According to a Baylor University study
released yesterday, reports The Washington Post
, “one in every 33 women who attend worship services regularly has been the target of sexual advances by religious leaders.”
Moreover, the findings of the study indicate that, among both male and female respondents, one in 10 reported knowing about an incident of “clergy sexual misconduct occurring in a congregation they had attended.”
The 2008 General Social Survey, a nationally representative sample of 3,559 respondents, was used by Baylor University to approximate the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct.
The Washington Post
reports that one woman who participated in the survey, Carolyn Waterstradt, 42, described how “she was coerced into a sexual relationship with a married minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for 18 months,” and that he “told her the relationship was ordained by God.”
The prevalence of the sexual advances indicates that it is not confined to any one denomination, and “more than two-thirds of the offenders were married to someone at the time of the advance.”
Approximately 36 denominations have put policies into place that help to identify sexual misconduct by clergy and offenders are subject to disciplinary action. In addition, two states, Texas and Minnesota, have laws in place that make sexual misconduct by clergy illegal.
There can be lasting consequences for targets of sexual misconduct by clergy, both spiritual and psychological. In Waterstradt’s case, she indicated that she suffers both psychological and spiritual ramifications from her experience, including depression and a deep distrust of organized religion. The Washington Post
quotes Waterstradt as saying, “It’s very difficult for me to walk into a church.”
Researchers point out that they do not know how the frequency of clergy sexual misconduct compares to other professions, nor do they know whether the incidence level changed over the years.
Diana Garland, dean of Baylor's School of Social Work, who co-authored the study did note, however, that "when you put it with a spiritual leader or moral leader, you've really added a power that we typically don't think about in secular society -- which is that this person speaks for God and interprets God for people. And that really adds a power," according to The Washington Post