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Sexual Assault by Clergy

Sexual Assault by Clergy

For years, clergy sexual abuse has been a prevalent issue that is still afflicting the religious sector. Research shows that in the average American congregation of 400 persons, there are 32 people who experienced sexual assault by clergy.

This means that there’s a high number of victims of clergy sexual abuse in the US. Additionally, the trauma, anxiety, fear, and shame brought on by the experience could make it difficult for victims to speak up and seek help.

This is why if you’re a victim of sexual assault and you found the courage to fight, you need to know the best legal options available to ensure that you’ll win your sexual assault lawsuit.

Understanding Clergy Sexual Abuse

Clergy sexual abuse occurs when a clergy member uses their position and power to sexually abuse a congregant.

Aside from sexual acts, this form of harassment includes sexualizing conversations, inappropriate touching, creating a hostile environment for the victim, sexual coercion, and inappropriate language and jokes. 

A researcher found that sexual abuse in churches may occur frequently or infrequently but usually lasts for four years. The researcher also noted that victims of clergy sexual abuse are usually women. Perpetrators also target people with unresolved trauma or when they are emotionally vulnerable.

Meanwhile, research shows that most perpetrators are men. On average, they are 45 years old at the start of the abuse.  Clergy members who received no training about clergy abuse are more likely to become perpetrators.

It’s important to know that consensual sex between a pastor and a member of his congregation constitutes sexual abuse. The difference in power between the two people involved could make any form of consent invalid and meaningless.

To understand more about this, seek the assistance of a sexual assault attorney from Diamond and Diamond. Call us now for a free case evaluation.

Minors as Victims in Sexual Abuse in Churches

Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. It can happen to people of all genders, sexual orientations, and ages. Priests and other religious leaders who perpetrate sexual abuse don’t always target adults, they also abuse children.

Researchers observed that victims of childhood sexual abuse showed strong indications of learned helplessness and depression as adults.

Additionally, a 2019 investigative report showed that out of roughly 5,000 clergy members accused of sexual misconduct, 1,700 were left unsupervised by religious authorities or law enforcement. 

Some of these people were discovered to be volunteering in churches and some were living 2,000 feet away from childcare centers, schools, and other facilities that serve children.

The Effects of Clergy Sexual Abuse

The Effects of Clergy Sexual Abuse

Victims of sexual abuse can experience difficulties in forming relationships as adults,  depression, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse disorders. Experts believe that survivors of abuse by clergy also can also experience spiritual hurt.

Also called ‘murder of the soul,’ this effect pertains to how the crime could negatively impact the victim’s perception of God.  

In the Catholic Church, a priest is called ‘Father,’ mirroring how believers call God ‘The Father.’ It makes sense that a sexual abuse by a priest would negatively affect a child’s perception of God. Because these leaders represent God, Christ, and the church, to be violated by them is to feel violated by God, Christ, and the church.

Clergy sexual abuse also has far-reaching effects because the damage involves multisystemic contexts that include families, and organizations. 

For example,  a child victim’s experience may be intensified because the abuse is perpetrated by someone whom the children’s families have told them to trust. 

Additionally, some family members may not believe a child’s allegations. In some cases, these family members may even tell the child to keep the abuse to themselves.

How to Report Sexual Assault by Clergy
Contact the appropriate law enforcement agencyCall the police in your area to start an investigation in your church or clergy. 
Contact a health professional and an attorneyTo recover from the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy, you must seek the help of a mental health professional. Doing this can help you move on from the traumatic experience and live your life how you want to despite the past abuse.
If you plan on taking legal action, call an attorney so you can know your legal options.
Contact a diocesan or eparchial victim assistance coordinatorYou must inform the appropriate religious organization about the abuse so they could respond to the crime accordingly.

Pro Tip

“If you know a victim of sexual assault by clergy, you must listen to them and provide a safe place where they can share their stories. Promote the prevention of this kind of incident from ever happening again and contact social workers who can help.”

Get Help from a Sexual Assault Lawyer

There are several ways to report a sexual assault. One of them is reach out to a sexual assault attorney who can help you file a lawsuit. Our expert attorneys at Diamond & Diamond Law are always ready to help victims of sexual abuse.

FAQs on Sexual Assault by Clergy

There are several organizations that publish a list of names of accused priests online. Some organizations even have an online library for the names of priests accused of sexual misconduct.

Statutes of limitation for sexual assault change depending on the type of crime, age of the victim, and where the the assault took place.

In 2002, religious leaders in the US introduced the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter served as a baseline for reporting, training, and making prevention policies on sexual abuse.

In 2020, Vatican released new seminary guidelines that will require priests-in-training to participate in classes on protecting minors from sexual abuse.