“We let him into our lives, our home. We trusted him with our children, and he betrayed us in the worst way possible,” the mother told the judge. “It is inconceivable to think that this man was able to maintain the lie of who he was for eight years in our community.’’ Source: http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2016/05/sex_offender_left_oregon_and_d.html
Those of the words of the mother of a child sexual abuse survivor. A girl whose family trusted a friend from church to help care for their children. The man – a serial pedophile – conned his way into their lives, just as he had the families and churches of the other girls he abused years before. This is how a sexual predator operates. This is what ministries need to hear.
The man is James Eldon Breedlove, a sex offender with no less than five convictions for either sexually abusing children or public indecency. Breedlove also had two warrants out for his arrest for failing to register as a sex offender in Oregon. He used aliases to keep his true identity a secret, and that helped him repeat his horrific patterns of abuse across the state.
But, really it was a well-practiced pattern of behavior that he, like most child sexual predators, used to groom families and children. We’ve written about these behaviors on Protect My Ministry before, but we simply can’t remind you and your congregations about them enough.
Pedophiles and perverts don’t advertise their behaviors. Despite what you may see on television, they do not look a certain way and don’t usually gather or attract unwanted attention. In fact, most predators go to great lengths to appear trustworthy and kind to children and family members – this is part of their “grooming” tactics. They want to come across as trustworthy and friendly so they would never even be suspected of evil-doing. You simply can’t tell who a predator is just by looking at him or her.
But there are signs. There are always signs – in hindsight – that survivors and their family members will point out. These are some warning signs that something is not quite right with a person’s behavior:
• Doesn’t appear to have a regular number of adult friends and prefers to spend free time interacting with children and teenagers who are not his own;
- Finds ways to be alone with a child or teen when adults are not likely to interrupt, e.g. taking the child for a car ride, arranging a special trip, frequently offering to baby sit, etc.;
- Ignores a child’s verbal or physical cues that he or she does not want to be hugged, kissed, tickled, etc.;
- Seems to have a different special child or teen friend of a particular age or appearance from year to year;
- Doesn’t respect a child’s or teen’s privacy in the bathroom or bedroom;
• Gives a child or teen money or gifts for no particular occasion;
- Discusses or asks a child or teen to discuss sexual experiences or feelings;
Vacation Bible School Season
These reminders are crucial because churches around the country are about to begin Vacation Bible School season. Children will be heading into churches by the hundreds, and ministries will be relying on hundreds of volunteers to help manage these kids. It’s up to every ministry to make sure the children will be safe during VBS. There is simply no excuse to not do everything you possibly can to protect these kids. Here’s 4 things every church needs to do before VBS starts:
Screen all instructors, volunteers, and anyone who may come in contact with children.
Conducting background checks on these folks is the single-most effective tool you can implement to protect the children in your care. Our nationally-accredited team of screening experts specializes in helping faith-based organizations find the right screening solution for your needs and budget. And, we make a point to check out aliases of the person being screened – something that surely would’ve helped uncover the monster named in the Oregon sexual abuse case.
If you outsource your VBS, be sure to not only double-check the organization’s screening policies, but who it employs to conduct them. Does the organization conduct its own screening? If so, what methods do they use? If they use a third-party, who is it, what methods do they use, and what is their track record? Remember, an FBI fingerprint check is NOT the same thing as a thorough background check so tread carefully if the VBS you invite into your congregation uses only this method.
Incorporate Child Safety Training into your curriculum.
Estimates show that 90% of sex offenders don’t have criminal records. This means that predators may already be lurking in your congregation waiting for the right moment to strike. Training your volunteers and staff to identify odd behavior, signs of abuse and how to handle reporting of abuse is mission critical. The key here is that your volunteers and staff need child safety training before they serve.
Protect My Ministry has created an interactive child safety training course that can be completed online 24/7 at the person’s convenience.
Implement a waiting period.
Many faith-based organizations are implementing a waiting period (six months seems to be the standard) before allowing someone to work with kids or vulnerable adults. LifeSpring Christian Church in Ohio has a comprehensive and publicly available volunteer guidelines process and procedure that includes a standard waiting period. LifeSpring does a great job at explaining why it has all these policies, too:
“Volunteers in children or youth ministry will attend LifeSpring for a minimum of 6 months prior to volunteering in children or youth ministry. This waiting period allows potential volunteers to become an active part of the church and begin to understand the church’s mission, vision and values. It also gives ministry leaders time to get acquainted with a potential volunteer, allowing a better match of ministry opportunity to volunteer interest and ability.”
Keep your ratios in check.
Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company has this great tip on its blog: “Maintaining appropriate staff-to-child ratios can be vital in preventing injuries and other incidents. In general, at least two adults should staff each area, no matter how few children are in it. Only allow screened teenage volunteers if they are working alongside properly screened adults. Require open viewing in all areas, at all times, either through windows or doors. Monitor restroom trips by having an adult check the restroom before children enter (to ensure it is empty) and then standing outside while in use.”
What other steps do you take to protect children in your church? We’d love to hear from you so leave a comment below.