Recently, I was the victim of sexual harassment from a visitor to our congregation. In light of my experience, and the recent #MeToo movement, it spurs me to equip churches to be proactive in their efforts to make safe spaces for the community members and staff.

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

So what can churches do when it comes to sexual harassment? Here are some ways that you and your communities can be proactive and prepared:

Know what sexual harassment looks like

Training is one of the best ways you can be proactive in your congregation. Training allows your staff and volunteers to be aware of what sexual harassment looks like and how best to handle it when it occurs. Clarity is key in training, so define sexual harassment in clear terms — name many examples so people understand what it looks like.

"The EEOC recommended sexual harassment trainings as an effective way to clarify those gray areas," according to recent Vox report.

Develop reporting processes

Another way churches can support their communities and their staff is with clear procedures for what to do when sexual harassment occurs. Do you have a policy (with procedures to support) that can answer these questions:

  • Who does one report to?
  • What information do they report?
  • When are the police contacted?
  • How are written statements collected from all parties?
  • How are involved parties updated on the status of the complaint?
  • How do you know when the complaint is resolved?

Develop a culture of conversation

Training should not be the only place that conversations about sexual harassment and abuse happen. Begin to develop a culture where these conversations extend outside of training into studies, classes and other places in your community.

Creating a space where people can talk about these issues will allow those who have experienced harassment to feel safe to share.

Inform your community of known concerns

Unfortunately, in every community, there are known concerns. Many communities are regularly informed by police and other resources of those on the sexual registry.

Make sure your congregation has a consistent process for these persons. Are they allowed to worship? Are they allowed to be in the building? What is your protocol for safety with children's spaces? How does the community respond if they violate the law or your community expectations?

This also extends to individuals who have had previous incidents on your campus. They may not be on a registry, but they might have a record of behavior on your campus. Have a consistent way of informing those who need to know who these persons are and how they are to respond if they are encountered.

Support those who have experienced harassment or abuse

Most importantly, the church can be a space of support for those who are healing and recovering from an instance of harassment or abuse. Listen to their story. Don't input your own opinion or advice (unless solicited). Be an advocate for safe spaces.

Unfortunately, these issues are not going away anytime soon, but we (the church) can be a place of strength and support. Comment below on what measures your church is doing to be a safe and strong space on the issue of sexual harassment and abuse.