Many businesses across the US and Canada require their employees to take sexual harassment prevention training. Here are a few reasons they do so:
- laws mandating them to prevent sexual harassment
- to prevent possible lawsuits against them from negligence of taking responsibility to protect their employees
- there are others that want to create healthy and vibrant cultures in their business; to ensure all people may flourish and all employees can be fully present and engaged to accomplish their work
We may think sexual harassment is more likely to happen in the workplace, or other places in the world. However, harassment happens in the church too — and often goes unchecked. How might leaders respond when they see some of the following behaviors?
- a comment is made to a volunteer in a kitchen about their work being a "woman's job"
- a church member is adamant about giving a hug to a young woman, when it is clear the hug was not invited
- a committee of men and women meet and a comment is made that they need a woman to be a secretary
These are just a few behaviors that that can be defined as sexual discrimination or sexual harassment; many of us have witnessed them happen in church communities. There is rarely a helpful and positive way to respond after the fact if there are not clear processes in place.
What happens when a staff person complains about sexual harassment they endured? What if the church supervisor or council did not respond in a timely manner, or began to perceive that staff member as someone who might not “fit the culture” and later were demoted or let go?
This may be retaliatory behavior which is illegal under federal law. Further—as the Church—we are called to live good lives, respecting every person who bears the image of God. Preventing sexual harassment and responding well when it does happen is a part of our service and duty of loving our neighbor as ourselves, as Christ has commanded.
So, what can your church do?
Require training of staff and pastors. Here are a few resources that may be helpful:
- A blog post from Robertson Hall Insurance Company's president, Ken Hall: Vulnerable Trust Positions, Power Relationships and Employee Relations in a Faith Organization, which points out the many reasons churches must take harassment seriously and refers to many resources.
- Example of an excellent training program: State of Illinois Sexual Harassment Prevention Training
- A YouTube Video from the State of New York: This is a clear, concise, and accessible resource.
- Brotherhood Mutual Interactive 60 minute course: This is a free interactive online course, it lacks some clarity and some of the “quizzes” are confusing, but it could be helpful.
- A webinar by Brotherhood Mutual is also available (this is presented by Brotherhood Mutual’s HR department).
- Reach out to your insurance provider for further resources - they may be able to provide training that is currently only available for a fee.
- Description of Sexual Harassment in the workplace from the Government of Canada
- Ontario Human Rights Commission: Policy on preventing sexual and gender-based harassment
Develop policy that requires supervisors or councils to respond in a timely, legal, and dignifying way—which creates a zero-tolerance expectation for all harassment.
- Integrate a policy like this Guide to Responding to Sexual Harassment which is used specifically for sexual harassment, which was developed by the Mennonite Central Committee.
- Ensure all pastors, staff and head leaders have signed the Code of Conduct, which explicitly states, “I will actively promote a safe environment where all persons are respected and valued, where any form of abuse, bullying, or harassment is neither tolerated nor allowed to take place.”
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