The Safe Church Policy and Code of Conduct apply to all interactions between adults in the PCV. Everyone in the PCV has the right to feel safe as they worship God and fellowship with one another. Safe Church aims to ensure that PCV congregations and organisations are places of spiritual, emotional, mental and physical safety for everyone.
In the life of the church, however, issues and circumstances may occur where an adult feels unsafe in any one of these aspects through their interactions with other adults. Examples include where an adult may be a victim of sexual harassment or indecent assault in the church environment. In these and other such situations adults in the PCV may choose to contact the SCU for information, support, advice or assistance in proceeding with a complaint. The SCU is a resource for the PCV in such matters.
The following list includes what sort of situations experienced by adults in the PCV may be described as Safe Church issues. Note that this is not an exhaustive list but is indicative only. If uncertain about a particular circumstance contact the SCU for further clarification.
Image abuse (also known as "revenge porn")
Disclosure and/or allegations of past sexually abusive behaviour with children
Family or Domestic Violence
Dissemination of pornography
Use of online child abuse material
Disclosure of previous convictions for sex offences
Disclosure of being on the Sex Offenders Register
This section outlines the type of conduct, involving adults, that is reportable.
What must be reported
In the context of adult related Safe Church issues conduct or behaviour within the PCV that is classified as criminal under the Victorian Crimes Act (1958) must be reported. If a person is in immediate danger always contact Victoria Police and then contact the SCU to report. If there is no immediate danger but an allegation or evidence is brought that indicates a criminal act has occurred then contact Victoria Police and the SCU. If in doubt or unsure about contacting police then call the SCU in the first instance. The SCU can then follow up as necessary with reporting to police.
Crimes that MUST be reported may include the following:
Sexual assault (including sex offences against children)
Threatening or enacting violence
Grooming - including online grooming of children
Accessing and/or disseminating online child abuse material
Note: this is not a definitive list and is only indicative. For further clarification contact the SCU.
Disclosures of past abusive behaviour
If an adult in the church makes a disclosure that they have sexually abused a child in the past, whether they were under 18 years of age or not, and whether the abuse was familial or not, this is not information that the listener can keep to themselves. This kind of disclosure must be reported to SCU, as individuals with sexual abuse behaviour in their background are understood as individuals who carry risk to the safety of children.
“There is a tendency to minimise or dismiss young people's sexually abusive behaviour as experimentation or play, or as a 'phase' that will pass with age…Such minimisation belies the seriousness of the abuse and the harm that is caused to the victims…[There are well-established] clear boundaries about what constitutes sexual abuse by young people - coercive or forceful sexual behaviour with children (or with peers) is always abusive, and should not be regarded as 'normal' adolescent behaviour.” (‘Young People who sexually abuse: Key Issues’ by Cameron Boyd and Leah Bromfield, 2006, Australian Institute of Family Studies)
When it comes to these kinds of disclosures it is no longer the case that church leaders can keep such information to themselves and take no action in the form of risk management measures. When church leaders know such things about people in the church and take no risk management measures churches become places where children are at greater risk from sexual abuse. This approach led to thousands of children being sexually abused in churches across Australia. Further, legal duty of care and specific Victorian legislation make this approach such that the Church will be legally exposed.
It should be noted that disclosure and risk management are not inherently inconsistent with pastoral care and ministry if the process is handled well and with compassion.
What may be reported
The following list gives examples of the kind of conduct and behaviour that may be reported or be the subject of complaints to the SCU. Note that this is not a definitive list but rather indicative. Contact the SCU for further clarification or to discuss any concerns or complaints. SCU may also be contacted in regards to these issues as a place for resourcing or referral.
Adult behaviour that may be reported:
Misuse or abuse of authority
Suspicion of grooming or stalking
Family or domestic violence
Conduct, behaviour or speech that is sexually threatening or inappropriate
Adult Disclosure Process
It is possible for any of the following to occur:
You become aware of an abusive situation relating to an adult
An adult discloses they are experiencing and/or have experienced abuse
An adult confesses to abuse
In the context of adult related Safe Church issues conduct or behaviour within the PCV that is classified as criminal under the Victorian Crimes Act (1958) must be reported.
If a person is in immediate danger always contact Victoria Police and then contact the SCU to report. If there is no immediate danger but an allegation or evidence is brought that indicates a criminal act has occurred then contact Victoria Police and the SCU. If in doubt or unsure about contacting police then call the SCU in the first instance. The SCU can then follow up as necessary with reporting to police.
In situations where you become aware of abuse it is extremely important that you do not compromise the situation in any way. The following disclosure process for adult-related abuse situations is intended to ensure that we hear the allegation and take appropriate immediate action to ensure the safety of those involved without compromising the evidence.
What to do if an adult discloses abuse
Listen, listen, listen…and do not add anything.
As far as possible, only ascertain the gist of the allegation. Obtain appropriate details while being aware that at this early stage it is not appropriate to probe too deeply. Ask what can be done to make them feel safe.
Reassure them that they have done the right thing in telling you.
Provide details of what you will do now – namely, support them and contact the SCU.
Make notes of what was said and report – to the Victoria Police if it is urgent or to the SCU immediately – 0499 090 449.
Some things to remember:
Do not compromise the situation by making comments, giving advice or adding to the allegations
Do not make a judgement about whether you think an allegation is true at this early stage
Follow the process outlined in the above steps
Do not be under the misapprehension that by treating an allegation with compassion you are prejudicing the rights of an alleged offender. This is not the case.
There is an increasing awareness of the prevalence of family violence - also known as 'domestic violence' in Australia. Sadly the Christian Church is not immune to this kind of abuse.
In October 2017 the Presbyterian Church of Victoria issued a statement regarding Domestic and Family Violence, which in part declared:
The Presbyterian Church of Victoria is firmly opposed to all forms of domestic and family violence. Husbands are specifically told “...Love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph.5:25) and are warned, to love their “...wives and not be harsh with them...” and to live with them “...in an understanding way” (Col. 3:19; 1Pet. 3:7).
Therefore, any attempt to twist the biblical teaching to tacitly sanction domestic violence or abuse is a gross perversion of the Bible’s teaching. Domestic and family violence is repugnant to God and an anathema to the biblical model of sacrificial love and service.
A full copy of the statement is here.
In particular the Victorian Government Royal Commission into Family Violence Summary and Recommendations, published in March 2016 addressed the need for religious organisations to have a clear approach to this kind of abuse prevention and response, in Recommendation 165:
"Faith leaders and communities establish processes for examining the ways in which they currently respond to family violence in their communities and whether any of their practices operate as deterrents to the prevention or reporting of, or recovery from, family violence or are used by perpetrators to excuse or condone abusive behaviour."
The Safe Church Unit assists the Church in responding to and preventing family violence in our denomination. Please contact the Safe Church Facilitator on 0499 090 449 or via email with any specific enquiries or concerns relating to family violence.
As the population ages, and the number of older people rises, it is expected that elder abuse will increase, with a greater number of older people in need of support or advice. Growing older can result in shrinking social and friendship networks, reduced access to information, reduced capacity to keep up to date with change, and loss of economic options. These factors can make people vulnerable - especially those in the 70-plus age group. Elder abuse may happen within churches and Christian communities when a older person forms a relationship with a younger person who begins by helping and assisting them, but then moves into abusive behaviour. An older person attending a church could reveal a situation to a church leader or friend that leads to concerns for their well-being from an abuse perspective.
Elder abuse takes many forms, ranging from criminal acts (such as physical assault, mistreatment and neglect) through to coercive behaviour and exploitation. Sometimes it occurs on the continuum of long-standing patterns of physical or emotional abuse within a family. It can also be the result of stressful situations, such as changes in living arrangements and personal relationships, which can occur due to increasing frailty. Typically, someone known or trusted by, or in a close relationship with, the older person carries out the elder abuse.
Because it is seen as private, it is understandable that a number of older people have difficulty raising the issue. The abuse and neglect of older people may therefore be under-recognised or remain an unspoken problem. If a situation arises within a church setting where a person has concerns about elder abuse the Safe Church Unit can be contacted. Further helpful information is available at seniorsrights.org.au
How To Make A Report
The Safe Church Unit is available as a first point of contact for reports that meet the criteria outlined above. The Safe Church Unit commits to treating all reports with the utmost discretion and seriousness.
Contact Details For Reporting
Safe Church Unit: 0499 090 449
In the case of immediate danger or criminal acts:
First call Victoria Police on 000
Then call SCU on 0499 090 449
Support and Referrals
Safe Church Unit: 0499 090 449
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria: 1800 737 732
Centre Against Sexual Assault - Sexual Assault Crisis Line: 1800 806 292
Concerning Elder Abuse: Seniors Rights Victoria: 1300 368 821