With the recent termination of CEO Roger Ailes, FOX News now has to address sexual harassment allegations concerning Bill O’Reilly. These charges and others before continually remind us that some males create unsafe spaces for females at work as well as in our communities and homes.
Along with Bill Cosby and many others we hear continued reports of women sexually harassed, assaulted, and abused by males in a position of power, authority, and community respect. As a male who is a husband, father of three boys, minister, and community leader it is, in my opinion, one of the most shameful acts that some males perpetrate on our sisters as well as our society.
Even more, I am disturbed at the resistance to believe “allegations,” “testimonies,” and “accusations,” against males who have been “inappropriate.” While I understand that as humans lying may seem to be a common practice it surprises me that we automatically assume that “victims” would lie and “the accused” be believed because they have a public presence. “False allegations” is a term I hear often and find it secures a powerful place in our psyche.
- I have had church insurance companies offer us higher premiums to insure against “false allegations.”
- Common talk among many colleagues has been the discussion of being careful of “false accusations.”
- Males share with me that they refuse to be alone with a female (even in public) because they don’t want her to get the wrong impression.
Yet the research I have written and observed consistently suggests that we as ministers have a bigger issue:
- A higher rate of inappropriate sexual behavior with clients (higher than psychologists)
- A higher rate of sexual harassment than businesses (even in denominations that ordain females)
- Growing rates of pornography consumption among male seminary students
- From my personal conversations with females in seminary and congregations, male leaders continue to create unsafe environments for females to be vulnerable and open.
I spent four years as an appointed member of the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force. I heard repeated presentations from law enforcement, FBI, therapists, and state providers who provided hard evidence that “false allegations are very minimal.” The overwhelming majority of victims drop their charges because the implications and pressure to convict the accused are too costly. They shared how difficult it is just to try and convict those guilty of sexual assault, pedophilia, and neglect. It was difficult to not only hear but to swallow.
- Who would want to be a victim?
- What would anyone gain from being a victim?
- What price does a person who is victimized pay?
- Even more, we learned that victims have shared their story with another individual. So the real issue is, “Who turned their head to this injustice? Who chose not to speak out?”
I am discouraged when I often hear that victims seek help from congregational leaders only to find that their abuser gains the most support, encouragement, and safety. I am discouraged when I witness church leaders take the side of the accused only to fall silent when the charges are true.
Yet I am encouraged when many of my students become a voice for the oppressed, victims, and those struggling to find peace and safety.
If one issue is that males have created unsafe space for females, then aren’t women more at risk in being alone with males? What if men stated, “I cannot put a female at risk by being alone with me?” Or maybe we should work to create a safe space for females to be vulnerable, open, and at peace. I do believe that the majority of males are good, caring, and respectful men. Maybe we should pave the way to helping people feel safe by how we treat others.
If another issue involves turning our head to this injustice, is it only the offender who is guilty? Shouldn’t we take responsibility by speaking out, listening to those who claim to be victims, and holding males accountable for their language and actions toward females? I understand that people don’t always tell the truth, but we should not immediately assume those who are hurt are the dishonest ones. We need to do more than repost Facebook or Blog posts. We need to act. There are many in our communities who are fighting for victims—they need our help.
There is a verse in the Hebrew Bible that seems to state it better than I can. It was taught to a king by his mother.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. For the rights of all who are oppressed speak up, judge fairly, defend the rights of the vulnerable and needy.” (Prov. 31:8-9)
This is a challenge for all of us to address.