5 Considerations for Preparing Your Organization to Address Known or Future Sexual Abuse and Harassment Concerns | Guidepost Solutions LLC

Many faith communities across the spectrum are breathing hard and asking difficult questions after the release this week of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Investigative Report conducted by Guidepost. Sexual abuse and harassment are not problems unknown to private or public organisations. While we detail a long list of recommendations specific to our investigation in our report titled “The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s Response to the Sexual Abuse Allegations and an Audit of the Credentials Committee’s Procedures and Actionsthe following considerations are meant to be a useful tool as faith-based settings consider how to handle known or future concerns about sexual abuse and harassment.

  1. Have a public reporting mechanism. While many corporate environments have used this tool, some religious communities have been slow to do so. Having a well-known and publicized reporting tool among staff and followers is one way to ensure that you are well informed of any issues as they develop. Nothing is worse than reading an allegation of abuse by a staff or congregational member on a social media page before you even have a chance to understand the circumstances. Providing a confidential online reporting mechanism or phone number for real-name and/or anonymous concerns is now a core expectation of organizations. Churches, temples, ministries, denominations, or groups of individual congregations can join together to share costs.
  2. Be responsive. You can’t wait to see how things turn out. You should be responsive if you have allegations of inappropriate behavior, especially from a member of staff. Knowing your condition is critically important[1] mandatory requirements for reporting any allegation of child sexual abuse. If your state law identifies your position as a mandatory filer, you may be held liable if you do not report in a timely manner and in accordance with the law. In the event of allegations concerning staff and others under your direction, you will be judged on your speed in responding. This may involve a limited and discreet investigation inside your organization. Make sure anyone you talk to and any decision you make is documented so that if you are questioned, you can articulate sound decision-making. Unless you have special and relevant training in violence, ask for help. Some denominations have resources and there are a number of faith communities that have lived through and learned hard lessons in this area. Ultimately, seeking outside professionals is a good decision if the allegation could have a significant impact on your organization.
  3. Check and train your staff. In faith communities, we generally see a heavy reliance on personal referrals. While references are of course great ways to identify potential new hires, they are no substitute for a thorough, documented check. Every new hire must pass a criminal and civil background check, employment verification and more, as well as a search on the national public sex offender website.[2] Reviewing social media accounts for any inappropriate content is also a must. We continue to see people post questionable content on their social media when their organizations have no idea. As part of any onboarding of new staff, they should be clear about behavioral expectations and be introduced to and trained in the organization’s code of conduct and policies and procedures (which should address issues of abuse and harassment sexual) and reporting any behavior of concern. We recommend an annual review of these policies and procedures with staff also signing an acknowledgment as part of any onboarding.
  1. Listen and learn. There are many opportunities for faith communities to learn about sexual abuse and harassment. There have been significant initiatives, including the Caring Well initiative[3] who has worked to educate church leaders on these topics. There are many training resources available, and faith communities from all walks of life are adopting the lessons learned from others. An important part of the learning process is being able to sit down and listen. It’s not a comfortable subject for many, but giving journalists and survivors a safe place to tell their stories and respect as they do so is imperative to any healthy process. Without it, the road to recovery is much longer and more difficult.
  2. Get help when you need it. As we have already said, the subject of sexual abuse and harassment is difficult. He takes care of the wounded and often very unhealthy organizations. Having access to the right people outside of your organization that you can honestly talk to is a must. Trauma-informed consultants who can listen and provide effective support to parties and survivors can help the organization better understand not only the facts, but also the underlying weaknesses that may have enabled the environment. Having an already identified third party ready to answer your call is an important step in properly preparing your organization to respond appropriately to any allegations of inappropriate behavior, harassment or abuse.

[1] The term state also includes the District of Columbia, the 5 major US territories, and federally recognized Indian tribes.

[2] https://www.nsopw.gov/

[3] https://www.caringwell.com/challenge/train/

Aubrey L. Morgan