Safe Church Policy and Abuse Prevention Guidelines

Contact the Safeguarding Team


I. Purpose

Atlanta Westside Presbyterian Church (AWPC) is committed to protecting the vulnerable, caring for survivors, and holding those who abuse power accountable for sexual, physical, or spiritual misconduct; to educating our leadership, staff, and members relating to such matters; and to establishing reporting and response procedures relating to these issues.  This Policy is adopted in order to implement those purposes.

II. Vision

Consistent with AWPC’s purpose to embody and preview the Kingdom of God, our church seeks to reflect Christ’s love, humility, refuge, and justice, particularly for the most vulnerable:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn…

Isaiah 61:1-3

We acknowledge that sin can come from within our body and that power can be abused in such a way that individuals experience sexual, physical, or spiritual abuse and misconduct. Church leaders, who by the nature of their positions hold power, are to shepherd God’s people with love and humility, following the example of our Great Shepherd. However, they in particular are in danger of abusing their power. “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.  I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock…”  Acts 20:28-29.

The Gospel and our call to love one another requires that we take abuse and misconduct seriously and that we bring light to areas of darkness. We are also called to be a community that seeks healing, ensures justice, pays special attention to vulnerable people, and exercises authority with care.

Our core values also inform our treatment of abuse and misconduct.

  1. Prize the Heart – “Jesus taught that our words, attitudes, and actions flow from our hearts. Lasting change, therefore, must flow from hearts that are redeemed by his grace…” Prizing the heart compels us to expose abuse and misconduct so that we might care for the afflicted and respond to physical, emotional, or spiritual mistreatment.
  2. Embody Grace – “The heart of scripture is the Gospel of free grace that unites us to God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We experience this Gospel … throughout the culture of the church; the shared practices and dispositions that make us instruments of God’s grace to each other.” Every “body part” is indispensable in our common calling; therefore, we are called to protect those who hold less power and are more vulnerable.
  3. Aim for Restoration – “The Gospel that reconciles us to God also makes us agents of reconciliation with each other.” We seek reconciliation with God above protecting the institution of the church. We work to mitigate the dangers inherent in power differentials, especially along the lines of race, sex, class, and culture. Abuse and misconduct create brokenness, not only between individuals but between an individual and the church, and we desire that our response to abuse and misconduct will offer restoration between the church and the survivor even in cases where reconciliation between the individuals involved may not be possible or safe.
  4. Cultivate Place – “We believe local places are not just the setting for God’s kingdom, but one of the key dimensions in which the kingdom is made manifest.” We desire that our treatment of abuse and misconduct will shape our hearts to be more like Christ’s so that we might bring redemptive change in the social, cultural, political, and educational institutions of our area.
  5. Embrace Limitations – “Every local church is only one partial manifestation of Christ’s universal, global Kingdom. We do not expect our church to meet every possible need so we celebrate God’s work through other churches and ministries…” Acknowledging our limitations, especially in terms of our expertise regarding abuse as well as our capacity to maintain independence and objectivity in addressing such matters within the local body at AWPC, requires us to intentionally plan for the prevention and mitigation of incidents.  We will utilize other ministries and organizations that can assist as we seek to prevent and address instances of abuse and misconduct.

To assure that AWPC remains a safe place for all persons, especially those who are vulnerable, we have adopted the following Safe Church Policy and Abuse Prevention Guidelines (which is supplemented by additional policies relating to the prevention and reporting of abuse against minors).

While all AWPC members, staff, and officers commit to our Handshake Vows (Appendix A) to resolve conflict among peers, we acknowledge that in situations where abuse or misconduct is involved, individuals may be unwilling or unable to follow Handshake Vows. Power differentials can make it dangerous for a victim to approach an abuser alone regarding abuse or misconduct.  Under those circumstances, we acknowledge that members will follow the procedures set forth in this Policy rather than pursuing the Handshake Vows.

III. Definitions

  1. There are different categories of abuse and misconduct.  This Policy expressly prohibits all forms of abuse, sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence (domestic violence), emotional abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse, spiritual abuse, and stalking (as each of those terms is defined below) by an Employee, Officer, Member or Visitor of AWPC.
  2. The defined terms below may or may not include conduct that would constitute a violation of federal, state, or local law.  This Policy does not attempt to make judgments with respect to whether any law is violated but, to the extent that an individual believes that federal, state, or local laws may have been violated by a person covered by this Policy, such individual is encouraged to notify the appropriate authorities promptly.

Abuse: In general, abuse occurs when a person in a position of power and/or trust (e.g., pastor, elder, deacon, boss, mentor, supervisor, parent, adult, older child) uses that position to exploit or violate someone who is more vulnerable. That exploitation or violation can take a variety of forms, as more fully described and defined below.

Sexual Abuse: When a person in a place of power and/or trust engages in sexual behavior with a child or an adult under their supervision, authority, mentoring, or spiritual care, including:

Sexual Penetration:  Any act or attempted act of vaginal or anal penetration, however slight, by a person’s penis, finger, other body part, or an object, and/or any oral-genital contact.

Sexual Contact: Any intentional touching of a person’s breasts, buttocks, groin, genitals, or other intimate parts. Touching may be over or under clothing and may include the touching or making the person touch, or making the person touch their own body. This also includes contact with non-sexual areas of the body for the sexual gratification of the perpetrator (such as with certain paraphilic disorders).

Non-Contact Sexual Acts: Any act or attempted act of abuse that is achieved without touching the other person, such as:

  • observing a person’s nudity or sexual activity or allowing a person to observe sexual activity;
  • recording, photographing, transmitting, showing, viewing, streaming, or distributing intimate or sexual images, audio recordings, or sexual information of persons; or
  • exposing one’s genitals or inducing a person to expose their own genitals within a power dynamic (boss-employee, doctor-patient, teacher-student, pastor-congregant, adult-child) communicating romantic or sexual desire, interest, or sexually stimulating content toward a

A child cannot consent to any sexual behavior with an adult or older child. An adult under the authority, care, or mentorship of a leader cannot consent to sexual activity. Even when both people are adults and the contact is not forcible, any crossing of sexual boundaries within a power structure is not an “affair” or a “relationship” but an egregious abuse of power. Adult sexual abusers often develop an emotional and spiritual connection and then exploit it. While not always recognized as a crime, this is a serious violation and AWPC will treat it as such. If any staff person wishes to pursue a consensual relationship with someone under their spiritual care or a power hierarchy within AWPC, they must contact the Session for the sake of transparency and discuss any appropriate boundaries given the power dynamics and related factors.

Sexual Assault:  Sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the consent of the victim. Sexual harassment generally violates civil laws—all have a right to work or learn without being harassed—but may not be a criminal act. Sexual assault usually refers to acts that are criminal. Some forms of sexual assault include:

  • Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape;
  • Attempted rape;
  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetration of the perpetrator’s body; and
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching.

Consent is words or overt actions indicating a freely given agreement to the sexual act or contact. Silence or the absence of an explicit “no” does not constitute consent. Physical submission by the victim, such as “freezing” or “fawning”, does not equal consent. Consent also implies the ability to say “no” in a mutual relationship. Children, adults with certain developmental disabilities, certain vulnerable adults (e.g., elderly or ill), or those within a power differential (e.g., with a religious leader, mentor, teacher, or supervisor) are unable to consent to sexual activity. Other circumstances such as intoxication or unconsciousness also render a person unable to give consent to sexual activity. Deception or manipulation of a person also render that person unable to consent.

Sexual Harassment: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

Harassment, sexual or otherwise, can also occur in a community, conference, or event when the people involved are not employees of the church. In accordance with our values, sexual harassment is not restricted to what is defined as sexual harassment under the law.  AWPC considers any unwanted sexualized behavior or sexualized behavior within a power differential to be a serious form of harassment (including unwanted touch or communication, other unwanted sexual attention, or any behavior that objectifies or degrades). Other common forms of harassment include bullying and acts of discrimination.

Intimate Partner Violence (Domestic Violence): A pattern of behavior where a person in, or who has been in, an intimate relationship uses tactics of control, belittling, isolation, fear, stalking, and/or intimidation to dominate, harm, degrade, or otherwise undermine the worth and agency of the other person in the relationship. Intimate partner violence can be physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, social, or financial.

Emotional Abuse: A pattern of controlling behaviors such as shaming, insulting, degrading, intimidating, threatening, humiliating, and/or domineering. Bullying is a common term for acts that typically constitute emotional abuse.

Financial Abuse: The illegal or improper use of a vulnerable person or his/her financial resources for another’s profit or advantage. Examples of financial abuse include the taking of money or property; forging a signature; getting a person to sign a deed, will or power of attorney through deception, coercion, or undue influence; or illegally or improperly adding names to bank accounts or safety deposit boxes. The elderly in particular are often targeted for financial abuse.

Physical Abuse: Non-accidental physical injury (ranging from bruises to severe fractures or death) by way of bodily contact (such as slapping, punching, pushing, beating, kicking, shaking or striking with an object) or non-injurious contact with the goal or effect of intimidating, threatening, or controlling.

Spiritual Abuse: A form of emotional abuse using religion. Many acts of abuse in a religious environment will have a spiritual dimension. Examples include:

  • Use of religious ideology, precepts, tradition, or sacred texts to harm.
  • Compelling a person to engage in religious acts against his or her will.
  • Abuse that occurs in a religious context or by a religious leader.
  • Invoking of divine authority to manipulate a person into meeting the needs of the abuser.
  • Using spirituality or spiritual authority to dismiss a person’s perspective, agency, or value.
  • Attempts to use sacred texts, sacred tradition, theology, or spirituality to put their leadership or decisions beyond questioning or accountability.
  • Attempts to spiritualize or justify harm using sacred texts, sacred tradition, theology, or spirituality.

Stalking: A pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsessive behavior that is intrusive and causes fear of violence, alarm, or distress. Stalking is now recognized as a crime in all fifty states; examples include:

  • Unwanted phone calls, texts, messages or emails
  • Following or spying on the victim
  • Showing up or waiting at places without a legitimate reason
  • Sending unwanted items, presents, or flowers
  • Posting information or spreading false or confidential information about a person or victim on the internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth.

Employee: Any compensated member of AWPC pastoral or administrative staff.

Member: Any person who has publicly and formally agreed to AWPC’s membership criteria and who has been voted into membership by the Session.

Officer: Any elder or deacon of AWPC.

Safe Church Team: A standing group of not less than four (4) Members designated by the Session to discharge the responsibilities of the Safe Church Team under this Policy. Not less than 50% of the members of the Safe Church Team shall be women, and not more than 50% of the members of the Safe Church Team shall be Officers or the spouse of an Officer.  No Employee (or spouse of an Employee) shall be a member of the Safe Church Team.

Session: The body of elected elders of AWPC.

Visitor: Any person who attends an AWPC church service or other church event who is not a Member.

Volunteer: Any Officer, Member or Visitor who is serving in a non-paid position for purposes of supporting AWPC, such as parking team, coffee team, welcome team, Sunday School teachers, Communion servers, or any other leader, convenor, teacher, host or facilitator of any AWPC program or event.


  1. Our Standards. At all times our community upholds the following standards of respect and safety:
    1. Show respect in physical touch, space, and visibility:
      1. Appropriate touch, whether an adult or child, is always welcomed by the person and accountable to others (If you are not sure, just ask – e.g., “May I give you a hug?”).
      2. Children who need assistance in the restroom outside of the children’s ministry must be helped by their own parent or guardian. Within the children’s ministry, all diapering or assistance must be observable by two screened adults.
      3. Be considerate of others and give them appropriate space. Notice the body language of others and be aware of your impact on others.
      4. Stay in visible and accountable spaces. No one should be alone with a child who is not their own child (including giving rides)
    2. Show respect in your words:
      1. Determine to use words that convey the respect always due to others.
      2. Avoid any language that belittles or objectifies (e.g., commenting on a person’s body or sexual attractiveness).
      3. Avoid sexualized comments including inappropriate jokes or stories.
    3. Show respect in agency and personal boundaries:
      1. Healthy people do not seek to control others, but rather encourage and empower others to take healthy agency in their own life (e.g., making decisions for someone or taking control of an aspect of their life such as directing their finances or career or social life).
      2. Avoid volunteering inappropriately intimate information or asking someone to reveal intimate details or personal information when the person is not ready or comfortable doing so.
      3. Give agency to others (e.g., “Where would you be comfortable meeting up?”).
      4. Always respect the “no” of others in setting personal boundaries.
    4. It is always the responsibility of the person in the position of greater power to maintain appropriate boundaries with others. Any of the various types of abuses, harassment, or other forms of misconduct described and defined by this Policy are unacceptable by all Employees, Officers and Members.
  2. Abusers often use charm or other tactics to manipulate others. Targets of abuse often report feeling flattered and then later confused, upset, guilty, and ashamed, and may feel that the abuse was their fault. Victims should know that although it is normal to feel this way, abuse is never their fault. Those in positions of power and trust are responsible and able to respect appropriate boundaries.
  3. Abusers are often skilled at explaining away concerning behavior. Anyone who experiences or has information regarding a potential Policy violation should document it and speak up as soon as possible to the Safe Church Team. Members of the AWPC community should be attentive to the possibility of Abuse in its various forms and should speak to the Safe Church Team when they observe troubling behavior, crossing boundaries, or possible Policy violations.
  4. Responding to Boundary Violations. AWPC takes seriously all Policy violations and all concerns related to respect and safety. Whenever a person who has witnessed or learned of a potential violation of this Policy and informs a member of the Safe Church Team, the Safe Church Team will promptly document all concerns or Policy violations and collaborate on any appropriate response and accountability in the manner set forth in this Policy.

V. Employee and Volunteer Screening and Training

  1. Screening
    1. Volunteers.  AWPC may request an application, conduct a personal interview, and/or ask for references for any prospective Volunteer.  Volunteers working with minors must also adhere to all supplemental policies relating to the safety of minors.
    2. Officers.  All prospective Officers shall complete and submit the Background Authorization and Background Check form attached as Appendix B, authorizing AWPC to verify background information and credentials, obtain criminal history, check the sex offender registry, and run a social security number verification.
    3. Employees. All prospective Employees shall:
      1. Complete an employment application.
      2. Complete and submit the Background Authorization and Background Check form attached as Appendix B, and take such additional steps as deemed necessary by AWPC (based upon the responsibilities of the relevant employee position), to verify background information and credentials, obtain criminal history, check the sex offender registry, and run a social security number verification and an internet and social media search.
      3. Authorize AWPC to take such other steps as are deemed necessary or appropriate to obtain and verify background information and opinions from former employers, personal references, educational institutions, credit agencies, reporting services and governmental agencies.
    4. Screening Responsibilities and Confidentiality. The lead Employee within each ministry of AWPC shall be responsible for assuring that each Employee and Volunteer within their area of ministry complies with the requirements set forth above. All information received will be confidential, subject to review by the Executive Director, the lead Employee, and the AWPC Personnel Committee.
    5. Screening Updates. On an annual basis, AWPC may require updates regarding any or all of the requirements set forth above from any Volunteer, Officer or Employee.
  2. Training
    1. All Employees and Volunteers must be familiar with this Policy. Within sixty (60) days following the date of employment by Employees, or following the date of formal engagement by Volunteers, all such Employees and Volunteers who have not previously been trained shall participate in mandatory abuse and misconduct awareness, prevention, and response training. This training will include a review of this Policy, reporting and response procedures, and how to recognize abuse and misconduct.
    2. On an annual basis, one AWPC staff meeting shall be set aside for the purpose of reviewing abuse and misconduct awareness, prevention, and response protocols, as set forth in this Policy. Documentation of participation in training and review of this Policy will be maintained in the administrative offices of AWPC.

VI. Reporting Process

  1. General Considerations
    1. AWPC shall make public the procedure for reporting any violations of this Policy by posting it on the AWPC website and maintaining printed copies in the administrative offices of AWPC.  Some violations of this Policy may also have legal consequences.  Whenever there are possible legal implications, AWPC shall make certain that all requisite legal requirements, including particularly the reporting of violations to civil authorities, are met.
      1. AWPC shall maintain relationships with a network of local, regional and national resources to assist the Safe Church Team in discharging its duties.
      2. Alleged violations of this Policy shall not be made public unless (i) a full investigation is completed and it has been determined that the report has been properly substantiated and (ii) the Session determines that it is in the best interests of the individuals involved and the AWPC congregation to disclose the results of the investigation; provided, that limited public disclosures of information may be made during or after the investigation if the safety of vulnerable individuals so requires.
      3. The Session shall appoint the Safe Church Team for the purpose of administering the objectives of this Policy.
        1. The Safe Church Team members are bound by this Policy as well as by all other rules that regulate the conduct of Members. Conduct by a Safe Church Team member that is in violation of such requirements shall be reported directly to the Session. The Session is responsible for reviewing the membership of the Safe Church Team annually.
        2. The Safe Church Team is responsible for equipping the community of AWPC for effective prevention and response.
        3. The duties of the Safe Church Team include the following:
          1. Implement and oversee compliance with the Policy
          2. Maintain rigorous familiarity with the Policy
          3. Brief all Employees, Officers, Volunteers, and Members on the application of the Policy on a regular basis
          4. Receive, document, and respond to any Policy violations or other concerning behavior
          5. Lead in responding to any allegations of abuse or misconduct under this Policy
          6. Conduct or coordinate screening of Employees, Officers, and Volunteers.
          7. Complete continuing education from a qualified organization on an annual basis
  2. Initial Reporting/Response Process
    1. When any adult within the AWPC community has a reasonable belief that a person is in immediate danger (e.g., an act of violence is actively happening or has just occurred), they should call 911 immediately and then contact a member of the Safeguarding Team.
    2. When any adult within the AWPC community receives a disclosure of abuse, any evidence or knowledge of abuse, or any reasonable belief of abuse against a minor (age 17 or younger) or a vulnerable adult (e.g., elder abuse, or abuse against an adult with developmental disabilities, etc.), they should immediately report such abuse through an appropriate hotline (see representative list of hotlines on attached Appendix C) and should also notify appropriate law enforcement agencies. No attempt should be made to independently investigate such matters, as delays in reporting might result in a loss of critical evidence, might be a violation of the law, and might enable the continued abuse of vulnerable children or adults.  After making such report through a hotline and to appropriate agencies, such adult should then contact a member of the Safeguarding Team.
    3. Upon being contacted regarding a potential violation of this Policy, the Safe Church Team member should:
      1. Listen closely before investigating; take the report seriously.
      2. Remain calm and affirm the importance of reporting suspected violations.
      3. Except as described in 1 and 2, above, respect the agency of the adult victim in reporting suspected violations to the appropriate authorities, acknowledging that the decision to report adult abuse is ultimately up to the adult victim.
      4. Acknowledge that it is not the responsibility of the person making the report to substantiate the alleged abuse or misconduct, only to report it.
      5. Not promise not to tell anyone.
      6. Prepare an incident report in the form attached as Appendix D.
      7. Contact the other members of the Safe Church Team within 24 hours.
      8. Provide the incident report to the Safe Church Team and convene a meeting with all available members of the Safe Church Team (preferably within a week).
    4. Based on the incident report, the Safe Church Team should promptly determine whether the alleged offender is a church leader (an Employee or an Officer) and whether there is a reasonable basis to suspect that abuse or misconduct has occurred.

VII. Investigation and Determination

  1. Should the Safe Church Team conclude that there is a reasonable basis to suspect that abuse or misconduct has occurred, they will prepare a written summary of its findings, will notify the alleged offender and the Session that such a report has been submitted to the Safe Church Team pursuant to this Policy, and will review with all applicable parties the steps required to be taken pursuant to this Policy.
  2. Temporary Leave Initiated
    1. If the alleged offender is an Employee (other than the Executive Director), the Safe Church Team shall notify the Executive Director and, upon the recommendation of the Safe Church Team and subject to approval of the Session after consideration of all facts and circumstances (including specifically the safety of the victim), the alleged offender may be placed on a paid leave of absence until the matter is resolved.
    2. If the alleged offender is the Executive Director or an Officer or Volunteer (including members of the Safe Church Team), the Safe Church Team shall notify the Moderator of the Session and, upon the recommendation of the Safe Church Team after consideration of all facts and circumstances (including specifically the safety of the victim), will place the Officer or Volunteer on temporary leave from their office or volunteer position until the matter is resolved.
    3. If the alleged offender is a church leader (employee or officer) of another church that is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, the Safe Church Team shall document the report and notify the Session, who shall discuss the allegations and determine the appropriate course of action, which may include referral of the matter to the leadership of the other church or to the court of the Presbyterian Church in America that has responsibility for such matters.
    4. Whether the alleged offender is an Employee, an Officer or a Volunteer, or a Member or Visitor, the Safe Church Team may notify the Executive Director of the alleged abuse and, upon the recommendation of the Safe Church Team and the approval of the Executive Director, may place such restrictions on the alleged offender (such as prohibiting the alleged offender from attending or participating in church activities) as are deemed necessary to assure the safety of the church community; provided, that if the alleged offender is the Executive Director, then the Safe Church Team may notify the Moderator of the Session, who may then take the steps described above.
    5. Depending upon the nature of the claim and the potential for further abuse or harm to the community, the Safe Church Team, working with the Session, may engage an independent consultant to determine whether further restrictions shall be placed upon the alleged offender relating to the programs, ministries and events of AWPC.
  3. Promptly after notifying the parties of the filing of a report alleging a violation of this Policy, the Safe Church Team shall determine whether it has access to sufficient information upon which to make recommendations to the Session for responsive action, or whether an investigation will be required before such recommendations to the Session can be made.  In connection with such determination by the Safe Church Team, this Policy acknowledges that in most instances the Safe Church Team is not trained to conduct a thorough investigation of alleged abuse or misconduct under this Policy, and further acknowledges that allegations of abuse or misconduct generally involve an alleged offender who is known to members of the Safe Church Team, compromising its ability to perform an independent investigation itself.
  4. The Safe Church Team is particularly encouraged to pursue independent consultation or investigation of alleged abuse or misconduct if authorities decline to investigate a report of abuse despite strong evidence of wrongdoing; or if an adult victim declines to report allegations of a criminal nature to authorities; or if an alleged offender is not charged with criminal wrongdoing after investigation, but concerns remain as to whether the alleged offender should be disqualified from ongoing participation in church ministries or programs; or if there is a serious pattern of misconduct that is denied by the alleged offender.
  5. The Safe Church Team may also decide to pursue independent consultation for the purpose of evaluating how effectively it has responded to the submission of a report or has handled any disclosure of an alleged violation under this Policy, for the purpose of enhancing its response and handling of such matters in the future.
  6. If the Safe Church Team chooses to engage an outside individual or agency to investigate an alleged Policy violation, such person or organization must be completely independent of AWPC and shall be experienced in investigating cases involving the specific form(s) of abuse or misconduct that have been reported. The outside agency should utilize a multidisciplinary team of trained investigators who are trained in best-practice investigative standards, shall have significant experience investigating a wide range of misconduct and/or abuse cases, and shall utilize trauma-informed practices in their investigations. Such agency shall also:
    1. Acknowledge and confirm to all involved that the allegations must be and will be handled in confidence with great care for the reputations of the alleged victim, the alleged offender, AWPC, and Christ Himself.
    2. If the allegations involve a violation of criminal law, immediately notify the appropriate authorities, and inform the Session regarding the response of those authorities.
    3. Conduct interviews with all relevant parties who have information that may corroborate either the allegations of abuse or misconduct or the response of the alleged offender.
    4. Prepare and submit to the Session a detailed written statement describing the alleged abuse or misconduct, the response to such allegations from the alleged offender, and corroborating or contradicting information from all other parties that have been interviewed.
    5. Furnish recommendations to the Session regarding a proposed course of action in response to such allegations and findings.

Based upon all available information, including the written report and recommendations furnished by the outside agency, the Session shall then take such course of action as it shall determine is appropriate, and shall share with the alleged victim and alleged offender information about that determination and the grounds for any actions to be taken.

  1. During the course of any investigation, the Safe Church Team will continue to coordinate further appropriate responses to the reported violation of this Policy, including but not limited to:
    1. Ensuring that all potential crimes against children have been reported to appropriate authorities according to this Policy.
    2. Taking any further action for the protection of vulnerable persons.
    3. Facilitating cooperation with any investigations, including helping investigators assess the possibility of other victims and communicating in appropriate ways within the church or with others.
    4. Ongoing, appropriate care for the victim(s), including helping them connect with professional trauma-informed care, if desired.
    5. When appropriate, with careful attention to protecting the privacy of any victims, offering public support and/or opposing harmful narratives toward victims.
    6. Maintaining contact with the alleged offender during any investigations or administrative leave to ensure proper boundaries and accountability, especially with regard to controlling the narrative, retaliation, and access to other vulnerable people.
    7. Caring for others in the church and coordinating with outside resources as needed.
    8. Documenting relevant actions and information related to the reported matter.
    9. Reaching out to qualified experts with questions or when an independent consultation is appropriate.
  2. The course of action taken by the Session may be appealed by either the alleged victim or the alleged offender to the appropriate court within the Metro Atlanta Presbytery.
  3. No person filing a report under this Policy shall be adversely affected in terms and conditions of employment, church membership, or affiliation, or otherwise discriminated against or discharged unless the Session determines that the person who reported the purported violation of this Policy has willfully and intentionally brought false charges and that discipline is necessary due to an intentional false allegation of abuse or misconduct.
  4. In the event a report submitted under this Policy results in criminal proceedings, the investigative process described above shall be suspended until such proceedings are concluded. Upon conclusion of such criminal proceedings, the Safe Church Team and Session shall promptly revisit the matter and take such actions (if any) as the circumstances may dictate.
  5. Subject to the advice of the outside agency or other professional advisors to AWPC, and subject to assuring fair treatment for, and the confidentiality of, all persons involved in such matters, the Executive Director or the Senior Pastor of AWPC, or both, will initiate or respond to all communications with the media regarding allegations made under this Policy.
  6. All information received in connection with reports submitted under this Policy shall be documented, and all written materials prepared in connection with any such proceedings under this Policy shall be maintained by the Clerk of the Session in confidence, unless the safety of the community requires limited disclosure (in which case care shall be taken to protect the privacy of the parties) or unless and until both the alleged victim and the alleged offender request in writing that such information or materials be released or until the Session determines that releasing such information or materials is required either by civil authorities, by the Book of Church Order, or in order to effectively administer the course of action resulting from the investigation.  When disclosure of information seems to be in the best interest of the safety of the community, the Safe Church Team shall also consult with outside agencies and the alleged victim to make a safety plan when there is any reason to believe the alleged victim or others may still be in danger (e.g., in cases involving domestic violence, stalking, assault, or threats). The Safe Church Team will also seek to communicate with the alleged victim, as sensitively as possible, the reason for further reporting information regarding the alleged violation.
  7. Retaliation against an individual for reporting abuse or misconduct or for participating in an investigation of such matters is a serious violation of this Policy and will be subject to rigorous investigation and potential disciplinary action.  Acts of retaliation should be reported immediately and will be promptly investigated and addressed.  Allegations of abuse or misconduct will be dealt with seriously, rigorously and with great care for the protection of the victim; false and malicious reports of abuse or misconduct shall likewise be the subject of appropriate disciplinary action.

VIII. Response

  1. Objectives of Discipline. Accountability, justice, restoration, and healing are major goals of AWPC’s response to abuse and misconduct.  Upon completion of the investigation and final determination regarding any matter under this Policy as described above, the Safe Church Team will make recommendations for the consideration of the Session in fulfillment of those goals, taking into consideration:
    1. Seeking vindication and healing for the survivor, recognizing their pain and loss.
    2. Taking into account, when determining the discipline recommended to be taken with respect to the offender, the proportionality of the discipline to the seriousness of the abuse or misconduct as well as the ability to restore the offender to fellowship with other believers.
    3. Calling the offender to repent and take responsibility for the abuse or misconduct as well as offering ways for the offender to do so.
    4. Restoring, where possible, the losses suffered by the survivor.
    5. Seeking to restore the peace of the community.
    6. Exercising discipline in a way that promotes healing whenever possible.
  2. Pastoral care. Survivors and their families present a wide range of pastoral care needs. To meet those needs, the survivor must be taken seriously and offered compassionate support. To that end:
    1. Subject to the needs and preferences of the survivor, members of the Session who were in no way implicated in the abuse or misconduct (particularly those who have previously provided shepherding oversight for the survivor) may contact the survivor and their family, expressing their grief regarding the abuse or misconduct, making themselves available to listen to any existing and ongoing issues confronting the survivor and family, and ensuring continuity of relationship with the survivor and family. In the event the survivor is female and expresses a preference for such support from exclusively female Members of AWPC, or from a mixed-gender group, every effort shall be made to provide support that aligns with the wishes of the survivor.
    2. Church leaders should express sorrow that the survivor has this story to tell.
    3. The survivor and their family need to be able to speak about their experiences and emotions without blame or shame. They need to know that others hear and understand their pain.
    4. Support resources should be offered to the survivor and family. The survivor and their family’s decisions regarding use of these resources should be respected and accepted. Support resources may include referral to counseling that is trauma-informed and faith-based, referral to an advocate, prayer, spiritual guidance, and up-to-date information regarding the response process to the abuse or misconduct.  Depending upon the circumstances, AWPC may offer financial support for counseling or other needs emerging from the abuse or misconduct. A request for financial support may be submitted by the survivor or may be recommended by the Safe Church Team. All requests for financial support will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
    5. Survivors should have agency over sharing their story. When survivors choose to do so, they need our utmost support, including:
      1. Listening and staying calm
      2. Affirming without judgment
      3. Validating strong emotions (such as anger, betrayal, and confusion)
      4. Respecting their privacy
      5. Encouraging and empowering their agency
      6. Encouraging them to seek professional medical or mental health care as appropriate
    6. Our support will recognize our limitations and will not offer therapeutic, legal, or other professional advice, but will focus on personal support and empowerment. We will be careful to avoid causing further harm, and under no circumstances (even when the abuse is alleged but not proven) will we:
      1. Place any portion of blame for the abuse on the survivor
      2. Probe for intimate details of the abuse
      3. Express disbelief
      4. Attempt to silence the survivor
      5. Encourage noncompliance with the law
      6. Express support for the perpetrator
      7. Urge meeting or reconciliation with the perpetrator
    7. Receiving an adult’s abuse disclosure is an honor, not a burden; it is a sign of trust. Survivors often choose to delay disclosure of their abuse for years, even decades, after it occurred.  AWPC encourages anyone receiving an adult’s abuse disclosure to be guided by the following responses:
DO Say                                                  DON’T Say
Thank you for telling me. Why are you telling me this?
I believe you. Why didn’t you ___________ (run/scream/stop him etc.)
I’m so sorry this happened to you.

How can I help?

What do you mean when you say he abused you? What exactly did he do?
Take as much time as you need. You need to forgive and move on.
I am here. It’ll take some time, but you’ll get over it.
The following should only be said if the survivor indicates these concerns are on his/her mind. It was so long ago, why are you still letting your abuser win by hanging on to it? Let it go.
It is okay to be angry. Try to be strong.
It’s understandable you’re feeling that way. Out of tragedies good things happen.
Your reaction is not an uncommon response. You’re lucky that ___________ didn’t happen.
You’re not going crazy. These are normal responses following abuse. I know how you feel.
It wasn’t your fault. Perhaps you misunderstood…
  1. Members of the church community are deeply affected by allegations of abuse and misconduct against a church leader. For example, some Members may deny the occurrence of abuse or misconduct even after the process set forth in this Policy has established evidence that supports the allegation. Subject to the requirements for confidentiality and the limitations on disclosure of information set forth in this Policy, AWPC Officers should make every effort to reassure the church community about the thoroughness and fairness of the process as well as the propriety of the outcome. The long-term health of the congregation may depend on pastoral care that effectively promotes grace, peace, and healing.  To that end:
    1. Disclosure:  Appropriate disclosure of information regarding the abuse or misconduct may be made, to the extent such disclosure is deemed wise by the Session in consultation with the Safe Church Team, in support of the healing process for individuals and the congregation, and so long as such disclosure takes into account the safety and protection of the survivor.
    2. Communication and education: Communication and education, whether to the congregation as a whole or in a smaller setting, may be used to address all aspects of healing. Educational presentations by knowledgeable professionals may be utilized to promote greater understanding of the issues involved by the congregation. Educational materials for individual use, such as books, pamphlets, videos, and websites, should be made easily accessible for Members.  The propriety of such communication and education shall, in each instance, be weighed against the needs of the victim and shall be designed to achieve the objectives of this Policy most effectively.
    3. Support: Group prayer opportunities and small group settings may also be utilized to support the congregation as it recovers from the effects of abuse or misconduct.
  2. The family of the perpetrator is often not pastored effectively. The admonition to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way . . . fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2) applies to the perpetrator’s family as well as to the survivor.


  1. AWPC is committed to holding admitted or convicted sex offenders to a high standard of accountability. Known sex offenders who demonstrate evidence that they are not repentant are extremely dangerous and are not welcome at AWPC. Known sex offenders who wish to participate in any AWPC ministry, program or event must first be willing to submit to assessment of their individual situation and ongoing repentance, and must accept such safeguards as are deemed necessary or appropriate by the Session, in consultation with the Safe Church Team. No assessment will begin if the survivor(s) of the sex offender are Members or Visitors, as any survivor should be free to worship without such person being present.
  2. If a convicted sex offender seeks to participate in any AWPC program, ministry or event, the Safe Church Team will engage professional experts trained in such matters to assist with the assessment of the sex offender. Similarly, if an individual was credibly accused of abuse in the past, the Safe Church Team will engage such advisors for guidance regarding the appropriate response. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, the Safe Church Team will:
    1. Interview the known sex offender
    2. Interview other relevant parties (e.g., family, treatment provider, counselor, parole officer, etc.)
    3. Acquire records relating to the sex offender
    4. Assess repentance in consultation with experts
    5. If deemed appropriate in light of the foregoing information, establish the level of participation, forms of accountability, and all other safeguarding requirements that shall be required before any such participation in AWPC programs, ministries or events shall be permitted.
    6. The Safe Church Team will consult with experts as needed throughout this process to ask appropriate questions and obtain independent input regarding all decisions pertaining to the sex offender.
  3. No one who is convicted of or who has admitted to abusing a child or vulnerable person may work with, have access to, or hold any position of power or trust over, directly or indirectly, children or vulnerable persons in AWPC programs, ministries or events. Any sex offender who evidences deception, minimization, excuses, victim blaming, or other indicators that are not consistent with true repentance shall not be allowed to participate in AWPC programs, ministries or events. The safety of the church community mandates that unrepentant sex offenders be excluded from fellowship.
  4. Any adult who is a convicted or admitted sex offender who attends AWPC programs, ministries or events shall agree to have their name known to the congregation and shall abide by all accountability and safeguards. Any sex offender who is known or believed to be attracted to children or fantasizes about children will not attend any AWPC programs, ministries or events, including worship, that include children, unless specifically authorized to do so by the Session, in consultation with the Safe Church Team.
  5. The safeguards established above shall address accountability on and off church property and will involve communication with appropriate persons such as family, friends, employers, counselors, and parole/probation officers. The safeguards shall be reviewed as needed, and at a minimum every year by the Safe Church Team, who will consult with professional experts trained in such matters.
  6. When a known sex offender is judged by the Session, in consultation with the Safe Church Team, to be repentant and is authorized to participate in any AWPC programs, ministries or events, Members who have responsibility to minister to that individual shall receive specific training to properly equip them to come alongside such person in a manner that is both effective and supportive to that individual as well as properly attentive to the safety of the church community.

Appendix A

Handshake Vows

  1. I won’t make assumptions about your motives.
  2. I won’t gossip about you.
  3. If we ever have a problem, I will work with you to resolve it biblically.

Appendix B


Staff and Officer Background Information
and Background Check Authorization


Name: __________________________________________

Background Information: 

Have you ever had any convictions (misdemeanors, felonies, pleading of no contest, reduced pleadings)?    Yes or No (Circle).  NOTE:  You will have the opportunity to clarify your response with the Executive Director.

Within the past 12 months have you habitually used intoxicating beverages or drugs in excess? Yes or No (Circle)

Will you give permission for a background check? Yes or No (Circle)

Have you ever been discharged or forced to resign for misconduct or unsatisfactory service from any position? If yes, please provide name of the organization along with date and brief explanation on a separate sheet of paper. You will have the opportunity to clarify and provide more information regarding your response with the Executive Director. Yes or No (Circle)


Have you ever abused power, or been accused of abusing power, as more fully described in the Safe Church Policy and Abuse Prevention Guidelines, against any other person?


Background Check Authorization 

Officers and staff must complete the background check authorization.

Current Name: ______________________________ (First, middle, last)

Dates Used: ________________________________ (mo/yr – mo/yr)

Former Name(s): ____________________________ (First, middle, last)

Dates Used: ________________________________ (mo/yr – mo/yr)

Address: ___________________________________ (Street, City, State, Zip)

Dates Used: _________________________________ (mo/yr – mo/yr)

Former Address: _____________________________ (Street, City, State, Zip)

Dates Used: _________________________________ (mo/yr – mo/yr)

Social Security Number: ________________________________________

Driver’s License Number/State: ___________________________________

The information contained in this application is correct to the best of my knowledge. I hereby authorize Atlanta Westside Presbyterian Church (AWPC) and its designated agents and representatives to conduct a comprehensive review of my background and to cause a consumer report and/or an investigative consumer report to be generated for employment and/or volunteer purposes. I understand that the scope of the consumer report/ investigative consumer report may include but is not limited to the following areas: verification of social security number; credit reports; current and previous residences; employment history; education background; character references; drug testing; civil and criminal history records from any criminal justice agency in any or all federal, state, county jurisdictions; driving records; birth records; and any other public records.

I further authorize any individual, company, firm, corporation, or public agency (including the Social Security Administration and law enforcement agencies) to provide AWPC and its agents and representatives any and all information, verbal or written, pertaining to me. I further authorize the complete release of any records or data pertaining to me that the individual, company, firm, corporation, or public agency may have, to include information or data received from other sources.

AWPC and its designated agents and representatives shall maintain all information received from this authorization in a confidential manner in order to protect the applicant’s personal information, including, but not limited to, addresses, social security numbers, and dates of birth.


Signature: __________________________________________


Date: _______________


Appendix C


Domestic Violence Hotline – (800) 334-2836 (800 33 HAVEN) – The DV Hotline connects you with the nearest DV agency that may provide shelter, safety planning, counseling, legal advocacy, and community resources.

For help in Spanish call: (770) 479- 1703.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline – (800) 799-SAFE is a 24-hour confidential service for survivors, victims and those affected by domestic violence, intimate partner violence and relationship abuse.

Georgia Network for Sexual Assault (800) 656-4673 (HOPE). You will be directed to your local Sexual Assault Center in Georgia. A chat and mobile App are available at:

Hotline to End Human Trafficking in Georgia – (866) 363-4842 (866 END HTGA).  Any Georgian with information or suspicions of human trafficking should call the statewide hotline at 1-866- END HTGA (866-363-4842). Trained law enforcement agents, advocates, and first responders are available 24/7 to answer calls.

Elder Abuse Hotline – 866-552-4464.  Press “3”.  To report abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an older adult or adult with a disability residing in a long-term care facility, contact the Department of Community Health.

Prevent Child Abuse -1-800-CHILDREN (800-244-5373)

You can also report child abuse to the DFCS office 24/7 at 855-422-4453.

You can locate services at: listing community resources for child abuse, criminal justice, food/clothing/shelter, and healthcare.

Georgia Legal Services – (833) 457-7529 (883 GLSP LAW) To request civil legal assistance for low to moderate income Georgians in the 154 counties outside metro Atlanta.

Atlanta Legal Aid – (404) 524-5811 – To request civil legal assistance for Georgians in the 5-county metro Atlanta area.

Georgia Asylum and Immigrant Network (678) 335-6040

GAIN provides free immigration legal services to victims of crime and persecution.

Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation – 404 521-0790 in Fulton County

Get Help with Domestic Violence, Tenant, Unpaid Wages, Probate, and Covid – 19 Relief issues.

Community Health Centers to find a community health center near you that may provide primary healthcare based on a sliding scale basis or a COVID-19 test

Food/Medicaid/TANF – Apply online at

For help with SNAP/Medicaid/TANF questions you can call the DFCS Statewide Constituent Services – (404) 657-3433.

Georgia Senior Legal Hotline – (404) 657-9915

For civil legal advice for seniors in metro Atlanta outside Atlanta, call (888) 257-9519

GLSP Benefits Hotline – Outside metro Atlanta (888) 632-6332 to obtain assistance applying for or renewing benefits (Medicaid, MSP, SNAP, benefits for those on Medicare)

Georgia Cares – (866) 552-4464 (Option 4) provides help with Medicare enrollments and services for those with Medicare.

Latin American Association– (404) 638-1800 for immigration needs.  Located at

2750 Buford Hwy. NE, Atlanta Georgia 30324

Appendix D


Incident Report Form

Date: ______________

Safe Church Team Member Taking Report:  _________________________

Personal Information:

Name of person making the report:  _____________________________________

Phone: ____________________________________

Email: _____________________________________

Volunteer Position: _______________________________________________

Description of incident:



When (include time, date):                                                                                                            


Name(s) of witness(es):                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Any additional contextual information:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Follow up:

As appropriate, when did the following occur

Safe Church Team Notified:                                  

Executive Director Notified:  _________________

Session Notified:                             

Presbytery Notified:                                    

Report filed with Georgia DCFS (minors):                                  

Report filed with Georgia Adult Protective Services (disabled and elder adults):


Police notified:                     

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