(RNS) — It’s the bugaboo that scares pastors and parishioners alike: child sexual abuse in church.
Not only is such abuse terrifying on a human level, it can inflict devastating legal and financial costs on congregations.
Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian, a former child abuse prosecutor, has written a book intended to help churches implement policies and procedures to protect children and other vulnerable people under their care.
“The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide for Churches and Ministries,” co-written with Shira M. Berkovits, a psychologist and a lawyer, is aimed at a Christian audience, though it may be useful to any group that serves youth.
The book helps church leaders identify different types of abuse (sexual, physical, emotional, spiritual), learn about state laws and institute safeguards, such as background checks for employees. It guides churches on how to draft a protocol for responding to allegations of abuse and how to support victims.
Tchividjian, the founder and executive director of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) and a former RNS columnist, said pastors often ask him to email them a sample church policy on preventing abuse, which he does.
But he said those policies don’t necessarily make the church safer unless leaders are able to tailor the policies to their particular institution and disseminate them widely among members.
As many as 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2015, the last year for which numbers are available, there were 683,000 incidents of child abuse and neglect reported to child protective services in the United States.
“Protestants understand this isn’t just a Catholic issue,” said Tchividjian, referring to the massive clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. “This issue is sadly incredibly prevalent.”
Tchividjian said his co-author, Berkovits, is working on a similar book tailored to synagogues.