Clergy sexual misconduct is rampant, hidden, and destructive to victims. When clergy harm women, victims may experience severe trauma, loss of faith, and other devastating consequences.
Protect yourself from clergy sexual misconduct by reading the 3 tips that Dave Gemmel gives to listeners on this episode of the free BTR podcast. Dave Gemmel is the associate director of the NAD Ministerial Association, and a fierce advocate for victims of abuse.
Tune in to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Protect Yourself From Clergy Sexual Misconduct By Bringing A “Safe” Friend
Many women in faith-communities seek counsel and help from clergy regarding their partners’ infidelity and abusive behavior.
To protect themselves from both clergy sexual misconduct and receiving damaging counsel, Anne advises women to take a safe person with them every time they meet with clergy.
If you’re going into clergy to report your husband’s abuse, whether it’s his porn use, sexual coercion, or any type of emotional or psychological abuse, always take another woman with you who understands abuse.Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Protect Yourself From Clergy Sexual Misconduct By Having Boundaries For Communication
Dave Gemmel, expert on Clergy Sexual Misconduct, urges women to hold clergy accountable by setting boundaries for communicating.
Keep messaging professional.Dave Gemmel, associate director of the NAD Ministerial Association
Whether you communicate with your clergy over text messages, emails, phone calls, letters, video messaging, or face-to-face communication, you can practice safe communication.
Here are some ways to keep messaging professional and safe:
- Always use group messaging to text clergy
- Use speaker phone and have another person in the room when having phone conversations with clergy
- Try to meet in a public place, with a supportive friend, when meeting face-to-face with clergy
- If you are meeting in a pastor’s office, make sure the door is open and bring along a safe friend
Clergy Is For Spiritual Support, NOT Marriage Counseling
Most pastors and other religious leaders are not trained in therapy, counseling, abuse, or trauma. Because of that, it is essential that congregants do not use clergy as a marriage counselor or a mental health therapist. Victims can seek spiritual support from clergy if they feel it is necessary to their healing.
Even Dave Gemmel, who has taken courses in marriage/family counseling does not offer marital or family counseling to parishioners:
Don’t go to your pastor for marital counseling. Honestly, I have my doctorate and I do not consider I have enough education to do marriage counseling or family counseling. I’ve had two courses in it, maybe three, and if I begin to start practicing that I am practicing outside of my knowledge-base and I am bound to be giving some stupid advice. I’d rather not do that.Dave Gemmel, associate director of the NAD Ministerial Association
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Clergy Sexual Misconduct
Betrayal is excruciatingly painful, but an added layer of grief and terror comes when it is your clergy who has betrayed you. At BTR, we understand the intense sorrow and fear that accompanies clergy sexual misconduct. Women who have been betrayed, abused, and victimized deserve support.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone and offers victims the opportunity to process trauma, express hard feelings, and make connections with other women who get it. Join today and receive the support and validation you deserve.
Remember, you are not alone.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I have Dave Gemmell back on today’s episode. If you didn’t listen to last week’s podcast, go back a week, listen to that first, then join us here.
Before we get to the continuation of that interview, thank you so much to those of you who have rated the Betrayal Trauma Recovery podcast on Apple Podcast or your other podcasting apps.
Here is a 5-star rating we recently received:
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal and Emotional Abuse
“Shero encouragement. This is a wonderful source for women to gain courage and understanding in the cycle of chaos.”
For those of you who are victims of emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion, our daily support group is the most affordable and yet the most accessible support group available anywhere. It’s online and there are multiple sessions a day in every single time zone and we get it.
We’d love to see you in a session today.
“End It Now” Event Advocates For Victims
I read Dave’s bio last week, so make sure you go back if you didn’t hear that. His church is sponsoring End it Now, which is a summit on abuse. It’s free to register and you can register at enditnownorthamerica.org. We wanted to make sure that everyone is aware of that. It takes place on November 11th, so register for that free summit today.
In this next part of our interview, I was talking to Dave about specific issues related to listeners of this podcast. Women who are victims of emotional and psychological abuse, a lot of times their husbands are in positions in their church, mostly volunteer positions usually, sometimes other positions, and I tell him about the situation of many of the women in our community. You’ll hear me talking a lot about the experience of sheroes who are trying to get to peace in this scenario and I think you’ll really enjoy his perspective.
When Clergy Offer Harmful Counsel to Victims
Anne: I have encountered so many victims who go to their clergy for spiritual counsel, which ends up being kind of like therapy, like, “Well, you need to listen to him more.” You would say to the clergy, “Don’t provide therapeutic counsel,” and they would say, “I’m not, I’m providing spiritual counsel.” What would the difference be?
Dave: Yeah, that’s a good question. Spiritual counseling, I don’t think that’s appropriate, I think it’s much better in a class or small group to develop those spiritual skills and insights. As far as one-on-one counseling, I think that’s out of the question, whether it’s spiritual or otherwise. That needs to be left in the hands of the professionals.
Women Can Support Victims of Betrayal and Abuse
Anne: One thing that I suggest is, if you’re going into clergy to report your husband’s abuse, whether it’s his porn use, his sexual coercion, anytime of abuse-emotional or psychological abuse, always take another woman with you who understands abuse.
From our experience, you’re at the greatest risk of him giving you bad advice or saying things like, “Just have more sex with him,” or “How many times do you have sex?” We get the craziest things that clergy has said to victims of abuse. “Are you making dinner? Are you praying?” Stuff like that. The chances of things like that happening are greatly reduced when there is another woman who understands abuse in the room with you.
Victims Can Bring A Support Person To Meetings With Clergy
Dave: That’s a great suggestion, and that leads me to tip number two: Don’t meet with a pastor by yourself.
Anne: We are on the same page. Yeah!
Dave: We are. This is not rocket science here, this is just simple practical advice that comes out of years and years of bad practice. We need to turn it around and have good practice. Here are some suggestions: Don’t meet with the pastor by yourself. If you do, find places to meet people where you can be observed by others.
Protect Yourself From Clergy Sexual Misconduct
I don’t know if the pastor has an office but if so, the office door should be open and there should be someone within eyesight of the office. I would suggest, if there is not an office, meet at a public place like a coffee shop or an ice cream shop, if we’re in Salt Lake City. Most of all, choose a place where you feel safe. If you want to bring a friend with you, that will really increase the safety awareness.
Anne: Let’s talk about that for a minute. Many women are going to their clergy to talk about their own sins, to be absolved of their own sins, or to get spiritual counsel, so their embarrassed and don’t want anyone else to know.
What would you tell women in this scenario, who are ashamed of perhaps some of their own behavior, they want to repent, they want spiritual guidance, and they’re thinking, “I don’t want to tell my mom so my mom can come in with me to speak to my bishop or pastor,” or some scenario like that. What advice would you give for women in that situation?
Utilize Small Groups of Safe People To Process Trauma & Transgressions
Dave: Yeah, well, we’ll get into a theological discussion right now, because I’m not into that as all as a pastor. I don’t want to hear the sins of folks in the congregation. I think that’s between them and the Lord. If they want to have a group of people that can hold them accountable, I suggest a small group as a great place to do it.
Anne: Like a 12-Step group, perhaps?
Dave: Yeah, absolutely. As a spiritual leader, I don’t want to be looking out at my congregation and see all the sinners in the congregation and know specifically what their sins are. I mean that’s just crazy. I want to see them as sons and daughters of God.
Anne: That’s very interesting. That would be a theological difference, obviously, between yours and my faith because in my faith you’re expected to confess serious sins, and that’s part of the repentance process. You also would get that in the Catholic faith, for example, confession, and there are several other faiths who believe in that spiritual practice of confession.
Clergy Should Support Victims, Not Harm Them
For you, you would recommend like a 12-step group that’s particular to your specific problem?
Dave: Absolutely, or a small group within the congregation if there’s a spiritual small group that pursues the mission of spiritual growth. In that group, that would be a little more appropriate. Again, this is theological. I don’t believe as a member of the clergy that I have any absolving power over sin. That is something that is between God and the person. That’s not a power that I believe I’ve been bequeathed with, but we can get into a theological discussion.
Anne: I’m really grateful for your insight, so thank you for sharing that. If you have anything else that you want to add I’m happy to hear about that. That’s really interesting. I’ve actually never considered that that’s not clergy’s role before until right this very second while talking to you.
Dave: Well, we can have a Bible study sometime and take a look at it. That might be fun.
Anne: Yeah. That’s awesome. You’re opening my mind, thank you.
Clergy: Take These Steps To Protect Congregants
What steps can clergy members take to prevent placing themselves in compromising situations? We just talked about it, one of them is your belief that you’re not there to listen to their sins. Is there anything else that you would share?
Dave: Yeah, a couple of other things, and you eluded to a nice relationship that you had with your Bishop early on, and that is: Keep messaging professional. Whatever the messaging is, whether it’s a phone call or a text or email, look at that text or messaging and make sure that it is professional and that it doesn’t—you used the word creepy—that there is nothing in there that says that this relationship is, or could be, something more than what it is already, a professional relationship. If it goes beyond that the bells should be going off and say, “Hey, there is a problem here.”
Include Others To Keep Clergy Accountable
Here are some things to do to prevent that from happening. If that begins to happen, if it’s email reply back and CC some people so that they can see what’s going on. If it’s text messaging, increase it to a group message with some trusted people.
Phone calls? Make sure you have someone in the room with you when you’re having that phone call. Put it on speakerphone if you have to. All of these things will provide safety barriers from someone on the other end who may be, and you don’t know for sure, a sexual predator.
Anne: That is really good counsel. Thank you.
Clergy Responses To Trauma Can Be Damaging
Can we circle back around to the thing that is most common, I would say, for women who listen to this particular podcast, that clergy misconduct, as you defined it at the beginning when we talked about clergy not giving women the right advice or telling them to do things that are actually harmful. We hear so many experiences from women in our community, who are from a variety of different faiths—so this podcast is interfaith.
We’re talking women from the Catholic church, women who are Baptists, women who are Jewish, who have these interactions with clergy that are really traumatizing when they go in to talk about their husband’s abuse. Responses like, “You need to have more sex,” “You need to be a biblical woman and submit,” etc. and etc.
Specifically to our listeners, what would you say to them in this scenario, where they’re not experiencing clergy sexual misconduct, meaning there is no sexual relationship going on, but they’re not holding their abusive husband accountable for his abuse and not helping her get to safety?
Pastors Are Not Therapists: Avoid “Stupid Advice”
Dave: I’m going to give just a really easy answer. Don’t go to your pastor for marital counseling. Honestly, I mean I have my doctorate and I do not consider I have enough education to do marriage counseling or family counseling. I’ve had two courses in it, maybe three, and if I begin to start practicing that I am practicing outside of my knowledge base and I am bound to be giving some stupid advice. I’d rather not do that.
For your listeners, I would rather they don’t get stupid advice either. If they’re going to someone who knows less than they do, what’s the point? It’s a waste of time, go to someone that actually has competency in that area.
Find Professionals Who Are Trauma and Abuse-Informed
Anne: Similarly, my advice to our listeners is don’t go to a marriage and family therapist because they are bound by their licensing to see it as an equal problem. Like, “You’ve got your side of the problem and you’ve got your side of the problem and how can we make you both better?”
With an abuse situation, you really need a therapist who genuinely understands emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion because there’s a serious power problem there. It’s not just a communication issue where you’re going to go and just improve your communication and things are going to get better.
Women also report going to family or marriage counseling and having it go off the rails as well and not keep them safe. This isn’t just a clergy issue, this is a serious societal issue about misinformation and people not understanding emotional and psychological abuse and how to spot it and how to help victims get to safety.
Clergy: Utilize Trauma and Abuse-Informed Resources
Dave: I think that’s where references come in handy too. I would advise clergy, bishops, and those that are in a position of spiritual power, work with groups, such as yours, that really have good skills in this area, and have a list of people that they can turn to, that really do have expertise. That’s what I’d recommend to clergy.
We have a course in our denomination where pastors are trained to find out who the experts are in the area and to keep that file handy so that when someone comes in for a need they can refer, knowing that that person is very likely to be helpful to their parishioner.
Education Empowers Victims And Clergy
Anne: That’s fantastic. That’s what we specialize in emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion, especially when it’s difficult for people to see it. When we educate women about it, they’re like, “Oh, now this is very clear, and now what do I do?”
Even victims themselves, when they’re not educated about it, it’s very difficult for them to even understand what’s going on. To expect other people, that aren’t you, that aren’t experiencing it, to know is also very difficult. It’s hard for everyone.
Dave: Let me just address there may be someone listening right now that has experienced clergy sexual misconduct, and that number is not small, referring to that previous study. Let me just pull the numbers up on that. I believe over 3% of women in any congregation have experienced clergy sexual misconduct. It’s not a small group of people.
What To Do If You’ve Experienced Clergy Sexual Misconduct
I’m imagining that if maybe one of your listeners right now has experienced it and they’re listening to this and they say, “Yeah, that’s me, what do I do about it?” Just give a couple of ideas on that if maybe there is someone who has experienced it right now.
Anne: I’m sure that there has. In fact, not only that, but I’m sure that there are many listeners whose husbands are pastors, or whose husbands are clergy, who they know that their husband has had sexual misconduct with one of the congregation members. This is the wife of the pastor, who is aware of her husband’s sexual misconduct. I would say, it’s more likely that that would be who is listening in this scenario. However, I’m sure there are also women who have experienced the sexual misconduct themselves, so yes.
Clergy Sexual Misconduct Is NOT Your Fault
Dave: Well, let me talk to that first class, and that second one I’m scratching my head on that one. That’s a tough one. If you’re listening right now and you have experienced clergy sexual misconduct, I think the first thing that you need to know is it’s not your fault.
You are a victim. You’re a victim of clergy sexual misconduct. Don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t flagellate yourself. It’s the sexual predator’s fault, not yours, so don’t beat yourself up about it.
Speak Up And Report Clergy Sexual Misconduct
I think, if it’s something that’s happened recently and if you’re ready and you’re strong enough and you have support, speak up. First of all, report it to law enforcement. If there has been a rape, report it. I know that’s a difficult thing to go through, but do. Do report it, because we want as much as possible to get these sexual predators off the streets.
Having said that, here’s how the law in many states looks at it. If it is between two adults, whether it’s between clergy and a member and they are adults, the law may look at it as consensual, so it’s a “he said, she said” type of situation. Get your evidence but do report it, even if it doesn’t result in a conviction you’ve done your job on it.
If it’s a case of a sexual predator, sometimes it takes several times for this to happen before a conviction can take place. I know it’s frustrating because the odds of getting a conviction are probably pretty long, but, if you’re strong enough, I do encourage you to report it to the law.
Protect Others By Reporting Clergy Sexual Misconduct
Alright, and then I think also speak up to the supervisor of your pastor or your bishop, whatever that team is that oversees. They need to hear about it, and why? To prevent others from being victimized.
If you’ve been hurt, chances are that, if it is not interrupted, you’re not the only one that’s going to be hurt. Sexual predators hurt dozens and dozens and dozens of people. If you can put a stop to it or slow it down, you will prevent others from being hurt in the future.
Victims of Clergy Sexual Misconduct Can Seek Healing
Finally, and we talked about this earlier, seek healing. Seek healing from the crime that’s been committed against you and the hurt that’s been caused. Find people that can help you find that healing and walk through that healing with you on that healing journey. Professional counselors, I’m a big fan of, coaches sometimes, but find that healing because it’s not easy if you’ve been violated.
Anne: What would you say to the many wives of clergy who know about their husband’s sexual misconduct, and who have not been removed from their positions? In fact, we have over 60,000 women in our community, and we’re hearing stories of this frequently. Where their husband uses pornography, for example, or he’s had an affair—not necessarily with a member of the congregation, but with somebody and he has shown to not have sexual integrity or have integrity at all, because he’s also lied about it and hidden his behavior. What would you say to wives in that scenario?
When Your Cheating Husband Is Clergy
Dave: That is a difficult one too. There are so many things at stake, but if the evidence is clear and you’re willing to take the risk, take that evidence to the person that’s overseeing your husband, so that they can make clear that this is an inappropriate relationship and that person should not be holding that office.
Anne: Yeah, we’ve had lots of women who have done that, and then they’ve just been dismissed. That’s the thing that is really difficult for women, they sometimes try and try, and then it just gets exhausting, but I want listeners in that scenario to know that I believe, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth Dave but maybe you do too, that God loves you and he wants you to be safe.
He does want his congregation members to be safe and to be under the direction of someone who is righteous, someone who obeys the commandments, not someone who is perfect, but take a break and then keep trying. Please don’t give up because it’s really important to report these things.
Victims Deserve Strong, Supportive Communities
Dave: There is a risk. It is a risk, if you live with an abusive husband and that immediately will increase the abuse and make the relationship worse in a downward cycle. Short-term things need to get worse before it gets better.
I believe that shining light brings healing. Sin grows in darkness, but it won’t grow in light. Shining a light on darkness brings out the truth and brings out cleansing. It’s tough. You’ve got to have a support team with you too. To do it all on your own and you’re being gaslighted, just makes it more.
You need to have that strength of a community behind you, because every step you take it gets ratcheted up on the other side. You have to be strong and, to be strong, you’ve got to have people behind you. You’ve got to have a small group of people that can listen to you, believe you, support you, and encourage you.
“End It Now”: Victim Advocacy Event
Anne: Absolutely. Dave, you have an awesome event coming up very soon, called End it Now.
Dave: Absolutely. This is an annual event now that we’ve had for many years. We bring the best experts in the field from all over the country and usually bring them to a physical location but, right now as we’re recording this, we’re still in the midst of COVID, so we’re going to be doing it virtually this year.
The good news about that is it’s free. It’s called End it Not Virtual Summit on Abuse, and it will be held in English on November 13th and in Spanish on November 14th. It’s open to everybody. Some of the keynote presenters are Mary DeMuth, author of We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis. Additional topics are going to be thought leaders, including protecting children and youth. Digging out of the pit of spiritual abuse, a topic presented at a previous summit and they want to hear it again and again and again.
The timing couldn’t be better because we’re living in a perfect storm with COVID-19, and we believe that abuse is escalating in this time where there is not as much accountability. We need this more than ever. enditnownorthamerica.org, all one word, again it’s November 13th in English. It’s free, just fill out that form and they’ll give you the link on how you can participate.
Anne: That is awesome. Thank you so much for letting our listeners know about that. Again, that is enditnownorthamerica.org, so go to their website today.
If this podcast is helpful for you, please support it.
Until next week, stay safe out there.
I appreciate you and your guest addressing this topic, and there is alot of good information here about ways to protect yourself and reporting abuse. However, I was upset that your guest made a theological comment about congregants going to clergy to confess sins. It is not part of his spiritual tradition, but I don’t think he should discourage people from taking part in their spiritual tradition, especially in time of crisis. I also don’t believe that a woman should never go to an appointment with clergy alone. Therapists, doctors, and other helping professionals have abused their clients, but that doesn’t mean you should always bring a friend to a therapy or doctor appointment. Abuse is usually preceded by grooming, so know the red flags for grooming, listen to your gut, and if there is grooming, end contact, and report.
I was also upset by his statement that a victim should report abuse to the authorities “if you’re strong enough”. That seems to imply choosing not to report means you are weak. I’d say victims should get support, and report if possible.
I found a good article specifically on ending adult abuse by Catholic clergy. The article has alot of info on red flags when interacting with clergy.
Thank you for this thoughtful reply! What you’re saying makes sense and I appreciate your perspective. Thank you.
Wow! My first time finding this site, and you are speaking directly to me – a spouse of a pastor who does these things. Thank you for understanding! I look forward to healing with the help of this site.