An invitation for abuse

I had a great time at Leicester Skeptics last night, and someone asked a particularly good question.

They said they’d been involved for a number of years in a job that involved the safeguarding of children. In their line of business, ACE’s emphasis on submission to authority would be an immediate red flag for abuse. Any system which teaches unquestioning obedience is ripe for exploitation. Was I aware of any instances of abuse, and did I have any comment on this?

Well, yes, I am aware of at least one instance of sexual abuse in an English ACE school.

But the second part of the question reminded me that it is official ACE policy to ask parents to side with the school against their children. Here’s the text from ACE’s Administration Manual:

Parents must not take sides when their child complains and must not discuss the school negatively in front of the child. This will undermine the school’s effectiveness and will affect the student’s behavior. Minor points can become major points. In such cases, ask parents to:

  • Give the school the benefit of the doubt.
  • Realize the child’s report is emotionally biased and probably does not contain complete information.
  • Realize the school has reasons for all rules, and they are enforced without favoritism.
  • Support the staff and contact the school for additional information or facts.

Note: the above bullet points are part of the quotation, but WordPress does ugly things to the formatting when I put bullet points inside blockquotes.

Now, supporters of ACE may well be getting angry with me at this point. “But Scaramanga!” they hypothetically cry, “This section is about school rules, not abuse! There is a section on abuse reporting, which emphasises unequivocally the obligation on all staff to report abuse.”

This is true, but it does not lessen my concern at the above section. It sets up a pattern for how parents should react to children’s complaints, and casts doubt on the reliability of children’s testimony. Is it going to make children feel confident they will be believed if do report abuse? If abuse is occurring, how is contacting the staff for additional information going to help?

ACE is telling parents if their child complains to disbelieve their child in favour of the school. This follows from the belief that children have a “carnal nature” (ie they are natural born sinners) and this needs to be forced into submission. So in the event of a dispute between teacher and student, it’s God’s appointed leader vs a child who has not yet been moulded into conformity with Christ.

Let’s interpret this as generously as possible. I’m sure ACE has the honest belief that Godly leaders just wouldn’t abuse children. This is just wilful ignorance at best. Earlier this year, the fundamentalist pastor Jack Schaap was sentenced to 12 years in prison for having sex with a parishioner who was 16 when the encounter began. And when this came out, who did the church call in to conduct an investigation? David Gibbs, former president of Accelerated Christian Education. And Gibbs was the man for the job, because in his other life as a lawyer he has made a career defending pastors, churches, and Christian schools when they get into exactly this kind of mess. ACE knows damn well what kind of abuse can happen. And although Gibbs makes a lot of fuss insisting that Hammond First Baptist Church are fully co-operating with the authorities, here (and reportedly elsewhere), he tells people with any more information to report it to church authorities, rather than the police.

Here’s the usual “I’m not making this up or taking it out of context” screenshot:

ACE Administration Manual screenshot

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About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on October 16, 2013, in Accelerated Christian Education, Atheism, Christianity, Education, Faith Schools and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. All these informantion, strengthen my conviction that John Stuart Mill was wrong on the role of the state in educational matters. Unlike Mill I believe that the state, and not the parents, should be in charge of providing proper and adequate education to children. Ironically Mill feared state organized education as a way to indoctrinate the young, but reality have shown it’s other way around: home schooling and privately organized education are a free way to indoctrination of children.

  2. You say that the section on reporting abuse emphasises that staff have an obligation to report abuse. What does that part say about how parents are supposed to react to child reports? Does it even address that issue?

    if the only instructions parents are being given is to side with the school then the fact elsewhere teachers are being told to report abuse seems like a moot point.

    • Yeah, there’s no advice for parents under the abuse section. It’s only about teachers’ legal responsibilities. It seems written mostly for the purpose of covering their asses. Almost certainly written by Gibbs, I would think.

  3. Watching David Gibbs speak takes me back to seeing him speak at ACE conventions in the 80s and it makes my skin crawl.

    • I never saw him speak. I’m trying to get more solid information on Gibbs, cases he’s handled, positions he’s held. It seems he’s involved in almost everything I currently blog about.

  4. Seems to me like the guidelines are pretty classic “cover our asses but we don’t actually care” material. They’ve put in the reporting bit to cover their asses, but the reality is that they still don’t understand the issue enough to see that this other section on not taking a child’s word and not siding against the school are the systemic issues that would make an ACE school safe for pedophiles. I say it’s classic, because I’ve seen it so many times. Making an institution or any other place safe for children is so much more than having the right set of reporting rules in place. It’s about how we look at children, how we engage them, how they are respected. How we talk about abuse victims. That one is HUGE. And clearly children aren’t respected in a system that embraces a flat out rejection of the child’s reality as “incomplete.” It’s sad. Can’t you hear how that plays out in your head? I totally can. How it could be used by parents and others to tell a child their version of abusive events is just “not seeing things clearly” or “only seeing one side” of things. Ugh … heartbreaking how damaging a few sentences can be.

    • That’s what I thought too, but it’s good to have confirmation from someone who looks at this a lot. This post has been less popular than my normal posts (always the way when I write about uncomfortable stuff), and I’m glad you get it.

      • Oh, I totally get it, and I also get it not being as popular. People (in general) DO NOT want to talk about abuse. Especially when we frame it as the potential for abuse in a Christian environment. My husband works full time at a church and has so many friends in youth ministry–and not in fundamentalist churches, either … all kinds–and he’s pretty much one of the only ones willing to talk about abuse in the church. If he posts a link to something fairly benign and even ridiculous all his youth worker friends will read it and “like” it on FB. If he posts a link to something about protecting children from abuse … you can almost hear the crickets. It is a blow every time to think that the very people who should care THE MOST are too afraid of the topic to even like (or read?) a post on FB about it.

      • I suppose there’s just so much evil in the world that if we try to get proactive about everything, we couldn’t possibly cope, and sometimes we just need to relax and tune it out. I understand why people don’t get involved, but it frustrates me at the same time, especially when problems are easily solvable. Educating teachers on safeguarding children shouldn’t be hard.

      • I am not sure that it is less popular, I read it and thought it brings up an important issue and have come back a few times to check for comments. However because it is such an important issue a lot of people will not feel qualified to comment, or will feel that they should keep quiet lest they be seen as flippant or making light of such an important and serious issue.

  5. I just read an article that said the Church of England is joining forces with the British government for the oversight of schools. I found that quite alarming. Is there a Brit on this blog that can enlighten me? Is this true? What do you think about it?

  6. Makes me angry. Not just about sexual abuse. What if school is boring? What if there is a zillion reason hits good to talk. Go ahead. Teach your kids that protecting the institution is more important, the…..ugh. No, just no.

  7. David Gibbs is like Ray Donovan, the fixer, on TV. He makes “problems” go away, protecting the church and its ministry at all costs. I wonder if he ever considers the fact that he is facilitating sexual abuse and other behaviors his religion calls SIN? I doubt it.

  8. Very sickening the things that they do and get away with. The IFB schools always make it look like it is the kid that is the problem. Being a kid in the IFB is awful. You feel so hopeless because of this very thing. My dad was told that I did something, which I didn’t do, and I got beat for it. This happened so much in our family and in others it was ridiculous.

  9. When i attended public schools,paddlings happened everyday between 1st and 2nd period and you could hear the loud smacks 3-5-10 times,about every 5 or 10 minutes,and often times you’d see students return to the class-room in tears,and squirming around in their desks from the painful licks,and sometimes..(especially girls)..would return to class all wet in between their legs,and would be smelling of stinky wet pee for the whole rest of the day,and that strong pee wet odor would send all the others a powerful message that they needed to obey the rules!…And that’s just the way it was in the 80’s in public schools in Memphis,Tn.

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