Breaking the Silence

Just the facts:

  • 90% of active sex offenders have no criminal record that would show up in a background check
  • 70% of reported sexual assaults involve minors
  • 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday
  • the average male who sexually abuses minor girls has 52 victims, and the average male that abuses minor boys has 150 victims
  • fewer than 10% of child molestation incidents are disclosed, far fewer are prosecuted or convicted


Tim drove to work, sipping his coffee and listening to NPR as he always did during the morning commute. He felt himself getting angry but not at the Southern California gridlock. He was angry at the report of clergy sexual abuse on the radio. By the time he reached his office he was livid, only his anger was directed at the victims who never came forward or who waited years or even decades to report their abuse. “It’s just not right,” Tim fumed to himself. “Those people care more about saving their own embarrassment than protecting innocent kids who could be future victims!” A Bible verse popped into his head: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Tim asked his administrative assistant to hold all calls, then barricaded himself in his office. He sat staring out the window and tried hard to pray. That’s when it hit him. He was angry at himself. For over twenty years he had been in a state of denial about his own abuse and never before allowed himself to get angry about it.

Unlike most victims of sexual abuse, Tim had not known his abuser. He was a teenager visiting a church in another city when the pastor, a middle aged man, cornered him in a staircase and began to touch him. Tim wanted to run or punch the man. Instead he just froze, paralyzed with fear. Did anything else happen? Tim didn’t think so but doubt nagged at him. He couldn’t remember. Like many victims he experienced missing time.

The Internet is an amazing tool. In just ten minutes Tim found the name and a picture of the man who assaulted him. Now elderly, he was still in the ministry, serving as interim pastor of another church in the same state. “Son of a bitch,” Tim said aloud. With a trembling hand, he picked up the phone. The denominational leader at the other end of the line was kind and helpful. They had disciplinary procedures for dealing with such matters, he explained, and asked Tim to trust the process. Trust the process? That was asking a lot from someone whose trust had been betrayed, and by a church leader no less.

There were many more phone calls: to church employees, to denominational leaders, and to lawyers. Tim learned there had been at least one other victim. A man Tim’s same age had made an accusation against the minister years earlier. The denomination had investigated the allegation, but the whole thing was dropped at the request of the accuser’s family. Tim wanted to see the records of the investigation but was told they were destroyed when a fire broke out in a denominational office. (How convenient!) He asked to speak to the other man who claimed to have been a victim of abuse but the family refused to allow it. Still, just knowing that there was someone else out there who had reported abuse by the same man gave Tim confidence. He wasn’t crazy. He hadn’t made it up. But he thought about the boys who had grown up in that church. Tim was there only once and the pastor assaulted him. What about the kids who were there every Sunday? He started getting angry at the church leaders who knew about it . . . and did nothing.

Tim eventually faced his accuser in a mediation procedure. Everything was handled professionally by lawyers and trained mediators. There were advocates for both the accuser and the accused. In the end the man never admitted his guilt but his lame explanation for what happened that day twenty years earlier made the minister sound guilty as hell. He agreed to retire permanently not have any ministry in the future, which saved him and the denomination the public scandal of a church trial and possible defrocking. As part of the agreement, Tim signed a gag order promising not to go public with his accusation. That’s why this story is fiction.

Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Is there something you need to do?


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