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Reporting sexual abuse (revisited)

Dear readers,

In the November 1 issue of the Standard Bearer, a reader submitted a letter that asked about “reporting sexual abuse.” The editor responded by showing that consistories must make careful judgments about whether a sexual sin should be reported or not. This response caused concern in another reader because the original letter was about sexual abuse, and therefore the editor’s response should have limited itself to sexual abuse, not sexual sin generally. The concerned reader’s fear was that those who have been sexually abused/assaulted would now hesitate to report their assault for fear of being examined with a multitude of questions rather than being believed.

The SB wants to be of help to all readers, especially to those who have been damaged by the horrible sin of murderous sexual abuse. We want nothing to be misunderstood and, most importantly, want nothing to be written that will be hurtful.

We are sorry that the response broadened the question to “sexual sins” without making that clear. On the one hand, this broadening of the question allowed the use of the word “perpetrator” for someone who commits sexual sin but might not have committed sexual assault/murder. But usually, the designation perpetrator is for someone who has murderously and criminally assaulted another. That was not the intent in the letter. In addition, the broadening of the question left open the possible misunderstanding that some sexual abuse must be reported to authorities and other sexual abuse not. Our apologies for both.

To be clear: All cases of sexual abuse, that is, sexual sin that is murderous (and a crime), must be reported to the authorities. In these cases, the elders will consider the sin to be a public matter and report it to the congregation. The former editorials and the special issue of May 1 made this clear. There should be no question about this.

The November 1 response was making the point that some sexual sin is not always obviously sexual abuse or criminal. In these cases, the elders must be very careful in making the judgment. Does this particular sexual sin rise to the level that requires it to be reported to the police and publicized in the congregation? In some cases, it would be very wrong for them to do so. Elders must exercise wisdom and care in all their work, especially in such sensitive cases. There should be no question about this either.

In other words, the November 1 response should not be read to mean that some sexual abuse (murderous assault, crime) should be reported and publicized, but that other sexual abuse (murderous assault, crime) should not be reported and publicized. We hope this clarifies the matter for our readers.

Prof. B. Gritters