When you see one, you see several. And since I’m on a committee that is the first line of defense against creating a similar situation at our church, I’m paying even closer attention than I normally would. I find it both disturbing and bothersome as I think about what we need to do to prevent it from happening to us.
Two days ago, Travis Reed was convicted of fondling a boy. As if that isn’t disturbing enough, Travis Reed was one of the youth workers at his church. About a day earlier, Derek Hutter, a youth minister at another church was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. I’ll leave it to the courts to decide whether he actually did it or not. (I actually find it just as disturbing that it is possible for a youth worker to be falsely accused.) But I think we can say that we’ve seen enough of these situations to realize that it is possible that he is guilty. What I really want to know is, how can we avoid hiring people like this?
There are some similarities between these two guys. They are both in their thirties. They are both married. They both have one child. In the Travis Reed trial, sixteen character witnesses testified on his behalf. I’m not sure if Derek Hutter will have the same level of support, but he has worked at a number of different churches. I mention these things because they give the appearance of the type of men people expect would make good youth ministers. In their thirties, so old enough to be an authority figure, but not so old that they can’t do things with the youth. Married, so they have no reason to look for sexual gratification elsewhere. Have a child, so their marriage must be a happy one. Well-liked by the people who know him.
But that’s only what we see on the outside. What we really need to consider is what was happening in secret. That’s difficult, because these are things that they may have been hiding from their spouses as well. One youth testified that Travis Reed had looked up his shorts during a mixed martial arts class at the church. I don’t know if anyone from the church was made aware of that when it happened, but that should have raised a red flag.
Derek Hutter appears to have had porn on his computer and he is also accused of online solicitation of a minor. It’s easier to do something with that than an accusation of looking up someone’s shorts. I remember making up some stuff when I was a kid because I knew it would get someone else in trouble. It was nothing of this nature, but kids don’t always tell the truth. We don’t want to ignore what they say, but there are some things that are hard to prove one way or the other. Ironically, things done in the virtual world are more tangible. People who are addicted to porn have trouble limiting when they look at it. If they are looking at it at home, they’re probably looking at it on their computers at church. If they are sending e-mails with their church funded e-mail accounts, they risk and administrator spotting what they’re doing.
While church should certainly try to avoid hiring someone who has a sexual interest in boys or who is addicted to porn, I think there are things churches can do to help prevent things from happening if someone makes it through the initial filter. An open door policy for all who work with youth and children is a good start, but there needs to be more. That open door needs to exist outside the church building as well and it should extend to electronic communication between the youth worker and the student. And when it comes to church assets, such as computers and e-mail accounts, there is value in allowing a trusted third party to have open access to this information.