Survey: Christian Women Report Sexual Misconduct at Church

More than a quarter of Christian women have experienced sexual harassment and of those, one fourth said it happened in a church or ministry setting, a new study shows.

Self-described "active Christian women" who were surveyed last fall reported personally encountering sexually inappropriate behavior mainly in a non-ministry setting, but up to 25 percent of the employed women said they experienced such behavior in a ministry setting. surveyed the women on such inappropriate behavior as sexual advances, touching or sexual contact, suggestive jokes, glances with sexual overtones and demeaning comments.

The survey noted that under the technical, legal definition of sexual harassment, these behaviors need to occur in an employment setting and they must create either a hostile work environment for the individual enduring the behavior or a situation where a person feels their job is contingent upon continuing to endure the mistreatment. Outside the work environment, inappropriate behavior is referred to as sexual misconduct.

In a ministry setting, 25 percent of the surveyed women said they personally experienced gender discrimination; 19 percent reported demeaning comments; 18 percent reported suggestive jokes; 16 percent said they experienced glances with sexual overtones; 15 percent reported touching or sexual contact; and 14 percent said they experienced a hostile environment.

Such behaviors as suggestive jokes should not be taken lightly, one minister says.

"There is a lot of inappropriate 'conversation' being tolerated by women so as not to antagonize men in their workplaces," said Joy Thornburg Melton, an ordained minister and attorney who currently serves in the United Methodist Church as chief resource officer for PACT (United Methodist Property and Casualty Trust), according to Christianity Today magazine.

Of those who have personally experienced sexual harassment, 50 percent said they avoided the perpetrator, 45 percent ignored it, 38 percent shrugged it off, and 31 percent prayed.

Nearly half said they didn't report it because they didn't want to cause controversy. Others didn't report the inappropriate behavior because of embarrassment (39 percent), they were not sure of the consequences (34 percent), they were not sure they'd be believed (26 percent), and of fear of being told they can't take a joke or to loosen up (25 percent).

Still, many did take action. Survey results showed that 30 percent confronted the perpetrator, 28 percent reported it to their supervisor, and 21 percent quit their job or position.

Only 1 percent took legal action.

Churches and ministries are advised to adopt a written policy regarding sexual harassment or misconduct.

"We train our bishops and district superintendents and local pastors in what to do when somebody brings a complaint of this nature - how it is to be processed and handled. We want to be able to deal with it openly, honestly, and expeditiously," Melton said, as reported by Christianity Today.

However, only half of survey respondents said their employers, either in churches or in the secular world, have established policies and 34 percent said they aren't sure what their employers are doing to reduce the occurrence of harassment or sexual misconduct.

"The church needs to realize that it is composed of imperfect individuals," said Frank Sommerville, an attorney, according to the magazine. "As a result, it needs to be proactive in preventing harassment by training its leaders on the subject. It also needs to train its employees and volunteers to treat each person with dignity and respect."

Of the 669 survey respondents, 172 women worked outside the home at the time of the survey or worked outside the home in the last three years and responded that they were harassed by a co-worker or peer, boss or supervisor, customer/client/supplier, or a superior.

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