September 14, 2009

Baylor Study Reveals Prevalence of Clergy Abuse

Baylor University
Baylor University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When you hear someone say that the prevalence rate of something is roughly 3%, does this seem like a lot or a little? I suppose it depends on the context. The lifetime prevalence rate of schizophrenia in the general population is only 1%, and yet, many of us know someone who suffers from the disorder. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Washington DC is 3%. The prevalence of ADHD among school children in the U.S. is usually described as being between 3-7%. In such contexts, 3% is not at all trivial, is it? Well, something else occurs at a rate of 3%, and I bet you'll never guess what it is (unless you read the title of the post).

The Washington Post recently reported on a study conducted by Baylor University that revealed 1 in 33 women (i.e., 3%) who regularly attend religious services report being subjected to sexual advances by a religious leader.
The study, by Baylor University researchers, found that the problem is so pervasive that it almost certainly involves a wide range of denominations, religious traditions and leaders.
The study also showed that most of those who made sexual advances were married at the time. So much for religious morality, huh? Okay, maybe that isn't fair. After all, it isn't like these leaders are using religion to to influence their victims or anything - or are they?
Carolyn Waterstradt, 42, a graduate student who lives in the Midwest, said she was coerced into a sexual relationship with a married minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for 18 months. He had been her pastor for a decade, she said, and told her the relationship was ordained by God.
It is good to see that some churches are taking steps to prevent this sort of thing from happening. It is even better to see that some states are moving to criminalize this sort thing.

Of course, it is important to remember that members of all sorts of professions engage in this sort of activity. The power differential inherent in many professions inevitably opens the door to exploitative relationships. The public needs to be aware of this, as do professional organizations and their members.
But, Garland said, "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."
Indeed. There are many corrupting influence besides religion, but nothing corrupts quite like religion.

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