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Guest Blog: Hope in the Research #7

In this blog post, Rev. James Evinger highlights some recent research trends, including research in diverse religious communities and settings that have been underrepresented or ignored, evidence-based methodologies, and specific factors related to clergy abuse cases within the legal/justice system. 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 September, 2021, includes 80+ new additions.  It is now 1,890 pages, excluding the Introduction.

Numerical growth since inception in 1995 documents the global attention to the problem of sexual boundary violations in faith communities.  Growth also reflects the increased quality of knowledge thanks to multi-disciplinary perspectives, as well as substantiation of best practices for prevention and intervention, holding offenders accountable, and supporting the recovery and healing of survivors and affected religious and spiritual communities.  These results reflect the direct and constructive impact of survivors’ participation and advocacy.  Drawing from the newest entries, here are 10 which illustrate the continuing refinement of the literature.

1)  Communities and contexts underrepresented in Western media.

  • Note the demographic variety of the religious traditions and settings.

Agazue, Chima. (2016). “He told me that my waist and private parts have been ravaged by demons:” Sexual exploitation of female church members by “prophets” in Nigeria. Dignity: A Journal on Sexual Exploitation and Violence, 1(1, Article 10):1-16.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 2, p. 4.  A link to the article is available.]

Chowdhury, Rahmanara, Winder, Belinda, Blagden, Nicholas, & Mulla, Farooq. (2021). [Research Article] “I thought in order to get to God I had to win their approval”: A qualitative analysis of the experiences of Muslim victims abused by religious authority figures. Journal of Sexual Aggression: An International, Interdisciplinary Forum for Research, Theory and Practice [published in association with the National Organisation for the Treatment of Abuse]:1-22.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 2, pp. 620-621.  A link to the article is available.]

Couts, Dianne Darr. (2020). Things Fall Apart, but the Center Held. Self-published, 242 pp.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 1, pp. 141-142.]  Couts’ memoir traces her experiences as a young child and adolescent whose parents worked for a non-denominational Christian agency in the U.S.A. rooted in “evangelical and fundamentalist circles” to other countries. During her childhood in what is now the Republic of Mali, she was sexually molested by 2 missionaries. Describes the agency’s resistance to responses of accountability and prevention in response to her parents when they reported their daughter being violated.

Dayan, Hava. (2018). Sexual abuse and charismatic cults. Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal, 41(April):25-31.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 2, p. 111.]  Reports on a case involving the Bresolver Hasidic sect of Judaism in Israel.

O’Neill, Kevin Lewis. (2020). The unmaking of a pedophilic priest: Transnational clerical sexual abuse in Guatemala. Comparative Studies in Society and History [published by the Society for the Comparative Study of Sociology and History], 62(4, October):745-769.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 2, pp. 653-654.]

2)  Rigorous, evidence-based methodologies utilized in religious articles

  • A helpful, wide-range of topics are addressed in a journal’s theme issue entitled, Child Abuse and the Church: Prevention, Pastoral Care, and Healing. Note the extensive use of references.

Currents in Theology and Mission [published by Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and Wartburg Theological Seminary], 45(3, July):20-22. [The entries from this issue are found throughout Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, Part 2.  A link to the journal issue is available.]

3)  Factors specific to religious communities addressed in secular literature

  • The legal discipline.

Clemency, Megan. (2017). Criminal and civil liability for failure to report suspected child abuse in South Carolina. South Carolina Law Review [published by University of South Carolina School of Law], 68(5):893-916.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 3, pp. 15-16.]  Concludes: “South Carolina’s existing attitude toward assigning civil and criminal liability for failure to report is too conservative to accomplish the goal of identifying and preventing child abuse.”

Donze, Caroline. (2017/2018). Breaking the seal of confession: Examining the constitutionality of the clergy-penitent privilege in mandatory reporting law. Louisiana Law Review [published by the Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Louisiana State University], 78(1, Fall):267-310.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 3, pp. 18-19.  Based on a case in Louisiana.]

Janci, Peter B. (2020). Helping #ChurchToo abuse victims hold religious entities accountable in civil cases. Liberty University Law Review [published by Liberty University School of Law, Lynchburg, VA], 14(2, Spring):317-350.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 3, pp. 117-118.]

van Dijck, Gijs. (2018). Victim-oriented tort law in action: An empirical examination of Catholic Church sexual abuse cases. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies [published by the Society for Empirical Legal Studies], 15(1, March):126-164.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 3, pp. 172-173.]  Based on an initiative in the Netherlands – “an extralegal, victim-friendly procedure” for victims of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. Analyzes 1,200+ decisions regarding both monetary and non-monetary forms of relief, and identifies factors related to the outcomes.

  • Criminology and criminal justice.

Daly, Kathleen. (2017). “Sexual Violence and Victims’ Justice Interests.” Chapter 6 in Zinsstag, Estelle, & Keenan, Marie. (Eds.). Restorative Responses to Sexual Violence: Legal, Social and Therapeutic Dimensions. London, England; Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 108-139.  [In Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography, see Part 1, pp. 152-153.]  This is most profound work I’ve read which comprehensively addresses the relationship of 3 core factors related to survivors of sexual abuse: the specifics of the context in which the offense occurred, survivors’ perspective on what constitutes just outcomes, and specifics  means by which those outcomes are achieved. Draws upon evidence-based literature including cases involving survivors of abuse in religious communities. Proposes a model to use in research by which the efficacy of various means can be assessed in relation to survivors’ perspectives.


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 26 years experience with cases of sexual boundary violations in churches, including ecclesiastical, civil, and criminal jurisdictions.



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