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Study: 1 in 33 churchgoing women victimized

More than 3 percent of women who attend religious services at least once a month have been the victims of clergy sexual misconduct since turning 18, according to a study produced by Baylor University.

Baylor's School of Social Work announced the findings from its forthcoming nationwide study of the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct, which it said had been accepted for publication later this year in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

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The numbers suggest that in the average U.S. congregation of 400 adult members, seven women, on average, have been victimized at some point in their adult lives. That number is greater than has been widely known.

"Because many people are familiar with some of the high-profile cases of sexual misconduct, most people assume that it is just a matter of a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers," Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work and lead researcher in the study, said in a statement. "What this research tells us, however, is that Clergy Sexual Misconduct with adults is a widespread problem in congregations of all sizes and occurs across denominations. Now that we have a better understanding of the problem, we can start looking at prevention strategies."

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Garland expressed hope that the findings would "prompt congregations to consider adopting policies and procedures designed to protect their members from leaders who abuse their power. Many people -- including the victims themselves -- often label incidences of Clergy Sexual Misconduct with adults as 'affairs'. In reality, they are an abuse of spiritual power by the religious leader."According to a release, the study is part of a comprehensive effort by Baylor University to identify the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct with adults and the details commonly associated with its occurrence across religions. Using this data as a foundation, the Baylor team has been working to outline possible initiatives designed to identify and prevent CSM, and draft model legislation to make CSM illegal in the same way that relationships with patients and clients are illegal for other "helping professionals" including doctors, lawyers and mental health practitioners. At present only two states -- Texas and Minnesota -- have legal statutes in place to guard against CSM.

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