Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Research in the Media: "Many Women Targeted by Faith Leaders"

Recently the Washington Post published a story entitled "Many Women Targeted by Faith Leaders"

This research is based on questions from the 2008 General Social Survey (GSS).

Here are some quotes from the story citing the GSS findings and how these relate to the real world:
  • "One in every 33 women who attend worship services regularly has been the target of sexual advances by a religious leader."
  • "The study, by Baylor University researchers, found that the problem is so pervasive that it almost certainly involves a wide range of denominations, religious traditions and leaders."
  • "'It certainly is prevalent, and clearly the problem is more than simply a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers,' said Diana Garland, dean of Baylor's School of Social Work, who co-authored the study."
This storyline is consistent with the GSS data for women of all faiths who were asked:

"Now think about church, synagogue, or other religious settings. Since you turned 18, have you ever found yourself the object of sexual advances or propositions from a minister, priest, rabbi, or other clergyperson or religious leader who was not your spouse or significant other?"

However, there is another question asked in the GSS prior to the one quoted above that provides some important context for the overall results. Respondents were also asked:

"Sometimes at work people find themselves the object of sexual advances or propositions from supervisors. The advances sometimes involve physical contact and sometimes just involve sexual conversations. Have you experienced such advances?"

Analyzing these data (here), it is evident that 3.6% of women attending religious services have found themselves to be the object of sexual advances or propositions from a minister, priest, rabbi, or other clergyperson or religious leader (3.2% of all women). This is the 1 in 33 figure the story notes.

Yet using the other question it is also the case that a much larger percentage of women who have been employed, 27.2%, have ever found themselves to be the object of sexual advances or propositions from work supervisors (23.9% of all women). This is on the order of 1 in 4. This is never mentioned in the Washington Post story as a point of comparison. If 1 in 33 is "prevalent" and "pervasive" what is 1 in 4?

There appears to be a much greater risk of sexual harassment for women in the workplace than in churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues. The context of misconduct outside of religion could have been included in the Washington Post's story and provided a more realistic yardstick to measure the societal incidence of such behavior.

About 26% of women surveyed in the 2008 GSS self-identified as Catholic and thus most of those who did report clergy misconduct were not attending at Catholic churches.  However, among Catholic women surveyed, the incidence of misconduct by clergy was similar to the overall findings with 3.6% reporting this from clergy and 24% from a work supervisor. Yet it is also important to note that once one divides the sample by gender and again by religion the margin of sampling error for the sub-group crosses a zero-point for the 3.6% observation (there are 278 Catholic women in the GSS time-series sample analyzed above resulting in a margin of sampling error of +/-5.9 percentage points).

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