Sexual Abuse Affects All Congregations

  • One in four girls and one in seven boys are sexually molested before the age of 18.
  • The spiritual, emotional and physical effects are devastating and are often long-term.
  • Approximately one third of adult women in your church have been sexually molested at some time in their lives.
  • 90% of sexually abused children are victimized by someone they know.
  • Juveniles commit 43% of sexual abuse against children under six.

Our society pays a high price for the tragedy of child abuse. Billions of dollars are spent on medical and mental health treatment, social services, education and lost productivity. Child abuse victims are also more likely to be in abusive relationships.

The ND Alliance for Children’s Justice is providing this guide for clergy so you can better understand the complex problems associated with child sexual abuse and how you can play a key role in preventing it from happening.

The Alliance is a multi-disciplinary task force of North Dakota professionals and parents whose vision is that all adults will feel equal responsibility for the care and protection of all children. The final goal being that no child in this state will experience any form of child sexual abuse...ever.

This publication highlights some important information about child sexual abuse and how the church can play a crucial role in helping to prevent it. Please refer to the website for additional information and resources.

What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse is sexual activity perpetrated on a child by an adult, an adolescent, or an older child. Sexual abuse can be categorized as non-touching or touching offenses. Remember, sexual abuse is NEVER the child’s fault.


  • Indecent exposure
  • Frank discussions about sexual acts designed to shock the child or arouse a child’s interest
  • Behaviors such as voyeurism, exposure to sexual materials or letting a child hear or watch sexual acts


  • Fondling or any kind of inappropriate touching
  • Rape or attempted rape
  • Using a child to create pornography

What to Look For—Signs of Abuse

Children will rarely report they are being sexually molested. Clergy, staff and volunteers should be informed about certain behaviors associated with child sexual abuse.

  • Sexualized behavior, see Understanding Children’s Sexual Behavior, by Toni Cavanaugh Johnson
  • Hostile or aggressive behavior
  • Fearful, withdrawn, self-destructive behavior
  • Abuses alcohol/drugs
  • Mature beyond chronological age
  • Eating disorders
  • Running away from home

In addition to the above indicators, there are additional long-term consequences of having been sexually abused as a child.

  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Criminal behavior
  • Suicide

There are also a number of medical complications that may be experienced by the child and/or adult abused as a child.

  • Reproductive problems, vaginal infections and bleeding, venereal diseases, pain, itching, swelling of genitals
  • Hysterectomy before age 30
  • Recurring complaints of gastrointestinal pain/problems and headaches
  • Trauma to breasts, buttocks, lower abdomen, genital and rectal areas



A woman in a congregation tells the minister that she is concerned about a rather dramatic behavior change in her five-year-old daughter. The little girl was always outgoing and happy, but over the past few months, has become withdrawn and secretive. When asked if she would like to tell her mother anything, tears welled and she fearfully said, “No.” The previous day she had touched her older brother’s genital area and used a sexual term which she would not have been expected to know or understand.

The minister, realizing that the behavior pattern of the child strongly suggested child sexual abuse, encouraged the mother to give assurance to the daughter that whatever she told her mother would be believed, and that the mother needed to know if anything was bothering her in order to help her, even if she had been told to keep it a secret. After further discussion the child did divulge, in her own child’s language, that her father was molesting her. The mother revealed this to the minister.

  • Develop a child protection policy and protocol, which includes screening and background checks for staff and volunteers who work with children.
  • Provide child sexual abuse prevention education to staff, volunteers, and the congregation.
  • Preach a sermon or invite a local expert to inform members about their role in preventing all forms of child maltreatment.
  • Plan a special worship service around the issue of protecting children or the celebration of children and all who care for them.
  • Attend training seminars/conferences to stay well informed about child welfare issues.
  • Initiate a mentor program for all young people  as they go through the process of becoming full members of the congregation.
  • Listen to and believe children.
  • Report suspected child abuse.


  • Host parenting classes or provide space for a parenting support group
  • Become involved in local child abuse prevention efforts
  • Support and recruit foster parents
  • Promote more effective use of local resources by publicizing them and supporting collaborative efforts
  • Create a latchkey after school program where children will be closely supervised, receive help with homework, be provided opportunities to socialize and play games, and receive refreshments

Reporting suspected child abuse is required of clergy, under North Dakota law. Emphasis is placed on reporting suspected abuse. The reporting person need not have positive proof, but may merely suspect maltreatment of a child. To file a report, contact the county social service office in the county where you reside.


  • Child sexual abuse happens to children from all walks of life and all faiths.
  • Sexual abuse can affect people for the rest of their lives.
  • Attentive and loving supervision of children prevents emotional vulnerability. Vulnerable children are more susceptible to the attentions of abusers.

If every adult takes responsibility for the care and protection of children, we can make North Dakota free of child sexual abuse.

Contact the Alliance for Children’s Justice at:
Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota
ND Toll Free—1-800-403-9932


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