Marv Penner is an Associate Staff member of The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. He is an internationally-known author, professor, motivational speaker, and youth ministry expert. He is currently the executive director of All About Youth and oversees the Canadian Center for Adolescent Research, an organization which conducts research on Canadian youth culture. For more about Marv click here

For part 1 of this, go here

The story of Jerry Sandusky and his twisted and destructive relationships with young people and the parents who deeply trusted him is a wake up call to every one of us. In youth ministry we cultivate relationships with young people and work hard to get their parents to deeply trust us. Let’s take a moment today to make sure this teachable moment isn’t lost.

Know your legal responsibilities and err on the side of following them explicitly:
Reporting sexual abuse is simply not a judgment call. The law is clear and it is in place for good reason. It is a rare perpetrator who victimizes only one. The law is designed to protect children, to ensure justice, and to create a way for victims to receive the kind of support and help they can get from people who deeply understand the issues around sexual abuse. Anyone who works with minors is obliged to know the protocols around reporting. There are some minor variations in different regions–i.e. who must make the formal report, to whom the report must be made, and the allowable time frame between disclosure and reporting but there is no place in the civilized world where reporting is not mandatory! If you are the point person in your ministry, review the legal protocols and your own ministry’s policies and make sure everyone understands them fully. If you don’t have a policy- write one this week…and if you need help with that leave a comment and I’ll (Marv) will respond.

Learn all you can about the dynamics and impact of sexual abuse:
The emotional, psychological, spiritual, relational, and sexual implications of childhood sexual abuse are enormous. Every aspect of the victim’s humanness is impacted by this primal invasion of one’s soul. One of the best resources I’ve found to help people understand the complexity of this subject is Dan Allender’s book “The Wounded Heart.” Also, watch for local training events, often sponsored by the mental health professionals in your area and be part of the conversation. Just for the record, I’ll be addressing this subject at some major youth ministry conventions this fall and winter.

Review the recruitment, vetting and training procedures of your ministry:
We simply cannot be haphazard about placing children and teenagers in the care of adults. Recruit purposefully rather than randomly. Vet candidates carefully with thorough reference and background checks. Use a probationary period to identify any unhealthy relational patterns. Train your staff intentionally on what is appropriate and what is not in terms of private encounters with kids, having teenagers in your home, driving teenagers in your car, etc. Again–if you need help thinking this through, be in touch with me and I will point you to a range of resources that can help you.

Sorry–but I have to say it! If you have a vulnerability in this area please voluntarily step away from youth ministry:
You may be watching the events of these past weeks in Pennsylvania unfolding with a knot in your stomach, because you know that you have a predisposition to inappropriate relationships with kids yourself. What we saw in Jerry Sandusky’s story was that what appeared to be a sincere love for young people, an enjoyment of their energy, and a desire to help them was a thin veil of social acceptability camouflaging a deeply troubled heart that quickly got out of control. Over the years I’ve had to work with too many church youth workers, camp staff members, mentors and small group leaders who fit the same profile. In virtually every case enormous damage was done before they were removed from positions of trust. I plead with you today…if you know that you struggle with inappropriate sexual thoughts and fantasies about kids, if you have a problem with child pornography, if you have crossed a line in the past and have told yourself it will never happen again, if you feel like you are getting close to acting on an impulse that you know will cause immeasurable harm… PLEASE voluntarily step away from your role as a trusted adult in the life of a teenager. Get the help you need before more damage is done.

There could not be a more sacred trust than caring for children and teenagers. May God find us faithful in providing sanctuary that ensures the safety of every young life we encounter and in creating a community of hope and healing for those whose souls have been broken through the destructive, self-serving choices of others.

Isaiah 61:1 – He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…

Question: If you have a well developed policy or thoughtful “best practice” on any of the issues raised in this blog would you be willing to share it as a comment so we can all learn from your wisdom and experience? Share your thoughts here.

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