Abuse prevention and care in the IMB

A Q&A with the Prevention and Response Administrator at the IMB

September 14, 2020

In January, the International Mission Board appointed Somer Nowak to the newly created role of prevention and response administrator. This appointment was an important step for the IMB in caring well for survivors, protecting those in their care, and holding perpetrators accountable. I had the opportunity recently to speak with Nowak and hear her passion for protecting and caring for the most vulnerable.

1. You recently took a role as prevention and response administrator at the IMB. What does that role entail?

The role of prevention and response administrator at the IMB oversees areas where prevention comes in to play such as our training programs in regard to abuse, child abuse, and sexual harassment, as well as our screening process for volunteers and personnel. This role also manages our response efforts to reports or allegations of abuse. That can be anything from our legal obligations to report a disclosure to the proper authorities to assisting workers or others affected in accessing or facilitating compassionate care. This role stretches into several areas of our organization with the underlying goal of ensuring safety and providing care to those who need it.  

2. What are ways God has prepared you in past roles and experiences for your current position?

God gave me a passion and love for children and education long ago. I have years of experience working with children and working on behalf of children and families. My educational background is in psychology and counseling, so God was preparing me even then to be able to understand and help families walk through difficult situations. While working with children and hearing their stories, I gained a passion for protecting their innocence. After hearing testimonies of how these innocent lives were forever changed at the hands of perpetrators, I knew I had to do my part—no matter how great or small—to help ensure other children don’t fall victim to the same intolerable situations. 

God led me to a local children’s advocacy center in my hometown where I gained knowledge and experience in the field of forensic interviewing and counseling. I also gained experience working alongside law enforcement and Child Protective Services, walking child victims through the process of disclosure to court proceedings. It was during those years at the Children’s Advocacy Center and my years as a school counselor that my passion and heart grew even more for protecting children and assisting families. Then, my own children came into the world. I couldn’t help but look at them and feel an even greater sense that we all must work together to protect the most vulnerable.

3. For those who may be unfamiliar with what a child advocate does, would you tell us what you had the opportunity to do in that role?

When I worked as a school counselor, I started my talks with students by explaining, “Counselor is such a big word, and really it’s just a big word for ‘friend.’” To a child, the child advocate role is a trustworthy friend: a person who asks a child questions so they can help that child. It is a person who has the child’s best interest at heart. To the non-offending family or caregiver of a child, the child advocate is a friend who walks with them through a process that no non-offending parent or caregiver should ever walk through alone. 

My role as a child advocate was first prevention education. I went into classrooms and taught children about “body safety” (age-appropriate skills and knowledge that will lessen the likelihood of a child becoming a victim of childhood sexual abuse). My role then became a forensic investigator. This was the person who conducts the initial interview with a potential child victim, helping law enforcement and Child Protective Services gain the information they need for an investigation. I also took on the role of a forensic counselor who, after the interview process was complete, continued to work with that child to process the traumatic event and possibly even prepare them for the process of court. 

4. What led you to take the role of prevention and response administrator?

I am thankful that IMB’s leadership saw the need to place such an emphasis on this subject matter and begin a new fight against child harm and domestic violence. This role is not one that many people would jump at. The topic is heavy, the work is heavy, and we can all agree it’s not something that most people want to have frequent conversations about. 

When I learned that our organization was making a commitment to pursue excellence in the area of prevention and response to abuse, sexual abuse, child physical/sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, I felt God saying, “This job is for you.” With my previous experience, I have the passion and commitment in my heart to navigate uncomfortable and heavy topics that may seem overwhelming for others. I couldn’t discount what God had prepared me for and the opportunity that was laid before me. It just seemed to be a perfect match. 

5. What are some of your priorities for your first year in this role?

One of my top priorities for the first year is to evaluate where our organization stands in certain areas in regard to prevention and response and to see where and how we can continue to improve. Training and educating will be priorities in this new role. We want to know that all our field and home staff, along with volunteers and others working alongside our missionaries, have been properly trained in the areas of child harm and sexual harassment. Education is key to knowing the issues, understanding the issues, and then learning how we respond. We want to ensure as much as we can that everyone is made aware of our policies and how we handle cases of this nature.

6. How do you see your current role as being a vital part of the mission of the IMB?

IMB President Paul Chitwood has stated, and I wholeheartedly agree, that the prevention and response administrator position is evidence that IMB absolutely remains committed to making changes necessary to better prevent instances of child abuse and sexual harassment (including sexual assault) and to better care for victims while holding perpetrators accountable.

As I mentioned earlier, this role can be a heavy role. It brings light to actions that humans’ sinful natures want to keep in the dark. This role is crucial if Christians desire excellence in preventing and responding to abuse and harassment. There must be someone dedicated to keep shining a light on those ideals. This is an area of work that requires constant attention; therefore, having this role will help our organization keep safety at the forefront for all. 

7. Your work serves the IMB, but what can churches learn from your work? What would your hope be for churches in the SBC with regards to abuse prevention and care?

Churches must talk about abuse prevention and response! It needs to be an ongoing conversation including sometimes difficult questions such as:  

Questions like these should be an ongoing conversation. This issue of abuse, child abuse, and sexual harassment is not going away, and we must join together in the effort of keeping our children and families safe and secure. Make sure that as a church you are doing your best in these areas because the ramifications of not doing this well are too costly. I would also give the advice of reaching out to a local agency in your community such as children’s advocacy centers and ask how you can improve in areas of safe and secure trainings and similar initiatives. There are people with a wealth of knowledge in this area who are ready and willing to help—don’t be afraid to reach out and let them share their expertise with your congregation.  

We are stronger together, and my prayer is that we combat this darkness together by doing our absolute best in our prevention and response efforts. 

To learn more about and participate in abuse prevention and response efforts, visit the Caring Well Challenge site

Travis Wussow

Travis Wussow serves as the Vice President for Public Policy and General Counsel. Travis led the ERLC’s first international office located in the Middle East prior to joining the Washington DC office. He received a B.B.A. in Finance from The University of Texas at Austin and a J.D. from The … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24