Procedures for Responding to Reports of Abuse within the congregation
In all cases where abuse has occurred in the context of our congregation, regardless of the age of the person who has been abused or is suspected of having been abused, we will contact area conference leadership.
The conference office number is 800-662-2264. Ensure that at least two church members who are of different genders from each other contact the conference minister together. (If the person is a minor, this step comes after writing down all relevant information and contacting the Indiana Department of Child and Family Services—see below.)
If the alleged offender is a credentialed individual such as a pastor, a AMC member or another leader will contact the Ministerial Committee of Central District Conference, who will follow the Ministerial Sexual Misconduct Policy of MCUSA.
If someone would like an advocate or investigation from a body outside MCUSA, contact:
- Into Account, firstname.lastname@example.org
- GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) email@example.com
Procedure for Responding to Report of Abuse of a Minor
- If a child discloses abuse or child abuse is suspected, the person to whom the child disclosed or who has the suspicions will immediately or as soon as physically possible write down everything heard or observed that raised alarm. Follow the guidance of Appendix 1.
If needed for support, the person making the report may talk to another member of the congregation, whether a credentialed leader or someone who has made reports, such as a school social worker or nurse. But under no circumstances should any member seek to dissuade another person from making a report as soon as possible, or changing the observations or account from a child that raised alarm.
- When the victim and alleged offender are both in the church community, we will follow these additional steps below without delay of any kind. The pastoral team will lead these efforts and bring in the Leadership group chair, overseer or other members of the congregation and independent professionals as appropriate:
- attend to the victim and their family’s safety and needs through church leadership and an outside agency (such as a child advocacy center). Keep the victim’s needs at the center of any process.
- relieve the alleged offender from all responsibilities involving contact with children until the conclusion of the investigation.
- notify parents within 12 hours if their children may have encountered the alleged offender. Let them know that the abuse or suspected abuse have been reported to authorities. (Leadership needs to consider the likelihood that more than one individual has been harmed.)
- keep victims and alleged offenders separated during the investigation. One way to do this is by providing alternative, age-appropriate activities beyond a full-church setting, such as worship or fellowship time, so that victims who are children can continue to participate in church activities. If the alleged offender is an adolescent in the community, find alternate activities for the adolescent.
- follow all legal requirements regarding the offender after the investigation. Inform the entire church through a special meeting and one-on-one conversation as necessary; secrecy makes children unsafe and does not help offenders.
- attend to the dynamics that prompted the report, even if the abuse is not confirmed, and carefully consider the degree to which individuals involved need to remain separated.
- make pastoral care available to all involved, prioritizing the needs of the victim.
Procedure for Responding to Report of Abuse of an Adult
- Connect the person reporting abuse to support from local sexual assault crisis center, a trauma-informed therapist, a civil attorney, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), or another group or person who will help them think through their options and serve as an advocate. Keep in mind, this step may take time.
- Church members will also consult with a local sexual assault crisis center early on for guidance on offering support the person reporting abuse and support their decisions. We will seek to be aware of any desire to make decisions for them or to take on responsibilities outside of our role.
- The YWCA provides assistance to survivors of sexual violence: https://ywcachicago.org/our-work/sexual-violence-support-services/
- Privilege the voice of the person reporting abuse at all times through the process, keeping in mind that
- The wishes/needs of a person reporting abuse may change over time. Be sure to check in frequently.
- While the person reporting abuse will not control the process, they must be kept in the communication loop.
- While false reports do happen, research finds they only occur in 2–10 percent of cases. In contrast, it is estimated that over 60 percent of sexual assaults are never reported.
- Respond with respect and compassion if the person reporting abuse wishes to contact law enforcement. Church leaders will assist as needed and willing.
- Offer to set up a support group for person reporting abuse. That group can provide resources such as a list of therapists, advocacy, and more. (This step needs to be revisited periodically. Offer to walk with them, and support their decisions. Be aware of any desire to make decisions for them, or to take on responsibilities beyond one’s role. Consult with your local sexual assault crisis center early on for guidance.)
- Suspend the alleged offender of responsibilities without delay.
- Inform the congregation of the suspension, and make it clear that others may come forward and report any abuse. This message would come from leadership group and the pastoral team. Especially if a church leader is the alleged offender, point congregants to leaders they can go to with concerns. Ask the congregation to pray for those involved.
- Follow the Harassment policy. Contact an investigative team or person from a pool of trained investigators for misconduct in the denomination or an organization in this field, such as GRACE, to complete the investigation.
- Establish a timeline for investigation and keep the person reporting abuse informed of the investigation’s progress. For the safety and support of the person reporting abuse, request strongly that the alleged offender stop attending your congregation. Ask if the alleged offender will attend another congregation, and inform that congregation of the situation. Do this in writing, describing the nature of the alleged misconduct with the details that are necessary for them to know (and only those details).
- Provide a written description of the outcome of the investigation to the person reporting abuse, the alleged offender, and every member of the congregation. In addition to what it written, inform the person reporting abuse and the alleged offender by phone and in person (unless that is not possible). In the written communication, describe the nature of the misconduct with only necessary details. Do not identify the person(s) reporting abuse unless they request that the church do so.
- Follow all recommendations arising from the investigative team. Make pastoral care available to all, prioritizing the needs of the person reporting abuse over those of the alleged offender.
- Pay attention to the need for healing in the faith community as a whole, through congregational meetings, circle processes, and/or a task force to problem-solve or prevent future problems.
Adapted from Chicago Community Mennonite by Safe church ad hoc committee Nov. 2021