THE CHURCH’S RESPONSE
In 1994, the Wood Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service was given a specific reference to investigate and report on paedophilia and pederasty in New South Wales. The churches came under the spotlight in the Commission’s investigations, and were in the most part found wanting in their failure to protect children from abusers in the church. The Presbyterian Church of New South Wales was commended for the policy already in place, known as Breaking the Silence.
Breaking the Silence was adopted by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales in 1997, with revisions adopted the following year. This represented a very significant step towards understanding and dealing with the problem of abuse within the Presbyterian church, with many other States subsequently adopting and adapting these editions of Breaking the Silence.
In 2003, it was decided that the CPU would be established. At this point, it was called the Child Protection Unit. Since then, there have been significant developments in legislation and our understanding of church issues. In 2011, the name Conduct Protocol Unit was introduced, indicating the broadening of the scope of Breaking the Silence to cover abuse towards people of any age within our church communities.
Further developments in child protection legislation, mandatory and voluntary reporting procedures arose in subsequent years, including the participation of offices such as the Office of the Children’s Guardian in monitoring investigations of allegations, the involvement of government departments responsible for caring for children, and the development of Commissions for Children and Young people in various States and Territories.
In 2012, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began its five-year inquiry, during which thousands of individuals shared their stories of childhood abuse.
In 2017, the final report was released, outlining the full extent of this dark issue. 4029 survivors told the Royal Commission in private sessions that they had been sexually abused as children in religious institutions. 2.8% of these instances occurred within Presbyterian or Reformed churches. These findings brought to light the tragic reality of the harm that has occurred within church ministry.
The Royal Commission’s report brought about a number of recommendations aimed at making organisations safer for children. The Presbyterian Church has taken a number of steps to ensure we have taken these on board. In 2019, the General Assembly of Australia adopted the National Safe Ministry Framework (NSMF) to establish a uniform and consistent approach to the protection of children within the Presbyterian Church of Australia. This was adopted by the NSW General Assembly in 2020.
Breaking the Silence in its present form is intended to address these issues and provide all congregations, Presbyteries, organisations, and committees within the church with a comprehensive tool to meet our legislated obligations and the requirements of the Presbyterian Church of Australia’s Code of Discipline.
We do this, not just in response to legal and societal expectations, but more importantly, to ensure the safety of our ministry activities for all and to attain justice for those who have been harmed.
This statement applies to all persons holding a position of authority within the church, and all congregations, presbyteries, organisations, and committees within the church. It is our commitment to dealing with abuse within the church.
This policy statement relates to abuse as defined in Breaking the Silence. It does not apply to any other forms of abuse, grievance or personal injury claim.
- We commit ourselves to respect other people’s minds, emotions and bodies. We have established Breaking the Silence as the public criteria according to which the community may judge the resolve of the church to address issues of abuse within the church.
- We acknowledge and accept the trust granted to us by those who are taking part in church activities, their families, and the wider community. We therefore commit ourselves to striving to ensure that all our actions are morally upright.
- We acknowledge that, as a church, our responses to victims in the past have varied greatly. We express regret and sorrow for the hurt caused whenever the response has denied or minimised the pain that victims have experienced, or caused them to experience further pain.
- We are committed to establishing a process that strives for truth and confidentiality. We will ensure as far as possible that a compassionate response is the first priority in all allegations, even at a time when it is not yet certain that the allegations are accurate, through offering assistance, protection and care without passing judgement or prejudicing the rights of the alleged offender. We acknowledge that concealing the truth is contrary to the character of God, unjust to victims and a disservice to offenders.
- We understand and value the need for support to all parties involved in an allegation, including the aggrieved person and the alleged offender, and we actively seek to provide this support.
- We acknowledge the personal and public difficulties that a false, misconceived, malicious or vexatious allegation can cause for the person accused. We will take whatever steps are possible to address these difficulties.
- We are willing to know the full extent of the problem of abuse and the causes of such behaviour within the church. We will strive to be aware of our legal responsibilities and obligations in relation to prevention, reporting and processing requirements and seek to meet them at all times.
- We acknowledge that we have had to make changes in the way that we relate to children and young people and others, as a result, some good things have been lost, however we will bear this loss to ensure as far as possible that the vulnerable are safe.
- We will ensure as far as possible that all people in positions of authority within the church and/or working with children and young people are aware of the appropriate standard of conduct and boundaries. We require those who work on behalf of the church to indicate their agreement with this policy statement and work towards providing an environment that prevents abuse.
- We believe that churches ought to be places of safety and refuge for children, young people and others, where they should be and feel safe from any threat when on church property or involved in activities operated by the church, or accessing services provided by the church. We believe that the church should be a place where people can disclose abuse and have it dealt with effectively.
- As a church we are committed to the implementation of the Royal Commission’s Child Safe Standards.
- We will establish a prevention strategy that includes screening, sound recruitment and selection procedures, clear boundaries, risk identification and management, education, support, supervision and training.
- We acknowledge that the age of consent for sexual activity is determined by legislation. However, we are mindful that this must be read in the light of our moral and spiritual responsibility. All people in a position of authority within the church, be it real or perceived, paid or unpaid, have a moral and spiritual responsibility towards those over whom they have authority. In this situation it is never appropriate to take part in sexual activity of any kind, regardless of the person’s age. We affirm that sexual behaviour belongs in a marriage relationship only and that in this context it is a good gift of God.
- All allegations will be notified to the appropriate external authorities, overseen by the CPU, investigated thoroughly and determined as described in Breaking the Silence.
- Irrespective of any other action that may be taken by authorities outside the church, the church reserves the right to exercise its powers according to the Code of Discipline and Breaking the Silence wherever this action is deemed necessary.
OUR CODE OF CONDUCT
The following constitutes the church’s Code of Conduct for behaviour for a person in a position of authority within the church:
- As a person in a position of authority within the church you must always be concerned about the integrity of your position, likely perceptions of the church and the wider community, and the need to acknowledge the real or perceived power given to you as a result of holding this position. You should avoid situations where you are vulnerable to temptation or where your conduct may be construed to be a breach of this Code of Conduct. You will make yourself familiar with the provisions of Breaking the Silence.
- You must not fail to take action to prevent to the best of your ability and report as required any of the following:
- child abuse,
- a child or young person at risk of significant harm,
- reportable conduct,
- sexual misconduct, and / or
- conduct that breaches the Breaking the Silence Code of Conduct.
- Sexualised behaviour is any behaviour that may reasonably be perceived to be of a sexual nature according to the standards of the time by the person to whom it is directed. Sexualised behaviour is only permitted as set out in the Word of God. Except with one’s own marriage partner, all sexualised behaviour is forbidden. If you are not married you must abstain from all sexual or sexualised behaviour.
- You must not engage in or condone any behaviour that could be considered to be:
- child abuse,
- putting a child or young person at risk of significant harm,
- reportable conduct, and / or
- conduct that breaches this Breaking the Silence Code of Conduct.
- You must not engage in or condone any behaviour that could be considered to be sexual misconduct, understanding that sexual misconduct is contact or invitation, via any means, of a sexual nature which is inconsistent with the integrity of a person in a position of authority within the church. Sexual misconduct includes any behaviour that could be reasonably considered to be sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, coercion or grooming of an adult or a child or young person.
- Sexual exploitation refers to any form of sexualised behaviour with an adult, child or young person, whether or not there is consent and regardless of who initiated the behaviour, where that behaviour is contrary to the Word of God. Therefore, you will not among other things engage in or condone any of the following:
- behaviour or a pattern of behaviour aimed at the involvement of others in sexual acts, including but not limited to coercion or grooming behaviour,
- sexualised behaviour with a person below the age of consent,
- sexualised behaviour with a person with whom there is a supervisory, pastoral care, or counselling relationship,
- the production, distribution, possession of or accessing of pornographic material of any kind,
- taking advantage of the conscious or unconscious use of sexually provocative behaviour that some victims of abuse display,
- engaging the services of a prostitute, or soliciting or providing such services,
- visiting, without legitimate reason, a brothel or any place maintained for the abuse-of-sex industry,
- viewing or reading, in print or otherwise, material of a sexually explicit nature, except for a legitimate purpose,
- participating in sexually explicit conversation via social media, chat rooms, gaming or any other means, and
- asking, without legitimate reason, any questions about the intimate details of a person’s sexual life or providing details of your own sexual life.
- Sexual harassment means unwelcome sexualised behaviour, whether intended or not, in relation to an adult, child or young person where that person reasonably feels in all circumstances offended, belittled or threatened. Such behaviour may consist of a single incident or several incidents over a period of time. Therefore, you will not, among other things engage in or condone:
- implicit or explicit demands or suggestions for sexual activities,
- making any gesture, action or comment of a sexual nature to a person or about a person in their presence,
- making jokes containing sexual references or innuendo using any form of communication,
- exposure to any form of sexually explicit or suggestive material, including but not limited to pornography of any kind,
- physical contact that is inappropriate to the situation or uncomfortable or confusing for the receiver, including kissing, hugging, touching, pinching, patting or aggressive physical conduct,
- touching any sexual part of the body, including the “only kidding” or accidental occasions of sexual touch,
- generating or participating in inappropriate personal correspondence (including electronic communication) in respect of sexual or romantic feelings or in breach of the Code of Conduct,
- inappropriate giving of gifts, including those of a sexual, suggestive or romantic nature that is in breach of the Code of Conduct,
- inappropriate or unnecessary discussion of, or inquiry about, personal matters of a sexual nature,
- inappropriate intrusion of personal space or physical privacy, including being alone in a bedroom or bathroom or allowing inappropriate exposure during activities that require dressing or changing clothes,
- voyeurism, and
- persistent following or stalking.
- Coercion or grooming behaviour refers to physical or psychological actions intrinsic to initiating or hiding abusive behaviour, which involved the manipulative cultivation of relationships with vulnerable adults, children and / or young people, their carers and others in authority. You will not exhibit any behaviour that could be considered to be coercion or grooming behaviour.
- With regard to children and young people:
- You will not visit a child or young person in their own home unless a parent is present or you visit with another person in a position of authority within the church with parental permission.
- You will not conduct a camp or other activity involving overnight accommodation without appropriate “camp parents” (ideally a married couple over the age of 25 years, of known maturity and Christian commitment) approved by the supervising body.
- You will not provide any form of accommodation for any reason where there is not strict segregation by sex, with the exception of married couples and families. Supervision of children and/or young people must be provided by a person of the same sex.
- You will ensure that any activity involving children and / or young people is open to observation by parents and other adults with a legitimate interest.
- With regard to adults, children and young people:
- You will not condone or participate in bullying behaviour, where bullying is the repeated seeking out or targeting of an adult, child or young person to cause them distress and humiliation or to exploit them, including exclusion from a peer group, intimidation and extortion.
- You will not condone or participate in domestic or family violence, which involves violent, abusive or intimidating behaviour carried out by a partner, carer or family member to control, dominate or instil fear. This includes physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, financial or other types of abuse,
- You will not participate in or allow nude swimming or other such activities.
- You will not participate in or allow initiations and secret ceremonies.
- With regard to adults, children and young people, either the Presbytery or Session may make temporary variations in respect to the details of the following. These temporary variations will be formally recorded by the Presbytery or Session and will be made on a restricted basis for individuals in specific circumstances for a specific period of time. Where no temporary variation is formally recorded, the following will apply without change:
- You will take care to ensure an appropriate balance of transparency and confidentiality so that the private concerns of others are not disclosed or revealed improperly. In ordinary circumstances, when you are providing pastoral care to, or working with members of the opposite sex, you will strive to do so in an environment that allows visual surveillance and, where reasonable, have other people within hearing distance.
- You will not allow a child to sleep in close proximity to an adult, other than a parent or guardian, unless there is a significant separation, and privacy of all parties is respected.
- You will not allow an adult to share accommodation with one child or young person only unless they are a parent or guardian of that child or young person.
- You will not drive a child or young person unaccompanied.
Where specified provisions cannot be followed in an emergency, the circumstances of the emergency and the actions taken should be reported to and approved by the supervising body. Where the actions taken are not approved they will be considered to be a breach of the Code of Conduct.
Any breaches of this Code of Conduct for any reason will be reported to the appropriate supervising body as soon as possible. The supervising body will then report the matter to the CPU.
The Presbyterian Church of Australia’s General Assembly met in September 2019 and has issued the following formal apology to victims of sexual abuse in the Church:
With deep sorrow the Presbyterian Church of Australia apologises to all who have been affected by sexual abuse through their involvement in the Presbyterian Church of Australia.
Sexual abuse of a child is appalling and wickedly violates Christ’s words, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
It is a breach of trust to those who have taken part in church activities, to their families, and to the wider community. We regret the hurt caused when our response as a church has denied or minimised the pain that victims have experienced or caused them to experience further pain.
The Presbyterian Church has taken steps to respond to child sexual abuse.
- Each State Church is participating in the National Redress Scheme, and we encourage all victims of child sexual abuse to make use of this scheme.
- The Church commits itself to making a timely and compassionate response to all allegations of child sexual abuse.
- The Church has adopted the National Safe Ministry Framework which seeks to be consistent with the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations.
- The Church commits itself to full co-operation with the civil authorities in dealing with accusations of child sexual abuse.
- The Church commits itself to processes of education and training in relation to response to child sexual abuse.
The Presbyterian Church of Australia in NSW is served by The Conduct Protocol Unit (CPU) and is fully committed to Breaking The Silence.
If you or someone whom you know has been the victim of abuse in the Church, contact the CPU on 02 96909325. Please be assured that you will be heard and that your confidentiality is assured\
*** Further information can be obtained from… CHILD PROTECTION LINK