Digital Communication Policies: A Positive First Step When Enforcing A Child Safe Environment

Written exclusively for My Community Workplace for Religious Organizations

An employee of a Wisconsin church pled guilty to child enticement, after police received a complaint of inappropriate sexual contact with a minor.

According to court records, the 31-year-old man was working as a pastoral associate at the church when he began sending text messages to a teenage parishioner. Some of his messages were sexually suggestive and asking for explicit photos from her.

The complaint also included claims that the two met at a park where they engaged in sexual contact.

When learning of the criminal charges, church leaders placed the accused on administrative leave. The man pled guilty about one week before his trial was scheduled to begin. Kyle Jones "DeForest pastoral associate pleads guilty to child enticement" (Feb. 20, 2023).

Commentary and Checklist

The response by church leaders in this case to remove the accused from his duties immediately after learning of the charges was the correct first step.

In the above matter, the alleged crime started through a text message.

Regularly communicate to staff members and parishioners your digital communication policy – that no adult is to communicate with minor parishioners without copying the parents/guardians. Make sure the minors are aware of the policy as well, and are taught reporting procedures. Encourage anyone with any concern about inappropriate behaviors between an adult and a minor to immediately report the conduct.

Here are further practices that can help you prevent the sexual abuse or cyber exploitation of minors in your religious community:

  • Maintain consistent and thorough hiring practices, completing all required reference and background checks for all potential employees and volunteers.
  • Be sure your sexual abuse policy not only prohibits perpetrating sexual misconduct, but also prohibits withholding information related to known or suspected misconduct.
  • Train everyone in the community. Include scenarios that empower trainees to be able to spot situations that could lead to sexual abuse and how to interrupt them.
  • Review how to report suspected or known child abuse or other wrongdoings involving children, and remind them of their legal reporting obligations as mandatory reporters under the law.
  • Encourage staff members to maintain a healthy suspicion as to the behaviors of other adults in their interactions with children, regardless of their level of respect or standing in the organization.
  • Act promptly to any report of suspicious behavior, and notify legal authorities immediately to any disclosure of sexual abuse.
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