Child sexual abuse is an epidemic across the nation, and it is exacerbated by white supremacy and structural inequality. According to an ongoing survey conducted by Black Women’s Blueprint, 60% of Black women and girls report having been raped before the age of 18, and national statistics suggest that 1 in 6 boys are victims of sexual violence. Not only do Black children face state-sanctioned violence, disproportionate and racist policing, inadequate school systems, and lack of resources, but these everyday realities are worsened by sexual abuse in their homes, schools, and churches.
Most adult survivors of sexual violence in African American communities attest to having been sexually violated as children, though many survivors never report their assaults to local authorities or share their stories with family members and loved ones because of fear and shame.
Many more survivors acknowledge being sexually violated by religious leaders as children, and if we believe black churches to be central sites of influence in black communities, we must reckon with the reality that survivors of child sexual abuse sit in pews.
Monica Coleman notes in her book The Dinah Project, “Every congregation contains victims of sexual violence. Every church with women, men, boys, girls, or the elderly contains victims of sexual violence. Whether an individual confides in the church leaders, family, or friends, or chooses to remain silent, there is no church void of the people whose lives are changed by experiences of sexual violence. Because every church contains persons affected by sexual violence, the church must respond. Because sexual violence affects every aspect of our communities, including our religious and spiritual lives, the church must respond. Because silence is a response of tolerance, the church must respond” (Coleman, 4).
In order to end child sexual abuse, we need the (black) church to stand with us in this fight.
Children of Combahee is organizing a cadre of committed faith leaders to think critically about their complicity in the violations that our children face, and we are strategizing how to deal with the culture of child sexual abuse that rears its ugly head in our places of worship. Our ultimate goal is to bring justice to the most vulnerable, or as Jesus said, “the least of these,” but in order to do so, we must first accept the truth that our sanctuaries are often unsafe spaces, and we must deal with theologies and practices that deny children agency over their bodies.