Reporting abuse — the church’s blind spot

Reporting Abuse Church Blindspot

Title: Reporting abuse — the church’s blind spot

Authors: Gregory Love & Kimberlee Norris

Publisher: Church Executive website

Date: 28MAY2020

When in doubt, REPORT. 

If every allegation of child sexual abuse was simply reported by church leaders to appropriate authorities, the resulting positive impact would be immeasurable.

Survivors of abuse would feel validated — by itself a significant positive outcome — pathways to healing would open, future victims would be spared and abusers would be revealed. Criminal behavior would be investigated and prosecuted, and elements of realaccountability put in place. When ministry leaders simply report suspicions and allegations of sexual abuse, the church is perceived as a sanctuary where God’s love and justice are demonstrated.

Why is reporting such a stumbling block for the church?  Why is it so difficult?

Answer: ministry leaders must gain understanding and take action.

Ministry leaders MUST:

  • Understand mandatory reporting legislation.
  • Understand the limitations of ‘clergy privilege.’
  • Understand how child sexual abuse manifests in ministry environments.
  • Have the courage to take action in deeply difficult circumstances.

Understanding the Law

Every state has reporting requirements mandating reports of abuse and neglect of vulnerable populations, specifically children and minors. In addition, as of February 14, 2018, federal legislation makes every adultinvolved in youth sports a mandated reporter of sexual abuse, regardless of state law requirements. These state and federal laws create reporting requirements related to a variety of risks, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and maltreatment and relate to specific groups of people (children, special needs and vulnerable adults). This article, though hardly comprehensive, will focus on reporting requirements related to child sexual abuse.

For additional information related to state reporting requirements, clergy privilege and addressing allegations from the past, visit

Changes in the law — trends

Reporting laws are changing. It’s critical for ministry leaders to understand evolving state law and regularly refresh their understanding of current reporting requirements.

Some common legislative trends:

Every adult is a mandatory reporter.

“In state legislation listing mandatory reporters by profession, the trend is to addclergy to that list.”

In many states, every adult is a mandated reporter of child abuse or neglect. In others, individuals required to report are listed by categories of profession or licensure (i.e., medical professionals, counselors, school personnel). The legislative trend is a removal of lists in favor of requiring all adults to report. In coming years, it is likely that every state legislature will adopt the requirement that every adult is a mandatory reporter.

Clergy are mandated reporters.

For more information visit:

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