The LDS Church has set a number of gold standards in its time. The problem is that when time moves on, often the standard does not change.
For example, the Church welfare system. It was above and beyond anything else that existed in the 1930s. Now, it fails to reach the standard set by Interfaith Ministries and other organizations.
Which makes sense. Consider the gold standard for televisions, or automobiles or computers in 1972. Compare a $300,000.00 minicomputer of 1972 with a $100 calculator from Wal-Mart in 2021. I’ve used both. The $45 calculator from Wal-Mart is surprisingly better. The hundred dollar calculator is beyond better.
The same is true of programs for preventing sexual abuse.
So I thought I would discuss what makes a gold standard system for avoiding and preventing sexual abuse in a church.
As sad experience has taught, any good system must have three foundational concepts or understandings.
- Abusers who do not avoid potential victims remain abusers. No rehabilitation program yet tried succeeds if abusers are not segregated from potential victims.
- Abusers tend to have social and personal power in comparison to their victims. No system that does not acknowledge the corrosive effect of the status difference succeeds.
- No abuser who fails to make full restitution and full confession to the civil authorities has truly changed. Experience reflects that the moment they fail at either, they are merely attempting to succeed at abusing (and will repeat), not changing.
Every system that does not explicitly acknowledge those issues will not avoid being used to cover up abuse rather than stop it.
What currently works
Now, to be clear, many of the things that are part of a successful 2021 program were not possible in 1972. For example, a Church that did not honor the priest-penitent privilege in 1972 could count on not being acknowledged as a “real” church in much of the world. Other tools were not available or had significant downsides. There are reasons that many of the things now considered essential were basically impossible or imprudent in 1972.
Other things considered important are now acknowledged to be foolishness. For example, the Boy Scouts were sued many times for not excluding gay scouts or gay scout leaders as a cause of sexual abuse. It is now well established that such an argument is fallacious.
With that out of the way, here are the factors that go into a gold standard system.
- Police reports. There were a number of reasons not to pull these, rely on them, have them in church records or use them in 1972. But in 2021, pulling the data from one of the public data storehouses is considered an essential. Failure to do so means a failure in a reliable, low-cost screening method.
- External review. It used to be that having internal review was considered the gold standard, and retaining an outside law firm to handle review was considered to be above and beyond. Now, using an outside law firm is considered second rate and establishing an external, independently funded, review and reporting system is considered state of the art. E.g. the Presbyterian external review program.
- Asserting the right to report. LDS general counsel has floated this as an approach for about twenty years or so. The basic premise is that a Church may assert a religious dogma that all abuse is reported, and if they warn members in advance (perhaps in a card given out in Sacrament Meeting programs or otherwise), there is no basis to assert that the Church is bound by the priest-penitent privilege.
- With continuing changes in international law, this becomes more and more a possible standard rather than one that has immediate and harsh negative consequences.
- There are debates on both sides of the coin, but in line with the foundational concepts, the debate has been settled in favor of mandatory and automatic reporting.
- Victim services. Counseling, support and segregation services (segregation meaning that abusers are required to move and avoid victims and potential victims), paid for by the Church using independent professionals.
- Two deep leadership whenever minors/children are involved, including having parents present for interviews. The issues that can arise by having parents present can be ameliorated by making the outside review body easy to contact, well known, and able to also engage when children are abused by parents.
Those are the five matters that make up the current gold standard.
- Which do you think we meet?
- Which do you think we could meet?
- What do you disagree with on those points?
- What other comments or thoughts do you have?
Post Script. I am aware that involving the government can make things worse, rather than better. But, overall, failing to involve the government makes this worse. It is a matter of anecdotal issues vs. statistical or systematic ones. That said, no system is perfect, and no system operates without negatives to go with the positives.