More churches are checking the national sex offender registry. Is it helping?

"Most background checks sift through more than 600 million felony, misdemeanor and traffic records. Perhaps most importantly, they also check the nationwide sex offender registry. But that may give churches and other religious groups a false sense of security about preventing abuse" - RNS

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Bert Perry's picture

If I remember correctly from when I consulted some research into the matter, only about half of people who have committed sexual assault have ever been convicted of any felony.  So the first thing you need to know about background checks is that they only find, plus or minus, about half of perpetrators.  A committed perpetrator can also assume a false identity to sneak through.

So what background checks do is not to really "catch" perpetrators looking for their next crime to commit.  What they do is to let those who would serve know that the church is watching, and in that light, the rest of your child protection (really member/attendee protection as a whole) really needs to empasize that as well--two worker rule, only members or long term attenders serve in childrens' ministries, active reporting to authorities, etc..Far more problem workers are "scared off" by a church that is minding this part of its ministries than are "caught" by background checks and the like.  

The difficulty, in this light, is to maintain best practices when the program is working and you're not getting any problems.  The tendency is to assume that because things are OK, you can relax--and that's when problems sneak in. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:
So what background checks do is not to really "catch" perpetrators looking for their next crime to commit.  What they do is to let those who would serve know that the church is watching, and in that light, the rest of your child protection (really member/attendee protection as a whole) really needs to empasize that as well--two worker rule, only members or long term attenders serve in childrens' ministries, active reporting to authorities, etc..Far more problem workers are "scared off" by a church that is minding this part of its ministries than are "caught" by background checks and the like.  

Bert,

I was recently approached by a lady in our church who was offended that we have and follow a 6-month regular attender policy when it comes to allowing people to serve in children's ministry. In other words, before you can apply to serve in our children's ministry, you have to regularly attend our church for at least 6-months (among other requirements). Her daughter grew up in the church, but then got married many years ago and moved away to another state. Her daughter returns for a couple weeks every summer to visit, and she wanted to serve in our VBS program while she was here. The VBS director asked me about her, and I said No, because she doesn't regularly attend our church.

The lady expressed her disagreement with the policy and strongly urged me to reconsider my decision because her daughter was hurt to not be able to serve in VBS.

Good times.

Bert Perry's picture

Maybe suggest she buy Rachael Denhollander's book and compare her daughter's disappointment with not being able to serve at VBS with the lifelong trauma suffered by sexual abuse victims.  You give a brilliant example of how important it is to create a church culture that says "this stuff is common and important, and we ignore it at our peril."

Another option; point her to the law firm of Manly Stewart (lawyers for many of Nassar's victims) and ask her if your church can afford to tangle with a guy who's won close to two billion bucks in judgments.    Ask her if she's got a good answer if John Manly comes to town and starts asking why your church doesn't follow its own policy and best practices.  

(yes, I've done this, and it works....you've got to create a base of knowledge so that people remember why it's important.  It's called corporate culture in quality circles)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

...The VBS director asked me about her, and I said No, because she doesn't regularly attend our church.

The lady expressed her disagreement with the policy and strongly urged me to reconsider my decision because her daughter was hurt to not be able to serve in VBS.

Good times.

Yup, been there.  I have to fall back on “that’s our policy and we can’t bend it for anyone.  We are sorry and will look at amending it in the future” (even if the request is completely unreasonable).

A well-thought through, consistently applied policy is a great thing to fall back on.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells