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What can youth do about adult making her uncomfortable?

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

A friend's child has expressed that her pastor's husband is making her uncomfortable because of the way he pursues her and tries to be alone with her. On one occasion, she witnessed this person exposing himself under the table during a church meal. She finally had the courage to share this with her mom because he continues to follow her around, and now that she is bigger she is concerned about other children in the church. How can she report this person making uncomfortable advances towards her?

Response: 
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Dear Supportive Adult,

Coming forward about this was incredibly brave, and I hope that you and the other adults involved are able to praise her for her courage. I’m so glad she told her mother what was happening.

Unsafe Behavior
In addition to Signs An Adult May Be At Risk To Harm A Child and Behaviors To Watch For When Adults Are At Risk, some of what you’ve described may be considered abuse itself (Please see Defining Child Sexual Abuse from our Online Help Center.) Exposing himself at an event where children are present is particularly alarming, and illegal. This man’s behaviors are very unsafe and should be reported to the local police.

Taking Action: An Adult’s Responsibility
Now that your friend’s daughter has shared this with an adult, an adult can step in to report. Just as a child is never responsible for sexual abuse, they shouldn’t have to be responsible for addressing it. Her mother can file a report with police and share the information her daughter disclosed, as well as any other concerning behavior she may have witnessed herself. The police may ask to talk with her daughter in the process of investigation, but the report itself can be filed by an adult.

It may help the family for you to be present as a support. Maybe you can offer to be there with them when they file a report.

Speaking Up
I’m wondering if anyone’s talked to the pastor about their husband’s incredibly concerning behavior. This conversation may feel uncomfortable, and it helps to have allies. Is there anyone else in your friend’s church that has expressed discomfort or concern?

Your friend and these allies can ask to speak to the pastor together privately. They can let them know about specific behaviors that they’ve witnessed and how this creates an unsafe environment for your friend’s daughter and other youth. Although it isn’t specific to this situation, our guidebook, Let’s Talk, includes suggestions for language that can be very helpful in this conversation.

Creating a Safer Community
Any organization that works with youth, including churches and religious organizations, should have policies in place to prevent abuse. Your friend and her allies can ask the pastor what policies the church has in place to keep children safe in their church. There are several resources that may be helpful to share with the pastor, or to use together to address safety in their faith community:

Finding Support for the Survivor
It sounds like your friend’s daughter may feel responsibility for keeping other kids from going through this experience. It’s important for your friend to let her know that this is the adults’ responsibility now, and that they’re going to take next steps to make sure everyone is safe. It may benefit her daughter to find professional support, like from a counselor, to help her feel safe and move forward in a positive way. Our Healing and Support for Children and Parents can help your friend find her daughter this support.

Whenever children are at risk, it’s important that someone speak up. It’s so very brave of your friend’s daughter to be the one to do so. I hope that she’s able to let the adults in her life take over from here in making sure their church is a safe environment for children in the congregation.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: November 6th, 2018