Why home is not always a safe place during stay-at-home orders

The increased risk of sexual abuse during COVID-19

April 29, 2020

The coronavirus has disrupted the world, closing schools and businesses, and sending us to our homes to wait out the pandemic. Many of us are learning to work and worship online, while balancing e-learning, kids walking in on video conference calls, and having cabin fever for those of us still seeing cold temperatures in a time that should be the warmth of spring.  

We are so focused fighting COVID-19 that we have lost sight that all wars have multiple fronts. As a former violent crime detective, I have been in many volatile situations that exploded—weapons drawn or fired, victims barricaded with the perpetrator—seconds turned to hours as I became focused on the threat. Police officers, like soldiers, are trained to manage tunnel vision and to not lose sight of the whole picture, which includes additional threats that often present themselves during a dire situation. One that many have not considered, but that is very real, is the fact that being sequestered in one’s home is not a safe place for all women and children. 

We know that 1 out of 6 American women have been the survivor of rape or attempted rape. Since 1998 the total number has reached an alarming 17 million American women. And, just as horrifying, 80,000 children per year (reported cases; the actual number is much higher) are the survivors of rape and sexual assault. For those at risk, sheltering in place at home is the most dangerous place on earth for them. 

Sexual assault is not just statistics for me. 

God blessed me with great parents who worked in the criminal justice system—my father, a police officer, and my mother, a survivor’s advocate in the local prosecutor’s office. We lived in a small town, and our door was always open for those in need, day and night. I cannot count the number of wives fleeing domestic violence or the mothers protecting their children from abuse that sat at our kitchen table in the middle of the night. 

My education on sexual violence started when I was a teenager. One afternoon I came home, and my parents met me outside and explained that they had temporarily given my bedroom to a young girl who was being sexually abused by her father, a schoolteacher and member of our church.  It was shocking to me. This was somebody I knew very well. The continued threat was so real that my parents opened our home to protect her. I thought of her last month when we shut the country down and sent everybody home. Home is not a safe place for hundreds of thousands of Americans.

I was impacted throughout my childhood and teen years by seeing crimes and injustices committed against vulnerable people. That is why I chose to dedicate my life to the injustice of domestic violence and sexual assault and helping in Nashville, Tennessee, to develop and implement the largest law enforcement-based domestic program in the United States.

Sexual abuse is not a stranger crime.

One of the most common and dangerous myths is that sexual violence is a crime committed by strangers. We do a huge injustice to our children if we teach them to only fear the boogeyman. The sad truth in our culture is that our children are much more likely to be hurt by someone they know than by someone they do not know. Ninety-three percent of sexual violence is perpetrated by someone known to the survivor. 

As a young detective focused on domestic violence, I learned that violence is about power and control. In fact, domestic violence is not “out-of-control” behavior but the opposite—very controlled behavior. Domestic homicides revealed to me the level of thought and planning that went into a murder. The outward appearance of losing control was merely another tactic used by abusers to instill fear and take control of the situation.

It is a fact that sexual violence is common in violent relationships. A husband can rape his wife. Most of the sexual violence has nothing to do with sex but is a tool of violence used to control and exert power over someone. The most power one person can exert over another is to take their life. The second most powerful control someone can exert over another person is to sexually violate them.

Sexual abuse is often not reported.

When I read statistics that report there are more than 400,000 survivors of sexual assault in the United States each year (Department of Justice 2018), I immediately know that these numbers are probably much lower than the reality. 

Why is sexual assault highly underreported? Statistically we know that:

Survivors have no reason to trust the criminal justice system because the track record for keeping our promises to survivors of crime has failed. Survivors who courageously speak up are often, sadly and shamefully, not believed.

How do you report and who do you report to if you are the survivor of child sex abuse, especially if the perpetrator is someone in your family? Or you are an adult and it is your spouse or partner who is abusing you? Now with the home isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, how can these abuse survivors have a voice or get help?

There is an increased risk of abuse when sheltering in place.

Sadly, while sheltering in place helps a certain portion of the population, for those suffering abuse, sheltering in place plays right into the hands of perpetrators. Isolating their victims is the tactic used by abusers, and now the stay-at-home orders have created the perfect incubator for sexual violence to occur.

Add to this, surging unemployment and increasing thoughts of suicide, which are correlated with higher levels of abuse and increased lethality, and the risk to survivors is compounded the longer we are isolated at home.

Unfortunately, for many American women and children, sheltering in place is a perfect storm for increased sexual violence. 

What is the role of the church and Christians?

God has called us to protect those that cannot protect themselves. Proverbs 31:8 states, “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” So, how can we do that? 

Use this time to engage with your staff, security teams, and volunteers while you have their undivided attention. Empower your staff and volunteers to connect with families that you know are in crisis with a phone call or online meeting, and let them know they are not isolated and alone. This will go a long way toward raising the rates of reporting and healing within our communities.

Though we are in challenging times, it is also an opportunity. My prayer is that this will awaken believers, and the church as a whole, of the reality of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and sexual assault that goes on too often in our own community, and that we will be equipped to protect the innocent and vulnerable among us. 

Mike Mccarty

As a former police officer and domestic violence/sexual assault detective with the Metro Nashville Police Department, Mike has spent 25 years in violence prevention programs. He is regarded as the nation’s leading expert on violence prevention in churches, businesses, schools, and public spaces. Mike is also an advisor to the U.S. … 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