SEXUAL ABUSE IN SOCIAL CONTEXT:
Specifically, this report was prepared to guide the discussion that will inevitably follow two major studies that will be issued on February 27. One of them, a national study on the extent of sexual abuse of minors by priests since 1950, will be released by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. The other is a study of the causes and consequences of the abuse crisis; it will be released by the National Review Board that was established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Both studies were done at the request of the U.S. bishops.
It is the belief
of the Catholic League that no meaningful conversation can take place on
this issue without having some baseline data regarding the incidence of
abuse that occurs outside the Catholic Church. That was the sole intent of this
special report, and if it contributes to that end, then it will have been
The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Systems was developed by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Human Services in partnership with the States to collect annual statistics on child maltreatment from State child protective services agencies. For the year 2001, it was found that approximately 903,000 children were victims of child maltreatment, 10 percent of whom (or 90,000) were sexually abused. It also found that 59 percent of the perpetrators of child abuse or neglect were women and 41 percent were men.[i]
In 2001, clinical child psychologist Wade F. Horn
reported on the work of researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of
Public Health. The
researchers found that nearly 20 percent of low-income women, recruited
through family planning, obstetrical or gynecological clinics, had
experienced child sexual abuse.
Horn summarized the researchers’ findings on poor women
as follows: “Family friends and acquaintances compose the largest group of
perpetrators (28 percent), followed by such relatives as uncles and
cousins (18 percent), stepfathers (12 percent), male siblings (10
percent), biological fathers (10 percent), boyfriends of the child’s
mother (9 percent), grandfathers and stepgrandfathers (7 percent), and
strangers (4 percent).” Horn
was struck by the fact that 10 percent were biological fathers and only 4
percent were strangers.
“Which means,” he said, “86 percent of the perpetrators were known
to the family, but were someone other than the child’s father.”[ii]
According to Dr. Garth A. Rattray, about the same
incidence of abuse occurs among all the socio-economic classes. For example, he reports that
“about 85 percent of the offenders [of child sexual abuse] are family
members, babysitters, neighbors, family friends or relatives. About one in six child molesters
are other children.” Unlike
the first study cited, Rattray reports that most of the offenders are
It is obvious that children are much more likely to be
sexually abused by family members and friends than by anyone else. This suggests that if preventative
measures are to work, they must begin in the home, and not someplace
According to a survey by the Washington Post, over the last
four decades, less than 1.5 percent of the estimated 60,000 or more men
who have served in the Catholic clergy have been accused of child sexual
abuse.[iv] According to a survey by the New York Times, 1.8 percent of all
priests ordained from 1950 to 2001 have been accused of child sexual
abuse.[v] Thomas Kane, author of Priests are People Too, estimates
that between 1 and 1.5 percent of priests have had charges made against
them.[vi] Of contemporary priests, the
Associated Press found that approximately two-thirds of 1 percent of
priests have charges pending against them.[vii]
Almost all the priests who abuse children are
homosexuals. Dr. Thomas
Plante, a psychologist at Santa Clara University, found that “80 to 90% of
all priests who in fact abuse minors have sexually engaged with adolescent
boys, not prepubescent children.
Thus, the teenager is more at risk than the young altar boy or
girls of any age.”[viii]
The situation in Boston, the epicenter of the scandal,
is even worse. According to
the Boston Globe, “Of the
clergy sex abuse cases referred to prosecutors in Eastern Massachusetts,
more than 90 percent involve male victims. And the most prominent Boston
lawyers for alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse have said that about 95
percent of their clients are male.”[ix]
In a database analysis of reports on more than 1,200
alleged victims of priests identified by USA Today, 85 percent were
males.[x] In another study by USA Today, it was determined that
of the 234 priests who have been accused of sexual abuse of a minor while
serving in the nation’s 10 largest dioceses and archdioceses, 91 percent
of their victims were males.[xi]
Much has been made of a survey done by the Dallas Morning News which claims
that two-thirds of the nation’s bishops have allowed priests accused of
sexual abuse to continue working.
But the problem with the survey is its definition of abuse—it
includes everything from “ignoring warnings about suspicious behavior” to
“criminal convictions.”[xii] Thus, the survey is of limited
The data on the Protestant clergy tend to focus on
sexual abuse in general, not on sexual abuse of children. Thus, strict comparisons cannot
always be made. But there are
some comparative data available on the subject of child sexual
molestation, and what has been reported is quite revealing.
In a 1984 survey, 38.6 percent of ministers reported
sexual contact with a church member, and 76 percent knew of another
minister who had had sexual intercourse with a parishioner.[xiii] In the same year, a Fuller
Seminary survey of 1,200 ministers found that 20 percent of theologically
“conservative” pastors admitted to some sexual contact outside of marriage
with a church member. The
figure jumped to over 40 percent for “moderates”; 50 percent of “liberal”
pastors confessed to similar behavior.[xiv]
In 1990, in a study by the Park Ridge Center for the
Study of Health, Faith and Ethics in Chicago, it was learned that 10
percent of ministers said they had had an affair with a parishioner and
about 25 percent admitted some sexual contact with a parishioner.[xv] Two years later, a survey by Leadership magazine found that 37
percent of ministers confessed to having been involved in “inappropriate
sexual behavior” with a parishioner.[xvi]
In a 1993 survey by the Journal of Pastoral Care, 14
percent of Southern Baptist ministers said they had engaged in
“inappropriate sexual behavior,” and 70 percent said they knew a minister
who had had such contact with a parishioner.[xvii] Joe E. Trull is co-author of the
1993 book, Ministerial Ethics,
and he found that “from 30 to 35 percent of ministers of all denominations
admit to having sexual relationships—from inappropriate touching to sexual
intercourse—outside of marriage.”[xviii]
According to a 2000 report to the Baptist General
Convention in Texas, “The incidence of sexual abuse by clergy has reached
‘horrific proportions.’” It
noted that in studies done in the 1980s, 12 percent of ministers had
“engaged in sexual intercourse with members” and nearly 40 percent had
“acknowledged sexually inappropriate behavior.” The report concluded that “The
disturbing aspect of all research is that the rate of incidence for clergy
exceeds the client-professional rate for physicians and psychologists.”[xix] Regarding pornography and sexual
addiction, a national survey disclosed that about 20 percent of all
ministers are involved in the behavior.[xx]
In the spring of 2002, when the sexual abuse scandal in
the Catholic Church was receiving unprecedented attention, the Christian Science Monitor reported
on the results of national surveys by Christian Ministry Resources. The conclusion: “Despite headlines
focusing on the priest pedophile problem in the Roman Catholic Church,
most American churches being hit with child sexual-abuse allegations are
Protestant, and most of the alleged abusers are not clergy or staff, but
Finally, in the authoritative work by Penn State professor Philip Jenkins, Pedophiles and Priests, it was determined that between .2 and 1.7 percent of priests are pedophiles. The figure among the Protestant clergy ranges between 2 and 3 percent.[xxii]
OTHER CLERGY AND PROFESSIONALS
Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer is a professor of law and
ethics at Loyola Marymount University. It is his belief that sexual abuse
among rabbis approximates that found among the Protestant clergy. According to one study, 73 percent
of women rabbis report instances of sexual harassment. “Sadly,” Rabbi Schaefer concludes,
“our community’s reactions up to this point have been often based on
keeping things quiet in an attempt to do ‘damage control.’ Fear of lawsuits and bad publicity
have dictated an atmosphere of hushed voices and outrage against those who
dare to break ranks by speaking out.”[xxiii]
Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the
Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, reports that 30 percent of rabbis who
changed positions in 2000 did so involuntarily, and that sexual abuse was
a factor in many instances.[xxiv] The Awareness Center devotes an
entire website to “Clergy Abuse: Rabbis, Cantors & Other Trusted
Officials.” It is a detailed
and frank look at the problem of sexual abuse by rabbis.[xxv]
The problem of sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses
is evident among church elders but most of the abuse comes from
congregation members. “The
victims who have stepped forward are mostly girls and young women,” writes
Laurie Goodstein in the New York
Times, “and many accusations involve incest.” There is a victims support group
available, “silentlambs,” that has collected more than 5,000 Witnesses
contending that the church mishandled child sexual abuse.[xxvi]
According to one study, .2 percent of athletic coaches
nationwide have a criminal record of some sort of sexual offense. This translates to about 6,000
coaches in the U.S. who have been tried and found guilty of sexual offense
against children.[xxvii] It is not known how many more
offenders have escaped the reach of law enforcement.
Between 3 and 12 percent of psychologists have had
sexual contact with their clients.
While today virtually every state considers sexual contact with a
client as worthy of revoking a psychologist’s license, as recently as 1987
only 31 percent of state licensing boards considered sexual relations
between a psychologist and his or her patient grounds for license
revocation.[xxviii] What makes this statistic so
interesting is that many bishops in the 1980s took the advice of
psychologists in handling molesting priests.
The American Medical Association found in 1986 that one
in four girls, and one in eight boys, are sexually abused in or out of
school before the age of 18.
Two years later, a study included in The Handbook on Sexual Abuse of Children, reported that
one in four girls, and one in six boys, is sexually abused by age 18.[xxix] It was reported in 1991 that 17.7
percent of males who graduated from high school, and 82.2 percent of
females, reported sexual harassment by faculty or staff during their years
in school. Fully 13.5 percent
said they had sexual intercourse with their teacher.[xxx]
In New York City alone, at least one child is sexually
abused by a school employee every day. One study concluded that more than
60 percent of employees accused of sexual abuse in the New York City
schools were transferred to desk jobs at district offices located inside
the schools. Most of these
teachers are tenured and 40 percent of those transferred are repeat
offenders. They call it
“passing the garbage” in the schools. One reason why this exists is due
to efforts by the United Federation of Teachers to protect teachers at the
expense of children.[xxxi] Another is the fact that teachers
accused of sexual misconduct cannot be fired under New York State law.[xxxii]
One of the nation’s foremost authorities on the subject
of the sexual abuse of minors in public schools is Hofstra University
professor Charol Shakeshaft.
In 1994, Shakeshaft and Audrey Cohan did a study of 225 cases of
educator sexual abuse in New York City. Their findings are
All of the accused admitted sexual abuse of a student,
but none of the abusers was reported to the authorities, and only 1
percent lost their license to teach.
Only 35 percent suffered negative consequences of any kind, and 39
percent chose to leave their school district, most with positive
recommendations. Some were
even given an early retirement package.[xxxiii]
Moving molesting teachers from school district to
school district is a common phenomenon. And in only 1 percent of the cases
do superintendents notify the new school district.[xxxiv] According to Diana Jean Schemo,
the term “passing the trash” is the preferred jargon among educators.[xxxv]
Shakeshaft has also determined that 15 percent of all students have experienced some kind of sexual misconduct by a teacher between kindergarten and 12th grade; the behaviors range from touching to forced penetration.[xxxvi] She and Cohan also found that up to 5 percent of teachers sexually abuse children.[xxxvii] Shakeshaft will soon be ready to release the findings of a vast study undertaken for the Planning and Evaluation Service Office of the Undersecretary, U.S. Department of Education, titled, “Educator Sexual Misconduct with Students: A Synthesis of Existing Literature on Prevalence in Connection with the Design of a National Analysis.”[xxxviii]
The issue of child sexual molestation is deserving of
serious scholarship. Too
often, assumptions have been made that this problem is worse in the
Catholic clergy than in other sectors of society. This report does not support this
conclusion. Indeed, it shows
that family members are the most likely to sexually molest a child. It also shows that the incidence
of the sexual abuse of a minor is slightly higher among the Protestant
clergy than among the Catholic clergy, and that it is significantly higher
among public school teachers than among ministers and priests.
In a survey for the Wall Street Journal-NBC News, it
was found that 64 percent of the public thought that Catholic priests
frequently abused children.[xxxix] This is outrageously unfair, but
it is not surprising given the media fixation on this issue. While it would be unfair to blame
the media for the scandal in the Catholic Church, the constant drumbeat of
negative reporting surely accounts for these remarkably skewed results.[xl]
Without comparative data, little can be learned. Numbers are not without meaning,
but they don’t count for much unless a baseline has been established. Moreover, sexual misconduct is
difficult to measure given its mostly private nature. While crime statistics are
helpful, we know from social science research that most crimes go
unreported. This is
especially true of sexual abuse crimes. At the end of the day, estimates
culled from survey research are the best we can do.
By putting the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic
Church in perspective, it is hoped that this report will make for a more
fair and educated public response.
[ii] Wade F. Horn, “Common-sense article about abuse,” Washington Times, February 6, 2001, p. E1.
[iii] Dr. Garth A. Rattray, “Child Month and Paedophilia,” The Gleaner, May 14, 2002.
[iv]Alan Cooperman, “Hundreds of Priests Removed Since ‘60s; Survey Shows Scope Wider Than Disclosed,” Washington Post, June 9, 2002, p. A1.
[v]Laurie Goodstein, “Decades of Damage; Trail of Pain in Church Crisis Leads to Nearly Every Diocese,” New York Times, January 12, 2003, Section 1, p. 1.
[vi] Interviewed by Bill O’Reilly, Transcript of “The O’Reilly Factor,” May 3, 2002.
[vii] Bob von Sternberg, “Insurance Falls Short in Church Abuse Cases; Catholic Dioceses are Forced to Find other Sources to Pay Settlements,” Star Tribune, July 27, 2002, p. 1A.
[viii] Thomas Plante, “A Perspective on Clergy Sexual Abuse,” www.psywww.com/psyrelig/plante.html.
[ix] Thomas Farragher and Matt Carroll, “Church Board Dismissed Accusations by Females,” Boston.com, February 2, 2003.
[x] Janet Kornblum, “85% of Church Abuse Victims are Male, Research Finds,” USA Today, July 24, 2002, pp. 6-7D.
[xi] “The Accusers and the Accused,” USA Today, November 11, 2002, p. 7D.
[xii] Brooks Egerton and Reese Dunklin, “Two-thirds of Bishops Let Accused Priests Work,” Dallas Morning News, June 12, 2002, p. 1A.
[xiii] Dale Neal, “Methodist Clergy Instructed in Sexual Ethics at Conference,” Asheville Citizen-Times, May 14, 2002, p. 1B.
[xiv] Cal Thomas, “Their Sins only Start with Abuse,” Baltimore Sun, June 19, 2002, p. 9A.
[xv] James L. Franklin, “Sexual Misconduct Seen as a Serious Problem in Religion,” Boston Globe, October 23, 1991, p. 24.
[xvi] “Pastors Are People, Too!”, Focus on the Family, May 1996, p. 7.
[xvii] Teresa Watanabe, “Sex Abuse by Clerics—A Crisis of Many Faiths,” Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2002, p. A1.
[xviii] Cal Thomas, “Their Sins only Start with Abuse,” Baltimore Sun, June 19, 2002, p. 9A.
[xix] Terry Mattingly, “Baptists’ Traditions Make it Hard to Oust Sex-Abusing Clergy,” Knoxville News-Sentinel, June 22, 2002, p. C2.
[xx] “Assemblies of God Tackles Problem of Porn Addiction Among Ministers,” Charisma, January 2001, p. 24.
[xxi] Mark Clayton, “Sex Abuse Spans Spectrum of Churches,” Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2002, p. 1.
[xxii] Philip Jenkins, Pedophiles and Priests (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 50 and 81.
[xxiv] Roger Lovette, “Religious Leaders Must Learn to Handle Conflict Constructively,” Birmingham News, April 28, 2002.
[xxv] See www.theawarenesscenter.org/clergyabuse.
[xxvi] Laurie Goodstein, “Ousted Members Say Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Policy on Abuse Hides Offenses,” New York Times, August 11, 2002, Section 1, p. 26.
[xxvii] Michael Dobie, “Violation of Trust; When Young Athletes Are Sex-Abuse Victims, Their Coaches Are Often the Culprits,” Newsday, June 9, 2002, p. C25.
[xxviii] “Sexual Misconduct (ROLES): New Research Therapy Doesn’t Deter Sexual Misconduct by Psychologists,” Sex Weekly, September 15, 1997, pp. 27-28.
[xxix] Michael Dobie, “Violation of Trust,” Newsday, June 9, 2002, p. C25.
[xxx] Daniel Wishnietsky, “Reported and Unreported Teacher-Student Sexual Harassment,”
Journal of Ed Research, Vol. 3, 1991, pp. 164-69.
[xxxi] Douglas Montero, “Secret Shame of Our Schools: Sexual Abuse of Students Runs Rampant,” New York Post, July 30, 2001, p. 1.
[xxxii] “Schools Chancellor: Four Teachers Barred from Classroom,” Associated Press, June 12, 2003.
[xxxiii] Charol Shakeshaft and Audrey Cohan, In loco parentis: Sexual abuse of students in schools, (What administrators should know). Report to the U.S. Department of Education, Field Initiated Grants
[xxxv]Diana Jean Schemo, “Silently Shifting Teachers in Sex Abuse Cases,” New York Times, June 18, 2002, p. A19.
[xxxvi] Elizabeth Cohen, “Sex Abuse of Students Common; Research Suggests 15% of All Children Harassed,” Press & Sun-Bulletin, February 10, 2002, p. 1A.
[xxxvii] Berta Delgado and Sarah Talalay, “Sex Cases Increase in Schools; Many Acts of Teacher Misconduct Not Being Reported,” Sun-Sentinel, June 4, 1995, p. 1A.
[xxxviii] The study is in draft form and is not yet available for quotation.
[xxxix] The dates of the study were April 5-7, 2002. It was reported in Roper Center at University of Connecticut Public Opinion Online, Accession Number 0402247. Hart and Teeter Research Companies did the survey.