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Creating a Harassment-Free Church

A worship space is called a "sanctuary," or safe place, but it's not if a parishioner feels unsafe and inhibited by the sexualized words or actions of another parishioner. No federal mandate protects the right to worship in a safe place, so the church is called to monitor itself.

How can a church create and maintain an environment for healthy worship?

Break the silence.

Denying sexual harassment occurs reinforces the tendency of victims to stay silent. One study found that 33 percent of female victims respond to sexual harassment by trying to ignore it. "Perhaps the worst thing about sexual harassment," says Helen Lewis, director of D.C. Commission on Women, "is that women have been socialized to feel flattered by much of it." (Of course, the same is true for men.)

To the harasser, silence can be taken as passive assent to the unwanted behavior and actually escalate the harassment.

Churches could begin by sponsoring seminars and small-group discussions on healthy relationships and sexuality, ...

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