Reflections

A Magazine of Theological and Ethical Inquiry from Yale Divinity School

From the Dean’s Desk - by Gregory E. Sterling

Author: 
Gregory E. Sterling

From Harvey Weinstein to Les Moonves, from the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” investigation to the Pennsylvania grand jury report on sex abuse in the Catholic Church, from the 2015 Association of American Universities (AAU) Campus Survey on Sexual Assault to the biannual reports of the Title IX Office at Yale University, from Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill to Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, accounts of sexual misconduct have made violence against women and children one of the most pressing moral issues confronting us.

Unfortunately, the cases are not just media reports about strangers in a distant community, they are about people we know and love. A close friend recently told me what happened to her at a mid-size firm. One of her employees called her and told her that he “wanted her.” When she rejected his offer, he coldly said: “If I cannot have you, no one will.” Unnerved at his threat, she reported it to her boss, who callously told her that she must not be a good supervisor and asked her if she wanted a transfer! As hard as this is to believe, it is an episode repeated more than any of us would like to admit.

One positive result of the #MeToo movement is that enough women have come forward so that their voices cannot be silenced. This is certainly true at Yale, where the number of complaints has risen dramatically. The Title IX Office in the Provost Office issues reports about sexual abuse every six months. Prior to the second half of 2015, the average number of complaints was 58 for each six-month period. Since July 1, 2015, the average number of complaints has been 101 for each six-month period. The most recent report contained 154 complaints, the highest number to date. It is not that there have been more occurrences of sexual misconduct during these reporting periods but that more people have reported events.

I have witnessed the horrors of silence. In a church that I once served a man whose wife died was arrested two weeks later for raping his granddaughter. I later learned that he had abused his own daughter, but that his wife had kept this quiet out of a sense of shame. He needed psychiatric help, but did not receive it until he had seriously wounded the lives of two young women in his family. These traumas left scars in the hearts of the entire family and church. Silence can have serious consequences for so many.

How can we help? Let me offer a few observations. First, this is fundamentally a problem of power – an abuse of power that leads someone to use another human being for self-gratification and silence them. Second, we must address the structural problem of patriarchy that undergirds this misuse of power. The vast majority of offenders are males. A significant number of writers in this issue correctly point to patriarchy as a major problem. I hope that conservative Christians who hold on to ancient patriarchy will think hard about the implications of the system they support. It undermines the credibility of Christianity as a movement to help people. Third, we must learn to treat one another as human beings, not as objects of desire or pawns to manipulate. The group of students about whom I worry most as a dean is the transgender students. The 2015 AAU report made it clear that they receive more abuse than any other group. I am grateful for their voices in this issue. Fourth, we need to speak up as Christians with one voice against sexual abuse. We are trying to do so through this Reflections and through a public panel that we hosted in New York City in September. This is not only a legal issue, it is a moral issue; it is not only a women’s issue, it is a human issue; it is not only a Catholic issue, it is a Christian issue. It affects all of us directly or indirectly.

It is not easy to speak about sexual issues; they touch us at the most intimate level. I want to express my deep appreciation to those who have contributed to this issue. I know almost every writer personally. Some speak out of personal anguish; others out of hearts that are heavy with the abuse they have seen; all speak out of a deep concern to overcome one of the greatest moral problems we face. May we all join them for the sake of God, for one another, and for ourselves.

Issue Title: 
Sex, Gender, Power: A Reckoning
Issue Year: 
2018