More than three percent of adult women who attend religious services at least once a month have been victims of clergy sexual misconduct, according to researchers at Baylor University.
Put another way: in a congregation of 400 people, seven adult women have been targets of sexual advances by clergy, the study says. In addition, in one of 50 cases, the religious leader was married, according to the report.
Four percent of respondents said they knew of a close friend or family member who had experienced a sexual advance by a clergy member in their own congregation, the study says.
Baylor researchers said their report is the largest scientific study into clergy sexual misconduct with adults in the U.S.
“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,” said Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work at Baylor University and lead researcher in the study.
“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.”
While the sexual abuse of children, particularly by Catholic priests, has received outsize attention in the media and academia, the abuse of adults has received relatively little notice, according to Baylor researchers.
“We hope these findings will prompt congregations to consider adopting policies and procedures designed to protect their members from leaders who abuse their power,” said Garland. “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.”
The research was conducted using questions included in the National Opinion Research Center’s 2008 General Social Survey of more than 3,500 American adults and followed up by interviews with respondents.