Earlier today I received a Facebook share from one of our clients, which was entitled, “Memphis Mega Church gives standing ovation to pastor after apology for sexual assault.” I followed the link and began reading the heartbreaking story of Jules Woodson (she wants her name shared according to the article below) who was sexually abused by her youth pastor 20 years ago.
As more information about the Memphis Mega Church pastor, Andy Savage, who sexually molested one of the young people in his program 20 years ago comes out - we at Plan to Protect® are heartbroken for victim/survivors like Jules who have had to experience such traumatic incidences of assault.
You can read more about Jules story, here:
I Thought He Was Taking Me for Ice Cream: One Woman’s #MeToo Story of Molestation By Her Former Youth Pastor, Andy Savage - http://thewartburgwatch.com/2018/01/05/i-thought-he-was-taking-me-for-ice-cream-one-womans-metoo-story-of-molestation-by-her-former-youth-pastor-andy-savage/
Thank you, Jules, for sharing your story – your honesty, bravery and courage is inspiring. We hope and pray that by sharing your story, others will be inspired to stand up for victims/survivors of abuse. We hope and pray that your story brings light to the darkness and encourages other churches and organizations to prevent abuse, to have a plan in place and to report it properly if it does happen.
We are so thankful for organizations and churches who are dedicated and committed to protecting the vulnerable. We are so thankful for organizations and churches who are doing everything they can to prevent something, like what happened to Jules, from ever happening again. We are so thankful for organizations and churches who have policies, procedures and proper reporting guidelines in place. We are so thankful for organizations and churches who are striving for the highest standard of protection and are doing everything they can to prevent #metoo and #churchtoo from being anyone’s reality.
At Plan to Protect®, we are dedicated and committed to doing everything we can to raise the bar on protection, to fight for victims and survivors of abuse and to stand for protection and prevention. We will not stop! Thank you, Jules and every person who has ever shared their story of #metoo or #churchtoo, your courage inspires us and spurs us on. We are doing this for you.
As I reflect on Jules story, I am struck by some very important lessons we can all learn from her and how the church responded. So, what can we learn from Jules story?
- Churches, faith communities and organizations need to have strong abuse prevention policies in place. I am unsure if the Texas church had policies or how strong these policies were if they had them.
- Policies should include appropriate interactions between staff/volunteers and children/youth/vulnerable adults in and outside of regularly scheduled programming.
- Policies should include a two-screened adults rule – no adults should be alone with a child or youth EVER. Jules should never have been left alone at the church with just Andy.
- Policies should include transportation guidelines, which stipulate that volunteers and staff are not allowed to transport children or young people alone. Andy should never have driven Jules alone.
- Policies should include a description of appropriate and inappropriate touch. Policies should include definitions of physical, sexual, emotional abuse, and neglect. Obviously, this touch would not have been considered appropriate.
- All volunteers and staff should be properly trained on abuse prevention and the policies of the organization. I am unsure if Andy and others within the church ever received training on this before being placed in his position of youth pastor, but he should have
- There should be a five-year age gap between volunteers/staff and the youth that they work with. According to the information, I was able to find online, Jules was 17 and Andy was a college student (probably early 20s).
- Churches and organizations should have strong reporting and response policies which follow legal reporting guidelines. It’s apparent from Jules story that the church didn’t have consistent or clear policies or if they did have them they didn’t follow them properly.
- All incidents of child abuse should be reported immediately to the proper authorities, the police or child and family services. It’s apparent from Jules story that the church did not report the incident to the proper authorities.
- Anyone accused of abuse should be removed from their position of trust until their name is clear. In this story, following the report to leadership, the youth pastor, Andy, continued in his role for a number of days even leading a conference on abstinence.
- Anyone found guilty of child abuse should be let go with cause. Instead, Andy was able to resign quietly, and it was not put on his file why he was asked to leave.
- At no time should a church or organization practice denial, minimization or blame the victim. According to Jules story, the Texas church did all of these. The original pastor she told accused her of “participating,” people within the church blamed Jules, people within the church minimized the incident by saying it was just “innocent kissing.”
- The Lead pastor or his designate must notify the church’s insurance provider and seek legal counsel upon hearing of a suspected child abuse case. It doesn’t appear that insurance or legal counsel was obtained 20 years ago when Jules came forward.
- Church and organizational leadership should seek opportunity to provide the individual care and counsel for the abuse victim and the family. According to Jules she never received this, and her family was instead barely told about what happened considering at the time she was still a minor.
- Individuals that have been accused, or convicted or under the suspicion of crimes against children and or youth, or who have been convicted of violent crimes or relevant crimes will not have any involvement in ministries or programs where youth participate or placed in positions of trust. This means that not only should Andy Savage have been fired with cause, but the church also should never have wanted to hire him back or ask Jules family if they could hire him. Furthermore, Highpoint church (the church Andy’s at now) should not have hired him as a pastor. Highpoint church even knew about the abuse and hired him anyways – his previous sexual assault should have excluded him from any position of trust with vulnerable people ever, it doesn’t matter if it was 20 years ago and if it was dealt with. At Plan to Protect®, we recommend that anyone who admits to abuse, is under the suspicion of abuse or has been convicted of crimes against children, youth or vulnerable adults, or a violent crime should not be placed in a position of trust, authority or control.
For more information on this story, please visit:
For more information about creating a strong Abuse Prevention and Vulnerable Sector Protection policy, abuse prevention training or Plan to Protect®, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org