How Predator Pastors Escape Detection
According to Anna Salter, only about three percent of sex offenses are ever caught. Only about five percent of offenses are ever reported (1). All things considered, there are hundreds, probably more like thousands of sexual predators on the loose. If this is the case among all predators, and I have no reason for doubting these numbers, then one has to think that the number of Pastors or Clergy who have been caught or even reported for such crimes must be even lower. After all, who would believe a pastor to be capable of such crimes? Even with the recent arrests and prosecutions of high profile religious leaders, we still donâ€™t want to believe that a Pastor could or would do a thing like this.
We trust a Pastor. We want to trust a Pastor. We want to believe that if we couldnâ€™t trust anyone else, we could still trust our Pastor. I for one do not wish to undermine this inherent trust that we have in Pastors. For, after all, I am one. But like it or not, there are men who have found that the ministry is the safest place for them to conduct their sexual misconduct. They use the position of trust that they have in a community in order to gain greater access to children.
Unfortunately, we as church members often unwittingly play into their hands. For example, in the case of John Price, the Predator Pastor which we have been exposing on this blog, those on Johnâ€™s side will normally argue that since he is not in jail, we should be quiet about it. In their defense, let me say that I understand why they think this way. If John was in fact guilty as we claim, then he should be in jail. And I agree. He should be in jail. But should be and would be are two entirely different scenarios. Research will support the argument that in the case of sex offenders, guilt will not normally be reflected by jail time. Is says nothing about ought, and ought does not necessarily follow from is.
Predators escape detection for several common reasons. These reasons are universal among all predators, no matter their status in life, whether a plumber, a doctor, a grocery bagger, or a pastor. But these reasons apply especially to Pastors who prey on children.
Predators escape detection because these crimes, by their very nature, are committed privately. There are no witnesses, besides the victim. The Bible demands two or three witnesses, but that is impossible in this case. That is why, when a predator is arrested, the police will often ask other victims to come forward. If other, separate victims come forward, then the prosecution can collaborate testimony. If not, then it is a case of the victimâ€™s word against the perpâ€™s. And in those cases, a tie goes to the perp.
Predators escape detection because they prey on the vulnerable. Though certainly not unheard of, predators usually steer clear of girls who have a strong and secure relationship with their father. Predators normally work on the insecure, the unprotected, the needy children. Experts tell us that predators will begin grooming a potential victim, often taking months to build a bond with the victim before even attempting any sort of sexual contact. Only when the bond is built does the predator proceed with the abuse. In the case of John Priceâ€™s victims, all have confirmed this modus operendi. Price chose girls whose relationship to their father was not strong, telling them that he would be a â€œfatherâ€ to them. Then later, as he groomed them for his designs, Price began to tell them that â€œGod made them for this purpose.â€ â€œEveryone has some purpose in life,â€ Price said. â€œYou were made for me.â€ Then later, after they had fallen prey to his deceptions, Price again used their insecurity and vulnerability against them, promising to embarrass them if they tell, promising his devotion if they will keep silent.
Predators escape detection because their victims suffer from shame and guilt so severely. Often when a victim will not come forward, it is because they feel that they were equally responsible for what happened. They feel ashamed of what they did, ashamed that they enjoyed it. Predators know this. They know that if their victim feels pleasure, if they can get their victim to enjoy the act, then that is insurance for later. Because the shame and guilt will silence the victim. Churches and pastors do little to help this situation. Often, we insist on blaming the victim for what happened. Iâ€™d ask all who read here to consider the irony of this. The victim, who is not responsible for the sin, because of the guilt and shame she feels, keeps quiet about what happened, taking the responsibility on herself. Meanwhile, the perpetrator feels no guilt or shame, relying instead on Christian culture to keep his victims from telling. It seems to me that weâ€™ve turned the proper use of conscience on its head. Churches should be teaching diligently where the responsibility lies, and making it clear that victims need to come forward so that they can put away their guilt. But often, we pile the shame on top of the shame, shaming the victim rather than offering comfort and help.
Predators escape detection because their victims fear them. Especially when the predator is the victimâ€™s pastor. Almost universally, once the sexual contact commences, the grooming changes from an emotional bond to a more sinister nature. Predators notoriously make their victims feel important and wanted before contact, and regularly threaten them afterwards. Beforehand, they promise love and affection. Afterwards, they promise exposure and shame. Beforehand, they promise pleasure. Afterwards, they promise pain. Beforehand, they promise friendship and security. Afterwards, they promise physical harm. Predators threaten their victims, once they have committed their crimes. They threaten to expose them, to embarrass them, they threaten that nobody will believe them, they promise to deny everything, and sometimes, they threaten physical harm. Thus, the victim does not come forward.
At this point, it should be noted that â€œBiblical convictionsâ€ will not normally cause a victim to come forward. In a home where the father teaches his children diligently, it certainly is true that the children are less likely to become victims (though this is not unilaterally the case). We certainly could argue that taught children are more likely to come forward if they become the victim. But predators know this as well. They often check out the relationship between parents and children, looking specifically for closeness of communication. Predators are cowards. They avoid situations where they might get caught. Since victims are often weak and insecure to begin with, it is unlikely that their knowledge of Godâ€™s Word will motivate them to come forward.
That is not all. Predators often escape detection because of who they are. This is never more true than when a pastor turns predator. We want to trust our pastors. We do not want to believe anything bad about them. And rightfully so. Not wanting to undermine this natural trust we have for people in general, and specifically for pastors, we need to think instead of the demands of justice. Justice requires us to lay aside our feelings about the people involved, and instead to weigh the evidence. In determining who we will believe (and donâ€™t think that predator pastors forget who we are most likely to believe), we must examine the evidence in the case, following Scriptural standards of justice. Since it is unlikely that there will be any witnesses, we must look instead for signs of deceit. Disharmony will sometimes be the best indicator of this. Lies of omission are more common than lies of commission. Deceptions often take the form of deflection. Almost always in a case like this, there will be situations where the predator invaded the victimâ€™s privacy and violated normal standards of behavior. All of these things need to also be considered.
Predators escape detection because they are good liars. When dealing with a potential predator, we must always remember this. Of course, we all know the signs of lying… gaze aversion, shifty eyes, nervousness, shaky voice. So, we figure we will catch it. But we overlook the fact that the liar knows what the signs of lying are, just like you do.
Finally, predators escape detection because we are afraid to believe such a thing about them, because we are afraid to lose their friendship, because we are afraid of confrontation. Donâ€™t think that predators never thought of this one either. They know that we will most likely believe them over a child. Especially if that child has been in trouble, or has a troubled past.
May God give us wisdom in dealing with this problem in the future.
(1) Anna Salter, Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists, & Other Sex Offenders: Who they are, How they Operate, and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children (New York: Basic Books, 2003), pp. 11-12.