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Sex abuse spans spectrum of churches

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Of the 350,000 churches in the US, 19,500 – 5 percent – are Roman Catholic. Catholic churches represent a slightly smaller minority of churches in the CMR surveys which aren't scientifically random, but "representative" demographic samples of churches, Dr. Cobble explains.

Since 1993, on average about 1 percent of the surveyed churches reported abuse allegations annually. That means on average, about 3,500 allegations annually, or nearly 70 per among the predominantly Protestant group, Cobble says.

The CMR findings also reveal:

• Most church child-sexual-abuse cases involve a single victim.

• Law suits or out-of-court settlements were a result in 21 percent of the allegations reported in the 2000 survey.

• Volunteers are more likely than clergy or paid staff to be abusers. Perhaps more startling, children at churches are accused of sexual abuse as often as are clergy and staff. In 1999, for example, 42 percent of alleged child abusers were volunteers – about 25 percent were paid staff members (including clergy) and 25 percent were other children.

Still, it is the reduction of reported allegations over nine years that seems to indicate that some churches are learning how to slow abuse allegations with tough new prevention measures, say insurance company officials and church officials themselves.

The peak year for allegations was 1994, with 3 percent of churches reporting an allegation of sexual misconduct compared with just 0.1 percent in 2000. But 2001 data, indicates a swing back to the 1 percent level, still significantly less than the 1993 figures, Cobble says.

Child sexual-abuse insurance claims have slowed, too, industry sources say.

Hugh White, vice president of marketing for Brotherhood Mutual Insurance, in Ft. Wayne, Ind., suggests that the amount of abuse reported in the CMR 2001 data is reasonable though "at the higher end" of the scale.

Mr. White's company insures 30,000 churches – about 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent of which annually report an "incident" of child sexual abuse. But he says that his churches are more highly educated on child abuse prevention procedures than most, which may account for a lower rate of reported abuse than the CMR surveys.

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