Speaking Truth to Power: The Victim/Survivor of Clergy Sexual Misconduct

The victim/survivor portion differs some from the rest of our report. It is written by a survivor of Unitarian Universalist (UU) clergy sexual misconduct and addresses fellow victims and survivors directly, focusing on the current situation rather than future recommendations. We see several ways it could be used, in particular as a tool for advocates and as a training aid. Ideally, it can be shared directly with victim/survivors, and adapted as Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) policies and procedures change.

This section is for victims and survivors of UU clergy sexual misconduct. While there is a growing and rich literature on clergy sexual misconduct, there is not yet a standard guide written on healing. There is no equivalent to The Courage to Heal, a classic guide for survivors of child sexual abuse. Most of the literature is on what clergy sexual misconduct means and why it is wrong, including quite a number of case histories and testimonies. These are very helpful, but still, they leave you to extrapolate the steps involved in healing. There are also denominational manuals, but these are focused on working with their particular policies and procedures. While we can't hope to write the equivalent of The Courage to Heal (it's over 600 pages), we will try to fill this gap with a very brief overview of healing from clergy sexual misconduct, putting the aspect of filing a complaint with the UUA in context and giving you a few checklists to help you in this arduous, but redemptive task.

Before getting into the particulars of healing, first and foremost, if you have been a victim of clergy sexual misconduct, we want you to know we are sorry for the profound suffering a Unitarian Universalist minister has caused you. We grieve with you over this breach of sacred trust that has threatened your connection to life and love.

It is wrong for a minister, a trusted advisor, to have taken advantage of you sexually and emotionally. While it is often said, more eloquently and at greater length by experts such as Marie Fortune, yet it bears repeating—what happened was not your fault. You were vulnerable and he (or sometimes she) chose to not adhere to the ministerial code of ethics. To make matters worse, many people, particularly those in the congregation, may not see this clearly. They may cling to their limited vision of him and their hope that he is the person they thought he was, thus adding to your isolation and hurt. If they know who you are, they may blame you. But they too are wrong.

This is simple to say and it is the truth. However, until you have had the opportunity to heal, chances are this truth will be at loggerheads not only with the feedback you get from people around you, but also with your internal sense of shame and self-blame. You may think you personify the antithesis of inherent worth and dignity. Inevitably you will feel not only devalued, but also angry. However, you have every right to be angry and the energy of anger can be used to good ends. Your responsibility is not for the abuse, but to use this anger constructively—to heal yourself.

  1. Steps in Healing
  2. Possibilities for Healing
  3. Confrontation
  4. Working with an Advocate
  5. Filing a Complaint with the Denomination
  6. Conclusion
  7. Resources

For more information contact safecongregations@uua.org.