The Hong Kong Christian Council, a protestant ecumenical organization, has released a major report exposing a rampant sex abuse problem in local churches, with victims sometimes being told to be obedient and follow “God’s plan” as part of cover-up efforts.
The report, released on Sunday, found that between August 2017 and April 2018 there were 55 reported incidents of sexual harassment or abuse in churches.
One in five of the cases involved rape or attempted rape, according to a translation by South China Morning Post. Other crimes, sometimes allegedly carried out by pastors, involved unwelcome touching, sexual gestures, or emails and messages with sexual implications.
Five in-depth interviews were conducted, with one woman, who wasn’t named, saying that a mentor in the church had attempted to rape her, and continued to sexually harass her afterward.
Some men also said they suffered sexual targeting, including one male who says that he was harassed by a male supervisor at a Christian organization, who offered him massages and wanted him to stay in the same room during a trip.
Jessica Tso Hiu-tung, council assistant executive secretary, explained that many times victims’ stories go unheard, because of the tight-knit nature of churches.
Victims would be told to turn to forgiveness, obedience, and follow “God’s Plan” in order to deter them away from reporting abuse and damaging the image of the church, she explained.
The study is based on the responses of churchgoers who say they have suffered such abuse, or know of fellow congregants who have.
It explained that it’s purpose is “to explore the relationship between the experience of church victims of sexual violence and the church structure, beliefs, and group culture; to pay attention to the reasons for the victims’ silence and to examine their experience in seeking help;” and to “advise the church how to establish ‘zero sexual harassment’ groups, including the training needs of pastors and believer leaders.”
Linda Wong Sau-yung, executive director of RainLily, which supports sexual abuse victims, argued that police investigations fail to be effective, because the victims often try to turn to someone else at the church first.
“That’s because they almost always went to the church first, and the church often tried to cover things up,” Wong said.
“When they got so angry and frustrated that they called the police, a long time had passed, making the investigations more difficult.”
Hundreds of evangelical women have meanwhile also been speaking out in the West against church abuse, under the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual online campaign.
“Fundamentally, we understand violence against any individual, regardless of their ethnicity, creed or gender, to be a matter of our Christian faith. Genesis 1:26 declares that all people are made in the image of God, both men and women. Women are equally called and created with the full potential and capacity to steward the world. All abuse disfigures human dignity and distorts the image of God,” reads a statement that was signed last December by prominent Christian authors and speakers, including Beth Moore and Jen Hatmaker.
“We will not retreat from the pain in our midst. Women of all faiths, races, cultures and backgrounds are bravely breaking their silence, yet many in communities of faith do not match their bravery with action. Instead, feeling the problem is too pervasive, they have acquiesced, leaving whole churches and communities paralyzed,” the statement warned.