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Byron Shire
February 27, 2021

Parent’s concern over children ‘led away’ by religious group

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A promotional photo for the Scripture Union’s beach activities.

Scripture Union NSW have defended the recent actions of their representatives in Brunswick Heads, after a 12-year-old and his friend were led away from his mother and encouraged to enter a sandcastle competition.   

Melissa Hargraves told The Echo she was at Torakina Park with her son and two friends.

She said, ‘I have brought my 12-year-old son up to not walk off with strangers and certainly not with strangers who offer money. A group with the name SUFM set up in Torakina Park last Saturday with red flags, marquees and amplifiers. My son and two friends were walking back from the bridge to our picnic site when they were approached by a group in red shirts. They were asked “Do you want to build a sandcastle and win $100?”.

‘One of the boys said no and kept walking. My son and his friend also said no but were cornered and roped into it. I then watched in horror as this group walked with my son and his friend (whom I was in care of for the day) down to the beach, away from my sight without asking any permission from me.

‘After composing myself I approached the group on the beach. I firstly spoke to my son about walking off with strangers (he has never previously done this) and his response was “We can get $100 for building a sandcastle”.

‘One of the red shirted people came over to me to ask if I had a problem. I said, “You cannot set up red flags (pardon the pun) in a park, rope in children with an offer of money then walk off with them .”

‘He said there is a registration process which was not used  in this instance and that we could go back up to the park and complete the paperwork. I said it was too late and that they needed to seek permission before walking off with any children again.’

Hargraves added, ‘I am tolerant of religions and am not against people doing activities with children, but permission is so important’.

‘I was in the park when they walked off with the kids so it was easy for them to send the kids to seek my permission or come and speak to me personally.’

SU NSW replies

In reply, a Scripture Union NSW spokesperson said that the directors in question acknowledge the validity of the mother’s concern, ‘and also acknowledge one point at which their processes could perhaps be improved.’ 

They said the incident was ‘a minor misunderstanding, and one which was appropriately dealt with in person at the time.’

‘Scripture Union NSW takes the responsible care of children extremely seriously.

‘We have rigorous and thorough processes in place to ensure that all our programs are safe places for children and their families.  We are also constantly working hard to improve our processes where we can, so we listen carefully to all feedback received. Our record in this area is, frankly, pretty exceptional.

‘The much bigger and far more positive story here is that there is a team of 45 highly committed and well-trained adults who come from a long way away every summer to run programs for families in your local community at their own expense. They give up 10 to 12 days of their annual holidays to do it (and a considerable sum of money each) because they have a genuine concern to build communities, to care for families, and to share the love of God.

‘They have a great and longstanding relationship with literally hundreds of local people and local businesses etc and they’ve been doing it every summer for the last fifty years!

‘It would not be hard to find scores of local people who feel nothing but deep gratitude for the work these volunteers do every summer and who would be glad to give their testimony.’

Hargraves said, ‘I understand they have a reputation in the community and I am certainly not one to go about destroying their good work. If it means they, or any other group doing business in our parks will seek parental consent in future, especially for 12-year-olds, then I am happy that I have said something.’

Melissa Hargraves is a former Echo journalist.

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  1. No matter Who does this Take help with you the Toughest person nearest to you Yell out They have Just talen my kids i.e. Abducted them Keep screaming it out till every one looks and takes notice.

  2. Outrageous! How dare some uninformed weirdo with dubious ideas and misinformation possibly attempted to groom a couple kids off a public beach without checking with parent . At the very least they should have been given a severe reprimand by the police and possibly charged any number of charges. Child abduction for a start, They (SU) are the same all over the world..”45 well trained adults”? all with police checks? Trained in what…how to brainwash a child?
    On the Gold Coast police can charge you if you just photograph kids without permission. This was kidnapping.
    What were the permissions granted by Council and or Police? Last 50 years they have been doing it? …frankly SU it stinks.

  3. If any other adult coerced children to go with them on the promise of money, the perpetrators would find themselves in police custody very quickly. Why should god-botherers be treated any differently?

    Ban them from using public lands for their nefarious, child-mind-damaging practices; let them use church halls for indoctrinating children into sky-god bullshit! And charge them with child abduction if they repeat such behaviour as reported above.

    PS: As a child attending a holiday CSSM (Children’s Special Service Mission, a similar setup to Scripture Union) at a local seaside town in the 1960s, I was sexually assaulted by one of those “disciples of god”. Off with their heads!

  4. Scripture Union NSW spokesperson said:
    ‘They have a great and longstanding relationship with literally hundreds of local people and local businesses etc and they’ve been doing it every summer for the last fifty years!

    I’ve lived in the area for almost 24 years (yes I know, not a local yet).

    My daughter is a business owner in town and I was a retailer in the main street – I’ve spent a lot of time in and around Bruns. 50 years? I’ve never heard of them.

    Can the “literally hundreds of local people and local businesses” please put your hands up?

    Maybe if they had the rep they say they do, then the mum might have recognised them and known what was happening when her children were being coerced into doing what she had taught them not to do…

    • I was born in Byron Shire 52 years ago and have always lived here. The Scripture Union has been part of Brunswick Heads for as far back as I can remember. I can remember joining in activities when I was young as have all of my children over the Christmas holidays. Always a lot of fun.

      • Thanks for you response Fi.
        Alas, you are one person – seriously, I have lived here for a long time and never once heard of them.

        The longstanding relationship with “literally hundreds” of local people and local businesses etc over fifty years, seems like an exaggeration to me and doesn’t help their argument.

  5. On the back of the Royal Commission into sexual abuse on children by the church, you would think that any government that was actually acting on behalf of the community, would not allow church groups anywhere near children.
    The only place they should be allowed to indoctrinate people is in a church.

  6. Eve: They were operating in Bruns during the 1960s (under their former name of Children’s Special Service Mission – CSSM). I know, because I was coerced into attending when I was 11 or 12. AND I WAS SEXUALLY ASSAULTED BY ONE OF THEIR OPERATIVES.

    I have written to inform them that should they return next summer holidays I shall picket their operation with appropriately informative banners.

    Ban them!

  7. Last year the exact same situation occurred with my child and her cousin 10 and 11, were coerced by ‘young adults’ into leaving our camp ground without parental permission to share some pancakes with this religious group, in the school grounds next door. They said yes. Luckily my partner and son noticed they had left the campgrounds and scouted around. My partner intervened, he had words with the young people and our kids got a sharp lesson about how easy it is even for aware kids to get lured away by adults who ‘look legit’. We informed the campground office. I understand this group are well thought of, but I doubt that the VERY young volunteers ( under 20 years old ) were well supervised and do not understand or feel consent is important as the seek to convert these kids. This year we are here again and watched our kids closely whilst the evangelists were here.

  8. This needs to become a crime of child abuse!!!

    They need to approach the parents – First!!!

    Then they need to prove their gods’ existence…..

  9. ‘And spread their love of God.’
    Why always the agenda? Why not just do nice things for the sake of it? According to some great philosophers doing anything with an agenda is immoral.
    Doesn’t it just feel immoral?
    Give for the sake of giving.

  10. If this is anything like the Scripture classes in school, then all the children in the area were automatically enrolled to build sandcastles, and the ladies mistake was to not opt out early enough.

  11. Sheri, this is the worst part of christian/islam/jewish faiths (all same story through chineese whispers). They all have an obligation to share the word, which translates to donations.

  12. A disgraceful attempt to lure young children into a situation where they can be brainwashed. How dare these arrogant bastards assume they have a duty to recruit potential god-botherers. In my opinion this is immoral and should be a punishable offence.


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