Caught in the Spotlight: Christian Leaders Who Mishandle Sexual Abuse Disclosures

Instead of focusing time and energy in doing the right thing when a spotlight is turned on, many leaders will focus time and energy trying to get them turned off, or at the very least pointed elsewhere

Victims are marginalized when leaders demand that they not share their stories in the manner in which they have decided, publicly or privately. This tactic is deceptively clever because it attempts to paint a bold survivor as an insensitive perpetrator in a disgusting attempt to shame the survivor into turning off the spotlight and putting the institution back into controlling the narrative. Leaders who really care about abuse survivors shouldn’t be attempting to control or silence them. Instead, perhaps they should be focusing their efforts on providing those other struggling survivors with qualified and experienced assistance.

 

A few months ago I wrote about the deceitful, but all too successful, ways sex offenders in the church act when confronted with abuse allegations. Tragically, the sex offenders are not the only ones who deceive when confronted with abuse disclosures. Too often, leaders of faith institutions respond similarly when confronted with the mishandling of sexual abuse disclosures. Instead of acknowledging the failure and grieving over the pain the institution has caused an already traumatized victim, some leaders immediately move into self-protection mode and will stop at almost nothing in shifting the focus away from their own reprehensible failings in order to protect personal and organizational reputations.  (On an encouraging note, as I my last blog post noted, more and more church leaders are responding to abuse disclosures in a manner that places the affirmation and care of the victim above all else.)

A spotlight is switched on whenever an abuse survivor steps forward to tell others how institutional leaders mishandled their sexual abuse disclosure. Spotlights that shine light into dark places are seldom welcomed by those responsible for the darkness. These spotlights come in many different forms and sizes. Some are media reports or articles, while others take the form of lawsuits and criminal cases. In recent years, many survivors have been empowered to turn a blog or a Facebook page into bright and stubborn spotlight.

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