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Safe Church Conference aims to prevent sexual abuse in North Alabama churches

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Safe Church Conference

Family Services of North Alabama wants to create a database of churches that have taken the steps to prevent sexual abuse in church.

They're working to help churches avoid and address sex abuse to ensure families can safely worship.

A local organization wants to make sure you and your kids are safe when worshipping.

Family Services of North Alabama aims to create a database of churches that have taken the steps to prevent sexual abuse in church. It all begins with a safety conference.

The Safe Church Conference has been in the minds and hearts of people at Family Services of North Alabama for years, but organizers say they felt like they had to do something now after an Albertville youth pastor was arrested earlier this year. He is accused of sexually abusing a teenager from youth group.

Unfortunately, sex abuse in church is a harsh reality that Family Services of North Alabama is too familiar with.

"This is happening right under their nose," Executive Director Sherrie Hiett said. "A large portion, a large percentage of people coming through our doors, they have been sexually assaulted within the church setting in some capacity, and so it's probably not a very popular thing to say, but that's what we see. We're on the front lines of this."

Hiett said many churches don't have policies in place for avoiding or addressing sexual abuse in church.

"What we have seen is, more churches than not, they don't have anything," Hiett explained. "There are leaders within the church, within faith-based communities, that are being put in place to lead people within the church, but there's no background checks. There's no policies and procedures. They don't know the protocol, or they don't have protocol."

That's why she says it's crucial for churches to attend their upcoming Safe Church Conference to learn the red flags, the indicators of abuse and what church leaders should do to encourage victims to speak out.

Even churches with policies in place say they'll take advantage of the conference.

"We can always do better, right? It's good for us to train and hear the latest best practices of how we protect ourselves and protect our children as well," said Keith Monk, who pastors at United Methodist Church in Guntersville.

However, this conference takes it one step further.

"We don't want it to just be a conference where people come and receive a lot of great information and hear a lot of great speakers. We want there to be a lot of follow-up," Hiett said.

Church leaders will receive a flash drive with policies that they can adjust to fit their church. It will also have free resources for churches to conduct background checks and mandatory reporter training.

If they complete the training and implement the policies 60 days after the conference, they will receive a plaque from Family Services of North Alabama. They will also be listed as a safe church on Family Services' website.

"So, people moving into our area that are searching for a church, they can go to our website and see, 'OK, they've been through this training. I believe that my children will be safe in this church,'" Hiett explained.

They're steps and actions to make sure churches remain a safe haven.

"We need to be a safe place for all to be able to come through our doors and learn about the love of Jesus Christ and about our gospel and to be loved on and protected," Monk said.

The Safe Church Conference will take place 1–5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2 in the auditorium at Snead State Community College. Lunch will be provided.

Several guest speakers will be at the event, including Marshall County Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Bray; Kathleen Connelly with Alabama Coalition Against Rape; Jennifer Tice with Family Sunshine Center; and Chris Lim and Cameron Perry with the Alabama Attorney General's Office.

Everyone is welcome to attend. Asha Kiran will also be at the event, providing free translations for speakers of Spanish and other languages.

To register to be a part of the church conference, click here.

If you are a victim of sexual abuse or need someone to talk to, you can always call the Family Services of North Alabama 24/7 hotline at 1-855-878-9159.

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