Healing a Broken Trust

Policy and procedures in responding to complaints of sexual abuse and sexual harassment against session/diaconate members and church workers in the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia


1.1. Background
1.2. Purpose of the Document
1.3. Some Theological Perspectives
2.1. Sexual Abuse
2.2. Sexual Harassment
2.3. Procedural Definitions
3.1. Power in Pastoral Relations
3.2. Need for Notification and Consultation
3.3. Legal Action
3.4. Notification in Case of Minors
4.1. Protection
4.2. Privacy
4.3. Common Principles of Justice
4.4. Forgiveness and Reconciliation
4.5. Local Church
5.1. The Sexual Abuse Complaints Committee
5.2. Advocate and Advisor Panel
5.3. Support
5.4. Records of Complaints
6.1. Making A Complaint
6.2. Rumours
6.3. Receiving and Investigating A Complaint
6.4. Complaints by Minors
6.5. Resolution and Outcomes of Complaints
6.6. Legal Proceedings
6.7. Pastoral Care of Churches
6.8. Following Up Offenders
6.9. Rehabilitation of Offenders
6.10. Summary of Procedures
8.1. Members of SACC, Advocates and Advisers
8.2. Session Members and Theological Students
8.3. Church Members
9.1. Dos and Don'ts for Session, Classis and SACC Members
9.2. Current Misconceptions
9.3. Relevant Legal Information
9.4. Source Documents and References
9.5. Recommended Reading


The 1994 Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia (CRCA) appointed a Study Committee on "Abuse" to investigate the incidence of abuse within the CRCA, how the Sessions dealt with it, and to provide pastoral guidelines for use in our churches. The lengthy Report to the 1997 Synod sadly acknowledged that the various forms of abuse, i.e., sexual, physical and emotional abuse, were also occurring in our denomination. The Report clearly defined the various forms of abuse, its occurrences in various relationships, including marriages, families and the church fellowship. The Study Committee developed pastoral guidelines, based on the excellent work done by the Christian Reformed Church in North America. To assist in raising awareness of abuse and to educate Sessions and church members, the Synod Report was edited and published under the title "For Justice and Healing". Sessions and church members are asked to refer to that booklet for general guidelines on abuse. It provides good theological and counselling background reading for
pastoral care for cases of various kinds of abuse in church families.

In addition to the above mentioned booklet, "For Justice and Healing", and its general guidelines on abuse, Synod further instructed its Study Committee on Abuse to provide a Policy and Procedures document for the specific problem of sexual abuse and harassment by church leaders against church members, especially women and children. This involves the unique dynamics of the pastoral relationship with the inherent issues of power and trust. It is also a specific concern in that legislation indicates that an employer may be responsible for the actions of its employees in matters of sexual harassment unless the employer has taken all reasonable steps to prevent such behaviour or acted promptly on any reports of such behaviour. That document is now in your hands, “Healing a Broken Trust”. It was provisionally adopted by 2000 Synod for use in the CRCA, with provisions for review at the 2003 Synod.

The need for such a document is not unique to the CRCA. All the major denominations in Australia and around the world have been drafting protocols on this issue for the last decade or so. The tragic situation is that for too long, it seems, churches have been unwilling to deal openly with the reality of sexual abuse within the church, thus causing victims to suffer twice. Perhaps it can be said that God, by His providence and common grace, has led the church to change with the changing culture and attitudes to this evil.

The task of the Study Committee on Abuse has been made easier by the fact that so many denominations have been at work on their policies and procedures, codes of practice and resources, allowing the Committee to make use of the fruit of their labour. After researching and evaluating various models, both within Australia and overseas (especially the Christian Reformed Church of North America), the Committee decided to draw extensively on the work of the Baptist Union in NSW, which, in turn, was based on other Australian models, especially the work done by the Uniting Church. The Committee expresses its appreciation to the Baptist Union for their assistance in providing documentation and advice.

The policy and procedures model in this document was chosen because:
i. being very similar to that of other denominations (allowing for differences in ecclesiastical structure), it allows for cross-fertilisation of personnel, training and development of ideas and review;
ii. by having a Classis "Sexual Abuse Complaints Committee" (SACC) under the auspices of the Classis and working closely in conjunction with the Session, yet functioning separately to the Session, it enables an objective response to be made according to a clearly defined procedure, which removes the potential for a conflict of interest from the Session and ensures that justice is done and is seen to be done;
iii. by further making use of an Advocate (to support the victim of abuse) and an Advisor (to support the abuser), it empowers victims to come forward knowing they have someone to advocate on their behalf, and ensuring that proper pastoral support is given to all concerned, which so often is forgotten in the pain and confusion caused when an office bearer is accused of sexual abuse.

The Study Committee on Abuse encourages Session members in particular, but also all church members to read these Policies and Procedures thoughtfully, in conjunction with the booklet "For Justice and Healing". Consider the issues personally and prayerfully, and apply the principles and policies carefully with love and justice.

Leo Douma
Convener- Study Committee on "Abuse"
Advent 2000


1.1. Background

The past few years have seen each of the major denominations in Australia (and around the world) giving attention to the problem of sexual abuse of church members, particularly women and children, by ministers and church workers. A report to the 1997 Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia made it clear that our denomination is not immune to the tragedy of abuse. The Synod was resolved that our churches, too, were in need of procedures to deal with the complex issues involved in sexual abuse by those giving leadership in the church.

The effects and implications of sexual abuse by a church leader for the victim and the church are devastating. When the pastoral relationship is violated, the trust given to ministry is destroyed and the church is betrayed. Therefore it is imperative that the church act urgently and responsibly. These procedures outline the appropriate action to exercise discipline and to provide appropriate support and counsel for the people concerned, as well as for the church as a whole.

1.2. Purpose of the Document

These procedures were provided to facilitate the handling of complaints made against Session members and church workers in the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia and to allow for a clear statement of procedures to guide churches and people involved which will:

• give the churches clear steps to take so that abuse will not be covered up;
• give confidence to the victim that the church will respond justly;
• protect the victim from further abuse.

They are intended to cover any allegations received after their adoption and for existing allegations to the extent deemed appropriate by the Classis Sexual Abuse Complaints Committee (SACC) and the local Session.

1.3. Some Theological Perspectives

1. The Bible makes clear that all human beings, irrespective of age, gender, race or status, are made in God's image. That implies that there is an inherent dignity, bestowed by God Himself, on every person. This dignity, with its implied right to safety and respect, is made clear in Genesis 9:6: "Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person's blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind" (NRSV). In other words, lay the hand against another person and we lay the hand on God.

2. The Old Testament laws existed less to protect the privileges of the strong than to guarantee justice for the weak. The covenant code (Exodus 20:22 - 23:23) and the book of Deuteronomy contain specific legislation to ensure that the enslaved, the widowed, the orphaned, the poor and the stranger were not exploited but, instead, were securely integrated into the life of Israel. To this list of vulnerable groups Jesus pointedly adds children. No fewer than five times throughout the gospels, Jesus warns that these "little ones" are God's special concern. Of those who cause them to stumble Jesus says, "It would be better if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the sea" (Mt 18:6).

3. The message of Jesus as the Messiah centres very strongly around love, justice and mercy. He came to give "freedom to the captive, sight to the blind, and to release the oppressed" (Lk 4:18).

4. Sexual abuse in the church should not be dealt with merely as a legal, psychological or political problem, but also as a theological matter. The church should respond not just because of the dictates of society, but taking up its prophetic stance, proclaiming the preciousness of God's image bearers, calling for repentance, faith and justice. This stance calls for:
• Righteous anger at evil. Jesus uncompromisingly told the truth. He named and criticised evil and called to account those who abused their power.
• Calling abusers to true repentance. This differs greatly from guilt-ridden remorse. In Ezekiel 18:30-31 God requires a responsible owning by the abuser of hurt caused to the victim and a complete change of attitude and behaviour. Readiness to accept discipline and make restitution are indicators of true repentance (Mt 3:7-12).
• An atmosphere of support and compassion which allows victims / survivors to move towards healing. Jesus continually broke the rules governing niceties, exclusivity and silence. Support and compassion can never be given in an atmosphere of silence, cover-up and denial.

5. The threefold steps of action detailed in Matthew 18:15-17 have been foundational for Christian discipline since New Testament times. The point of the brother, described in Matthew 18, in going to him who has offended, is to deal with a private matter privately and to settle it between the two of them. It is a gracious way of admonishing a brother, by giving him the chance to repent and maintain his ‘honor’. It assumes parity between the two “brothers” (i.e. there is not a ‘power’ differential) and that the offended brother is ready to forgive. And it remains between the two only. Once there is repentance and forgiveness it goes no further. If, however, the offender does not take this gracious opportunity to repent then one or two others are called in. They are not the equivalent of the one or two in 1 Timothy. There two or three should have actually witnessed the wrong. The one or two called in here in Matthew 18 have not witnessed the wrong. By definition it is a private matter between the first two brothers. Their witness is to try and establish whether something occurred and to witness how the accused responds. Now, is it appropriate to use Matthew 18 in the case of sexual abuse? It must first be seen that this process is not for dealing with all sins. As John Calvin writes, “But it may be asked whether this rule should be applied indiscriminately to any sort of sin. For there are many who allow no public censure until the sin has been admonished privately. For Christ’s words contain a manifest limitation. He does not say that whoever without exception has sinned is to be warned and rebuked privately and without a witness; but he wants us to try this way when we have been offended privately, not indeed as our own affair, but because we should be smitten with sorrow whenever God is offended. Christ was not speaking of bearing injuries, but teaching in general that kindness should be so cultivated among us that we do not destroy the weak, who ought to be saved, by treating them too harshly. Therefore the phrase ‘against you’ does not indicate an injury done to a person, but is a distinction between hidden and open sins. For if anyone sins against the whole Church, Paul says he is to be publicly reproved, and that even elders are not to be spared.” (Calvin’s Commentary on Matthew, Mark & Luke Volume II).

To argue that Matthew 18 should apply in cases of sexual abuse would go against the intent of Matthew 18. Sexual abuse committed by someone in authority in the church is mostly committed in secret, but it is a ‘sin against the whole church.’ It is a breaking of a sacred trust given by the church to care for those under its care. So it is not something that can be dealt with privately between the two. Besides victims of sexual abuse often do not have parity with the offender, nor the preparedness to forgive, to be able to deal with it privately. That often comes later with counselling and healing.

The procedures of Matthew 18 require the accuser and the accused to meet face to face. An abused person is seldom able to encounter an abuser in this way. When the abused is forced to face one who has dealt so cruelly with her/him, the abused person feels like a victim once again. Because of this, abused people have been unwilling to come forward with their stories even though that means that an office bearer would continue to serve in a position of authority.

[For a fuller treatment on theological perspectives on sin, abuse and forgiveness, etc, refer to the companion publication to this document "For Justice and Healing, Pastoral Report and Guidelines for Dealing with "Abuse" in the Reformed Churches of Australia", Reformed Churches Publishing House.]


2.1. Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is an umbrella term which may include legally defined criminal conduct (such as Child and Young Person Abuse, and Sexual Assault) as well as unlawful conduct such as sexual harassment which may lead to action by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

2.1.1 Child and Young person Abuse (NSW provision).
Section 227 of the Child and Young person (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (NSW) provides that it is a criminal offence for a person to intentionally take action resulting in:
· Physical injury or sexual abuse;
· Significant damage to the emotional or psychological development; or
· Significant harm to the physical development or health of a child (person under 16yrs) or young person (16-18yrs of age).

Child sexual abuse refers to a situation in which a person uses power or authority over a child to involve the child in sexual activity. Physical force is sometimes involved. Child sexual abuse involves a wide range of sexual activity. It includes the fondling of the child’s genitals, masturbation, oral sex, vaginal or anal penetration by a penis, finger or other object, or exposure of the child to pornography.

2.1.2 Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment covers a range of unwelcome, unsolicited, manipulative and unreciprocated behaviour towards another adult, which constitutes deliberate or intentional conduct of a sexual nature. It extends from unwelcome actions such as:
obscene gestures, catcalls, wolf whistles, leering stares
display of offensive pictures
comments of a sexual nature
implicit and explicit demands for sexual activity or suggestions for sexual activity
physical contact such as patting or pinching or other more hostile contact.
Such conduct is unlawful and may be subject of action by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, or may even also constitute criminal offences.

2.1.3 Sexual Assault and Indecent Assault.
The Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) provides serious penalties (up to 20yrs imprisonment) for a series of criminal offences relating to sexual intercourse with adults and minors without consent. The highest penalties are provided where injury occurs, where the offender is in company, where the victim is under 16 yrs of age, has a physical or intellectual disability, or the offender is in a position of authority over the victim.

Sexual Intercourse is defined to include:
penetration of victim’s vagina, mouth and / or anus with a penis or object.
oral/ genital contact

The Crimes Act also provides for a range of offences related to indecent assault (short of intercourse) with penalties ranging up to 10yrs imprisonment.

Sexually abusive behaviour also applies to situations where the offender has a pastoral duty of care and the church member appears a willing participant (See 3.1)

2.2 Procedural Definitions

The Session/ Diaconate member or church worker against whom a complaint has been made.

The person who assists the Accused in facing the complaint of sexual abuse or harassment and any subsequent procedures.

The person who assists and supports the complainant in processing the complaint through the denominational and, possibly, legal procedures.

Church Worker
A member of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia who is involved (mostly on a voluntarily, sometimes paid, basis) in giving assistance in leadership in youth ministry (e.g., Sunday School, Cadets, Calvinettes, Junior Youth Club), pastoral care (e.g., Pastoral Care Worker) or diaconal assistance (e.g., care group). It includes the un-ordained denominational workers.

The alleged victim or survivor of sexual abuse / harassment who is making a complaint, or their legal guardian.

A complaint of sexual abuse / harassment made against a Session / Diaconate member or church worker with regard to a person with whom the Session / Diaconate member or church worker is in a pastoral or similar relationship, whether a regular member of the congregation or not.

Interviewing Committee
A sub-committee of the Sexual Abuse Complaints Committee consisting of the Chairperson and one member who will interview the accused in the presence of the Advisor following a complaint.

Mutual Resolution
The resolution of a complaint by a mutual arrangement to which the complainant and accused have genuinely agreed and which they accept as settling the complaint.

The Session / Diaconate member or church worker who has acknowledged or been convicted of the abuse / harassment.

Pastoral Relationship
The relationship between a church member or other person with the Session member / church worker where the latter is deemed to exercise a ministry of spiritual and personal welfare.

Session / Diaconate Member
A Session member is an ordained office bearer of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia, holding the office of Elder, Minister. A Diaconate members is an ordained office bearer of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia holding the office of Deacon.

Sexual Abuse Complaints Committee (SACC)
The committee charged by the Classis to assist Sessions with the investigation and resolution of complaints of sexual abuse / harassment by Session / Diaconate members or church workers in the Christian Reformed Churches forming the Classis (see 5.1.).

Victim / Survivor
The person who suffered the abuse. The term Survivor indicates that they are no longer in the abuse situation and may therefore regard themselves no longer a Victim but as one having survived the abuse.


3.1. Power in Pastoral Relations

Ministers especially, but also all Session / Diaconate members and church workers, must be aware that their leadership position places them in a position of power in any relationship with members of their congregation. Sexual contact by a minister, Session / Diaconate member or church worker with a person with whom they are in a pastoral relationship is generally unethical and subject to discipline.

In pastoral relationships the factors of power, trust and dependency limit the possibility of a church member or other person in such a relationship freely giving consent to sexual contact. In other words the dynamics of such a relationship can result in a person being coerced and unable to withhold consent. Because the Session / Diaconate member or church worker has the greater power and pastoral responsibility, the onus lies with them to guard the inter-personal boundary against sexual contact.

3.2. Need for Notification and Consultation

Where a member of Session / Diaconate or a church worker becomes involved in sexually abusive behaviour, especially within the local church, immediate notification and consultation is essential. The matter must be referred to the Session Chairman (or the Vice-Chairman if the Chairman is implicated) and Chairperson or member of SACC. Failure to notify Session or SACC when it is known that an office bearer or church worker is sexually abusing is to be regarded as a denial of the needs and rights of the victim and a neglect of Christian duty, which can itself become a matter of discipline by the Session.

3.3. Legal Action

In some cases the action may be subject to civil or criminal law and could lead to court action. However, there are cases that are not "illegal", but which constitute a breach of pastoral trust and may be liable to church discipline.

3.4. Notification in Case of Minors

Sexual contact with children under 16 years of age is illegal and the offender is accountable to criminal law. Generally by state law (except in WA), workers such as those employed in ministry with children and young people, must notify the Department of Community Services (or its equivalent in the respective States) wherever there are "reasonable grounds" to suspect that a child has been sexually assaulted.


4.1. Protection

All care must be taken that the process of addressing a complaint of sexual abuse / harassment does not itself become abusive to the Complainant and his/her family or to the Accused and his/her family. An understanding of the emotional and psychological factors involved as well as an attitude of respect and compassion is essential to minimise the trauma of the process.

4.2. Privacy

Every effort must be made to protect the privacy and confidentiality of all people involved. This shall not affect the right of the SACC, in dealing with a complaint, to co-opt assistance as it is deemed necessary or to make reports to such persons as its mandate requires.

Appropriate information about the outcome of a complaint may be made available, with due care, to the local congregation by the Session as it works in conjunction with the SACC process. The needs of the victim and any family (where the complaint is upheld), to be vindicated and supported by the church, should be of primary concern in determining the amount and type of information given. Likewise, if the Session / Diaconate member or church worker was proved to be falsely accused, their need and that of any family member should be the prime consideration. In the case of an inconclusive outcome where there is concern about the accused working with minors in the future, this is to be treated as an "unacceptable risk" and dealt with accordingly.

4.3. Common Principles of Justice

The commonly accepted principles of "natural justice" shall be observed throughout the processing of any complaint, namely:
1. that a person or body called on to investigate, mediate, determine or exercise discretion:
• shall act fairly, in good faith, without bias and in a dispassionate manner;
• shall give each person the opportunity of adequately stating their case and
correcting or contradicting any relevant statement prejudicial to the person's case;
• shall not receive information except as part of its investigation;
2. that there is an obligation for any person who is involved in handling the complaint to declare any interest in the matter or any personal connection or relationship with any party;
3. that a person called upon to answer a complaint is entitled to know the particulars of the complaint being made;
4. that each party has the possibility to respond to statements made by the other;
5. that innocence is assumed until proven guilty - the burden of proof shall be "on the balance of probabilities" (NB: there are several levels for the "burden of proof": in criminal cases, something has to be proven "beyond all reasonable doubt", but in civil cases, it only needs to be shown that on the "balance of probabilities" it is so);
6. that not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done to both the complainant and the accused.

Any member of the SACC or local Session who has a complaint made against them shall stand down until the matter is resolved. Relatives or close friends of the accused or the complainant shall not be involved in the proceedings.

Complainants in the past have often hesitated to raise legitimate complaints because of fear of disbelief or minimalisation. It is essential that complainants be given confidence that the complaint is being taken seriously and that it will be dealt with quickly and confidentially.

4.4. Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Forgiveness and reconciliation will be the desired aim of the SACC and Session as they follow these procedures. These are at the heart of what it is to be Christ's church. As God has forgiven us through Christ and reconciled us to Himself, so, we too, are called to be a forgiving people. Not only for the perpetrator, but also for the victim of sexual abuse, forgiveness granted at the appropriate time by the victim can bring deep healing.

The SACC and Session must be cautious, though, that forgiveness is, in fact, sought at the appropriate time. There must be no insistence on a premature or inappropriate forgiveness. This can be damaging to both the victim and the offender. Forgiveness is always to be freely given by the victim. It can never be demanded by the offender. To do so, the victim can feel that justice has not been done and that her/his complaints have not been taken seriously. The offender may never really be confronted with the depth of his offence.

The SACC and Session may need to come to terms with the fact that forgiveness may take a long time. While a relatively minor case of sexual harassment between two adults might be resolved fairly quickly, sexual abuse of a child by an adult in authority can take years to completely resolve. The child often has little understanding of what has been done to her/him. It's often not till years later that the full effects come out as she/he matures sexually. If a child were made to say that she/he forgives, while she/he has little understanding of what that means and no freedom to grant it of her/his own accord, it could constitute further psychological abuse. Sexual abusers can be quick to say sorry. But genuine repentance often occurs only after long term counselling when they recognise their denials and minimalisation and truly face what they have done. Issues of forgiveness and reconciliation are often addressed, at the victim's request, in a later personal or pastoral setting.

Reconciliation does not necessarily imply a restoration of the situation as it was. Reconciliation is rather repentance on the part of the offender and the giving of forgiveness by the victim with the acceptance of forgiveness by the offender. Thus a right relationship is restored rather than necessarily the original relationship. Further, a victim and offender may be reconciled, but Session will still need to determine the suitability of the offender for the office or position he held.

4.5. Local Church

The local Session, as well as consulting with the SACC, may call upon the Classis Church Visitors to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to provide adequate pastoral care for the congregation where a Session / Diaconate member or church worker has had a complaint made against them or has been disciplined for sexual abuse. This is especially so when the minister has been accused. Pastoral care in this instance is a matter of urgency.

Depending on the seriousness of the situation and the cooperation of the church concerned, it may be appropriate for pastoral support from outside the congregation to be involved in debriefing / counselling and conflict resolution. It is essential that these people have knowledge of sexual abuse issues. The church should be considered to be in crisis warranting an emergency response. The natural tendency for some church members to take sides and move to action before the investigation is completed may thus be minimised and Christ's injunction to deal fairly, and with love, upheld.


5.1. The Sexual Abuse Complaints Committee (SACC)

The SACC is a Classis appointed committee responsible and accountable to the Classis, working in a similar manner to the Church Visitors (Church Order Art 46). The Classis will appoint a chairperson and the members for a three year term. Its charter is to deal directly with complaints of sexual abuse and harassment against Session / Diaconate members and church workers on behalf of the complainant, and to assist the local Session as it determines the appropriate pastoral and disciplinary responses to any such complaints. The SACC is empowered to co-opt specialists in legal matters, child sexual abuse and other relevant areas as needed.

Members of the SACC must be carefully chosen by the Classis and shall include, where possible, the following:
i. at least one member with expertise in sexual abuse issues;
ii. at least one member with legal knowledge and expertise;
iii. at least one member who is a Classis Church Visitor or Synodical Deputy;
iv. members who are considered to be skilled in counselling supporting victims, child protection and conciliation, have general knowledge of sexual abuse issues and have knowledge and understanding of pastoral ethics and appropriate behaviour for Session members and church workers.

In the smaller Classes, in particular, it may be necessary to co-opt SACC members from outside the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia. The Classis shall ensure that they are confessing Christians, members in good standing and recommended by their church. The committee shall maintain a balance of male and female members and not exceed six persons.

The role of the committee is:
i. to investigate the complaint received directly from the complainant or via the local Session;
ii. to work together with the local Session throughout the process;
iii. together with the local Session, to facilitate a resolution with sensitivity, compassion and pastoral care, to all parties concerned, including the local church;
iv. to educate and inform the churches in the Classis on matters relating to sexual abuse and harassment;
v. to be available to the local Session for advice in dealing with allegations of abuse not involving a Session member or church worker and assisting in investigating such allegations.

5.2. Advocate and Advisor Panel

The SACC shall maintain a panel of Advocates and Advisors responsible for assisting Complainants and Accused during the complaints process. In the smaller Classes, in particular, it may be necessary to co-opt Advocates and Advisors from outside the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia. The SACC shall ensure that they are confessing Christians, members in good standing and recommended by their church.

Where possible, Advocates and Advisers are to be the same sex as the person they are assisting. In cases of sexual abuse complaints concerning minors, the Advocate shall have particular expertise in this area.

An Advocate or Advisor is a person who should have:
i. the confidence of the Complainant and the Accused;
ii. advocacy skills;
iii. counselling and support skills;
iv. knowledge of sexual abuse issues, including psychological, social and legal dimensions;
v. knowledge of options including counselling, legal and community resources available both inside and outside the denomination;
vi. knowledge of the denominational structures and processes, including the Church Order, as they apply to sexual abuse issues;
vii. the confidence of the Classis;
viii. a non-judgmental attitude.

The Role of the Advocate is to:
i. ensure the complainant is safe from further abuse;
ii. assist the Complainant through the necessary Christian Reformed Church procedures;
iii. ensure the Complainant is properly advised of his/her rights and is fully aware of the community support that is available;
iv. assist the Complainant in obtaining appropriate legal advice regarding criminal or civil law;
v. liaise with appropriate individuals, e.g., support person, parent or guardian (in the case of minors), to expedite resolution of the complaint;
vi. ensure that the Complainant is kept adequately informed at all stages of the way in which the complaint is being dealt with;
vii. speak on his/her behalf at any meeting the Complainant is required to attend, if the Complainant wishes;
viii. refer, if appropriate, where requested by the Complainant, to Sexual Assault Centres, Incest Centres, medical, psychological and legal help, community agencies and other support services;
ix. oversee liaison with the local church and attend any meetings between the Complainant and the local Session.

The Role of the Advisor is to:
i. support the Accused throughout the Reformed Church procedures;
ii. ensure the Accused is properly advised of their legal rights and responsibilities according to current criminal or civil law;
iii. ensure the Accused is fully aware of the community support available including psychiatric referral, counselling, legal and other services;
iv. ensure the Accused is adequately informed at all stages of the way in which the complaint is being dealt with;
v. liaise with appropriate individuals, e.g., relatives, if requested, and the SACC, to expedite the resolution of the complaint and the rehabilitation of the accused;
vi. speak, at the request of the Accused, on his/her behalf at any meeting the Accused is required to attend regarding the complaint.

5.3. Support

1. Support Person
In addition to the Advocate or the Adviser, the Complainant and the Accused may be accompanied by a relative, friend or legal adviser to any meeting held in relation to the complaint. Such a support person needs to be capable of providing appropriate emotional, non-judgmental support at the time. The support person shall not have the right to speak at any meeting unless invited to do so by the chairperson.

2. Financial Support
If the complaint is upheld, consideration shall be given by the Session (e.g., via its diaconal resources) to assist in the payment of the Complainant's therapy costs that relate specifically to the sexual abuse by the Session / Diaconate member or church worker. If the complaint is shown to be false, consideration shall be given by the Session to assist in the payment of the Accused's therapy or counselling costs in relation to the accusation and its consequences.

5.4. Records of Complaints

To preserve confidentiality all records of complaints shall be stored in a locked filing cabinet. Only the Moderamen of Classis and the Chairperson and members of the SACC shall have access to these records as is appropriate.


It is important to note that, to minimise distress and exercise due pastoral care, the following should be implemented:

· Every effort should be made to ensure the well-being of the Complainant and the Accused and that confidentiality is maintained.
· Acting as quickly as possible should not mean cutting corners or an improper use of power but a genuine recognition of the seriousness of sexual abuse or harassment.
· Speedy facilitation of the procedures is very important. Care should be taken to avoid delays through infrequent meetings of committees.
· All parties should be fully and speedily informed regarding decisions made, the reasons for the decisions, and what processes are being used at all stages, particularly where there is any delay.

6.1. Making a Complaint

Anyone who wishes to make a complaint of sexual abuse by a Session / Diaconate member or church worker may do so verbally or in writing to:

• the Chairman of their local church Session; or
• the Vice-Chairman if the Chairman is implicated;
should the complainant wish for their Session to directly adjudicate on the matter, the Session maintaining the option to seek assistance or advice from the SACC

• directly to the Chairperson of SACC; or
• any member of the SACC.

If a complaint directed to the SACC is made verbally, in the first instance, the complaint should be provided in writing as soon as reasonably possible. The complaint must be signed. The written complaint must be forwarded immediately to the Chairperson of the SACC, who, in consultation with the Complainant and the Accused, will arrange for the appointment of an Advocate for the Complainant and an Advisor for the Accused. The Advocate and Advisor will be selected from a panel of people chosen for their specific ability and training in the area of sexual abuse and who have agreed to act in this capacity.

Action may be initiated by a perpetrator seeking help for present or past offences. Care must be taken that subsequent contact with the alleged victim(s) is made with sensitivity and discretion and that their right not to be involved in any further process (should they so wish) is respected. In any event, the perpetrator will be assigned an Advisor to assist throughout the process. Should the victim be uncontactable or not willing or able to be involved, any dealing with the local church will need to take this into account.

6.2. Rumours

Where a complaint against a Session / Diaconate member or church worker has not been made formally but has come to the notice of the Chairman or member of Session or the Chairman or member of the SACC in the form of hearsay or rumour, they are advised to inquire into the accusation with a view to establishing whether there is any foundation to the rumour.

If, after inquiry, there are reasonable grounds for considering that a case exists against a Session / Diaconate member or church worker, the Session and SACC shall ensure that the accusations are pursued according to procedure. If, after inquiry, there is no reason to support the accusations, the Session and SACC shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that the Session/ Diaconate member's or church worker's name is cleared, and that the person, their family members and the local church receive any assistance needed.

6.3. Receiving and Investigating A Complaint

1. Within 24 hours (or such longer time as is required to make contact) of the receipt of a complaint, the complaint, together with all relevant information, shall be referred (verbally, in the first instance, if necessary) to the Chairperson of the SACC. The Chairperson will advise the local Session Chairman at the earliest opportunity.

2. As soon as possible after receiving the complaint, the Chairperson of the SACC, in consultation with designated members of the SACC, shall appoint an Advocate who shall then consult with the Complainant. The Chairperson shall ensure that the Advocate is acceptable to the Complainant. The Advocate will prepare a written report, to be verified by the Complainant, for the SACC following the first interview. If the complainant is not satisfied with the report, they may submit additional material in writing. NB: issues of confidentiality will need to be clearly defined during the initial interview and throughout the process.

3. As soon as possible after receiving the complaint, the Chairperson of the SACC, or his/her representative, shall inform the Accused of the complaint, preferably in person or by telephone. This should take the form of a letter presented during the interview outlining the nature of the complaint, including quotes from the written complaint if necessary. A copy of the Complainant's letter is on no account to be given to the Accused.

4. The Chairperson, in consultation with designated members of the SACC, shall appoint an Advisor to the Accused. The Chairperson shall ensure that the appointed Advisor is acceptable to the Accused. The Advisor shall then contact the Accused and arrange a meeting between the Chairperson, one other member of SACC, the Adviser and the Accused. The ensuing process will differ depending on the Accused's acknowledgement of the offence or otherwise and the severity of the offence if it is deemed to have taken place. If there is no admission of an offence or there is minimisation of an offence by the Accused, the following may be considered:
• Written signed statements or statutory declarations from parties with knowledge of some of the circumstances;
• Consultation with members of the Session.
It should be noted that in such an event extra care and support may be needed by the Complainant and their family (if involved).

5. As soon as possible after the complaint has been received, the Chairperson will consult with the local Session who will ensure appropriate pastoral care for the Complainant and any family members. It is at this stage of the process that the Complainant is particularly vulnerable in the local church context. If the Accused is a Session / Diaconate member or church worker, the Session, and minister in particular, frequently experiences a conflict of interest in the pastoral care of both parties. The SACC can provide valuable assistance to those ministering in this situation. On no account should both parties be referred to the same counsellor for help at this time as this creates another conflict of interest and can be psychologically damaging to the Complainant.

6. As soon as possible after the complaint has been received the Chairperson of the SACC will consult with the local Session who will ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to provide support and advice to the spouse and family of the Accused, if the need for this is evident. The Session will ensure that the usual stipend and housing provision is provided in the case where the minister is suspended from office for the duration of the enquiry.

7. If the Accused is married, he/she is to inform their spouse of the allegations made. Should the Accused refuse to do this, the SACC may choose to inform the spouse. As with the Complainant, issues of confidentiality will need to be clearly defined for the Accused during the initial interview and throughout the process.

8. The Session should be kept informed of the findings of the SACC so that it may exercise the necessary pastoral care and appropriately deal with the Session / Diaconate member or church worker who has been accused.

6.4. Complaints by Minors

If a child under the age of 16 discloses sexual abuse by a Session member or church worker, the mandatory reporting process should be adhered to. Notification to the Department of Community Services (DOCS, or the relevant body in each of the states and territories) is mandatory (except in WA).

Since there is the risk of contaminating the child's evidence for court proceedings, any investigation in relation to alleged or suspected abuse must be done by DOCS in the first instance. Any SACC procedures which involve the victim can only take place following completion of the DOCS investigations and police interviews.

In all cases (except where the parent or guardian is believed to be responsible) the child's parent(s) or guardian(s) shall be notified as a matter of priority, but preferably in consultation with investigating police or DOCS workers. Further, the parents are to be kept informed promptly of any steps taken in dealing with the complaint.

Children under the age of sixteen at the time of the complaint are to be represented by a person of their choice, preferably their parent or legal guardian, who will make the formal complaint in writing on their behalf to the SACC or Session and generally carry out such functions as are necessary for the processing of the complaint. If the victim is an older child and requests to be present for part or all of the proceedings, this should be carefully assessed and agreed to where possible and appropriate.

The Advocate for a minor will act in a support capacity to both the child and his/her representative and will need to have knowledge in the area of child sexual abuse. The Advocate will take care that any counselling for a minor will be conducted by a person known to be qualified and effective in dealing with the consequences of child sexual abuse.

6.5. Resolution and Outcomes of Complaints

The aim of SACC assisting Sessions with complaints against Session members and church workers is to ensure, not only accountability and objectivity in investigating complaints, and ensuring appropriate pastoral care for all parties during the process, but also that appropriate and just outcomes are achieved.

The three possible findings of the SACC and the Session are:
1. dismissal of the complaint because it was found to be false;
2. unable to make a ruling;
3. upholding the accusation.

The possible outcomes of a complaint include, but are not limited to, the following:

• a warning to the accused;
• a written explanation to the Complainant;
• a written explanation to the local congregation, where appropriate;
• acknowledgement and acceptance by the Accused of the validity of the complaint;
• a verbal or written apology to the victim / survivor by the offender;
• a verbal or written apology by the Complainant to the Accused if the accusation was false;
• a public apology to the victim / survivor or the falsely accused;
• a verbal or written apology to the victim / survivor and congregation by the offender;
• a public explanation and apology by the church;
• a requirement that the offender receive supervised counselling by a clinically trained counsellor or psychologist who has recognised expertise in this area;
• the offender's resignation from the position held;
• the offender's agreement to acquaint any future employer for ministry of the offence and its outcome;
• the offender's deposition from office, or removal from their position;
• the offender's resignation from ordained ministry;
• financial contribution by the offender and/or local church towards counselling / therapy costs of the complainant.

A number of these possible outcomes together may be considered necessary for finalising the complaint. At the conclusion of the process letters confirming the outcome will be sent to the Accused and the Complainant and placed on file. [In NSW, Sessions are required to report to the "Commission for Children and Young People" when discipline has been applied against an office bearer or church worker for sexual offences (see Section 39 of Commission for Children and Young People Act, 1998, NSW.]

6.5.1. Mutual resolution (for minor complaints)

1. Discussion will need to take place within the SACC to determine whether action sought by the Complainant, the Accused, or recommended by the interviewing committee, is acceptable as a "mutual resolution" of the complaint. Pressure must not be placed on the Complainant or the Accused to accept a resolution preferred by one party or the committee (or before the correct complaint procedure is completed). The SACC may call on the services of a trained counsellor, with knowledge of sexual abuse issues, to facilitate "mutual resolution" where this is indicated. In endeavouring to find a mutual resolution, the SACC or the counsellor may interview the people involved separately to assist in resolving the complaint.

2. Following any meeting at which a basis for a mutual resolution has been proposed, both parties should be given an interval of one or two weeks during which they have the opportunity to accept or reject the proposal. Consultation by the parties with their Advocate or Adviser during this time is recommended. Both the Complainant and the Accused shall be given a written form of the proposal within 48 hours of the meeting.

6.5.2. Restitution

1. A number of outcomes listed above can be understood in terms of symbolic and/or practical restitution. For example, a response to the victim / survivor in the form of:

• a letter recognising and naming the offence and validating their complaint by the minister or Session Clerk of the local church;
• a letter acknowledging the abuse and an apology by the offender;
• part or full payment of therapy/ counselling costs.
Any attempt at symbolic and/or practical restitution needs to suit the victim's / survivor's expressed needs and must not be imposed.

6.5.3. Lack of Resolution

1. Where the Complainant or the Accused cannot agree to the action proposed by the other or the SACC, the matter is considered not to be resolved. If the SACC believes the complaints warrant further action, the matter should be referred to the Accused's supervising Session as soon as possible, to deal with the matter according to the Church Order and the Synodical decisions of the CRCA.

2. The Complainant or the Accused may appeal against a decision or the behaviour of the SACC to the Moderamen of Classis who shall appoint a committee of three persons not involved in the matter and including members of each sex to determine the matter. This committee may direct that the complaint be further dealt with or dismiss the appeal.

6.6. Legal Proceedings

1. In the event that criminal or civil legal proceedings are commenced by the Complainant, the Chairperson of the SACC may be contacted to arrange for an Advocate and Adviser, if required. If a complaint is active within the procedures of the SACC or the Christian Reformed Churches, the final resolution of the complaint shall be deferred until completion of the legal proceedings. The Session, in consultation with the SACC will need to consider in light of the information at hand to:

• take no further action until more information becomes available;
• limit the contact between the Accused and the Complainant and/or limit the contact between the Accused and any children in the congregation;
• suspend the Accused from office, position, or duty pending the outcome of the investigation. Suspension does not remove the presumption of innocence (Church Order Art 97).

2. Once legal proceedings have concluded, the Session, in consultation with the SACC, will revisit the complaint. This should occur whether the result is conviction, acquittal or dropped charges. Conviction or lack of it is not the only criterion to discern "ungodly conduct". An Accused who has been suspended should not be reinstated until the Session, in consultation with the SACC and Department of Community Service, deems it safe to do so.

6.7. Pastoral Care of Churches

1. The Chairperson of the SACC shall consult with the Session of the congregation where a Session member, especially the minister, or church worker has had a complaint laid against them, or who has been disciplined for sexual abuse or harassment. This action must be taken as a matter of urgency.

2. Options for pastoral care of the church affected include, but are not limited to, the following:

• a meeting of the Chairperson (or representative) of the SACC and the Classis Church Visitors with the Session to open up the matter and discuss the needs of all concerned;
• a request by the Session to have the services of people skilled in mediation, group facilitation and counselling, and who have knowledge of sexual abuse issues, to assist them with debriefing, counselling and possible conflict resolution in order to lead the church to a healing resolution for all concerned, both emotionally and spiritually.

3. It needs to be recognised that a complaint of sexual abuse or harassment against a Session / Diaconate member or church worker precipitates a crisis in that church, which if responded to appropriately, may result in spiritual growth. If the matter is not addressed according to common principles of justice and a compassionate regard for the truth, the church, like the victim / survivor, may suffer for years to come.

6.8. Following Up Offenders

1. The church has a responsibility of not only addressing the needs of victims / survivors of sexual abuse by any of its workers, but to ensure the safety of potential victims, to the utmost of its ability. While the offender's right to worship and being part of a church fellowship, following repentance and discipline, are not in question, it is vital that they are not given positions of trust and leadership in the future, as this creates the conditions which may lead to further abuse. An exception to this is where an offender is deemed to have been truly rehabilitated.

2. Many offenders change churches and denominations following allegations of abuse which led to their confession or discovery, thus avoiding exposure and discipline. Where this is the case, the SACC recommends that letters by the minister of the church where the offence(s) took place and by the Chairperson of the SACC be sent advising the minister and Session of the new congregation of the nature of the offence(s) and the possible risk to vulnerable members. It should be noted that in most instances, any position of authority not only presents a risk to minors or vulnerable adults, but signals the church's approval or minimisation of the offence to the victim / survivor(s). In the case of the offender being involved with a community organisation such as the Scouts, officials in the organisation may need to be informed.

6.9. Rehabilitation of Offenders

1. At this early stage of addressing sexual abuse / harassment by professionals in our society, the evidence of the effectiveness of rehabilitation through discipline, counselling, psychotherapy or psychiatric treatment is in question. Successful rehabilitation appears possible in a small percentage of offenders who are capable of recognising the nature and effect of their behaviour, are willing to accept disciplinary measures imposed, and can benefit from extensive therapy. Serial offenders who look for opportunities for sexual contact and 'groom' their victims over a period of time appear not to benefit from, or engage actively, in the steps required for rehabilitation.

2. Decisions with regard to discipline and rehabilitation belong to the Session as per the Church Order. The SACC is not directly involved in matters of discipline or rehabilitation but can act in an advisory capacity.

6.10. Summary of Procedures

1. A COMPLAINT is received by the CHAIRPERSON of SACC who informs the Session Chairman. (The SACC works together with the Session throughout the procedures.)

2. The SACC appoints an ADVOCATE for the COMPLAINANT who meets with the Complainant and prepares a written report for the SACC. (The ADVOCATE links the VICTIM with needed SERVICES, monitors and reports on the process to the VICTIM and ensures care for the family.)

3. The SACC CHAIRPERSON informs the ACCUSED who is presented with a SACC written statement detailing the nature of the complaint.

4. The SACC appoints an ADVISER for the ACCUSED who arranges a meeting with the ACCUSED, the ADVISER and two SACC members to discuss the complaint. (The ADVISOR links the ACCUSED with needed SERVICES, and ensures care of spouse and family.)

5. a. If the ACCUSED ADMITS to the complaint the matter is referred to the SESSION for further action, which may entail DISCIPLINE or asking SACC to assist with obtaining a MUTUAL RESOLUTION.

b. If the ACCUSED does NOT ADMIT to the complaint further evidence, written statements can be obtained. The SACC presents details to the SESSION, which determines if the ACCUSED is GUILTY or NOT GUILTY.

i. If the ACCUSED is found to be GUILTY the SESSION will decide on further DISCIPLINARY action, which may include public acknowledgment, apology, resignation, restitution. Where necessary, the SACC can assist Session with a pastoral plan for the church, and bringing healing in the church.

ii. If the ACCUSED is found to be NOT GUILTY the Session will ensure the ACCUSED is officially cleared, which may include a formal statement to the church, or a letter to the COMPLAINANT.


1. These procedures have been provisionally adopted by the 2000 CRCA Synod and are to be implemented by each of the Classes for use in their state. The 2000 Synod that these procedures will be reviewed at the 2003 Synod.

2. Since these procedures for addressing sexual abuse / harassment are new, regular evaluation and review will be necessary as they are applied in actual situations. An annual review of this document and its effectiveness by the SACC of the various Classes is recommended with recommendations referred to the Synodical Study Committee on Abuse.

3. It is recommended that current cases with each SACC be reviewed regularly until a resolution has been reached.


8.1. Members of SACC, Advocates and Advisers

All members of the SACC and the panel of Advocates and Advisers shall undergo an orientation course dealing with matters of sexual abuse in the church, and its consequences. Various denominations have established similar procedures and it is expected that such courses will be available on a regular basis.

8.2. Session Members and Theological Students

The SACC in each Classis will ensure that the Sessions are familiar with the procedural document and shall organise or advise Sessions of courses to familiarise them with matters concerning the pastoral care of those sexually abused. This can be done in conjunction with the decisions of the 1997 Synod, Articles 26.6 and 26.7, calling for further awareness, resources and training.

The 1997 Synod requested the Reformed Theological College to provide training for theological students. The SACC members may follow up and ensure the faculty and students are aware of the procedures and latest research in the area.

8.3. Church Members

The SACC in each Classis will ensure that the Policy and Procedures document is available in all the churches of the Classis and that attention is drawn to its importance. The SACC shall from time to time sponsor articles in the local church bulletins or Classis magazines, or publish leaflets for distribution, that will educate the church community in matters relating to sexual abuse / harassment and will ensure that any victims are encouraged to seek help. Members of the SACC and the panel of advocates and advisors are encouraged to make themselves available, where possible, to explain the work of the committee to appropriate groups in the church community.


9.1. Dos and Don'ts for Session, Classis and SACC members

1. DOs

DO put the Complainant first. They are the person who may have been abused! They may be very ashamed or afraid. From the outset, handle all matters with confidentiality and assure them of this.

DO respect the fundamental rights of Complainants of sexual abuse:
• to be taken seriously;
• to be treated with dignity, respect, sensitivity and understanding;
• to be given information;
• to retain control in their part of the process;
• to have privacy and confidentiality;
• to be provided with a proper standard of medical treatment;
• to receive professional counselling or therapy;
• to seek justice through the legal system;
• to be compensated through the Victims Compensation Tribunal, if the respondent is found guilty.

DO remember that, if a person has been made the victim of injustice, if not a crime, they have a right to:
• a response of anger at the offence;
• a response of compassion to their pain;
• a response of advocacy on their behalf;
• a response of holding offenders legally and spiritually accountable for their action - stressing again that sexual abuse is a crime.

DO make sure parents / guardians of a minor are appropriately involved and given support and assistance.

DO make sure the spouse and children of the Accused are given appropriate support and help.

DO make sure the Accused is provided with appropriate help and support.

DO present the Complainant with the appropriate options that are available to them and explain the options clearly. Provide information about the support structures that are available within and outside the church. Let the Complainant choose the next step in consultation with advisors and supporters, wherever possible.

DO consult the Complainant at every step in the process and check whether suggested measures or decisions are in accordance with their wishes. (This does not mean that the church may not proceed with the complaint if the Complainant does not consent.)

DO listen to the Complainant, take seriously what she/he has to say and take action on the complaint. Especially where the victim is (was) a child, assure her/him that she/he is not to blame for what happened. "The crisis of sexual abuse affects the whole person, physically, psychologically, socially and spiritually. Each of these dimensions must be addressed, both for the victim (and possibly their family), and also for the offenders." [Cf "For Justice and Healing", 3.3.4(1)]

DO ensure that appropriate support is provided, both from within and outside the church (have local information available).

DO ensure that congregations have quick and appropriate support and pastoral care.

DO name the offence. If the sexual abuse is a case of rape, then it needs to be called 'rape' - which is a crime - and not 'promiscuity' or 'adultery'. Likewise, an offence against a minor is 'child sexual abuse', also a crime, not 'mutual masturbation', or, 'my affection getting out of hand'.

DO have available a state-specific list of rape crisis centres, medical and legal care / advocacy, counselling agencies, psychologists or psychiatrists, refuges, women's resource centres, respite care places where children can go.

2. DON'Ts

DON'T indulge in misconceptions commonly surrounding sexual abuse (see 9.2.).

DON'T play down the seriousness of sexual abuse. Phrases like "boys will be boys" or "men like playing around" or "he's a bit of a womaniser" are often used to cover behaviour that is clearly unacceptable and wrong. Other forms of sexual abuse besides actual penetration are also criminal offences.

DON'T think sexual abuse is an act of sex! It isn't! It is an act of violence! External factors may be triggering mechanisms (alcohol, stress, unhappy marriage) but they should not lead to avoiding the real issue, i.e., the offender's behaviour and their failure to take responsibility for their actions.

DON'T think that sexual abuse only affects a person's body and has no effect on how they feel emotionally or spiritually. Sexual abuse invariably results in the victim experiencing feelings of powerlessness, vulnerability and self negation. It must be acknowledged that sexual abuse is an attack on the very essence of a person, and so limits their spiritual development. The betrayal of trust in a Christian context will pose serious problems relating to the reality of God's love and protection for most victims.

DON'T be satisfied with 'approximate justice' (the 'healing-wounds-lightly' approach Jeremiah 6:14 talks about). It is all too tempting to let ministers off lightly because their career could be in jeopardy, or they stand to lose their credibility and standing in the church and in the wider community. Avoiding the process of dealing with the offence not only leaves the victim / survivor further abused by the church, but opens the way for the offender repeating the abuse in another setting.

DON'T underrate the power of the pastoral role. All ministers have the advantages of being professionals and of the respect ascribed to them by virtue of their ordination. Male ministers have the added advantages that are inherent in being males, operating in a male oriented environment.

DON'T confuse sexual abuse with misguided love. To use another person for self gratification, at their expense, is not love but abuse.

DON'T excuse the offender on the grounds that the woman or child encouraged them or seduced them. Even if this had some basis in fact, persons in a pastoral role are duty bound to protect those under their care or influence. There is no excuse for abuse!

9.2. Current Misconceptions

There are some commonly held misconceptions about sexual abuse and sexual harassment that are dangerous. These misconceptions distort the reality of how sexual abuse occurs and contribute to the distress, embarrassment and shame victims / survivors of sexual abuse feel. Some pervasive misconceptions follow.

"Women ask for it, they invite sexual abuse by the way they act or dress."
Fact: Sexual abuse is a frightening and humiliating experience during which a woman has no control over what happens. No one enjoys or asks for such an experience. All women are vulnerable to abuse, regardless of age, race, attractiveness or style.

"Nice, decent women don't get abused."
Fact: Being a "good Christian woman" is no guarantee against sexual abuse; all women are vulnerable, no matter what their personal standards.

"Men can't help themselves. When they are sexually frustrated, they get excited and can't control themselves."
Fact: Men can control their violence and their sexual urges. Studies have shown most sexual abuse is premeditated and planned. It seems sex is used as a very effective way of degrading the woman or making use of her for self gratification. In either case the motive frequently has more to do with power than with sex.

"Mutual masturbation is a normal part of development for boys."
Fact: The unequal power relationship between a boy and anyone his senior makes any sexual contact degrading and frightening whether they experience physical pleasure or not. The accompanying secrecy leaves the child not only powerless but isolated, often believing they are to blame.

"Real men don't get abused - only gays and wimps."
Fact: In the same way as any man can be the subject of physical violence, any man can also be the subject of sexual violence. This has nothing to do with sexual preferences of the victim / survivor and may have little to do with the sexual preference of the perpetrator. Sexual abuse has more to do with power than sex.

"A Christian minister would never sexually abuse another human being, let alone a person in the church."
Fact: Many denominations in Australia have had to face cases of 'clergy sexual abuse'. The fact that this may not be widely known does not mean it is not happening.

"It can't be abuse. They're both adults."
Fact: Sexual contact between two people where one person is the pastoral carer, teacher, mentor to the other, is a breach of trust and an abuse of power. It is not to be confused with normal courting between adults.

Because of these misconceptions the blame for sexual abuse has been shifted from the offender to the victim / survivor. Victims / survivors have often not told anyone about the abuse because they were scared, ashamed and embarrassed. When they did speak up, they were frequently not believed, discounted or held responsible and rejected by their local church. As a result the real extent of the problem has not been recognised. Men have also found themselves in this position.

In many ways the church has compounded this situation and prevented justice from being done by:
• being reluctant to deal with sensitive issues like sexuality;
• being unwilling to face up to the reality of 'clergy sexual abuse';
• continuing patriarchal / hierarchical patterns of power by not believing / listening to victims' complaints and stories of sexual abuse perpetrated by ministers;
• grossly mishandling sexual abuse cases when they were actually forced to deal with them (for instance, by exercising pressure on the Complainant to drop the charges; by allowing ministers to resign to avoid having the charges heard; or simply moving the minister to another church).

[Adapted from "A Pastoral Report to the Church on Sexual Violence against Women and Children of the Church Community", CASA House and The Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne, 1990, pp 11-12. Used with permission.]

9.3. Relevant Legal Information

The following legal information pertains to the law in NSW. Each Classis (besides NSW) will need to cross check current details with their relevant state laws. The following provisions relate to NSW and should be considered as a guide for other jurisdictions.

1. Reporting Requirements for an Adult Victim

Under Section 316 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) it is an offence in circumstances where a person commits a serious offence and another person knows or believes that the offence has been committed and that he or she has information which might be of material assistance in securing apprehension, prosecution or conviction of the offender, fails without reasonable excuse to bring that information to the attention of the police force or other appropriate authority. The person who fails to report could be liable to imprisonment.

The offences of sexual assault without consent, aggravated sexual assault, assault with intent to have sexual intercourse and indecent assault are all matters which would require reporting under Section 316 of the Crimes Act.

2. Additional Reporting Requirements for a Child Victim

Under Section 27(1) of the Children and Young Persons (Care & Protection) Act 1998 (NSW), designated persons (considered to include the Minister and Session) who have reasonable grounds to suspect that a child (person under16yrs or age) is at risk of harm, the person must report the matter to the Director-General of Community Services (DOCS).

The definition of “at risk of harm” encompasses current concerns for the safety, welfare or well-being of the child as a result of-
· child’s basic physical or psychological needs are not being met/at risk of not being met
· parents/caregivers have not arranged/unwilling to arrange necessary medical care
· child is at risk of being physically or sexually abused or ill-treated
· child is living in a household where there have been incidents of domestic violence and as a consequence the child is at risk
· a parent/caregiver has behaved towards the child in a way that the child has suffered serious psychological harm

A failure to comply with prompt notification is guilty of an offence under the Act.

3. Contact Points When Seeking Legal Advice
Legal Aid Commission of the State;
Community Legal Centres;
Law Society of the State, Community Assistance Department.

9.4. Source Documents and References

The following sources were referred to in the development of this document:

Anglican Church, Diocese of Adelaide, 1994: "Policy and Procedure for Dealing with Allegations Against the Anglican Clergy of Sexually Abusive Behaviour".

Anglican Church, Diocese of Melbourne, 1993: "Principles and Procedure for Dealing with Sexual Harassment".

Anglican Church, Diocese of Sydney, 1996: "Protocol for Dealing with Sexual Misconduct by Church Workers in the Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney".

Baptist Union of New South Wales, 1997: "Crossing the Boundary: A Response to Sexual Misconduct by Baptist Church Leaders".

Catholic Church, Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference & the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes, December 1996: "Towards Healing: Principles and Procedures in Responding to Complaints of Sexual Abuse Against Personnel of the Catholic Church in Australia".

Catholic Church, Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference & the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes, January 1994: "The Catholic Church's Principles in Relation to Sexual Abuse and Professional Misconduct".

Churches of Christ in Victoria / Tasmania, Conference Executive, 1994: "Sexual Harassment Policy".

Christian Reformed Church in North America, Synod 1997: "Abuse Guidelines: Procedures and Guidelines for Handling Abuse Allegations Against a Church Leader".

Department of Social Security, October 1996: National Guidelines; "Guidelines on the Prevention and Elimination of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace".

Lutheran Church of Australia, Council of Presidents, 1995: "A Policy and Action Plan for Responding to Complaints of Sexual Abuse / Harassment by Church Employees in the Lutheran Church of Australia".

Presbyterian Church (USA) 1994: "Sexual Misconduct Policy and its Procedures".

Uniting Church in Australia, 1994: "Procedures for Use When Complaints of Sexual Abuse Are Made Against Ministers".

YWCA Melbourne, 1996: "Why Does He Hug Us So Tightly? Sexual Abuse in Ministerial Relationships".

9.5. Recommended Reading

Sessions and church members are referred to the companion publication to this document, "For Justice and Healing", published by the Reformed Churches Publishing House. This is available via the RCA Resource Centre in Dandenong.

As well as giving a good understanding of abuse, its prevalence in our churches and its effects, it has a good set of pastoral guidelines for dealing with abuse. It also includes in its appendices suggested reading lists.

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