Clergy Sexual Abuse Research By Baylor Social Work Dean Awarded $200,000 by Ford Foundation

May 19, 2008

Contact: Vicki Kabat, Baylor University School of Social Work, (254) 710-4417

Baylor University has received a $200,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to conduct the first national research on clergy sexual abuse of adults. The unprecedented initiative - announced by Dr. Diana Garland, dean of Baylor's School of Social Work and director of the study - will help communities and congregations develop new practices and policies to prevent clergy sexual abuse and ensure that survivors receive appropriate care.

The immediate goals of the project are:

    • to determine the prevalence of clergy sexual abuse of adults;
    • to teach religious leaders, congregants and the general public that sexual activity between a religious leader and a congregant cannot be considered consensual;
    • to communicate to survivors and their families that they are not alone and that they deserve support and professional care;
    • to provide promising policy and prevention strategies; and
    • to communicate that the church can respond to ethical violations with compassionate care for the vulnerable as its major focus instead of institutional self protection.

"Our faith communities have been dismayed to learn that trusted spiritual leaders have used their roles to abuse children and that others covered up the abuse and thus allowed it to continue," said Garland, noted social scientist and author of the award-winning Family Ministry (InterVarsity Press, 1999) and Sacred Stories of Ordinary Families (Jossey-Bass, 2003) and co-author of Flawed Families of the Bible (Brazos Press, 2007).

"This project intends to shed light on the problem of spiritual leaders who abuse their power with adults and how that abuse can be prevented. The goal is to strengthen congregations with protective policies and structures that take human vulnerabilities seriously," she said.

"Because of the spiritual power of the clergy role, this form of abuse has the potential for even greater devastation of victims and communities than abuse of power in employment or educational settings," said Marie Fortune, founder and senior analyst at FaithTrust Institute and an expert in the study of clergy sexual abuse. Clinical reports indicate high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorders, depression, physical illness and suicide.

Questions for Garland's study are included in the General Social Survey 2008, one of the most rigorous and respected surveys in existence. The GSS is conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago every two years. It is the only full-probability, personal-interview survey designed to monitor social characteristics and attitudes in the United States.

The total sample size of the GSS will be approximately 3,500 with a representative sample of English- and Spanish-speaking adults in the nation. Complete anonymity of respondents is guaranteed. Data from the survey will be delivered in January 2009. Research consultants for the project include Mark Chaves of Duke University and an advisory committee.

Garland will further interview members of at least 30 Christian and Jewish congregations directly affected by clergy sexual abuse.

"We anticipate, based on case studies and anecdotal reports, that the opportunity to contribute to a study on this topic will be healing and empowering for survivors and their families and congregations," Garland said.

"Every attempt will be made to give them opportunity to tell their story in ways in which they feel comfortable and that their courage in participating in this project is respected," she said.

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than half a century it has been a resource for innovative people and institutions worldwide, guided by its goals of strengthening democratic values, reducing poverty and injustice, promoting international cooperation and advancing human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and Russia.

Garland previously had received $31,000 combined funding for this project from the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the JES Edwards Foundation of Fort Worth, Texas.

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