Clergy Sex Abuse: Children & Adults

Clergy sexual abuse is a form of exploitation. Our mission has always been to prevent and stop child exploitation of all forms. Our work may sometimes appear disjointed, but that is not the case. All forms of exploitation are CONNECTED. A prevention and early intervention approach demands that we look at child sex abuse (CSA) from a broader perspective. The exploitation of adults (most often women) and children usually goes hand-in-hand. Wherever there is adult clergy sexual abuse there is frequently child sexual abuse (CSA) as well. We rarely see one without the other in some form.

Clergy sexual abuse occurs when an individual of a religious position like a pastor, priest, staff member, elder, deacon, worship leader, department head, ordained minister, or spiritual teacher uses their influence to manipulate, control, or harm others. Their position of authority and emotional pull create a power differential allowing them access and trust of those under their care and the broader community. This access gives them the ability to isolate and have a sexual relationship with their target (aka victim). This “relationship” is filled with sophisticated manipulation that “entangles” victims into complex psychological control.

Clergy CSA in Comparison to Child Sex Abuse Statics

America has nearly 60 million survivors of child sexual abuse according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s approximately 20% of our population. This shocking statistic does not include the 2/3rds of victims who never disclose at all. Many experts believe we could have as many as 180 million survivors of child sex abuse, this is more than the number of people who voted in the 2020 presidential election!!!! The problem is huge and this is why prevention is the answer!!!!

When we realize that clergy child sex abuse is 12% of adult survivors of CSA, this means we are looking at between 7-22 million victims of clergy child sex abuse alone. When we compare this statistic to the largest 3 denominations in the United States, we can understand the scale of the problem.

3 Largest Denominations in the US

  1. The Catholic Church: 61.9 million
  2. Southern Baptist Convention: 16.1 million
  3. The United Methodist Church: 7.8 million
clergy child sex abuse csa statistics

Are There More Clergy Abuse Victims?

The question, “Are there more victims?” is the most common amid a clergy sex abuse scandal becoming public. In short, it’s very likely. Statistically, there are normally more victims because the percentage of pedophiles or perpetrators with sole victims is incredibly rare. It is important to resist any urge to speculate and instead create a safe atmosphere for victims and understand that they probably exist. The statistics of repeat offenders are shocking. For example, an unrestrained predator who isn’t caught will have as many as 400 victims in their lifetime. A very conservative national average is 4 victims per perpetrator.

Victims coming forward is a complex and difficult reality. The average age of a victim’s disclosure is 58 years old. Depending on the complexity of survivor’s stories & abusive culture they grew up in many of them may not even think it was wrong OR they believe it was their fault. The isolation and shaming of victims by clergy predators makes the stronghold around them very tight.

How to Prevent Exploitation and Sex Abuse

Through our interactive training, Watchful Eye, we simplify how to prevent and identify child exploitation. No matter your skill level, you can learn to recognize behavior patterns and subtle indicators through this life-saving training.

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