During His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ taught that many people—even those who had never met Him—had provided Him with life-sustaining service. In response to the confused queries that followed this teaching, the Savior simply said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:37, 40).
What did Christ mean by “the least of these?” The Savior and his apostles, both ancient and modern, have repeatedly addressed the importance of protecting children. Is any need greater, any plight more desperate, than that of an abused child? Just a few weeks ago, presiding Bishop Gary E. Stevenson said that the issue is “really [the Church’s] highest priority.” Bishop Stevenson and other Church leaders had just toured the Children’s Justice Center (CJC) in Salt Lake and donated $100,000 to the fight against child abuse.
This is an issue that many among us feel strongly about, but don’t always know how to help with. Here are nine ways we as members of the Church can follow the example of our leaders in providing much-needed assistance unto “the least of these.”
When it comes to charitable donation, the amount doesn’t matter nearly as much as the intent. It’s also important to keep in mind that paying a full tithe and generous fast offering does not necessarily exempt you from making other donations as you are able. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in a recent conference address that “we are to do what we can when others are in need.”
Joseph Osmond, an attorney and Church member who serves on the CJC’s advisory board, said, “Sometimes there’s a culture . . . in which a [Church] member will only devote time or money or energy to the Church, or to Church programs.” He continued, “But with the recent tour and donation, it’s clear that the Church loves this program. It’s our hope that other Church members can also see we are partners here.”
Programs like the CJC exist in almost every area in the United States. In most states, the CJC is referred to as the Children’s Advocacy Center. Members who feel strongly about these issues may consider following the Church’s example and providing their local child abuse treatment facilities with financial support.
Find out more about how to donate here.
For those financially unable to donate, there are ways to join the cause that are equally helpful. The CJC program has 22 locations in the state of Utah, and similar establishments known as Children’s Advocacy Centers are available nationwide. Unfortunately, there’s all too much work for them to do—the Salt Lake facilities alone served over 1,600 victims in 2014. To make matters more complicated, the CJC is only partially funded by the government. That means they rely heavily on donations and community involvement to fulfill their purpose.
“I often have people ask me why we aren’t completely funded by the government,” said Tracy Tabet, the administrator for Utah’s statewide CJC program. “Having a community that’s invested in the local center . . . sends a very powerful message. The success of the model really lies in the fact that it’s a public-private partnership. Everybody has a role to play, and frankly, everyone has a responsibility.”
For more information on volunteering, click here.
Get the Youth Involved
It’s not just the adults who can get involved. Many an Eagle Scout has completed their project in collaboration with the CJC. “We’ve had people donate stuffed animals, make blankets, and do painting projects,” said Mitchell. “This sort of involvement is truly invaluable.” CJC facilities can also be toured—a great idea for a Mutual activity.
The tours detail what a parent and child might experience when they enter the facility. In the Salt Lake establishment, a playroom puts the children at ease before their interview with a detective. A beautiful mural lines the walls of the hallway that leads to three rooms (the Butterfly room, the Surfing room, and the Bluebird room). Children get to pick which of the three rooms they’re most comfortable in, and then they have a one-on-one talk with a trained professional. “In this environment,” said Mitchell, “a child really opens up. They’ve been through a lot and we want them to feel comfortable here.”
These tours, besides being educational and instructive, can open the collective eyes of a youth group to a serious problem which they may not have previously given much thought to.
Teach Safety Tips
Keeping yourself safe may seem intuitive, but it’s actually something that children need to be taught. Sure, a child might figure out through experience not to touch a hot stove, but damage will be done in the process. Just as a stove can’t be untouched, abuse can’t be undone—and without treatment, the resulting pain can last a lifetime. Here are some tips the CJC recommends teaching children to make them more proactive in ensuring their own safety.
•Use the buddy system whenever you are away from home—always keep a friend with you wherever you go.
•If someone is doing something they shouldn’t or tries to hurt you, tell them to STOP, then tell your parents or tell someone you trust.
•Use your courage to speak up. Everyone has courage and the more you use it, the more it works for you.
•Be assertive and confident—it makes it harder for someone to take advantage of you.
•Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t and it is best to avoid that situation.
•You never have to keep a secret from your parents. Tell them if something happened that upset or scared you.
•Don’t ever give out personal information over the internet. Don’t tell people your name, phone number, school, address, or even the state you live in.
Go Through Proper Channels
While a bishop may often be able to impart wisdom and guidance in cases of abuse, ecclesiastical leaders are not the only authorities who need to be involved in such instances. “Child abuse is not something for people to just keep between them and their bishops,” said Osmond. “There are mandatory reporting laws, and those should be adhered to.” In most states, adults who withhold information about child abuse from the proper legal channels can actually be charged with a misdemeanor. In Utah, any person who has reason to believe a child has been abused or neglected is expected to report child abuse to the authorities. This includes parents and ecclesiastical leaders. It is always best if the report comes from the person who has direct knowledge of the abuse so that the facts are thorough. This is the best way to protect children, and it’s the law. Please contact one or both of the following: Division of Child and Family Services reporting hotline or your local law enforcement agency. (See reporting links provided at the bottom of this article.)
Additionally, anyone who is not a trained professional should avoid asking the child probing questions about the abuse. This includes parents. “When a child tells an adult about abuse, there’s a tendency for adults to visibly panic,” said Osmond. “That’s not helpful.”
There are many instances in which a child will disclose details of abuse to an ecclesiastical leader under the condition that they keep it between the two of them. “If a leader has to choose between going through proper channels and maintaining a positive relationship with a child,” said Osmond, “the leader is still legally required to disclose this information to the authorities.”
Promote Healthy Sexual Dialogue
The majority of abuse cases the CJC deals with are sexual in nature, and children will typically feel a sense of shame about their abuse. Neglecting important sexual topics in conversation or approaching them in the wrong way can only heighten those feelings. “We had one child come in who was so ashamed about what had happened, he put a garbage can over his head before he would talk,” recalled Salt Lake program manager Susanne Mitchell. “He wouldn’t face the detective when he spoke about what happened to him.”
This is a barrier that must be overcome in order for a child to eventually come to healthy terms with past abuse. “In the Mormon culture, sometimes it’s difficult to talk about sexual abuse,” Osmond said. “I’m not saying that critically, because sexuality is a sacred thing to Church members. But sometimes when kids come forward, a member may get a little nervous, like, ‘Oh my goodness, my 6-year-old kid’s talking about what?’”
No matter what your child tells you, Osmond said, “Don’t get embarrassed, don’t act shocked, and don’t tell them they shouldn’t talk about it.”
“The longer we perpetuate the idea that this kind of thing is a secret, the longer it will be kept a secret,” agreed Tabet. “We need to be willing . . . to talk about these issues openly. That sends a message to children that it’s ok to tell somebody what’s happened.” She continued with this advice: “Make the conversation age appropriate. A conversation with a 4-year-old is going to be different than a conversation with a 12-year-old. But it’s crucial to start that dialogue very, very early.”
Click here to learn more about discussing abuse with your child.
Conduct Church Trainings
In addition to openly discussing difficult topics with children, Osmond suggested that church members “discuss them with each other.” He continued, “In my view, these kinds of topics should come to Church meetings. Don’t be afraid to step up and speak with your bishop about addressing these issues in fifth Sunday meetings or ward councils . . . . These topics should be brought up and adults should be trained.”
“We view child abuse as a public health issue,” added Tabet. “When it comes to other public health issues, we talk about it! You don’t hear about people who are scared to discuss cancer or diabetes or heart disease, but this topic stops some people in their tracks. We need to overcome that reluctance.”
Make it Okay for Victims to Speak Up
When people have been sexually abused, it can have a terrible impact on their self-image and self-esteem. They may worry that even though they were the victims, others will blame or negatively judge them. As a result, victims most often suffer in silence. You can change the tide of silence and make it easier for victims to come forward.
You can be the one to create a supportive community where it is okay for victims to speak up about abuse and receive help and protection. Listen, support, thank them for trusting you, let them know you care about them, and report abuse so it can stop.
Many victims say they immediately feel their burdens lifted when they can tell a trusted person about the abuse. The best way to respond is to listen, showing support without being interrogative—then report the abuse.
Report Child Abuse
In Utah, a report about abuse can be made by calling the state’s Division of Child and Family Services 24-hour hotline at 1-855-323-3237 or call your local law enforcement agency. Other states also have child abuse reporting laws—please review childwelfare.gov for more information on the reporting laws in these states.