Having been at this for about six years, I have seen this tragedy play out again and again. I was drawn in by the headline on Saturday:
“Church Shocked at Volunteer Who Now Faces Child Sex Charges Will Now Add More Security”
When I first read it, I thought, “Well, another church refused to face their security issues and now one of their children has been victimized.” But this wasn’t the case at all, in fact, the church appears to have set up a good security structure, but even this wasn’t enough to stop a predator from harming a young girl.
In Spartanburg, SC, at Restoration Church, a 71 year old church member allegedly sexually assaulted a girl under the age of 16.
According to Lieutenant Tony Ivey of the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s office, 71-year-old William Clifford Hughes, of Boiling Springs, was charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor under the age of 16 and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The incident was reported to the Sheriff’s Office on January 12 accusing the suspect of sexual conduct between the suspect and a young female, who he met at the church.
Hughes met the girl during a Wednesday night service at the church and asked her to come to his house on Bay Hill Drive following the service.
The victim told deputies that Hughes offered her a drink, which she thought was a diet drink, but she reportedly did not like it.
The girl claimed Hughes provided her with alcohol. After drinking the alcohol, the next thing she remembers was waking up and putting her pants on.
The girl’s father told deputies that when his daughter returned home later that evening she looked sick and vomited.
William Hughes was reported to be a church member for 9 years and a volunteer for 7. The church believed they did their due diligence by having a security team, background checks, and fingerprinting for all volunteers.
What may have been the missing link? Education.
One of my chief concerns in security is that we are lulled into a false sense of security when we depend on technology (background checks, cameras, check in systems) or when we surrender our security to others (depending on guards, police, etc) to provide protective measures for us.
Nothing can beat an educated or prepared population. It is my firm belief that children beginning at age 4 can understand personal safety skills starting with the concept of intuition.
However, one of the greatest obstacles to children being safe is their very own parents. When I was traveling around and speaking to MOPS groups about thei issue of personal safety for children, the number one objection I encountered was often, “I don’t want to scare my children.”
My response was usually blunt with a purpose. I would say, “Well, you have already done a good job of scaring your kids.” I was usually met with blank stares. I would then go on and say, “If you have simply taught your kids to avoid talking to strangers because all strangers are bad, then you have unwittingly placed fear of all people inside them. Who will they go to for help if they are being victimized or they recognize bad behavior? Often, kids can recognize bad or inappropriate behavior, but they must be given PERMISSION to do something about it!”
However, helping children understand that most adults are good people is very difficult because you are attempting to overcome a lifetime of bad information.
Conventional Wisdom: Don’t Talk To Strangers
Unconventional Wisdom: Not all strangers are bad, we can see if an adult is good or bad by their behavior.
In the case written about above, this young lady needed to have an understanding that an adult male wanting to spend time alone with her is potentially a bad idea. While this man seemed to be a harmless 71 year old man, he has allegedly shown himself to be a predator.
While the parents probably also saw him as an innocent old man, fathers (if they are consulted) should recognize a young girl alone with a mature male is a potential recipe for disaster.
There is never harm in the idea of pairs. If I were to allow my teen-age daughter to do a service project for an elderly man, it would be in a group setting.
All predators need one thing to accomplish their goal: ISOLATION
This is where you can intervene to teach kids how to recognize bad behavior and then how to escape to a safe place.
We serve our membership well when we provide security services while they are on campus, but like the police, you can’t be everywhere at once. I am positive this community of faith is saddened and their trust is violated, but the people who are most bothered by it are those security team members who wish they could have stopped it.
Consider training the kids in your church on adult good behavior and bad behavior, and then train kids in very basic personal safety skills. Here is a link to a non-profit program I used to be involved with. The ASSERT Kids program was handed off to my good friend Aurora Newton, and her organization, ASSERT NOW! They travel the world (China, Poland, The U.S.) teaching women and children how to protect themselves in fun and exciting seminars.
A modest donation of $40 to ASSERT NOW will give you access to a book I wrote several years ago and a video series where I teach you how to teach kids safety skills in a fun environment. Check it out here.
Neither I nor CSA profit in any way from this program. Your support will not only help your church, but will also aid kids who cannot afford to take the program. It can easily be used as an outreach program for children and teen girls within your community as well.
Below is a video from a local news station which interviewed the pastors. Like the Newtown incident and so many others, people always scratch their heads and think they have done every possible thing to ensure safety — this is an illusion.
When security is surrendered to technology or others it harms all of us because we are putting our faith in things, as opposed to our own skills. Don’t be fooled, kids and adults can learn effective ways to recognize evil and stop it in it’s tracks, but only when they have the knowledge and requisite skill.
While the church has committed to adding extra security, ask yourself whether all of this would have stopped this incident.