4. Definition of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse occurs when a person uses his or her power or authority to take advantage of another's trust and respect to involve the person in sexual activity. Sexual abuse does not necessarily involve genital activity. It can be any act which erodes the sexual boundary between the two persons, for example, sexual innuendo, kissing, unwanted or unnecessary touching of buttocks or breasts, overly long hugs and so on. It can involve apparently consensual intercourse but the validity of consent is negated by the power differential.
5. The Abuse of Pastoral Power
It is the issue of power in relationships which gives Ministry much in common with other helping professions. Ministers, like other helping professionals, have a constant stream of people seeking their assistance on the most intimate of matters. By virtue of their office, they have access to the deepest fears, longings and pains of their parishioners. Parishioners have the right to expect that the Minister will act in a way which is in their best interest, and the right to be safe from exploitation.
The principle involved is that people in such a vulnerable situation have a diminished ability to refuse the advances of the more powerful person.
In handling this whole issue, the church is facing important pastoral and moral problems. Sexual Abuse undermines the church's moral authority and calls into question its pastoral practices, not just in the original abuse, but in the ways in which disclosures of abuse are handled. At the communal level, the church could face a major crisis of confidence in its ministers. Ministers who act in a sexually inappropriate manner have undermined their moral authority when it comes to speaking on issues of sexual morality. The trust of the community is violated.
6. Notification of Disclosures of Child Sexual Assault
Under NSW law, workers such as those employed in ministry with children and young people, should notify the Department of Community Services (DOCS) wherever there are "reasonable grounds" to suspect a child has been sexually assaulted.
"Reasonable grounds" can be assumed when:
a child tells you he/she has been sexually assaulted
someone else tells you (sibling, relative, friend of child)
observation of the child's behaviour or knowledge of children generally leads to suspicion.
Because of the significant incidence of sexual assault in the community, (one case is too significant) it is reasonable to assume that, as a worker in the church, you will from time to time have dealings with a child or young person who has been or is being victimised.
Procedure for Notification of Child Sexual Assault
In this section, reference to the "person in authority" shall be taken to mean the parent, legal guardian or other such person responsible for the child who has been assaulted. Obviously, the perpetrator is excluded.
If any child discloses any information about a sexual assault it is the child's protection which is the priority.
Do not push the child into telling you the details of the sexual assault. Do not ask leading questions as this may lead to difficulties in having evidence accepted in court at a later date.
Investigation of the claim is the role of
Department of Community Services and/or the police. Your
role is to listen and comfort by:
- telling them that you understand what they are saying and that you take it seriously;
- stressing that whatever has happened is not their fault; and
- saying they were correct in telling you.
It is imperative that you do not contact the alleged perpetrator as this could endanger the child and make police investigation more difficult.
If the alleged assault is recent then clothing worn by the child should be retained and the child should not wash as a medical examination may be required for forensic evidence. Remember to keep in mind with forensic evidence the sooner examined the better.
The Minister or person in authority should be contacted immediately. It is important that confidentiality be maintained. The person reporting the incident should only speak to the Minister, person in authority, DOCS or the police about the matter.
The person to whom the child disclosed should then ring the Department of Community Services and speak with the Duty District Officer. This should be done as soon as possible after disclosure. the Child Protection Service can be contacted after hours on (02) 9381 0402.
When the notification is made the
following information will be required:
a) the name and address of the place where the alleged offence occurred, the name of the person making the notification and his/her relationship to the child;
b) the full name and age of the child and his/her current whereabouts;
c) the details of the alleged abuse and how this knowledge was obtained;
d) the name of the alleged abuser and his/her relationship to the child;
e) known details about the child's family eg. structure of the family, address if known and any other relevant details;
f) known details about significant others;
g) follow up already taken and follow up planned.
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