17 June 2020

Methodist Church publishes guidelines on sexual harassment

The Methodist Church has today published a set of good practice guidelines for churches to raise awareness of sexual harassment, support victims, and bring about a change in culture to ensure all churches are caring communities, where people safely meet for worship, sharing and learning.

In the foreword to the guidelines and in a short film to go with them, the Revd Dr Barbara Glasson, President of the Conference, says:

“In these guidelines the Methodist Church is stepping forward to enable a safer worshipping and working environment for all associated with its work. More than this, it is aiming to initiate a change of mind-set and behaviours to take responsibility away from victims and bring those who harass to task.”

Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which violates dignity, intimidates, degrades or humiliates and creates a hostile or offensive environment. It is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.  

Sexual harassment can include: inappropriate comments or jokes of a sexual nature,  favouritism or gift-giving,  uninvited touching, hugging or kissing,  physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances, various forms of sexual assault, displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature,  sending emails with a sexual content, requests or demands for sexual favours.

The guidelines, which complement existing safeguarding, complaints and discipline policies, provide clear steps for managing cases of sexual harassment: Recognise, Respond, Refer, Record, and Reflect.

The Methodist Church worked with Director of Place for Hope, Ruth Harvey, in the development of the Guidelines. Ruth Harvey said:

“The Methodist Church has grasped with tenderness and rigour the necessity to give clear guidelines about sexual harassment in our churches. They are leading the way in how churches must respond to unacceptable behaviour within our midst. They are pointing to how changed behaviour affects habits which ultimately change our culture for good.”

Jill Baker, Chair of the Methodist Council said:

“Bringing these guidelines together has been the work of several years, initially seeking to respond to a number of confidential disclosures while I was Vice-President of the Conference a few years ago. These made it very clear that, sadly, there are many within our Church who have experienced sexual harassment. 

“I have often reflected on what it might mean for us to live as a broken, but healing community.  We are broken; we all recognise that we do make mistakes, we do misunderstand each other, we do misread the signals and cause offence.  Sometimes this is intentional, an abuse of power or trust, sometimes it is unthinking; it always needs challenging and we need to change.  That is where we can demonstrate that as well as being broken, we can be healthy, we can change, we can heal, we can learn new ways of behaviour, we can pay more attention to the needs of the body as a whole. 

“It is time to move beyond words to action; my hope and prayer is that these Good Practice Guidelines will help us in that.”

Richard Armiger, Director of Learning and Development, said:

"I am delighted to have been involved in working with Jill Baker and others from the initial ideas for this through to the production of these Good Practice Guidelines. I wholeheartedly commend them to the Church. Echoing something of what Barbara Glasson has said in her foreword and Jill Baker’s personal reflection my hope is that the publication of these guidelines will enable us to move from words into action as we seek to challenge inappropriate behaviour and to be a people who live and breathe positive working together in every aspect of our mission and ministry.”

The guidelines can be found here.

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