Religion in Society

Recent Rape At Oklahoma Church Shows Safety Must Be Increased

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OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- The recent rape of a staff member at an Oklahoma City church demonstrates the need for congregations to improve their safety procedures, says a church security expert with 30 years of experience in police and security work.

"One of the things we teach churches through our training is the vulnerability of their employees, especially during the opening and closing of property," said Jeffrey Hawkins, executive director of the Christian Security Network (CSN) (www.christiansecuritynetwork.org). "It's usually a lone, vulnerable person, such as a secretary, and that's asking for trouble.

"Last year we saw savage beatings, sexual assaults and other crimes – all during the opening or closing a church."

According to news reports, on June 22 the woman in Oklahoma City was raped and sodomized behind the church building seconds after arriving for work. The suspect, a part-time employee who did odd jobs at the church, has a lengthy criminal record, including burglary and violating a victim's protective order. 

Hawkins said such cases emphasize the need for thorough background checks of everyone who is employed by a church or volunteers for one of its ministries. Churches that fail to adequately protect their employees and members from such criminals also are leaving themselves open to lawsuits, Hawkins said. "Even OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) rules stipulate every employer must provide a safe and secure environment for all their employees," he said.

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The Oklahoma City tragedy follows the recent beating death of an 80-year-old woman near Wynne, Ark., at her church when she entered alone one morning. Hers is one of five murders among more than 35 violent incidents on church property during the first six months of 2010. Last year 50 violent incidents occurred nationally, including a dozen murders, Hawkins said.

The Christian Security Network (www.christiansecuritynetwork.com) is a national organization dedicated to the advancement of security, safety and emergency planning for Christian churches, schools, ministries and missionaries.

Formerly chief security officer for a large international Christian ministry, Hawkins is a senior public safety and security professional who has worked for for-profit, not-for-profit and government organizations locally, nationally and around the world. He regularly consults with churches and denominations and is frequently quoted in magazines and on radio and television.

A Chicago native and a graduate of the Chicago Police Academy, Hawkins has a B.A. in Business Administration and a M.S. in Management, He has more than 1,000 hours of post-graduate training in security, law enforcement and emergency management with such specialty agencies as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and counter terrorism agencies in Israel.

Hawkins recently completed the Second Edition of his book "Introduction to Security & Emergency Planning for Faith Based Organizations".