Religion and Sexual Abuse

The issue of religious clergy using their positions to sexually abuse parishioners began to be identified in Australia in the early 1990’s, largely through the work of SHIVERS, a support group in Melbourne; Project Anna, a project of the Centre against Sexual Assault at the Royal Melbourne Women’s Hospital; and Friends of Susanna, a support group in Sydney. I was a member of SHIVERS. The initial focus was on the professional and sexual abuse of women, and brought to wider public attention in an ABC Television Compass program The Ultimate Betrayal in 1992. This breaking of the silence around clergy sexual abuse opened the way, through support group action and media reporting, for bringing to public awareness the extensive sexual abuse of children by religious leaders, and the churches’ knowledge and cover-up of this abuse. The wide public concern lead to the establishment by the Australian government in 2012 of a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

My publications

(2018) “What is Christian communication in the face of widespread exposure of abusive Christianity?”
Media Development, 3/2018, 33-36.

(2013) “Australian media traditions and the reporting of sexual abuse by religious leaders.”
With Christina Koutsoukos. Paper presented to the 8th Australian Media Traditions Conference: Places, Spaces, Networks and Intermedia. University of Queensland, 25th – 26th November.

(2003) “Forgiving abuse – an ethical critique.”
Journal of Religion and Abuse, 4:4, 51-70.
Reprinted in Marie Fortune and Joretta Marshall (Eds.), Forgiveness and abuse: Jewish and Christian reflections. New York: The Haworth Press, pp. 51-70.

(1997) “Moral panic or moral action? The appropriation of moral panics in the exercise of social control.”
Media International Australia, 85 (November), 32-39.

(1996) “Alternative frameworks for understanding and responding to professional abuse by clergy.”
Paper presented at the 1st Australian and New Zealand Conference on Sexual Exploitation by Health Professionals, Psychotherapists and Clergy. University of Sydney, 12-14th April.

(1995) “The Gerasene demoniac and the sexually violated.”
In C. Adams & M. Fortune (Eds.), Violence against women and children: a Christian theological sourcebook (pp. 141-151). New York: Continuum.

(1994) “Forgiveness and reconciliation in situations of sexual assault.”
I’ve had more responses to this paper than to anything I have ever written. It was first presented as a paper in Melbourne in 1993 at the National Resource and Training Seminar on Religious and Faith Perspectives on Sexual Assault and Other Forms of Violence within the Australian Church Community. It was subsequently published and received wide distribution as an occasional paper by the Commission on Women and Men for the Uniting Church in Australia in 1994 and reproduced in Alive Now, a United Methodist publication in the U.S. I received information that it had been distributed to U.S. Methodist bishops, translated and distributed in Hindi, photocopied and distributed in sexual assault centres and prisons (!) in Australia and New Zealand. For eight or so years after I wrote it I continued to receive letters from women expressing their appreciation and in some cases telling their story. The response indicates that the Christian idea of forgiveness is a problematic obstacle in people recovering from sexual assault and a barrier to Christian institutions dealing effectively with it.

(1993) “An analysis of the media debate following the ABC Compass program ‘The Ultimate Betrayal’.”
Australian Journalism Review, 15 (1), 1-10.
The download includes a response article by Professor Myles Breen of Charles Sturt University, applying Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s theory of the Spiral of Silence to the responses to the ABC program identified in my article.

(1992) “Is the dam of sexual assault breaking on the church?”
Australian Ministry (May), 10-13.

(1990) “Communication issues in a sexual harassment case within the church.”
With Marilyn Born. Paper presented at the Australian Communication Association, Melbourne.

(1990) “Sexual harassment in the church: a fable.” 
Australian Ministry (May), 7-9.