Members of religious congregations look to the leaders of their faith for guidance, compassion, and consolation. Research shows that people with mental health issues look to their clergy first, before or even instead of seeking help from healthcare professionals. We trust them with our secrets and our souls.
But there are members of the clergy who violate that trust by subjecting their congregants to sexual abuse and assault. Stories of Catholic priests abusing children fill the headlines, but children are not the only victims and Catholic priests are not the only faith leaders who commit these transgressions. Survivors of sexual misconduct are left with mental, emotional, and physical scars that sometimes last a lifetime.
What Is Clergy Sexual Misconduct?
The term Clergy Sexual Misconduct refers to instances when a clergy member or other faith leader uses their unique position and influence to exploit, harm, or sexually abuse a member of their congregation. It can take many forms:
- Sexual assault and abuse
- Sexual harassment
- Pressure for sexual intercourse or involvement
- Sexualized verbal comments or visuals
- Unwanted touches and advances
Sexual Abuse by Religious Leaders Is Far Too Common
Clergy sexual misconduct with children and adults in the U.S. is prevalent across all denominations, religions, and faith groups. Baylor University conducted the most comprehensive study of clergy sexual misconduct against adults to date. Among those surveyed, people identified themselves as members of 17 different Christian and Jewish religious affiliations, including
- Roman Catholic
- Seventh Day Adventist
- Calvary Chapel
- Christian Scientist
- Church of Christ
- Reformed Judaism
The Baylor study concluded that, in the average American congregation of 400 congregants, approximately 32 of those congregants will have experienced sexual misconduct by a faith leader in that community. There are estimated to be 378,000 religious congregations in the U.S. According to Not In Our Church, there is a greater likelihood in any congregation that a faith leader will abuse a congregant than there is that the congregation will be involved in a shooting.
Other statistics are just as chilling:
- A survey of 6,000 United Methodists found that 50 percent of all laywomen and 33 percent of laymen witness were subjected to some degree of sexual harassment or misconduct in their congregations.
- More than 30 percent of pastors have described themselves as being addicted to internet pornography.
- More than 15 percents of pastors have engaged in sexual behavior they consider inappropriate.
- Nearly 15 percent of pastors have sexual contact with someone other than their spouse while employed in the clergy.
- Some experts have argued that the number of women sexually abused by clergy is more than the number of children who experience clergy sexual misconduct.
Louisiana Clergy Sexual Misconduct Lawyers
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that make it a crime for clergy to engage in sexual misconduct with congregants or parishioners. Regrettably, Louisiana is not one of them.
More general criminal statutes may apply, but survivors of clergy sexual misconduct can also seek justice by filing a civil suit against their abusers. If successful, survivors can recover monetary damages for their pain, suffering, and lasting trauma and punitive damages for the perpetrator’s egregious behavior and violation of trust.