More than three-fourths of United Methodist clergywomen have experienced sexual harassment, often by other pastors or colleagues, according to a survey conducted by the denomination.
The church's General Council on Ministries found that 77 percent of the church's women clerics have experienced incidents of sexual harassment, the highest level of any single group included in the survey. Of those, 41 percent reported that the harassment was perpetrated by colleagues or other pastors.
The 16-page study, entitled "Sexual Harassment in the United Methodist Church," is based on responses from 1,578 United Methodists, both male and female, clerics, members, college and seminary students and lay church employees.
The study defines sexual harassment as "any sexually related behavior that is unwelcome, offensive or which fails to respect the rights of others."
A list of nine "unwanted sexual behaviors" listed in the survey include things such as "unsolicited suggestive looks or leers, pressure for dates or activities with a sexual overtone" or "actual sexual assault or rape."
"Unsolicited jokes with sexual content" was listed as the most frequent form of sexual harassment in the study, which was requested by the 1988 session of the General Conference, the denomination's highest policy-making body.
One clergywoman wrote, "The kinds of sexual harassment that disturb me more are the actions of my brother clergy, who seem to offer unsolicited looks, touches and comments to the more attractive clergywomen fairly frequently. We sometimes wonder if they do that with congregations as well."
The most frequent setting of incidents was identified as church social functions, according to 51 percent of the laity and 31 percent of clergy.
Clerics also reported sexual harassment at counseling sessions and home visits.
More often than their male counterparts, women clerics said they had experienced unwanted sexual behavior during or after worship services and at church meetings.
Among male clerics, 52 percent reported parishioners as the source of harassment. One clergyman said, "One of my female parishioners appears to have a crush on me. She is affectionate, young, attractive and married. Occasionally, she has asked me out (accompanied by her daughters). I am concerned. No real problems, only an explosive potential."
Only about 5 percent of the clergy and laity said they took formal action against those who harassed them.
Of the women reporting harassment, 70 percent said they did not take any formal action because it was "not worth it."
The study will be presented to the denomination's policy-making body in Louisville in 1992.