Faith-based organizations need sexual abuse prevention policies

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

The tragic story of the rape of Tamar, a young royal princess, sexually violated by her half-brother and then betrayed by her powerful father, King David, can be found in the Old Testament. The Bible neither covers up nor ignores sexual assault.

About 25 years ago, when I practiced as a licensed and ordained minister, I listened as a speaker and former pastor related a gut-wrenching story that happened in his Baptist Church in Florida. Two teenage boys (brothers) volunteered to help in Sunday school and children’s church. Allegedly, they sexually molested several children when they took them to the church bathroom. Members of the church were so devastated, they closed the church doors and put it up for sale.

Around this same time, a youth leader, in the same denomination where I was a former member, went to prison for having sexual relations with a minor (a girl in his youth group).

According to the Ohio Revised Code, “2907.04 Unlawful sexual conduct with minor. (A) No person who is 18 years of age or older shall engage in sexual conduct with another, who is not the spouse of the offender, when the offender knows the other person is 13 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age, or the offender is reckless in that regard. (B) Whoever violates this section is guilty of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.”

These crimes could have happened in any faith-based organization that did not have a sexual abuse prevention policy in prior years. But at that time, I heard the same statement of denial over and over again from church leaders. “Our church doesn’t have any of those kinds of people.” Pedophiles count on taboo talk in scared places.

Fast forward to 2018. Every church, temple, synagogue and faith-based organization, no matter how big or small, needs a policy on the prevention of sexual abuse and training for all paid employees and all volunteers. This includes pastors, youth leaders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, board members, musicians, secretaries, janitors and maintenance staff. Sexual predators come in all shapes and sizes.

Adults who sit in the pews need to inquire about sexual abuse prevention and intervention policies in their places of worship. And parents need to talk to children and teens about body boundaries in reference to authority figures.

I suggest the following resources:

“The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide for Churches and Ministries” by Basyle Tchividjian and Shira Berkovits. “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.” This book can be purchased from

“Church Board Guide to a Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Policy” can be purchased for $19.95. “Church leaders and boards can take relatively simple, yet effective steps to reduce the likelihood of child sexual abuse. Implementing a preventive program can provide a safe and secure environment for the children to whom your church has been entrusted, and help reduce the legal risk and liability.”

I would like to encourage every church, temple, synagogue and faith-based organization in Scioto County to initiate a sexual abuse prevention program with ongoing training for paid employees, volunteers and members of the congregation. The purpose is not to provoke panic, but to provide educational information for prevention and intervention.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio.