Child Abuse

Jesus’ teachings about children are sobering:

If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone tied around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin!  Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come.”  Matthew 18:7

These words reflect a recognition of a child’s particular vulnerability to harm and a particular obligation of God’s people to be mindful of their interests and, most certainly, to protect them from harm in all situations and environments.

There are many formal and acceptable definitions of child abuse. Within Breaking the Silencechild abuse will include those actions defined as child abuse under various items of State and Territory legislation.  The provisions of this Section apply to all States and Territories within the church unless specifically indicated.

The following is the definition of child abuse adopted by the church. There are different kinds of child abuse and all of them require our attention:

  • Neglect: Chronic failure to provide the basic necessities of life, such as love and affection, safety, food, clothing, hygiene, medical care and education.
  • Emotional Abuse: Depriving a child or young person of love and attention which can include but is not limited to constant criticism, isolation, excessive teasing or terrorising. These actions and others are used by a person in a position of power to make the child feel worthless. It may also include actions that cause serious mental anguish without any legitimate disciplinary purpose as judged by the standards of the time when the incidents occurred.
  • Physical Abuse: All non-accidental physical injuries. This can include but is not limited to hitting, beating, burning, scalding or shaking, and actions that cause serious pain without any legitimate disciplinary purpose as judged by the standards of the time when the incidents occurred.
  • Sexual Abuse: Involvement in sexual activities with anyone who is older, bigger, in authority or perceived authority or more powerful where the child or young person is unable to give informed consent. These activities may be initiated by either party. This includes but is not limited to touching in a sexual way, masturbating, flashing, oral sex, intercourse or eroding the sexual boundary between the two people through sexual innuendo, kissing, unwanted or unnecessary touching and overly long hugs. It can involve apparently consensual intercourse or sexual activity but the validity of consent is negated by the power differential or the fact that one person has a moral and spiritual responsibility towards the other. It also includes permitting another person to undertake these activities with your knowledge or in your presence. It is not possible for a person under the age set by legislation to legally consent to sexual activity.
  • Domestic Violence: Any of the above four forms of abuse within the context of a family.  It also includes social isolation and / or financial control or deprivation. Domestic violence can be carried out upon a child or young person or they can be a witness to violence. That is, to fall within this provision, the violence does not have to be directed at the child.

Child abuse may also be sexual misconduct or reportable conduct and is a notifiable circumstance.

Sexual Misconduct

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3,4

What is sexual misconduct?

Sexual misconduct is contact or invitation, via any means, of a sexual nature which is inconsistent with the integrity of a person in a position of authority within the church. Sexual misconduct includes any behaviour that could be reasonably considered to be sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, coercionor grooming of an adult or a child or young person.

Sexualised behaviour is any behaviour that may reasonably be perceived to be of a sexual nature according to the standards of the time by the per
son to whom it is directed. Sexualised behaviour is only permitted as set out in the Word of God.

Sexual misconduct is a notifiable circumstance.

Sexual assault

Sexual assault means any intentional or reckless act, use of force or threat to use force against an adultchild or young person without their consent, including:

  • sexual touching and fondling;
  • being forced to touch or fondle another person;
  • kissing or holding in a sexual manner;
  • being forced to perform oral sex;
  • sexual intercourse; and
  • sexual penetration.

Sexual assault is a form of sexual misconduct and is a notifiable circumstance.

Sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation refers to any form of sexualised behaviour with an adult, child or young person, whether or not there is consent and regardless of who initiated the behaviour, where that behaviour is contrary to the Word of God. This includes among other things:

  • a range of behaviours or a pattern of behaviour aimed at the involvement of others in sexual acts, including but not limited to coercion or grooming behaviour,
  • sexualised behaviour with a person below the age of consent,
  • sexualised behaviour with a person with whom there is a supervisory, pastoral care, or counselling relationship,
  • the production, distribution, possession of or accessing of pornographic material of any kind,
  • taking advantage of the conscious or unconscious use of sexually provocative behaviour that some victims of abuse display,
  • engaging the services of a prostitute, or soliciting or providing such services,
  • visiting, without legitimate reason, a brothel or any place maintained for the abuse-of-sex industry,
  • viewing or reading, in print or otherwise, material of a sexually explicit nature, except for a legitimate purpose,
  • participating in sexually explicit conversation via social media, chat rooms, gaming or any other means, and
  • asking, without legitimate reason, any questions about the intimate details of a person’s sexual life or providing details of your own sexual life.

Very occasionally, it may be necessary within the context of pastoral care to ask questions about a person’s sexual life or history. This should be done extremely carefully and with another person present (such as the person’s husband or wife or a trusted friend).

Sexual exploitation is a form of sexual misconduct and is a notifiable circumstance.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment means unwelcome sexualised behaviour, whether intended or not, in relation to an adultchild or young person where that person reasonably feels in all circumstances offended, belittled or threatened. Such behaviour may consist of a single incident or several incidents over a period of time. It includes among other things:

  • implicit or explicit demands or suggestions for sexual activities,
  • making any gesture, action or comment of a sexual nature to a person or about a person in their presence,
  • making jokes containing sexual references or innuendo using any form of communication,
  • exposure to any form of sexually explicit or suggestive material, including but not limited to pornography of any kind,
  • physical contact that is inappropriate to the situation or uncomfortable or confusing for the receiver, including kissing, hugging, touching, pinching, patting or aggressive physical conduct,
  • touching any sexual part of the body, including the “only kidding” or accidental occ
    asions of sexual touch,
  • generating or participating in inappropriate personal correspondence (including electronic communication) in respect of sexual or romantic feelings or in breach of the Code of Conduct,
  • inappropriate giving of gifts, including those of a sexual, suggestive or romantic nature that is in breach of the Code of Conduct,
  • inappropriate or unnecessary discussion of, or inquiry about, personal matters of a sexual nature,
  • inappropriate intrusion of personal space or physical privacy, including being alone in a bedroom or bathroom or allowing inappropriate exposure during activities that require dressing or changing clothes,
  • voyeurism, and
  • persistent following or stalking.

Very occasionally, it may be necessary within the context of pastoral care to ask questions about a person’s sexual life or history. This should be done extremely carefully and with another person present (such as the person’s husband or wife or a trusted friend).

Sexual harassment is a form of sexual misconduct and is a notifiable circumstance.

Coercion or grooming behaviour

Coercion or grooming behaviour refers to physical or psychological actions intrinsic to initiating or hiding abusive behaviour, which involved the manipulative cultivation of relationships with vulnerable adultschildren and/or young people, their carers and others in authority.

Grooming behaviour or coercion is a pattern of behaviour aimed at engaging an adultchild or young person as a precursor to abuse. The behaviour can include persuading the person that a “special” relationship exists through spending inappropriate special time with them, inappropriately giving gifts, showing special favours to them but not others, allowing them to overstep rules etc. It can also include the testing of boundaries, such as undressing in front of them, allowing them to sit on the lap, talking about sex, “accidental” touching of genitals etc. These behaviours may not indicate a risk if occurring in isolation but if there is a pattern of behaviour occurring it may indicategrooming or coercion.

Abusers often cultivate relationships with children and young people and use grooming behaviour to prepare them for abuse. This can be done in a number of ways, including but not limited to:

  • identifying children or young people who are emotionally needy,
  • establishing a relationship with the child or young person’s family to gain trust,
  • touching the child or young person in the presence of the family to get them and the family used to the behaviour,
  • initiating contact in situations where no other adult is present or setting up situations where this is the case,
  • setting a child or young person apart from peers and / or siblings as “special”, and/or
  • establishing a “peer” or “buddy” relationship with them.

Similar manipulative behaviours may be used with regard to vulnerable adults.

Grooming behaviour or coercion may include, among other things, actions that could be considered to be sexual exploitation.

Coercion or grooming behaviour is a form of sexual misconduct and is a notifiable circumstance.