See more about the Baylor University School of Social Work research project on Adult Victims of Clergy Sexual Misconduct.
"I love being a priest, and as far as I'm concerned, it can't get better than this." Priest, Pastor, Predator

The Silent Majority:

Adult Victims of Sexual Exploitation by Clergy

Although clergy of any denomination can sexually exploit children, teens, men, or women, many experts estimate that over 95% of victims of sexual exploitation by clergy are adult women.

Adult victims of sexual exploitation by clergy often don't see themselves as victims. Without wider public awareness of the extent and impacts of this form of sexual violence, adults who have been sexually victimized by a beloved priest, pastor, minister, rabbi or other clergy will remain the "silent majority" of clergy sexual abuse victims, suffering in their shame and self-isolation.

An editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on February 8, 2010 advises the following:

Talk to police first: Sexual abuse is a crime, and it needs to be reported first to law enforcement, not to officials of other institutions.
If you are a victim of sexual abuse or if you know someone who has been sexually abused or you know of a case of sexual abuse, you need to report that to the police or other civil authority before you report it to anyone else. You don't first report it to a school principal, teacher, counselor, minister, rabbi, imam, priest or bishop. You go to the police.
Sexual abuse is a crime and needs to be reported to the proper law enforcement agency just as any other crime should be … That should apply to all victims of sexual abuse, regardless of age …

Navigating this website

Links to webpages with further information on each topic

State Laws Criminalizing Clergy/Congregant Sexual Contact

Sample statutory language from state criminal codes regarding sexual relations between clergy and congregant in:

Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin
  • fiduciary duty is the responsibility to "do no harm"
  • in some states "consent" to sexual relations cannot be used as a defense
  • statutory restrictions on sexual contact between therapist and client even after therapeutic relationship has ended

  • Denominational Policies on Clergy/Congregant Sexual Contact

    Denominational codes of ethics recognize that mutual consent is not possible in sexual relations between ministers and those they serve. Sexualization of the ministerial relationship is a violation of the sacred boundary between a pastor and members of his or her flock. On this page, read excerpts from misconduct policies from:

    Anglican Churches of Australia and Canada, Baptist, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
  • dating, harassment, invitation to sexual contact
  • power differential between pastor and parishioner
  • violation of authority, trust and power

  • Unsafe In Any Denomination

    On this page find excerpts from reports on abuse in:
    Anglican Church in Australia, Apostolic, Baptist, Calvary Chapel, Catholic, Christian Scientist, Church of Christ, Church of England, Church of the Nazarene, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalian, Friends, Lutheran, Jewish, Methodist, Mormon, Presbyterian, Reformed Judaism, Seventh Day Adventist, United Church of Canada
  • Angela Bonavoglia, author of Good Catholic Girls
  • Rev. Pamela Cooper-White, author of The Cry of Tamar
  • Dr. Rene Drumm, Southern Adventist University
  • Dr. Kathryn Flynn, author of The Sexual Abuse of Women by Members of the Clergy
  • Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune, Faith Trust Institute
  • Professor Diana Garland, Baylor School of Social Work
  • Laurie Goodstein, New York Times religion correspondent
  • Dr. Margaret Kennedy, winner of the Emma Humphreys Prize
  • Dr. Gary Schoener, Walk-In Clinic, Minneapolis
  • Patrick Wall, co-author of Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes

  • No Sanctuary -- Recent News Reports

    News stories appear almost daily chronicling the extent of sexual misconduct by ministers, priests, rabbis and other clergy. The widespread incidence of sexual abuse by clergy across denominations indicates that even sacred space in religious congregations does not provide sanctuary from sexual assault or harassment.

  • 2010 articles
  • 2009 articles
  • 2008 articles
  • 2007 articles
  • 2006 articles
  • 2000-2005 articles
  • 1990's articles

  • Psychological Impacts

  • grooming behavior of sexual predators
  • confusion experienced by the victim
  • the "transference effect"
  • impact on spouses of victims
  • fear and shame keep victims from reporting abuse

  • Societal Myths

  • myth that celibacy causes unethical clergy sexual behavior
  • myth that it's an affair
  • myth that "she asked for it"
  • myths empower retaliation against whistleblowers
  • myths lead to revictimization of victims and their families
  • myths harm the whole congregation
  • myths create "secondary victims"

  • How Can You Help?

  • links to sexual violence prevention advocacy groups
  • National Organization for Women (NOW) 2009 Resolution
  • links to articles and websites for further information

  • Abuse of Power

    Sexual abuse by clergy, counselors, doctors, therapists, lawyers, law enforcement and prison officials exploits the vulnerable position of persons in their care. The "social capital" or high public prestige of these trained professionals can be a source of great confusion in the community when allegations of sexual abuse are brought forward.

  • chiropractors, doctors, gynecologists
  • counselors, psychologists, social workers
  • military chaplains, prison chaplains, prison staff, police officers
  • 10% of youths in juvenile detention report abuse by staff
  • community support for alleged perpetrators
  • how state licensing boards handle complaints

  • Professional Codes of Ethics

    Chiropractors, Counselors, Dentists, Lawyers, Psychiatrists, Social Workers

  • exploiting the trust and dependency of clients
  • unique power of the therapeutic relationship
  • sexual relationships are presumed to be exploitative
  • violation of patient and public trust
  • practitioner-patient relationship is inherently unequal
  • dual relationships unethical

  • Young Adults and Adolescents At Risk

  • sexual abuse in seminaries
  • sexual assault by youth ministers
  • inappropriate behavior by campus ministers
  • teen pregnancies resulting from assault
  • sentencing of clergy found guilty of youth victimization

  • News on the clergy sexual abuse crisis in Europe and around the world.

    Boundary Violations Without Borders

    Clergy sexual abuse of adults occurs around the world. This page includes news articles from:

    Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Guinea, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Paraguay, Peru, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Uganda, United Kingdom, Zimbabwe …
  • priests with girlfriends
  • priests and bishops with children
  • how the Vatican reacts to the children of priests

  • Open Letter to Pope Benedict from women involved in secret relationships with celibate priests in Italy.

    Websites and Support Groups for Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse

    Australia, Europe and the US

  • The Apostles Wives' Club
  • The Awareness Center (Jewish)
  • Buenas Nuevas para sacerdotes y mujeres que se aman
  • Initiativgruppe vom Zoelibat betroffener Frauen
  • MACSAS (British)
  • Misbruik door Hulpverleners - Dutch, German, and English
  • Plein Jour pour familles clandestines et celibat des pretres
  • Pokrov (Orthodox Christian)
  • RAINN - Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network
  • Stichting Magdala - vrouwen die relatie met priester hebben
  • Stiftung Linda (Swiss)
  • StopBaptistPredators
  • ZoeFra (Swiss)

  • NOW 2009 Resolution

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    Call to Criminalize Sexual Exploitation of Adult Women by Clergy

    WHEREAS, the National Organization for Women (NOW) has fought hard to shatter societal silence regarding all forms of sexual violence; and

    WHEREAS, public misunderstanding and lack of knowledge regarding adult victims of sexual exploitation by clergy have contributed to silencing the voices of these victims; and

    WHEREAS, the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual exploitation by clergy are adults, predominately female congregants victimized by male clergy; and

    WHEREAS, adult victims of clergy sexual exploitation are routinely blamed for this abuse and revictimized by the public, severely ostracized by their own congregations, and disbelieved by religious authority figures from whom they seek solace and protection, resulting in devastating social isolation and confusion; and

    WHEREAS, in addition to coping with the physical and emotional impacts of sexual violation, victims of sexual exploitation by clergy often also suffer loss of faith, loss of religious tradition, loss of spouse, loss of employment within religious organizations or with faith-affiliated educational institutions, self-blame by the victim, and loss of support from family, congregation, and community;

    THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that NOW chapters be encouraged to participate in educational and advocacy campaigns to increase public awareness that the majority of victims of clergy sexual exploitation are adult women and that sexual violation by a spiritual leader has profound life-altering impacts; and

    BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NOW entities be encouraged to support state legislative campaigns for statutory reform, in particular to add clergy to the enumerated categories of professionals covered in fiduciary-duty laws in states having such laws, and for criminalization of sexual relations between similarly enumerated categories of professionals in states not having fiduciary-duty laws; and

    BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that NOW disseminate information on the extent and impacts of clergy sexual exploitation of adult women, including legal avenues of redress and model legislation, on the NOW website and via other media outlets that NOW regularly utilizes for its advocacy campaigns.

    All 2009 NOW Resolutions

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    This site is established to share informational resources for victims and advocates of victims of clergy sexual abuse. To all victims who have come forward, thank you for your courage.  Please forward related news materials with complete URL, publication date, and name of publication to:

    Site last updated: June 12, 2011. All content copyright © 2008-2011.