First off….You are not alone! It’s not your fault and you did NOTHING to deserve being violated in this way, even if it feels like you consented to the relationship at some point.
In 2008, 3,559 people responded to a national random survey done by Baylor University, determining the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct with adults. More than 3% of women reported that they were the object of clergy sexual misconduct at some point in their adult lives. 8% of respondents reported having known about clergy sexual misconduct occurring in a congregation they had attended.
Perhaps you were recently sexually violated or perhaps the violation happened 20, 30, 40 years ago. Whatever the case, it’s never too late to seek support and take steps towards greater healing.
Those who have experienced clergy sexual abuse often do not feel like they can speak up. They may fear that:
- no one will believe them
- they will cause upheaval and conflict in the church
- what they experienced wasn’t actually abuse since they didn’t actively resist
- what happened was their fault
- they will be judged or seen as an “adulteress”
And sadly often these fears come true.
Since the topic of sexuality is often associated with a lot of shame and discomfort in the church, those who have been violated may feel embarrassed and ashamed to speak about their experience, worrying that it somehow makes them “bad” and “sinful.”
What can I do? What are my options?
- The top priority is your safety and that you receive support so that you can experience further healing. Along with the options below, our section on “what to do if you have experienced sexual violence” offers further suggestions including ‘how to find a therapist’.
- If a church leader has made you feel uncomfortable, trust those feelings. Please read through the ‘What is Clergy Sexual Misconduct’ section for further clarity as to what you might be experiencing. If you are not sure whether what you experienced is CSM, you can contact us confidentially to seek further assistance. However, if we are informed that someone in a position of power has abused a minor or vulnerable adult ( see definition below) , we are legally required to report it.
- MCC has offices in both Manitoba and B.C. with coordinators who can provide further assistance and resources. We are not a counselling agency, but hopefully we can help you explore your options and ensure you are receiving adequate support and advocacy as you discern how you want to proceed. See contact us.
- Your congregation (and denomination, if applicable) should have policies and procedures in place for how to report Clergy Sexual Misconduct. We would encourage you to find an advocate or support person who can offer you guidance and care throughout the process should you choose to report. Some congregations and denominational offices will ensure that you are assigned a support person upon disclosure.
- Please see ‘how to respond‘ so you have an understanding as to how your disclosure ought to be received. If you have disclosed your experience within your church/denomination and you were disbelieved, not taken seriously, or you were in some way blamed, please remember that what happened is not your fault. These types of responses often keep people quiet about their painful experiences because to not be believed is further traumatizing. The resource list below offers suggestions as to where you might be able to find a supportive community or presence that DOES believe you.
- If you experienced sexual misconduct as an adult, it is your choice whether or not to make a report to your church/denominational office. Similarly, it is also your choice whether or not to make a police report. The option to make a report to the police does not supersede the option of making a denominational report (and vice versa). Sometimes when individuals come forward and disclose abuse by a church-leader they are pressured to make a police report as a way to prove their experience was real or because the church doesn’t want to be responsible for investigating and holding the pastor accountable. Alternatively, sometimes victims are pressured not to make a police report because it does not align with certain Christian understandings around forgiveness and grace. Oftentimes the decision to report an experience of abuse by a clergy is so wrought with feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for these very reasons. There is no clear right or wrong step to take. Again, the most important thing is that you find support and safety in your life so that you can find a healing pathway forward. This looks different for every person. For some, reporting abuse is an important part of their journey in seeking justice. For others, the potential of being re-traumatized or dismissed is too grave. Each person needs to trust their own inner compass and honor what they need to experience justice and healing.
- Another option is contacting SNAP or The Map List. Both agencies provide a way for victim-survivors to anonymously report the name of the pastor who abused them. This name can be added to an online public registry. Please visit their site for more information on what is required to make this kind of report.
- If a child or vulnerable person has been sexually abused by a person in a position of trust or leadership, make an immediate report to the police or child welfare authorities in your community. *A vulnerable person is any adult who by nature of a physical, emotional, or psychological condition is dependent on other persons for care and assistance in day-to-day living.
Resources for victim-survivors of CSM
- SNAP Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests: is an agency that holds a registry of clergy who have sexually offended.
- MAP: Mennonite Abuse Prevention Registry. They also offer advocacy for individuals wishing to seek justice by publicly identifying a perpetrator.
- Our Stories Untold: a blog about sexual violence in faith communities
- Into Account: support for survivors seeking justice, accountability, and recovery in Christian contexts.
- Choosing a therapist