Where To Turn When Dealing With Sexual Misconduct in the Church

***CONTENT WARNING***

If you’re going to church this morning and you’ve listened to our most recent episode, hopefully this will all be front of mind for you. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to talk to your leadership about this issue and how your church handles it. Lots of people are listening to the interview with Christa and Liz. The responses have been mostly very positive, even if the needle hasn’t moved far enough yet to create action. We’re still waiting to hear something. Anything.

Dallas and I are trying to figure out what’s next in all of this. We can’t just move on. We want to hold the organization to account for its lack of action, both in the past and for as long as it takes them to act now, but we can’t force them to talk. The ball is officially in their court. We’ll keep doing whatever we need to make sure they don’t ignore this.

In the meantime, we decided it would be important to share some resources. This is a tough conversation, and with so many listening, we know some have had similar struggles. The very least we can do is provide information and resources so you know where to turn and find help and hope. Whatever kind of sexual misconduct it might be (harassment, abuse or assault), there is support out there for you if you’ve experienced this.

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: There is 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.

Can we get past the myths and false narratives of victim blaming? The stats speak for themselves. If you don’t believe them, it’s because you are being willfully ignorant and your misogyny is showing. If you just didn’t know the extent of the problem, then now you do. Act accordingly. Whether is’s sexual harassment, assault, abuse or misconduct of any kind, we know that most women have experienced it in some form or another.

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.

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.

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.

If you know of other resources, articles or church policies that should be included on this list, email us at shipwreckoversafety@gmail.com, and we will add to the list as needed. We want this to be a living document that can be useful to people looking for information.

Finally, just know that there is help out there for you. If you aren’t ready to talk about it, that’s okay. But know that you are not alone. Most cities have a crisis help line or a local YWCA or women’s organization, and more often than not, they will be able to guide you to resources and supports in your area.

To those who have been hurt in this way, start by telling someone you trust. You don’t have to go through this alone. Lean on those you trust and love to walk with you and fight the battles for you when necessary. Often, churches want people to go straight to leadership and not tell anyone for fear of harming their reputation. Too often we’ve seen people more worried about the churches reputation than about actually doing right by the victim.

Eventually, if you feel up to it, consider talking to the Police or a Counsellor. It’s hard to rehash this stuff with people you don’t know, and understandably so. But there are professionals that are trained and understand the trauma you have been through that care more about you and your healing than what other people will think.

To church leadership dealing with this, be open to independent investigations. When it’s your own church and people, you are too close to the situation. Get outside help. Real outside help. Not some old buddy that used to work with you. If you want to take this seriously, find a reputable organization and pay to make it happen. This should be obvious, but if the accusation involves a Pastor, put them on suspension until the investigation is complete.

And if someone comes to you telling you this has happened to them, for the love of the God you serve, BELIEVE THEM! STAND WITH THEM! TRUST THEM! There is way too much victim blaming that goes on in society. Our churches are supposed to be family, and family is supposed to be a safe haven. The power imbalance between a Pastor and the person in their congregation is significant. If we are to follow the example of Jesus at all, it means that it’s on the church to protect and stand with the vulnerable, not the already powerful. So speak up! If you see this, talk about it. Tell whoever will listen until they do something. There is strength in numbers. Do the right thing.

We can share all the resources and hopeful advice in the world, but the reality is that the systems have failed women time and time again. This case study on our podcast is a prime example of how things can go wrong. As I like to say, it’s time to burn it all to the ground. Metaphorically, of course. Until we get rid of the rot that’s hiding in the church, it will never be a safe place for everyone. It can be, and it should be, but just because it’s a church doesn’t automatically make it so. Churches should not have the benefit of the doubt unless they are clear about their policies and willing to be open about their shortcomings, both past and present. It’s time to flip the script.

Churches are so afraid of what it would do to their congregation if they were honest about all of this. What if they lose people? What if more stories come out? They react based on fear of the “What if?” What they need to understand is that if they would be more open about this issue and handle it the right way, they would see an influx of new found trust in the church. Yes, people might leave. But people might also come if they know you’ll do what’s needed to keep them and others safe. It will even push abusers out of the church because they know they can’t get away with it anymore. If they started to show that they took this seriously and were willing to do the right thing no matter the cost, they would be surprised at the support they would receive. Show me a church that is honest about their shortcomings and deals with this appropriately, and we’ll be the first to stand in their corner.

2 thoughts on “Where To Turn When Dealing With Sexual Misconduct in the Church

  1. Thank you thank you for hearing these ladies…I’m wondering if an explanation of “gaslighting” would help here. I would’n put it past this predertor to do this or continue to do this.
    Michele Boszak

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an excellent idea, Michele! I think I’ll add a whole section with a few definitions. Appreciate the suggestion!

      Like

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