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Warning: Sex-assault epidemic in churches

Around the world, Christians are targeted for persecution and martyrdom, something that is developing even in the United States.

But even as church leaders increasingly are on guard against threats of murderous violence, experts warn they may be ignoring a far more common threat – sexual assault against congregants.

“Sexual assaults taking place on church property is an epidemic in our nation,” Carl Gallups told WND.

“The reasons for it are numerous (and sometimes complex), but the main problem is that most churches have an abysmal lack of adequate security measures. While many churches are concerned about the growing trend of violent attacks and even shootings targeting worshippers, sexual assault, molestation, and robberies are far more common, and preventing them requires a systematic approach and constant vigilance.”

Gallups says he has dealt with such problems firsthand during his over 30 years in the ministry and 10 years in law enforcement.

“The prevalence of these kinds of problems is one of the most important reasons why I wrote my latest book, ‘Be Thou Prepared,’ Gallups stated. “It is frightening to consider the number of lonely, unguarded, and high-probability-of-attack places the typical church contains within the confines of its buildings, parking areas, and other properties.

“Think of it – most churches center around a worship service in which the bulk of its church-going population sits. Yet, teenagers, elderly, and children get up during those services and head to rest rooms and other locations – largely unescorted or unmonitored. It is in those unsecured hallways, restrooms, empty classrooms, walkways, or parking areas, where attacks are likely to occur.”

Such nightmarish cases are in the headlines almost every week. Earlier this month, a 33-year-old man was accused of sexually assaulting a six-year-old girl at a church in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The alleged victim was taken into a men’s bathroom and assaulted while she was on her way to the girl’s room. What’s worse, the girl’s father was in the church the entire time the attack was taking place and was unaware anything had happened until his daughter returned and told him.

Gallups warns parents and church leaders to never assume their children are safe, even if they are only out of sight for a short time.

“The perpetrator usually knows these places well and sets up in or near those areas to wait for their prey,” Gallups said. “And what most people do not realize is that an attack of this nature might last only a few minutes, and in a case of robbery, perhaps only seconds.

“The attacks can come from people who are actually attending the church, even members – but they can also come from someone who wanders in off the street, does their deed, and then vanishes into the surrounding church environs. Without the proper security measures in place, a church and its most vulnerable members can become a collection of ‘sitting ducks’ for people of a criminal mindset.”

In the case in Raleigh, suspect William Coffey was not a church member and was simply visiting a Bible study group. Gallups observes many of the most dangerous situations could be avoided “or even practically eliminated” if churches implemented “due diligence and preparation.”

He told WND: “I go into great detail in my book about how to make this happen. At the very least, a basic security team should be implemented. People need to be trained and given the proper communication and protection equipment. Patrol monitors need to be dedicated to the task of keeping a vigilant and roving eye on the church grounds, empty rooms, children’s areas, bathroom areas, and outside hidden spots.

“In short, trained people need to begin to take away the likely spots of criminal activity by making certain that there is an intermittent human presence in these places. Video cameras and other surveillance devices can be employed. Professional church security experts can be brought in to conduct security surveys, hold seminars and training sessions, and to educate the church leadership in the details of top-management security techniques.”

Jimmy Meeks, a police officer, minister and security expert who provides church safety seminars around the country, told WND sexual assault is far more common than most people think.

“According to Ministry Safe, founded by Greg Love, from 2005 to 2008 ‘an average of 23 new articles each day … appeared in secular media sources revealing sexual abuse allegations arising in Protestant churches in the United States.’ The frightening thing about such numbers is that this means it is possible that in two months’ time, there are more victims of sex crimes in church-related scenarios that there have been of shootings in churches in the past 15 years.

Meeks believes many pastors and community leaders are fooling themselves by pretending such crimes could never happen in their own churches.

“What works against the churches is the ‘trust’ factor,” Meeks explains. “Churches are desperate for volunteers, and such desperation, combined with the trust factor, puts churches in a bad position. Churches tend to live in denial about such activity, and believe that if it happens, it happens elsewhere.”

Gallups also believes church leaders are far too trusting and complacent about a dire threat to their own congregants.

“It always amazes me (and saddens me) when I hear church leadership or membership say things like, ‘Well, we are just trusting in the Lord. After all, we are in His house of worship and He will protect us.’ I say to people of this mindset: But wait! Does your church have insurance? What about fire extinguishers? Does your church have safety lighting? Do you have lights in the parking lots? How about locks on the doors? Do you have a safe or other secure location in which the money is kept?

“The answers to all these questions are obvious. If a church would take extra measures to protect its money and property why not take extra measures to protect its most precious resource – its members? Especially it most vulnerable! Of course we have ‘faith’ in God as believers. But it is being disobedient to the word of God and to the commands of our Lord not to prepare, not to protect, and not to provide for those among us. After all, we are supposed to be a ‘family.’ And a good family provides for and protects its own.”

Meeks advises churches to put the security of their most vulnerable members first, even before trying to redeem those who have a serious sexual problem.

“Churches are faced with a dilemma in this matter,” Meeks admits. “The challenge for them is Restoring the Offender vs. Removing his Opportunity. By this I mean that the primary focus is NOT – and must never be – on restoring the sex offender. Instead, the first priority is Removing the Opportunity for the offender. This means that churches will, in the words of King Solomon, ‘foresee danger and take the necessary precautions.’ (Proverbs 27:12).

“Churches must seek to remove all opportunities for the offender to attack.”

Gallups stresses Christians must never forget they live in a dangerous world. And he reminds believers preparing for danger is not a sign of a lack of faith, but, in his view, a biblical duty.

“We live in tumultuous times, and in many ways we live in very dangerous times. It is time, now more than ever, for the leaders of God’s people and for the people of God themselves to step up to the plate and get prepared. And, we need to get prepared before a tragedy strikes – not afterward.

“In so doing, we are telling the world that we care – we care about those who wish to worship among us and we care about those who are a regular part of the Family of God. And, isn’t this a huge part of what serving Jesus is all about?”