Ron O'Grady, a clergyman and leading crusader against child prostitution and child pornography, has claimed that the biggest occupational group of convicted child abusers in some Western countries are church workers, including clergy. O'Grady made these comments in an address to 2,500 pastors and lay Christians at the World Convention of the Churches of Christ, in Brisbane, Australia, on August 3, and repeated them in an interview with ENI on his return to his home in Aotearoa, New Zealand.He told ENI that delegates at the Brisbane conference were shocked when he said church workers were among the worst perpetrators of child sex abuse. He had also quoted research suggesting that 6 percent of U.S. Catholic priests were pedophiles, many of whom had decided to work in the church to gain access to children.A Disciples of Christ minister, O'Grady is honorary president of End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children (ECPAT), an advocacy group formed in Bangkok in 1990. Initially set up as a six-year project, ECPAT now has an international profile as an agency campaigning against child abuse, Internet pornography and the child sex trade. ECPAT operates in 50 countries, and has received invitations to set up offices in another 20 countries. Originally working from a Christian basis, ECPAT's leaders soon decided that to be effective the agency had to encompass all major religions, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism, Asia's principal faiths.ECPAT's headquarters in Bangkok, with a staff of 10, have a relatively small annual budget of $1 million, paid mainly by European governments and UNICEF, along with support from churches in Germany, Sweden and elsewhere. The Bangkok staff carry out research, monitor child prostitution and pornography, organize conferences and hold meetings with government officials, Interpol and other agencies. ECPAT national offices in other countries run their own programs and raise their own funding. About half of them have full-time staff, while other offices are run by volunteers or in cooperation with other agencies.In some countries ECPAT offices monitor the activities of child abusers and work with local social workers. Other national offices work for law reform and lobby governments.O'Grady told ENI that his Brisbane lecture, "surprised quite a number of people, but it is something that needed to be said. Churches have been in a process of denial—partly for the good name of the church."Through his work with ECPAT, he told ENI, he had seen the consequences of sexual slavery on young lives. His ministry had been to end this "evil and barbaric" practice, he said, labeling child sex abuse as a more serious crime than murder, and the "ultimate sin" against humanity.According to ECPAT, in Asia alone up to a million children under the age of 16 are caught in sex slavery and prostitution. Of those rescued from brothels in India and Thailand, about half have tested HIV-positive.One of O'Grady's particular aims is to end child abuse within church institutions. "If you work in churches, you have easy access to children, and this has been an incentive to pedophiles to work in church organizations," he said.Some missionaries were also guilty of abuse, particularly within Asia, O'Grady said, adding that there had been calls for closer scrutiny of people wanting to engage in missionary work.However, churches had often covered up child abuse, allowing abusers to commit further offences for many years without being brought to justice. "The church has been so passionate about its image that it has not shown care for the children," O'Grady told ENI. "The first thing they [church leaders] think about is: 'This will damage our reputation or harm our work.' The church is trying to cover it up [saying]: 'We don't want to look at it, we don't want to discuss it'."It is the shame of the church that we have ignored our children in ways like this, and it is our shame that even now, when we know much more about the way these things happen, we still behave in the same way."

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Ron O'Grady helped establish ECPAT in 1990, and was its first executive director, for seven years, then chairman for three years until September 1999.

Copyright © 2000 ENI.
ECPAT's home page has sections on combating child sex tourism and on child pornography on the's earlier stories on abuse includes:

Churches Rescue Thailand's Sex Tourism Workers | Protestants and Catholics work against $2.2 billion industry. (Dec. 2, 1999)

The Anti-Madams of Asia | Christian women lead girls out of sexual bondage," by Tony Carnes. (Oct. 4, 1999)

Pain Relief | The Christian & Missionary Alliance apologizes to adults abused as missionary kids in Africa. (July 12, 1999)

Church Nearly Closed After Lawsuit (July 13, 1998)

From Trauma to Truth | Once-abused children demand accountability. (Apr. 27, 1998)

Sexual Abuse in Churches Not Limited to Clergy (Oct. 6, 1997)

Molestation Damages Total $119 Million (Sept. 1, 1997)

Christianity Today sister publication Your Church offers practical guidelines for screening volunteers while Leadership Journal (another sister publication) has articles on strategies for protecting children from sexual abuse, statistics about abuse, and developing a form to screen children's workers.