Christians have a moral responsibility to aid victims, report perpetrators
Child abuse is rampant in America.
No race, class or religion is exempt. Even the church has been infected with child abusers.
The latest statistics regarding child abuse are from 2016. In that year, 3.5 million children received some type of prevention, investigative action, or post-response service. Of that number, 676,000 victims of child abuse were recorded. It is estimated that nearly five children per day in 2016 died of child abuse, with approximately 70 percent of them under the age of 3. Forty-nine states recorded child abuse fatalities in 2016.
There are many forms of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse (where a child witnesses a caregiver being assaulted), verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and many other subsets of abuse.
The leading cause of abuse is neglect, and while 676,000 cases of abuse were reported, many more were not reported. Some unofficial estimates conclude that as many as one in four children experience some form of abuse in their lifetimes.
In Matthew 19:14, Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” The well-known children’s song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children” written by Herbert Woolston, has a familiar refrain: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
If the Lord of the church loves children, shouldn’t His church love, protect, and care for them? Herod tried to kill all the male children in Bethlehem age 2 and under, hoping that he would eliminate the child Jesus. But Jesus was protected. Pharaoh tried to kill all the males among the Hebrews in Egypt because the Jewish population was growing too fast. But Moses was protected.
Part of the ministry of today’s church is to protect children from abuse — not just at church, but in society at large. A child is worth protecting from abuse. A protected child today could become a great and godly leader in the future.
In January, Michael Cornelius Gamble was arrested by the Richland County (S.C.) Sheriff’s Department and charged with “homicide by child abuse.” His son, Jaiden Hammond, was in Gamble’s care (Gamble is Jaiden’s biological father) just before he died. An autopsy indicated that Jaiden had significant injuries on his body that caused his death. Sheriff Leon Lott stated, “This is a heartbreaking case. To parents who are overwhelmed with your children, please reach out to us. We have plenty of resources that can help prevent a tragic outcome like this one.”
In Jerseyville, Ill., in November 2017, a 6-year-old boy named Liam was starved to death by his father and stepmother. Both adults pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and were sentenced to 25 and 20 years respectively. They had withheld food from the boy for nearly two years as punishment. He weighed less than 20 pounds at the time of his death.
Jersey County state attorney Ben Goetten said the parents “saw the condition of the child day by day, day in, day out — and did nothing about it. It is no doubt the most tragic case I have dealt with as far as victims go.”
Approximately 14 percent of men and 36 percent of women in prison say they were abused as children. About two-thirds of people in drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs say they were abused or neglected as a child.
According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children, children who are abused or neglected are around nine times more likely to become involved in criminal activity.
It is estimated that nearly 90 percent of child-abuse victims know their assailant in some way, while more than 65 percent are abused by a relative.
Children should be safe when they come to church, but sometimes they are not. The South Carolina Baptist Convention has several suggestions for protecting children at church, including child-abuse policies. That information can be accessed at the convention’s website: scbaptist.org.
What can a person do if he or she suspects child abuse? Report it. In fact, failure to report suspected child abuse is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and/or up to a $500 fine.
According to South Carolina law, some categories of people are required to report suspected child abuse. (See related graphic.) Clergy are considered mandated reporters when they suspect child abuse, but all citizens are encouraged to report abuse.
The Department of Social Services has a 24-hour Children’s Helpline to call if a person suspects child abuse. The toll-free number is 1-888-722-2580.
The culture we live in abounds with all types of abuse, but child abuse is often regarded as the most despicable. It is something Christians may be unable to eliminate, but it is equally something we should not give tacit consent to by refusing to do all we can to protect children. God’s people can make a difference for good by being involved — even when the temptation may be to look the other way.
Mark 10:16 says Jesus “took [children] in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands upon them.”
It has been said that God’s people are the arms of Jesus in the world today. If that is true, we must love and bless the children as He did.