Responding to a Disclosure
Some ways Sexual Abuse may be Disclosed
It is common for victims to experience feelings of shame, guilt and fear when they come forward with a disclosure of sexual abuse or assault.
Whilst some people do report incidents of sexual abuse or assault to the Church or Government authorities immediately after a situation, many survivors take days, months, years or decades to come forward.
Children who disclose usually do so inadvertantly, accidentally and impartially rather than in a planned, intentional manner.*
It is important that victims and survivors of sexual abuse or assault, along with their family, friends & congregation or school community, have access to information about available resources & supports.
This can empower victims to speak out, access healing & seek justice whereby perpetrators are held responsible & accountable for their exploitation.
*Relevant source referred to here: Antonia Quadara (2008) "Responding to Young People Disclosing Sexual Assault: A Resource for Schools", Australian Institute of Family Studies, ACSSA Wrap Number 6, pp. 1 - 11.
Tips on Responding to a Disclosure (including by a child)
If a child or adult discloses (intentionally or accidentally) sexual abuse or assault, the following tips can guide the initial response.
These tips were developed by the Illusion Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota (US):
- Believe what they tell you
- Affirm what and how they are telling it to you
- Support them in ways that might articulate a need
- Empower them to do what they need to
- Refer them to a counselor, Police and Child Protection helplines
In addition, it can be helpful to clealy state and emphasise (in age-appropriate ways):
- It was not their fault
- It was right for them to raise to topic
- What happened to them was wrong but they are not the only ones this has happened to
Helpful source: John C Gonsiorek, Ed (1995) "Breach of Trust: Sexual Exploitation by Health Care Professionals and Clergy", California: SAGE
The Need for Reporting to Police, Child-Protection Services, & Skilled Support Services
It will be necessary to share certain 'private' information about the disclosure with key people and services who can offer support and act on it. Silence is what the perpetrator would want, and maintaining this does not promote responsibility and safety-planning.
Depending on factors such as: the age of the victim; their vulnerability; and any immediate dangers, it may be possible (and should be the first goal) to enable and empower the victim to take this step themself (perhaps with you by their side).
However, if this goal isn't possible to achieve in a safe and timely manner, you must make a decision to act on this information by:
- Reporting children at risk of harm, or who disclose abuse or harm, to Child Protection services (for details visit the Child Protection Services section of this website)
- Reporting alleged conduct that appears to be of a criminal nature to Police. This can be done by phoning or visiting the local Police Station or, in an emergency, calling for Police assistance (the emergency numbers are 000 in Australia and 111 in New Zealand).
- In addition, encourage adults who disclose abuse to access specialist counselling services. Not all adults who disclose abuse wish to pursue justice through the Police or criminal courts (at the time). As adults it is necessary to respect their decision and it can be helpful to offer alternatives in addition to them contacting Police.
Remember: silence serves to protect the abuser. Do not make promises to a child/adult that you cannot keep, such as "I won't tell anybody."
Reporting Allegations within the Church
- Making a Complaint
To submit an official complaint about a Church Worker (employee), attendee or volunteer who is alleged to have engaged in misconduct, abuse, assault or exploitation of a sexual nature against a child, young person or vulnerable adult, go to the Allegations menu of this site.
- Who will Respond to the Complaint
Allegations of misconduct towards children and young people will be responded to by Safe Place Services.
Allegations of misconduct between adults will be responded to by Conference-region Safe Place Coordinators/Committees.
If the alleged conduct towards a vulnerable adult names a Church Worker (employee) as the person subject of allegation (PSOA) it will be responded to by the Conference-region leadership or the Employing Entity of the Church (as relevant).