Child Abuse inside the American Church

  • Child abuse allegations against American churches average 70 per week. (Christian Ministry Resources. ** This number could be much higher due to under-reporting.)
  • 1% of surveyed churches reported abuse allegations annually!
  • Volunteers are more likely than paid staff to be abusers.

– 42% were volunteers
– 25% were paid staff
– 25% were other children

The ability of the Christian community to prevent child abuse has been hindered by inadequate information and training. The Church must learn to:

– Prevent Abuse
– Recognize Abuse
– Report Abuse
– Respond to Abuse

Those who harm children are often attracted to the Church environment.

“I considered church people easy to fool. . . they have a trust that comes from being Christians. They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people. I think they want to believe in people. And because of that, you can easily convince, with or without convincing words.”

— Imprisoned Predator

Prevention Begins with Education on Child Sexual Abuse: General Observations

  • Abuse is seldom isolated. The average child molester victimizes between 50 and 150 children before being caught.

“I created my first victim when I was 13, a female victim. Sally was 6 and I was 13, I created my first male victim when I was 15, and I have been victimizing male children virtually nonstop until my incarceration.

Question:  How old are you now?
Answer: I am 33 now, and I have been incarcerated for three years.
Question:  How many total victims did you have?
Answer:  I have eleven male rape victims, one female rape victim, and I have approximately 1250 male molestation victims, and I say approximately because I really don’t know.

— Predator”

The “Double Life”

“I lived a double life . . . I would do kind and generous things for people. I would give families money that did not have any money and that was not from the church treasury. It was from my own bank accounts. I would support them in all the ways I could. Talk to them and encourage them. I would go to nursing homes and talk and pray with the elderly. I would do community service projects including picking up garbage and mowing lawns for elderly and handicapped people. . . go grocery shopping for them.”

— Imprisoned pedophile of admittedly over 95 victims and the youngest deacon in his church.

“I want to describe a child molester I know very well. This man was raised by devout Christian parents and as a child he rarely missed church. Even after he became an adult, he was faithful as a church member. he was a straight A student in high school and college. he as been married and has a child of his own. He coached little league baseball and was a choir director at his church. He never used illegal drugs and never had a drink of alcohol. He was considered the clean cut, all American boy. Everyone seemed to like him and he often volunteered in numerous civic community functions. He had a well-paying career and was considered “well to do” in society. But from the age of 13 years old, this boy sexually molested little boys. He never victimized a stranger. . . all of his victims were “friends”. . . I know this child molester very well because he is me!”

— Convicted child molester

Do we know any persons like these??? The fact is that a child abuser cannot be detected by his/her looks, his/her lifestyle, or his/her status in the community or church.


Impact of Likeability

  • Victims Protect Them (the abuser)
  • Parents Refuse to Believe (the Victim)
  • Authorities Discount (the victim’s story)
  • Communities Support Them (the abuser)
  • Juries Acquit Them (the abuser)

“Niceness is a decision. . . not a character trait” — DeBecker, 1997

Predators often prey on trusting and vulnerable young people.

Question: At church, you did not molest all the children. . . how would you choose?

Answer: First of all, you start the grooming process from day one. . . the children you are interested in. . . You find a child you might be attracted to. . . for me, it might be nobody fat.  It had to be a you know, nice-looking child. You maybe look at a kid that doesn’t have a father image at home. You know, you start deducting. . . this kid may not have a father, or a father that cares about him. . . say you have a group of 25 kids, you might find 9 that are appealing. . . then you start looking at their family backgrounds. . . then you find out which ones are most accessible. Then eventually, you get it down to the one you think is the easiest target, and that’s the one you choose to abuse.

– Imprisoned Pedophile

Predators will prey on children who few people will believe if they were to disclose the abuse.

“Persons who may be compulsive pedophiles, for instance, may obey the law in other ways, may be responsible in their work, may have concern for other persons.” – Berlin, quoted in Knopp, 1984, p.9

We must be vigilant in protecting ALL the children in our churches.

Child molesters are very professional at what they do, and they do a good job at it.

— Convicted child molester

Child Sexual Abuse within the Church – The 5 Exploitations

Exploitation of “Religious Cover”

  • “Religious Cover” is the outward demonstration of religious practices or doctrine that covers over more sinister intentions and behaviors.
  • Used to gain access and trust of children and their families (eg. youth workers, pastors, teachers, and coaches.)
  • Hard core offenders maintaining significant involvement with religious institutions “had more sexual offense convictions, more victims, and younger victims.” Eshurys & Smallbone, Religious Affiliations Among Adult Sexual Offenders (2006)

Exploitation of FAITH ISSUES

Issues of faith are often distorted & manipulated to coerce victims in submitting to abuse and to be quiet about it:

  • Defining “sin” to justify (Ex. This is the expression of God ordained love.)
  • Defining “sin” to silence. (Ex. You should be ashamed of your sin.)
  • Distancing from God. (Ex. Because of your sin, God doesn’t care about you, but I do.)

Can you think of others?

The victim’s own analysis of religious doctrine may result in confusion and silence.

Seven year old: “Am I still a virgin in God’s eyes?” “God is going to punish me for this secret sin.”

Exploitation of Power:

  • Submission to authority. From the earliest age, children are taught to “respect and obey their elders.”
  • Authoritarian Leadership – Faith leaders often distort their role & authority by claiming to speak for God.

– no accountability
– Unresponsive to concerns raised regarding abuse.
– Adults are valued more than children.
– Victims are seen as “sinful” and trouble-makers and are often ostracized.

These environments are ripe for abuse.

Exploitation of NEEDS:

Churches are always in need.

  • How many churches can you think of that are not in need of volunteers to help out with our children and young people? i.e. . . Nursery, youth group.
  • Child molesters will always use this need to their advantage in gaining access to our children.
  • Example: Predator moves into an area of need (choir director).

Church pews are filled with people in need.

Needy children and/or adults are magnets for those who sexually victimize children.

Exploitation of TRUST:

Christians usually foster a very trusting environment.

  • “Church Family”
  • Mission Field where the children referred to every adult as “Uncle” or “Aunt.”
  • Dropping off child in the nursery.
  • Can you think of other examples??

Children are taught to trust God. Clergy and adults should be “trusted” since they are “God’s representatives on earth.”

Eddie [pastor] always said that God had chosen me for something special. I guess I really wanted to believe that. Doesn’t every kid want to think they’re special? Besides, who was I to question a man of God? It wasn’t my place. My role was to be submissive.

– C. Brown (sexually molested by her pastor)

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