Survey seeks feedback on sexual harassment issues

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The United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women wants to know what has changed since its 2005 survey of sexual harassment in the church.

And, in the hopes of getting responses from as many clergy and lay members as possible, the commission has made the 2017 survey much easier to complete.

The feedback is important for a denomination that takes charges of sexual harassment seriously.

“Our 2005 Sexual Harassment study found that over 80 percent of clergy and half of laywomen had experienced sexual harassment in the church,” said the Rev. Leigh Goodrich, the commission’s senior director of education and leadership. “That’s an alarming number.”

Unlike the 30-page paper document in 2005, the 2017 version, now online, “only asks you to answer questions that pertain to your particular situation,” she said. All responses are anonymous and cannot be tracked back to individuals.

“We are making this available to everyone we possibly can,” Goodrich added, pointing to a contact list that includes district superintendents and directors of connectional ministries across the denomination. “We are hoping that we have a very, very broad response rate from both lay and clergy … and male and female as well.”

“Sexual misconduct has been a problem in all religions and denominations,” states a letter that serves as an introduction to the survey. “Fortunately, The United Methodist Church has been addressing the problem for about three decades, but there is more to do.”

The letter — signed by Dawn Wiggins Hare, the commission’s top executive, and Virginia Conference Bishop Sharma Lewis, representative for the Council of Bishops to the Interagency Sexual Ethics Task Force — said it wants to hear from everyone “to better understand the extent, nature and trends of this problem among both clergy and laity.”

The commission hopes to have preliminary results by the end of this year, which will be made available to church leaders and posted on the website.

“Our role is to make sure that all of this data is reported and reported throughout the denomination, so it’s seen by all levels of leadership,” Goodrich said.

The Rev. Gail Murphy-Geiss, a former president of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women, helped in the analysis of data with two previous sexual harassment surveys and has been working on the 2017 survey “from start to finish.”

The four-section online version for 2017 uses skip logic. “How you answer the question leads you to the next one,” explained Murphy-Geiss, an associate professor of sociology at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. “It should be much easier for people to take. It’s targeted to their own experiences.

“Although the set-up is different…some of the questions are quite similar,” she added. “The commission is interested in tracking changes in people’s knowledge and behavior.”

The commission also wants to know if the church is responding well when people make reports and whether there are still delays in reporting harassment. Some scholars are finding an increasing tolerance to sexual harassment among the general public, Murphy-Geiss noted, and she would like to know if United Methodists are part of that trend.

The survey introduction directs anyone with particular concerns about sexual misconduct to contact Becky Williams, the commission’s director for sexual ethics and advocacy.

Advocacy, Williams explained, “is often provided to persons who have either filed a formal complaint and feel like they have not been heard … or they have not made up their mind yet whether they have enough information or they don’t know the process …”

Williams will walk those who make inquiries through that process, as outlined by the United Methodist Book of Discipline. “We want to help the church live into that accountability that we say we will do.”

The United Methodist Church offers a toll-free number, 800-523-8390, for confidential consultations. Williams, who does sexual harassment training around the world, said she has received compliments from other denominations for providing such a resource.

As coordinator of the Interagency Sexual Ethics Task Force, the Commission on the Status and Role of Women is able to enlist the help of the church’s general agencies and U.S. jurisdictions in distributing the survey.

That approach shows the church is taking the issue of sexual harassment seriously, she pointed out. “We are saying as a denomination, we’re not hiding from this.”

The deadline to respond to the survey is Oct. 3.

Take the survey

Bloom is the assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service and is based in New York.

Follow her at or contact her at 615-742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests. 

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