Sacred and Civic Trust: Imam Calls Out Suspected Sexual Abuse In Friday Sermon
What would you do if you thought a child in your community was being molested in the masjid? If you were Imam Nick Pelletier, Director of Outreach at the Islamic Center of Irving, you would talk about it from the mimbar.
What if you were a masjid board member, and someone reported sexual abuse happening on the premises?
What if a child in your Scout Troop confided in you about being molested?
No matter your position or circumstance, what to do remains the same: call child protective services or law enforcement. Report it to them. Not only is it your Islamic duty, often times it is the law, especially if you live in the United States. In most states, any adult professional who works with children is a mandated reporter. This means that you are legally responsible for reporting suspected or disclosed abuse. In some states, all adults are considered mandated reporters.
One in 10 children will be the victim of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. Despite this startling statistic, abuse remains a silent epidemic that people are afraid to talk about. Child sexual abuse is not limited to any specific socio-economic status, culture, race, religion, or gender. Unfortunately, it impacts EVERY community and EVERY person across the globe, including the Muslim community.
So, what do you do?
If you are in a position where you suspect or are informed or child abuse, you may think you need evidence, but that’s not the case. Your responsibility is to report, not investigate or confirm. According to the law, mandatory reporters are required to report “the facts and circumstances that led them to suspect that a child has been abused or neglected.” You don’t need four witnesses, or any witnesses to report a sexual offense. The requirement of four witnesses in Islam is for the establishment of voluntary fornication or adultery, not crime – and rape, sexual assault and molestation are a crime.
Reporters are often the only link between a child and safety from abuse, say experts. It is vitally important that mandated reporters understand how to recognize child abuse and how to make reports that are timely, complete and accurate.
According to Darkness To Light, a leading child abuse prevention advocacy group, when a child discloses abuse, “it is very important to listen without expressing anger or suspicion. First, children need to know that the abuse is not their fault”. They urge adults to listen carefully and then ask only open-ended questions, such as “and then what happened?” Focus on determining what happened, where, when and by whom. This is sometimes called a “good faith” report. They suggest that mandated reporters not ask leading questions nor try to conclude information, even if they are sure they know the answers. This can re-traumatize the child and contaminate the investigation.
They further recommend that you do not attempt to investigate further or probe for details – do not look for physical signs. “Promptly report to law enforcement agencies, child protection services, or both. Do not make false promises to the child such as maintaining the confidentiality of your report. Trained professionals need to collect facts and details, and this could include talking with the child.”
Mandatory Reporting is the Law
Many imams, Sunday school teachers, maktab assistants, camp counselors, masjid youth organizers, board of directors even volunteers don’t realize that they may be mandated reporters in their state.
If you are a professional in any of the following fields, you are a mandatory reporter:
- Social workers
- Teachers, principals, and other school personnel
- Physicians, nurses, and other health-care workers
- Counselors, therapists, and other mental health professionals
- Child care providers
- Medical examiners or coroners
- Law enforcement officers
- Clergyman, imam, priest, rabbi, minister, Christian Science practitioner, religious healer or spiritual leader of any regularly established church or other religious organization;
- An individual paid or unpaid who, on the basis of the individual’s role as an integral part of a regularly scheduled program, activity or service, accepts responsibility for a child
- Directors, employees, and volunteers at entities that provide organized activities for children, such as camps, day camps, youth centers, and recreation centers, are required to report in 13 States.
There are strict penalties against employers who try to hinder the reporting by employees.
Any person, mandatory reporter or otherwise, does not have the burden of providing proof that abuse or neglect has occurred. “Permissive reporters (adults who can file reports but are not mandated to) follow the same standards when electing to make a report. It is the job of Child Protective Services and other state institutions to conduct the investigation.” For more detailed information on mandatory reporting, please refer to this report.
Aside from it being the law, all of us have a sacred responsibility to make sure that the vulnerable in our communities are protected, especially if we hold a position of responsibility. The Prophet warned us that, ‘Every one of you is a Protector and Guardian for those who are placed under your care’ [Bukhari and Muslim]. The heavy mantle of the sacred trust (Amanah) is further emphasized with the command of not betraying the trust in the Quran. Allah says, ‘Betray not knowingly your Amanah (things entrusted to you). [8:27].”
In connection to the heavy mantle of leadership and trusts, scholars relay the hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah : The Messenger of Allah said: “When trusts are neglected, then await the Hour.”
He said: How would they be neglected, O Messenger of Allah? He said: “When positions of authority are given to people who are not qualified for them, then await the Hour.”
Do the right thing. And Allah Knows Best.
Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.