I was hosting a dinner recently and, as we sat around the table a young man brought up the subject of sexual harassment and the former Mayor Robert Doyle loosing his job over sexual misconduct allegations. He ended his conversation by asking what he could do? As a woman sitting at that table, I appreciated his question. But it quickly became apparent that this question was not the most pressing issue on our minds. A number of women started sharing their story. “I remember the first time I saw a male teacher looking down my shirt. When I complained, I was told to button more buttons.”
“I hated working in the restaurant because the head chef would push me up against the counter and touch my body. When I reported it, I was told just to stay away from him.”
One by one the stories tumbled out, and every woman at that table had a story to tell. We were intergenerational and from every background, and yet our stories echoed with familiarity around the table. It was abundantly clear that sexual harassment and abuse of women is part of everyday life for many of us. And if it happens in all the places we women recounted around the table that night, you can bet it’s happening in faith organisations.
Faith Institutions are varied in their expression, of course, and there is no unified voice that speaks on any issue. But as the stories keep coming out, I continue to be concerned about what we’re hearing from religious leadership these days – a loud silence. Because women, like all the women around my table last week, will start telling their stories and we will not stop, I’d like to propose that religious leaders begin taking some necessary steps to enter a conversation they should have been leading a very long time ago.