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Guest Blog: Hope in the Research #6

In this blog post, Rev. James Evinger highlights some recent research trends, including the emergence of diverse frameworks for understanding sexual boundary violations within spiritual contexts and the increase in research in communities and religious contexts that have been underrepresented or ignored. Since 1995, Rev. Evinger has reviewed materials and updated the Annotated Bibliography of Clergy Sexual Abuse and Sexual Boundary Violations in Religious Communities. This huge undertaking has provided an extraordinary resource for scholars and researchers, as well as those seeking to address the needs of survivors.

By Rev. James S. Evinger

Since 2008, FaithTrust generously has posted a continuing document I compile, Annotated Bibliography of Clergy Sexual Abuse and Sexual Boundary Violations in Religious Communities.  Intended as extensive and broad, the Bibliography, as of the update of February, 2021, includes 57 new additions. It is now 1,830+ pages, excluding the Introduction.

Numerical growth since it was begun in 1995 documents the global attention to the problem of sexual boundary violations in faith communities. Growth reflects the increased quality of knowledge from multi-disciplinary perspectives, as well as substantiation of best practices for prevention and intervention. These results reflect the direct and constructive impact of survivors’ participation and advocacy. Drawing from the newest entries, here are some which illustrate the development of the literature. Two themes are highlighted.

1)  Various frameworks for understanding the nature of sexual boundary violations in the contexts of religion and spirituality.

  • Published by Amnesty International Ireland, the perspective of human rights as found in treaties and international law is applied to the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.  This framework, rarely used with religious communities, brings into focus issues of accountability and responsibility both in denominational and secular society structures and cultures.

Holohan, Carole. (2011). In Plain Sight: Responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports. Dublin, Ireland: Amnesty International Ireland, 436 pp. [Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 1, pp. 300-301.  A link to the book is available.]

  • A multi-disciplinary approach is used to address the imagery of stain and impurity as issues in addressing individual and collective guilt, and the potential of rituals of penitential restitution, which “include financial settlements, charity, and support for survivor organizations; administrative reform, the removed of impacted religious elites, education about sexuality, empowerment of women and children, dialogue, as well as commemorative events to honor victims.”

von Kellenbach, Katharina. (2019). Guilt and its purification: The Church and sexual abuse. CrossCurrents, 69(3, September):238-251.  [Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 2, p. 440.]

  • The Age of Inquiry is a website which “maps inquiries into ‘institutional child abuse,’” the settings of which are outside the family unit and include religious and religious-affiliated entities. 11 countries are included.  Many of the inquiries were conducted by secular governmental units, some of which were national units. Descriptions of these inquiries, a format quite different from those utilized in the U.S.A., allows for a quick overview of each.

The Age of Inquiry: A Global Mapping of Institutional Abuse Inquiries. [Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Introduction, p. 21.]

2) Communities and contexts underrepresented in Western media.

  • The history of Canada’s residential school system for First Nations children, the role of religious denominations, and the commission of child sexual abuse is underreported in the U.S.A. Searching for documentation of the enduring, adverse effects found this:

Elias, Brenda, Mignone, Javier, Hall, Madelyn, Hong, Say P., Hart, Lyna, & Sareen, Jitender. (2012). Trauma and suicide behaviour histories among a Canadian indigenous population: An empirical exploration of the potential role of Canada’s residential school system. Social Science & Medicine, 74(10, May):1560-1569.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 2, p. 497.]

  • Following footnotes to early works also helps reveal the underreported history of the residential school system for Native American children in the U.S.A., the role of religious denominations, and the commission of child sexual abuse. An early article documents the responses to the historical trauma.

Brave Heart, Maria Yellow Horse. (1999). Gender differences in the historical trauma response among the Lakota. Journal of Health & Social Policy, 10(4):1-21.  [Also published as:  “Gender Differences in the Historical Trauma Response Among the Lakota.” Chapter 1 in Day, Priscilla A., & Weaver, Hilary N. (Eds.). Health and the American Indian. Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press, pp. 1-21, 1999.]  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 2, pp. 47-48.]

  • Rare in U.S.A. are reports from outside North American and European contexts. A recent qualitative study helps fill this gap.

Landa, Nhlanhla, Zhou, Sindiso, & Tshotsho, Baba. (2019). Interrogating the role of language in clergy sexual abuse of women and girls in Zimbabwe. Journal for the Study of Religion, 32(2):1-20.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 2, pp. 622-623.]

  • Recommendations for congregations in South Africa are found in a recent analysis of sexualized violence against girl children and youth in South Africa, an analysis using “a range of intersecting perspectives on the topic.”

Weber, Shantelle, & Bowers-DuToit, Nadine. (2018). Sexual violence against children and youth: Exploring the role of congregations in addressing the protection of young girls on the Cape Flats. HTS: Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies [published by African Online Scientific Information Systems (AOSIS), Durbanville, Cape Town, South Africa], 74(3, August):1-8.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 2, pp. 446-447.  A link to the article is available.]

  • A contemporary analysis of factors involved in the sexual exploitation of adult female congregants by male pastors of church in the Republic of Korea is presented by:

Han, Hye Hyun. (2020). The body as the space in which power operates: Sexual violence of clergymen in the Korean church. Review & Expositor, 117(2, May):222-234.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 2, pp. 197-198.]

  • In 1874, a “small group of church women decided there was a need for a safe house for trafficked Chinese girls” in San Francisco, California.  This led to the formation of the Occidental Board Presbyterian Mission House.  Later renamed Cameron House, it’s mission changed in 1947 to be a community center focusing on youth.  Its director from 1947 to 1977 committed sexual abuse of numerous minors, extending into his retirement in the 1980s.  In a magazine-style article, the story traced to the present, including Cameron House’s efforts to achieve accountability, support recovery of survivors and their families, and advocate for change.

Siler, Julia Flynn. (2021, January 7). The safe place that became unsafe. Alta Journal. [Published on-line.]  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 3, p. 260.]


About the Author

Rev. James S. Evinger is a minister, retired, in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who worked 10 years in urban congregations, and 30 years in health centers with people with psychiatric illness and developmental disabilities in state institutions in Pennsylvania and New York, and held teaching and research appointments in the School of Nursing and the School of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY.  He has 25+ years of experience with cases of sexual boundary violations in churches, including ecclesiastical, civil, and criminal cases.




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