What if your Pastor was sexually harassing you? What if this Pastor showed a pattern of grooming, not only with yourself, but others? What if you told the church body responsible for holding this Pastor accountable, and they did little more than slap the Pastors wrist? What if most of your church family refused to act or believe you when you told them what happened?
These aren’t hypotheticals for the guests on today’s episode. They bravely share their stories, and we discuss the impacts of this on their lives and their faith, and we talk about how the church can do better.
Visit shipwreckoversafety.com as we will be sharing blogs and resources in the coming days on sexual abuse and harassment within the church and how we should respond. Mostly, we’ll point you to the amazing work being done by experts who are fighting abuse in christian circles.
If you’re anxious to learn more, start at the following link where you’ll find excellent resources from an amazing organization already doing this important work, GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments): https://www.netgrace.org/resources
Definitions: We’re going to start with some helpful definitions. It’s tricky to navigate the conversation around sexual misconduct. There’s harassment, abuse, assault, grooming. It’s hard to know what’s what.
- Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment. Sexual harassment does not always have to be specifically about sexual behavior or directed at a specific person. For example, negative comments about women as a group may be a form of sexual harassment. (https://www.rainn.org/articles/sexual-harassment)
- Sexual Abuse: Unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent. Most victims and perpetrators know each other. Immediate reactions to sexual abuse include shock, fear or disbelief. Long-term symptoms include anxiety, fear or post-traumatic stress disorder. (https://www.apa.org/topics/sexual-abuse/)
- Sexual Assault: Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity or contact that you do not consent to. Sexual assault can happen through physical force or threats of force or if the attacker gave the victim drugs or alcohol as part of the assault. Sexual assault includes rape and sexual coercion. (https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/sexual-assault-and-rape/sexual-assault)
- Grooming: When an individual (groomer), or group of people (“Grooming gangs”), builds an emotional connection with someone they’ve targeted to earn trust with the purpose of exploitation for their own motives: sexual abuse, financial, power kicks, even trafficking. (https://caage.org/what-is-adult-grooming/)
- Gaslighting: Gaslighting, an elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or “gaslighter,” on a single victim over an extended period. Its effect is to gradually undermine the victim’s confidence in his own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from appearance, thereby rendering him pathologically dependent on the gaslighter in his thinking or feelings. (https://www.britannica.com/topic/gaslighting)
The Facts: Thereis much misunderstanding around sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual assault. So we want to educate those who maybe don’t understand what a significant issue this is, primarily for women, in our society. Since women often aren’t believed, we’ll let some statistics speak for them. The following stats come from various sources, but were compiled by: http://sacha.ca/resources/statistics
- One in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
- 39% of Canadian adult women reported having had at least one experience of sexual assault since the age of 16.
- Over 80% of women with disabilities will be sexually abused in their lifetime
- In 99% of sexual assaults, the accused perpetrator is male.
- Only 2-8% of rape claims are false reports.
- 43% of women say they’ve been sexually harassed at work.
- Women and girls are five times more likely to experience sexual violence than males.
- 53% of survivors in a survey responded that they did not report their sexual assault because they were not confident in the police. Two out of three responded that they were not confident in the criminal justice and court system in general.
Resources: Rather than try and rehash the expert work that has already been done, we will simply share links where you can find more information about dealing with sexual misconduct. We are not experts, and we want to ensure we are directing you to resources we trust. So we have not included much from the church and faith world on this list. I’m sure there are some faith groups out there that do this right, but due to the lack of trust inherent in this specific story and in seeing coverups happen over and over again in the church, we want to make sure they are trusted resources.
- Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network
- The facts about sexual assault and harassment
- Various Helplines
- Resources Across Canada to Address Sexual Misconduct
- Mennonite Central Committee: Understanding Abuse By A Church Leader or Caregiver
- Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE)
- The Hope of Survivors: Support, Hope & Healing for Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse
- FaithTrust Institute: Abuse by Clergy FAQ’s
Articles:There are sadly thousands of news articles that tell us of sexual misconduct in the church. One need not look any further than the Catholic Priest scandals or Sovereign Grace and the Southern Baptist Convention in the Protestant world. Of course, our story is dealing with these issues in the Christian & Missionary Alliance tradition. But don’t think your denomination is clean in all of this. I guarantee you won’t need to look far to find these stories in your midst. These kinds of abuses are an issue in our churches, and until we start taking them seriously, nothing will change. Below are links to three helpful articles that lay out the problem facing our churches. There’s so many more we could have posted, so throw out suggestions if you see a good one.
- #ChurchToo: How can we prevent the abuse of women by clergy
- #ChurchToo: Abuse survivors speak out about harassment in their religious communities
- The Crusading Bloggers Exposing Abuse in Protestant Churches
Church Policies: One of the challenges with there being so many denominations is having no uniform policy adopted across every church. Some groups have a denominational head that sets the policy and handles issues. Other churches are non-denominational, and it’s up to them alone to hold themselves accountable. In either case, we know that policing yourself doesn’t work and policies must speak to a transparent and rigid process that follows legal procedure. No more sweeping it under the rug. Every church should have a rigorous, industry standard policy to deal with issues of abuse and sexual misconduct.
We aren’t advocating for any of these policies, but want to provide churches and those attending with the information to make informed decisions. Some go into greater detail and do better than others, while others fall incredibly short. Some are wildly outdated, while others are keeping up with the times and have been renewed recently. Beware of ones that claim to be biblically based. While there’s nothing wrong with basing a policy like this on scripture if its done right, it will all depend on who is interpreting the scripture and how it’s implemented. Biblically based does not automatically mean more trustworthy.
Have you ever looked at your churches policy on sexual misconduct and abuse? Maybe we all should. If we all knew the policy, we’d know whether it falls short or not and how to advocate for better. No one thinks it will happen to them. No one thinks it will happen in their space. How ready is your faith group to handle this when it happens? The following are policies from various larger denominations across Canada and the US. Take note of what’s lacking. What’s good. Compare it to policies in other spaces like the workplace and non-profits. If your church isn’t taking it as seriously as your workplace, maybe it’s time to speak up. That starts with parishioners being informed.
- Anglican Church
- Assemblies of God
- Christian & Missionary Alliance
- Church of God
- Episcopal Church
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC)
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
- Free Methodist Church in Canada
- Mennonite Church in Canada/USA
- Presbyterian Church in Canada
- Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA)
- Reformed Church in America
- Southern Baptist Convention
- United Church of Canada
- United Methodist Church
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