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Sexual abuse and the Christian congregation - The role of gender in pastoral care for victims

Conference paper
Authors Lisa Rudolfsson
Inga Tidefors
Leif Strömwall
Published in 20th World congress for sexual health, Glasgow, United Kingdom, June 12-16, 2011
Publication year 2011
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords Victims of sexual abuse, pastoral care, gender differences, questionnaire study, anchoring vignettes
Subject categories Psychology, Psychology of religion


Introduction: Despite clerics already counseling people subjected to abuse, many of them lack sufficient training for this task. Sexual abuse is apprehended differently, according to whether the victim and/or perpetrator are female or male, as well as if the caregiver is male or female. Objective: This study investigated the role of gender in the care for victims of sexual abuse within three Swedish Christian denominations; the Church of Sweden, the Pentecostal Church, and the Catholic Church. Method: Questionnaires, anchored by vignettes illustrating different abuse situations were answered by 421 clerics. Results: A majority, 72.9 percent of the responding clerics, had met victims of sexual abuse in their role as a minister/priest/pastor. Female respondents apprehended the described situations as more likely to occur than male respondents. Levels of preparedness to offer pastoral care and belief in the likelihood of the situations to occur were higher when a female was the victim or a male was the perpetrator. Furthermore, denominational differences were found concerning level of personal discomfort when hearing about the abuse; Pentecostal respondents reported a higher level of discomfort than ministers within the Church of Sweden. Also, some respondents advocated for the use of mediation between the confidant and his/her abuser, not taking into consideration that this can put the victim in a vulnerable position, and possibly silence the victim. Conclusion: The study confirmed that issues of gender are present within pastoral care for victims of sexual abuse and that it might affect the care given, within Christian denominations.

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