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A sexual harassment protocol

Posted on: February 26, 2002 2:48 PM
Related Categories: Australia

From the Most Revd Peter Watson, Archbishop of Melbourne

In the light of recent publicity surrounding the handling of cases of sexual misconduct in the Diocese of Brisbane, it is important to point out that the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne has established procedures for dealing with complaints of sexual misconduct or harassment. Under the procedures a committee has been appointed, as well as a Panel of Advisers. You should be aware that a pamphlet on how to make a complaint is readily available from the Diocesan Centre. It is intended for wide distribution throughout the parishes of the Diocese. Schools and other Anglican organisations for the most part are separately incorporated and independently governed and they should have their own procedures.

The first step in making a complaint to us is to call the recorded information line, at any time, on 1800 135 246. However, contacting one of the Church's Advisers does not prevent following other avenues as well, such as contacting the Equal Opportunity Commission, independent legal advice or the police.

The principles that lie behind an effective Sexual Harassment Protocol

1) The person making the complaint must be taken seriously. The victim in a case of sexual harassment, or worse, has already been dis-empowered and abused. Taking the step of making a complaint can require enormous emotional effort. Therefore, in implementing our protocol, an Adviser will attempt to clearly communicate to the victim that they are being taken seriously. Every effort must be made to treat the person with respect and care.

2) The victim of sexual abuse or harassment should also experience a sense of control over the process by which we deal with their complaint. Their feelings and expectations must be respected. An Adviser will inquire how they want the matter to be handled. Wherever allegations involve minors, parents must be part of the process. However, matters involving minors, or violence such as rape, are already subject to the processes of criminal law and will be referred to the police.

3) All allegations have to be treated in a way that takes account of the principles of natural justice. This becomes particularly significant if the seriousness of the allegations leads to further action.

4) Sexual relationships are never acceptable in a pastoral context, even though they may appear to be consensual. Why? Because they involve an abuse of a position of power. Persons holding office in the Church hold positions of trust and they are necessarily in a position of power in relation to parishioners or clients. Maintaining appropriate boundaries is always the responsibility of the person with power. In these circumstances, sexual relationships always betray both the position of trust and the vulnerable person.

5) Touching another person in intensely emotional situations, whether of grief, trouble or joy, must not be taken for granted. Care should be taken that the touching is welcome and understood. It probably ought to be altogether avoided. Pastoral situations, if possible, should occur in circumstances and places which do not easily allow for indiscretions or worse.

6) Sexual harassment is a term to cover any uninvited and unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. Harassment can be subtle and implicit and is most serious when the harasser is in a position of power over the harassed.

We live in an increasingly sophisticated and complex age, in which expectations of professional conduct in all quarters of society are increasing all the time. This is to be welcomed in our Church context, because it calls on us to be appropriately sensitive and accountable for the responsibilities we have accepted. I welcome the public scrutiny over the way this Diocese conducts its affairs, and it is my intention that we should become better at identifying and rectifying any shortcomings in our processes.

One of the realities we face in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse and harassment is that often the perpetrators refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of what has occurred. In a denial of responsibility by the harasser, the victims are sometimes portrayed as complicit or even proactive in the matter and the person who allegedly committed the harassment sees himself or herself as now becoming a victim. Such a defence is a delusion. So I emphasise that those of us in a position of pastoral trust and responsibility always have the duty of care toward those who come to us for ministry.

Article from: Anglican Media Melbourne