Church Abuse Research & Education Services

Lead contact: Marjo Mitsutomi

Recent Events

Symposium on sexual harassment and abuse in the church

Tampere, Finland
August 30-31, 2018
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Talinn, Estonia
September 6, 2018
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Redlands, California
November 8, 2018

#turvallinenseurakunta #tryggförsamling #safechurch

sisuCARES is devoted to the realization of #SafeChurch — the seemingly obvious but apparently elusive notion that members of a church, especially the more vulnerable children and young adults, should learn and worship in an environment that is safe in every way, including safety from any abuse.

Our center conducts research and otherwise shines light on this dark issue.

An Example

A common church setting, such as youth group services or bible study camps, share several characteristics with a boarding school or college campus setting — children and young adults separated from their parents, learning from adult professionals that they respect and want to please.

What might be learned from school settings to forewarn of church risks?

A 2015 sample survey of recent college graduates asked the question:
“How common do you think sexual assault is in college settings?”.
73% responded that it was either “Very Common” or “Somewhat Common”.
A sample of college presidents then were asked if sexual assault was prevalent at THEIR institution; only 1% “Agreed Strongly” agreed it was so.
There are many similarities between college campus settings and church settings. Is there any ‘a priori’ reason to assume they differ on the above?

Framed another way, the issue looks something like this:

    The two curves represent the distribution of responses one might collect from administering the survey question separately to two groups:

  • Clergy and church personnel
  • Younger church members (defined here as ages 12-24).

There is limited value to asking the question to older church members, as they would be unlikely to know (as their abused children likely are too ashamed or embarrassed to share) or say (if they were a perpetrator). To the extent the distribution is centered toward the far left for clergy and church personnel, but toward the far right for young church members, there is a serious problem that needs to be identified, quantified, and corrected.

A Prototype Example of Our Work

Actionable Results from Such Work

Our Guiding Principle

We believe significant change in public policy, church behavior, or any other social or organization structure is unlikely, absent compelling data.

Data is the fundamental building block, upon which corrective action is based:

We also believe that constructing reliable databases on sexual abuse is fraught with complexity, that most existing estimates for any target population, anywhere, is imprecise, and that church-related data sparse.

Our intent is to help remedy this situation

In God we trust; all others bring data.

Who Can Benefit from Our Work

For the past couple decades, mainstream media has reported extensively on multiple instances throughout the world of Catholic priest sexual abuses involving altar boys and other young men in their parish. This is welcome and responsible journalism regarding a shameful tradition that likely has prevailed for centuries — but it isn’t enough.

According to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life, 70% of American adults describe themselves as Christian. Only 20% identify with Catholicism, whereas nearly half are Protestant. So, all things equal, there is about 2.5 times the opportunity for abuse within Protestant circles, but reports of such abuse seem comparatively rare and invariably on a smaller scale. Does that reporting reflect reality?

Yes and no — as usual, it depends on how and what is measured. The Catholic system is highly structured, whereas Protestant denominations are diffuse and their local churches far more independent. A Catholic scandal is at the diocese level, comprising perhaps hundreds of churches, and the Catholic organization is global — necessarily resulting in bigger numbers, further reach, and deeper pockets. Layer on that the celibacy issue so unnatural to most, and there is the makings of a better headline.

Nonetheless, there is evidence that the rate of sexual abuse is relatively constant across artificial barriers, including nation-states and church affiliations, and so there is reason to believe any church, anywhere, could benefit from better understanding the extent, if any, to which it has issues.

Sexual Assault

A particular form of sexual abuse involving a sexual act that someone was forced to do, against their will and without their consent.

The Misleadingly “Good” News

Among U.S. women (18 and older) who have survived sexual assault(s), only about 3% of cases involved a perpetrator that was leader of a church.

Among U.S. men (18 and older) who have survived sexual assault(s), only about 6% of cases involved a perpetrator that was leader of a church.

The Horrifyingly “Bad” Reality — Beyond Catholic Boys

Among U.S. women (18 and older), 27% have survived a sexual assault.
⇒ That suggests about 789,750 women in the U.S. have survived sexual assault(s) by the leader of a church or place of worship.

Among U.S. men (18 and older), 7% have survived a sexual assault.
⇒ That suggests about 409,500 men in the U.S. have survived sexual assault(s) by the leader of a church or place of worship.

About 1.2 MILLION adults in the U.S., mostly female, have survived sexual assault(s) sometime in their life by the leader of a church; add to that other church-related perpetrators, victims currently under age 18,…
A study finds “only” about 1/3rd of church-related abuse is by its leader.