United Methodist Church Reports Drop in Sexual Harassment Incidents

(Photo: Facebook)Inside the First United Methodist Church in Tellico Plains, Tennessee.

The United Methodist Church says there has been a drop in sexual harassment incidents, according to a report released by the mainline Protestant denomination.

Compiled by the UMC's General Commission on the Status and Role of Women in 2017 titled, "Sexual Misconduct in The United Methodist Church: US Update," the findings of the report were released Tuesday.

The report found that since 2005, overall incidents of sexual misconduct had decreased for respondents who identified as "clergy," "laity," or "employees" of the UMC. One category, "seminary students," saw an increase.

"Overall, reports of sexual misconduct went up between 1990 and 2005, perhaps due to awareness and increased educational programs, many now required by Annual Conferences and seminaries. Since 2005, reports have declined for everyone except seminary students," stated the report.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)Women take part in a #MeToo protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California U.S. November 12, 2017.

The report also found that 41.9 percent of sexual misconduct incidents happened in "public settings" like meetings and classes, most perpetrators of sexual misconduct being a church member, colleague, or seminary student rather than an authority figure, and 52.9 percent of respondents who reported an incident saying, "they were believed, supported and corrective action was taken."

Sexual misconduct was broken down into the categories of "looks/leers," "touching/closeness," "fondle/kiss," "comments/jokes," "mail/phone," "date pressure," "use influence," "assault attempt," and "assault."

In the 2017 responses, the most common reported types of sexual misconduct among men and women was "comments/jokes" (40.1 percent) followed by "touching/closeness" (35.9 percent) and "looks/leers" (34.7 percent).

The least common types of sexual misconduct reported were "assault" (2.9 percent), "use influence" (3.1 percent), and "assault attempt" (5.1 percent).

Data for the survey came from 4,374 respondents who completed most or all of the survey. Of that number who identified their gender, 2,821 were female, 1,515 were male, and 12 label themselves "other."

The report noted that the research was conducted before the wave of news regarding the sexual scandals of prominent celebrities and politicians, which might negate the conclusions.

"In other words, these findings may be outdated before they are even discussed, due to raised awareness over just the last few months," read the introduction.

"Still, they represent many United Methodists' knowledge of, experiences of, and opinions about sexual harassment in the Church, its agencies and seminaries at the end of this important 25-year period."

The report's release comes a week after the UMC's leadership officially endorsed the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements meant to combat sexual harassment.

"The Council of Bishops is committed to leading The United Methodist Church in the prevention of sexual misconduct, to offering healing to the victims, and to finding paths for Christ's love to be shown to the perpetrator while maintaining standards of accountability," stated the UMC.

"To the extent of our ability, we pledge to do the right thing in every complaint received, including listening well to hear the story and developing a response which holds persons accountable and offers healing for all affected."

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