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Anne Stephenson

Book: Adult Sexual Abuse in Religious Institutions


Faith seeks understanding
by Anne Stephenson

adult-sexual-abuse-in-religious-institutions-anne-stephensonWhen sexual abuse of adults by clergy and spriritual leaders comes to light, religious institutions needs robust procedures in place to deal with affenders and support victims.

Based on her long experience in ministry working with sexual offenders and their victims, Anne Stephenson shares the wisdom she has gained.

While earthed within the Christian tradition, this book is for all faith communities, traditions and cultures. Anne hope that everyone in the 'dance of life' will find something within this book to assist them in their understanding and then take responsibility for their own situation.



Order print copies for $20 plus postage by clicking the Add to Cart button below.

For eBook editions and overseas print book orders, please visit the publisher's website www.pgpl.co.nz.



Below are a couple of short extracts from the book:

If you get it wrong (as a religious leader)

The spiritual or religious institution will now be asked what the outcome of any complaint about you was, in regard to sexual misconduct. They have responsibilities for a just process.

The victim will be treated kindly and be seen to be a witness to your behaviour. They should only need to give their story once so that they are not re-victimised.

What will be assessed:

  • The vulnerability of the victim.
  • The power 'over' the person you had in your role and function within the institution.
  • What your 'duty of care' should have meant (your fiduciary duty).
  • The trust that the victim would have had in you as their superior and the brokenness of that trust by you.

The religious institution is expected to hand you over to the police if it is seen to be a significant event. If there was a professional breach, the institution is expected to dismiss you.

You cannot assume there will be no publication of your name. If your name is publicised, other victims will come forward – remember the Rolf Harris case.

If you are in a seriously dysfunctional pattern, you will be horrified by exposure but not by your behaviour.

If you do get into serious behavioural issues it is very hard to undo the damage that you do to yourself, let alone any victim.

The damage to the victim may require reparation or compensation.

Self care for the pastoral worker

Be very clear in your own mind. Other people have their journey, it is their journey that you may have the privilege to learn from. This is never a matter for gossip. The victim and the offender will be very sensitive as to who knows and what they know. Body language will give the hearers of gossip away, so do not add to the disconnection already present for the victim. Be a trustworthy pastoral person. This is particularly essential in a Church environment and when trust has been broken by others.

Use your supervisor. However, be aware that the supervisor may also be needing to update their own understanding of professional sexual abuse.

The path towards healing for the victim is a path of grace and not a path of judgement.

Remember to value your own boundaries. Do not even begin to sexually fantasise about any people in your care. If they are sending out confusing signals sexually, gently seek out whether they have had an historical event. Be so gentle please.

Give feedback as to what you are experiencing and be very clear that you are taking responsible actions regarding your own boundaries. Let your partner be your confidant, not your parishioner. If your relationship isn’t working, get couple counselling. Deal with it. Remember how the ordained person influenced your own life and be an influence for good on others, for you are called to build up the body of Christ. Sexual misconduct tears it down.

Respect for the other person’s boundaries

Remember the ‘other’ is a human being with rights to think, feel, plan and have personal dreams. Listen to the ‘other’ so that you better understand them.

Listen to verbal cues and body language. It is for them to decide who to be intimate with. This is not a decision you make for them by grooming or overpowering them.

There are some common characteristics of sexual predators. If you’re worried, look for these warning signs:

  • Refusal to take responsibility for actions and blames others or circumstances for failures, especially the victim.
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Low self-esteem
  • Need for power and control
  • Lack of empathy
  • Inability to form intimate relationships with adults
  • History of abuse
  • Troubled childhood
  • Deviant sexual behaviour and attitudes



Please read the following book review:

“…vital for all involved in any pastoral ministry.”

Review by Mary Caygill of Adult Sexual Abuse in Religious Institutions

Adult Sexual Abuse in Religious Institutions: Faith Seeks Understanding
By Anne Stephenson 2016, Garside Publishing, 86 pages

Reviewer: Mary Caygill — March 2017

in Methodist newspaper Touchstone March 2017


“In this book’s opening pages the author states clearly her intent in writing this resource, which is nothing less than naming what she calls the elephant in the room no one wants to name, and especially no one within religious institutions.


The naming of this ongoing reality is exactly what this author does. She claims quite rightly that no religious institution is devoid of the need to deal justly and compassionately with both ‘victim’ and ‘abuser’ when incidences of adult sexual abuse are brought to light and faced up to.

I deliberately choose to juxtapose these two words – ‘justly’ and ‘compassionately’ – as this is the approach the author takes in this valuable resource written out of personal experience.

The subtitle of the book – Faith Seeks Understanding – captures accurately what this book sets out to accomplish and I believe achieves in a most succinct, readable, and informative manner. As such, this book will be a valuable resource for all manner of people both inside and outside of religious institutions.

The author conveys well the complex issues that frame instances of sexual abuse. She helpfully identifies some of the key warning indicators along with some of the key psychological frames of reference that we need to understand to grasp the full extent of adult sexual abuse and particularly how and why it occurs within the context of religious institutions.

It is fair to say that all religious institutions have needed an urgent wake-up call to become aware of the realities of adult sexual abuse by its spiritual leaders. This crisis and the way it has been addressed have proven to be very impetuous.

In many cases there is a need to both address and  establish far more robust procedures that work towards ensuring the pastoral and ethical accountability of those in key positions of trust and influence.

The language used by the author of ‘offender’ and ‘victim’ are rightfully used throughout the book to clearly identify and then address what is at heart an abuse of power which breaches the all-important ethical principle of ‘fiduciary duty’.

As the author establishes, within religious institutions this amounts to breaking the sacred trust between the leader (the one with power) and the congregant who has deemed the leader to be trustworthy.

Because of this sacred trust the consequences are life- changing and the healing required is immense and of a specialised nature both for the victim and offender. The author conveys well the full extent of both the abuse and the healing journey required.

I commend this book as a valuable pastoral resource. It is vital for all involved in any pastoral ministry.”




Please read the following book review:

Tui Motu Interislands review of Adult Sexual Abuse in Religious Institutions

Adult Sexual Abuse in Religious Institutions: Faith Seeks Understanding

Reviewer: Kay Ryan — August 29, 2016 for Tui Motu Interislands

“This book is written in response to a deficit within religious institutions where processes to address sexual abuse by pastoral leaders are being inadequately addressed. Based in Christian tradition and drawing on personal experience, Stephenson reveals often hidden dynamics involving sexual abuse by pastoral leaders. She reflects on the current situation, provides information about the psychology of offenders and the effects of abuse on the victim. She gives instructions for Church leaders and community workers on how to support victims while taking responsibility for the criminal acts of offenders. There is practical advice and a structure about how to proceed with complaints.

I like Stephenson’s courage and her resolve to put responsibility for addressing sexual abuse by clergy, firmly into the hands of those in power. She outlines what is needed and how it should be done. Church leaders are challenged to be alert and not allow offenders to keep offending. The offender “cannot be healed with grace, forgiveness, reconciliation”, but must engage with the Criminal Justice system. She is a strong advocate for victims and states how important it is that we get it right for all concerned.

As well as noticing some editing issues I found myself looking for references to other current writers on sexual abuse and trauma, perhaps from a secular perspective. I think this may give more credibility to her general assertions that this is the way it is.

While some victims may view this as a useful text that validates their experience, I think others may find the prescriptive nature of the writing – the do’s and don’ts –  difficult to relate to. I think it is important also to acknowledge that the person’s process itself leads the way. Even though there are certain themes that can be recognised, each person’s response to trauma is different.

Stephenson’s instructions to pastoral workers are clear. However I wanted to hear more about some of the complexities of disclosure within community settings. Instructions such as: “Do not pay attention to what erupts”, needed more explanation.

I agree with the author that this book would be most useful for Church leaders, those in positions of power, clergy and pastoral workers. It may also benefit counsellors who are working with victims of sexual abuse as it gives insight into Christian communities and what they may be struggling with.”

Kay Ryan is a psychotherapist in Auckland.

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