As a student social worker I know it is my responsibility to report any abuse of children, elders, or group of people that may not be able to speak for themselves. It would be unethical and equally incriminating of me to not report and allow any such abuse to continue. However, some organizations do not share this belief. Allow me to share an experience I had with this type of mentality.
For the three years I worked at my church’s outreach shelter. It was one of the most rewarding experiences and the most heartbreaking. I grew very close to many of the kids and have had the privilege of watching them grow. For me, working at the shelter was more than just having Sunday School and a Bible Study once a week. I started “Homework Help Night” and a clothes closet for the shelter. I did bread runs along with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner drop- offs. The one problem that seemed to grow over the years was the church’s ignorance of abuse in the children. Sadly, the church adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
In February 2010, a little girl I had taken care of for three years started to have a very aggressive and disrespectful attitude. I sat her down and told her that I couldn’t continue to be responsible for her if she didn’t listen to me. She then showed me bruises on her arms and took me to the bathroom to show me bruises in between her legs. She said when her mom left the house her boyfriend’s friends would hit her. I asked her what she wanted me to do and she said, “Please tell my mommy.” When I took her home I tried to talk to her mom, who I had become close with as well, but she defended the men. After I took the little girl home from church that night, a man was waiting for me. He tried to pay me off not to tell what I had seen. I went to my church leaders and demanded something be done. I had been to them about abuse before, but my concerns were always set aside. This time I did not stop. The church let me report the incident as a representative of the church.
After I reported the incident, they told me I was not allowed at the shelter anymore, because I was a liability. Soon after, the outreach pastor and authority overseeing the shelter asked me, “How many children have situations at home that should probably be reported?” I told him at least half. I’ll never forget what he told me. He said, “You see, if we reported every incident of child abuse, we wouldn’t have anyone to witness to.” While that ideology may be conducive to a religious organization, I knew I could never be a part of a success at the expense of a child.
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. This blog is in no way attacking any church organization or generalizing this type of carelessness with religion. As a victim of child abuse, a woman, and as a student social worker interested in child welfare; I feel it is imperative that we uphold our responsibility to report and advocate for those who can not speak for themselves.