Over the last three decades, the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) has been studying and responding to sexual misconduct within the Church. Most recently (2017-2018), we distributed surveys to thousands of United Methodists in the United States and Africa in order to hear people’s stories and concerns, and then developed strategies for addressing them. Some highlights of that research found the following percentages of persons experiencing sexual misconduct in the Church:
In the US:
- 64.4% clergy and 31.4% of laity
- 62.2% of respondents under 30 and 57% of those between 30 and 50
- 58.5% of women and 35.7% of men
In Africa (only women were surveyed):
- 79.1% of clergywomen and 100% of lay women
- 94.7% of women respondents under 30 and 81.4% of those between 30 and 50
The most common unwanted behavior was “comments and jokes” (40.1% in the US and 47.7% in Africa). The most common site for sexual misconduct was in public spaces such as church meetings in the US (41.9%) and in the workplace, which for clergy is the church, in Africa (48.4%).
African respondents were most likely to respond by telling the person to stop (50.9%), but that was closely followed by avoiding the person (44.5%). Avoidance was the most common response among US respondents (50.8%). Ignoring the behavior was next for both groups (40.5% in Africa and 46.3% in the US). Reporting to a supervisor or someone in authority was only selected by about 1 in 4 respondents in both regions.
Why don’t more people report? About two-thirds of respondents say it is because the incident was too minor. It may have seemed too minor to report to an official, but it isn’t too minor to be remembered or to impact one’s life for years, negatively affecting one’s church involvement as well as feelings about oneself, about God, and about the denomination.
This General Conference is made up of exactly those people: some who have experienced sexual misconduct, and probably also people who have behaved inappropriately. Meetings, such as this one, are exactly the kinds of places where these incidents occur.
Let’s all work together to make sure no one goes home from this General Conference with a story about sexual misconduct. Ask before you hug, refrain from commenting on a person’s attractiveness, don’t tell jokes about gender, and in general, be conscious of how you might be coming across to others. It’s always better NOT to touch or NOT to say something that might be offensive. Develop strong self-awareness and then use it.
All of that said, if you DO experience sexual misconduct at this General Conference, don’t hesitate on reaching out for support. Delegates can report any concerning behavior to the General Conference staff located in Locker Room A. Also, anyone, delegate or visitor, can report any incidents by emailing GCSRW at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are on site and will respond as quickly as possible.