Does My Church Need a Sexual Harassment Policy?

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We are in an era where social media is often the forerunner for change. Hashtags start trending and suddenly we are paying attention and watching a movement happen. Collective voices start uniting together to raise awareness for an issue and geography no longer predicts the reach. 

Recently, Safe Church invited Ruth Everhart to be the guest speaker for our 2020 webinar series, author of The #Metoo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity with Sexual Abuse and Misconduct. Ruth was extremely direct in pointing out that the church has been reluctant to deal with issues of sexual abuse and misconduct within our churches. She does not shy away from the important conversation on abuse of power and cites many examples from her personal history as a part of church clergy where there was a lack of care provided when abuse happened.

As a community of believers, we need to recognize how vulnerable any church can be to the potential for sexual abuse or harm to happen. The church is a space that welcomes everyone, regardless, and often without knowledge, of an individual’s personal challenges. Therefore, it is essential that our congregational staff and volunteers not only work to meet the spiritual needs of their church community, but also ensure the safety of all people as well.  This extends to increasing awareness and training related to sexual harassment within the church. 

Recently, Christianity Today released an excellent article titled What Churches Should Know About State-Mandated Sexual Harassment Training Laws. The article, written by Myron Steeves, focuses on current US legislation about sexual harassment and the impact it is having on the church. While the legislation that is being implemented in various states across the country does not always specifically reference churches as needing to comply with organizational guidelines, he notes this very crucial perspective if they do not follow legislation: “church may appear to have been insensitive to the risks faced by the alleged victim.”

Steeves outlines important questions for churches to ask  as a church as they consider creating their  own policy on sexual harassment. It is strongly encouraged that churches  research the state/province policies as a guideline. As the #metoo movement has grown at a rapid speed across North America, the implementation of these policies has been swift and that has led to some variances in perspective state-to-state, province-to-province.

The first aspect to consider as a church is in regards to the implementation of harassment training. It is important to understand what level of training your staff and volunteers are required to have. If your church wants to align with state legislation, explore what that involves. Consider the following questions:

  • Who is required to have training? 

  • How old do you need to be to be required to have training?

  • How often would you have to be trained?

  • What material do you cover in the training and do you provide different training depending on the level of responsibility of the individual within the church? 

The second aspect to consider as a church is how you will respond to the following: 

  • How you define harassment (your state/province should have a definition for you to use for your own church policy)

  • How you respond to claims

  • General rights and responsibilities of the employee/volunteer

While the article notes that there are organizations that have created training programs, it is noted that they are secular in nature and this could pose a challenge to churches. However, referring to these resources as a foundation for building a training program that speaks to the mission and vision of your church is encouraged.

Steeves leaves us with two thoughts to consider:

1. “the liability exposure to churches that are unprepared for sexual harassment training is significant.” 

2. “Every church preparing its training program will need to consider how it will approach gender identity and sexual orientation issues.”

Resources:

Steeves leaves us with this thought to consider  “the liability exposure to churches that are unprepared for sexual harassment training is significant.” 

This article is free until July 16th, at which point it is available for free only to subscribers.

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We love your comments! Thanks for your help upholding the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Have you determined if insurance companies give discounts or require churches to have a abuse prevention policy?

Community Builder

Thank you for your question. Different insurance companies have different policies available for churches and different requirements. It's good to choose a company that insures a lot of churches and has expertise in the common issues that churches face. The reason that Safe Church recommends a classis Safe Church Coordinator, and safe church teams at the classis and congregational levels is that laws vary from state to state and from province to province. Safe Church does not have the capacity to know all the ever-changing laws that apply locally to churches, and the current staff also has no professional legal training. Your insurance provider is an excellent source of information and we encourage each church to have a conversation with their insurance provider about maintaining a safe environment at church, and making sure that abuse prevention policies are in compliance with local ordinances and laws that apply to churches. I recently received a call from a Safe Church Coordinator in IL who told me about a recent state law (January 2020) that requires all mandated reporters, anyone caring for children, to participate in mandatory training which is available online through the state. The law applies to church volunteers. Churches need to know about laws that apply to them, about mandated reporting, and insurance requirements. Again, your insurance provider is a great resource for information. More information can also be found at these websites:

In the US - Child Welfare Information Gateway 

In Canda - Department of Justice Child Abuse: Information and Resources