I would like to begin with a statement from a recent news article about a developing story relating to an Oregon church: “Apologies, like thoughts and prayers in mass shootings, are not enough when it comes to sexual abuse and assault of our youth. Adults have an unwavering responsibility to protect our children and teens from the irreparable harm of sex abuse, and we should hold accountable those who abandon or ignore this obligation.” I would assume that the readers of this blog are generally in agreement with the statement above, if perhaps a bit dubious about the author of this editorial tying a scandal relating to longstanding sexual abuse with the recent rash of school shootings by troubled teens. It should be a debatable point that it is the responsibility of adults to protect children and teens from abuse or that the failure to uphold this responsibility can cause immense damage to young people . Nor can it be denied that institutions regularly fail to protect the most vulnerable from abuse and exploitation.
The question remains as to what can be done about it. There is little question that the problem of child abuse is a place where Colson’s law is definitely applicable. For those who are unfamiliar with this law, those who battle for community and morality against chaos and moral evil have two resources that they can draw upon, cops and conscience, and where there is more of one there needs to be less of the other. This being an Oregon editorial that we began with, it is little surprise that the person who wrote the editorial favors the “cops” over the “conscience” approach, calling upon ever more professions to be mandatory reporters so that everyone will be surrounded by a legion of spies who are bound on pain of severe penalty to report upon their actions when they are questionable or out of line. Most of us  would prefer to avoid this state of higher surveillance if possible, especially given the low level of performance that we find among bureaucracies in the contemporary age as well as throughout human history. I speak for myself and probably for the majority of my readers that we do not want to give government more opportunities to oversee our behavior, nor do we wish to become a part of mandatory regimes that punish us harshly if we do not become snitches on ourselves or those around us.
What is the alternative then? If we do not wish to have more cops, we must have stronger consciences. We must not only tell ourselves and others that children are to be protected from abuse, but we must mean what we say and it must be obvious that others recognize that we mean what we say. There are, of course, forms of abuse that should not even be named among Christians. Those of us who claim that God views the exploitation and abuse of little ones with the utmost horror can view such things with no less horror ourselves. Those of us who believe that sex is immoral outside of marriage should be especially unwilling to coerce others into sexual relations to gratify our own immoral lusts. Yet conscience needs to go far beyond this starting point. There are many subtle ways in which young people can be made vulnerable to attitudes and comments that can leave them feeling unsafe. On the other hand, it is hard for people to prove their own innocence, and avoiding a witch hunt atmosphere is as vital as preserving the well-being of children. How to protect the well-being and reputation of all parties involved in life’s situations is a task that should exercise our thinking and pondering.
If we agree that apologies are not enough, then we are left with prevention. How do we go about preventing evil, especially evil so horrible that we are generally not interested in dealing with its reality unless we have no choice but to stare into the darkness of the abyss? How do we go about policing ourselves so that external control is unnecessary? How do we build environments where people are safe and feel safe, which is a far more difficult task? How do we handle alpha risk (false accusations) as well as beta risk (unreported abuse) to minimize both simultaneously? After all, too many false positives increases the likelihood of false negatives as claims are subject to greater scrutiny, but too many false negatives discredits institutions for not screening or investigating or reporting enough. In such a situation it is easy to have serious questions, but a far less obvious task to figure out what answers would best serve the complex interests of truth and well-being and the constraints that we are under as people. And if questions are not enough, there are few obvious answers to the problems we face, because even when we know what we should do, we often lack the power and the will to accomplish what we wish.
 See, for example:
 See, for example:
 See, for example: