A sexually healthy and responsible congregation is free from sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct. Congregations need explicit policies and procedures to keep children, youth, and vulnerable adults safe from abuse and harassment; strong codes of conduct for religious professionals, and safeguards for congregants who have been accused or convicted of sexual offenses.
In 2014-2015, the Religious Institute developed the Sexually Safer Best Practice Initiative. A national colloquium of experts in safety policies and religious institutions was held in November 2014. At the colloquium, the experts developed consensus about the most important policies and practices that every congregation –regardless of size, denomination, theology, location, or demographic composition – – should have in place.
A congregational commitment to sexual safety involves the religious leaders, the board, the religious educators, the parents, volunteers, and indeed every member of the congregation.
Watch this short video to learn how your congregation can become a Sexually Safer Best Practice Congregation.
SAFER CONGREGATIONS BEST PRACTICES
The goal of these 18 practices is to assure that a congregation has a commitment to up-to-date well-publicized policies and procedures to prevent sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and professional sexual misconduct.
Each of the 18 best practices of a sexually safer congregation are presented below, along with suggestions on how they can be demonstrated and notes on how smaller congregations can meet the criteria. Congregations that do not have professional leadership or children and youth among its members can address fourteen of the criteria. Where indicated, links to sample policies, program outlines, or templates follow to give congregations ideas to adapt for their own policies or procedures. [Inclusion of a link does not imply endorsement by the Religious Institute for the organization, training or policy.]
Click here for a list of the 18 Sexually Safer Best Practices
Click for a form to use to assess how your congregation meets the criteria: Congregational Self-Assessment Form
Click here to submit your congregation’s assessment form for review and to apply for the “Sexually Safer Best Practice Congregation” seal.
Board and Clergy Commitment
Board and clergy commitment to “sexually safer congregation”.
Demonstrated by approval of the policy, submission of a self-assessment form.
SELF- ASSESSMENT FORM
Designated committee with responsibility for sexual safety policies and implementation.
Demonstrated by the existence of board or clergy named group, made up of congregation staff and members with related expertise from the congregation.
NOTE FOR SMALL CONGREGATIONS: In a congregation of fewer than 100 members, Board of Directors may explicitly have this responsibility.
Written Sexually Safer Congregation Policy
Written sexually safer congregation policy that is well publicized to congregation and reviewed/updated at least every other year.
Demonstrated by sexually safer congregation policy posted on website, and could also include updated policy in annual report, new membership materials and orientation, information for parents and guardians when enrolling children, and newsletter articles. The written policy should include updated reference to state laws on reporting abuse, and any expectations of adjudicatory and denomination for sexual safety efforts.
SAMPLE CONGREGATION OVERALL SAFER POLICIES
UU Ridgewood, NJ: The Unitarian Society of Ridgewood NJ Safe Congregation Philosophy
Sexual Harassment Policies
Sexual harassment policies for employees, volunteers, congregants, and youth.
Demonstrated by sexual harassment definitions and procedures in personnel policies, volunteer training materials, statement in new member materials or orientation, and youth group covenants. At a minimum, sexual harassment prevention policies must be included in the personnel policies for staff and as a written expectation in membership materials.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT SAMPLE POLICIES
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Sexual Harassment General Policy
The United Methodist Church Eradication of Sexual Harassment in The United Methodist Church and Society
Code of Conduct
Code of conduct related to sexual and romantic relationships for religious professionals known, including how to address concerns about professional misconduct to appropriate bodies.
Demonstrated by a statement in safer policies, newsletter articles, information on a website, or other. If there are no professional religious leaders employed by the congregation, but outside clergy lead worship periodically, the congregation can be notified at least every other year about the professional code of conduct in the denomination and outside clergy speakers should be expected to comply with it.
SAMPLE RELIGIOUS LEADERS CODES OF CONDUCT AND REPORTING PROCESS BY DENOMINATION
African Methodist Episcopal Church Sexual Misconduct Policies and Procedures
Conservative Jewish Movement (Rabbinical Assembly) Ethical Guidelines
Disciples of Christ Chaplains Disclosure and Release Form
Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church Title IV, Canon 4: Of Standards of Conduct
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Guidelines to Report Sexual Misconduct
OHALAH (Jewish Renewal) OHALAH Professional Code of Ethics
The United Methodist Church Sexual Misconduct within Ministerial Relationships: Rules and Roles for those in ministerial positions
Unitarian Universalist Association The UUMA Guidelines for the Conduct of Ministry
Clergy and other professional staff have had training on sexual misconduct prevention, handling sexual attractions and appropriate boundaries for their profession, and how to offer pastoral responses to disclosure of past and present abuse.
Demonstrated by a statement in employment contracts, personnel policy, signed statement by staff, and/or including in annual performance reviews and/or development plans.
NOTE FOR LAY LED CONGREGATIONS: Not applicable to most lay-led congregations; however, any lay person who regularly leads worship or provides pastoral care will be expected to have had such training.
CLERGY AND RELIGIOUS PROFESSIONALS TRAINING ON MISCONDUCT PREVENTION
Religious Institute Online course on misconduct prevention
Faith Trust Institute Courses and Training
Gunderson National Child Protection Training Center offers periodic in-person training workshops for faith leaders
NEARI offers free monthly webinars and free courses including an online course “Balancing Acts’ by Rev. Debra Haffner and Joan Tabachnick on including a person with a history of sex offenses in congregational life.
Education on Abuse Prevention
Education on abuse prevention awareness in context of positive sexuality education for children, youth, and parents/guardians at least every other year, including such topics as safer internet use, bystander and anti-bullying education.
Demonstrated by curricula outline, item in a calendar of events, religious education plan, newsletter article, etc.
NOTE FOR SMALL CONGREGATION: In a small congregation that does not have families with children, an every other year program for adults on sexual safety meets the criteria.
Education on abuse prevention
GUIDE TO CURRICULA BY AGE LEVEL
Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs: Sexual Violence Prevention Curricula Guide
SAMPLE LESSON PLANS AND RESOURCES
For Preteens and Teens
Advocates for Youth – Dealing with Sexual Abuse and Family Violence
Advocates for Youth – Sexual Violence: Rape and Date Rape
Sex Ed Library – Sexual Abuse, Assault, Violence, and Harassment
It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health
Our Whole Lives, Grade 7-9
Screening forms, references, background checks, and annually signed ethics policies for all staff and if applicable, for all volunteers who work with children, youth, disabled persons, elders, and other vulnerable adults.
Demonstrated by policy; existence of screening forms and background check records; personnel files include background check for each staff person; religious education files on volunteers; and copy of ethics policies for staff, religious education volunteers, musicians, pastoral care associates, disabled congregants, home visitors, and older adult ministries, as applicable to the congregation. Note that more rigorous state law takes precedence over these minimum criteria.
NOTE FOR SMALL CONGREGATIONS: May asks all volunteers to do background checks and then conduct random checks on a specified number each year plus any screening form that raises concerns unless state law requires background checks for everyone who works with children.
SAMPLE SCREENING FORMS
Sample Screening Form Template pdf
Obtaining background checks
Sample Ethics Policy
Staff and Volunteer Training
All staff and if applicable, all volunteers who work with children, youth, disabled persons, elders, and other vulnerable adults receive training on signs of sex abuse, sex abuse prevention, and reporting procedures.
Demonstrated by an outline of training, dates for training.
LINKS TO MATERIALS FOR TRAINING WORKSHOPS
Stop It Now: Facts sheets that can be used for handouts for training workshops on warnings signs, talking to children, safety planning, and information for parents of children with disabilities.
Faith Trust Institute: Child Abuse FAQs defines types of child abuse, signs and symptoms of abusers, and what to do if abuse is suspected.
Two Unrelated Adults
Requirement for two unrelated adults to be present as teachers/volunteers for religious education, teen religious education, youth group, Bible study, children and teen choirs, and other children or teen activities in the congregation.
Demonstrated by a statement in policy.
NOTE FOR SMALL CONGREGATIONS with the ability to have only one adult religious education volunteer per class: Policy should address holding sessions with children and youth only in spaces observable by other unrelated adults who periodically monitor rooms. The language related to unrelated adults and/or observable spaces should be included in policies even if there are currently no children in the congregation as membership may change.
Teens under 18
Teens under 18 acting as religious educators or group leaders with children must work with at least one adult and be screened and educated on abuse prevention like other volunteers; teenagers who babysit for congregation events must always work in groups of two or more and must be on an approved list of babysitters (and supervised by adults).
Demonstrated by statement in policy.
Note for small congregations: The language related to adolescent volunteers and babysitters should be included in policies even if there are currently no children or youth in the congregation as membership may change.
Spaces for Counseling and Education
Spaces for counseling and education for sessions with children and youth are easily observable by others.
NOTE: Not applicable for congregations that do not have children and teens in a congregation or do not offer counseling and education for them.
Demonstrated by physical assessment of spaces, written assurance on a self -assessment form.
Safety guidelines for overnights, mission trips, driving, and conferences that involve youth and adults, including guidance on sleeping arrangements and expectations related to sexual behaviors.
Demonstrated by written policy.
SAMPLE GUIDES FOR OVERNIGHTS, TRIPS, AND DRIVING
Youth Inclusion and Safety Guidelines for Staff of the Unitarian Universalist Association
Youth Group Guidelines
Youth group guidelines on romantic and sexual relationships, physical displays of affection, exclusive relationships within the youth group.
Demonstrated by a copy of guidelines, at a minimum, indicating that each year, a new group of youth will have an opportunity to review it and amend.
Youth Group Sample Policies
Questions for Creating a Youth Group Covenant pdf
Written policy on use of church computers/other technology and social media for clergy, staff, volunteers, etc.
Demonstrated by written policy that addresses such issues as staff and volunteer interaction with minors; tagging, posting, and friending policies; statement that the use of technology in faith-based organization should be public, observable, and monitored by church staff.
SAMPLE ONLINE POLICIES
Metropolitan Community Churches
Social Media Policy and Guidelines 2015
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Code of Conduct for blogs and social media
A written policy for addressing a person with a history of offenses wanting to attend or an allegation of a sexual offense committed by a current congregant, including the statement of grounds for possible exclusion of a person with a history of sex offenses.
Demonstrated by written policy that includes naming a response team (to consist of clergy person, director of religious education, board representative, and at least two to three congregants with relevant background) who consult with outside experts (therapist, parole officer) about situation; draft of a limited access/participation form; requirement for periodic review stated.
Note for a small congregation of fewer than 100 people: the Board of Directors may be the response team.
For referral for evaluations
If the congregation does not know a local treatment provider with expertise in evaluating person’s risks, the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers will send a referral upon request by email.
SAMPLE POLICIES FOR ADDRESSING PERSON WITH HISTORY OF OFFENSES
Reformed Church in America
Guidelines for including ex-offenders in a church.
Unitarian Universalist Association
Process for deciding if and how to include a person with a history of sex offenses in the congregation while assuring safety
Specific mention in written policy on how to include an adolescent or child who has sexually abused or sexually assaulted another youth or child in congregational life.
Demonstrated by a written policy that at minimum includes review by committee members with expertise in adolescents, support for both families and young people and not allowing offending adolescent unsupervised time with other children in congregation activities.
NOTE FOR SMALL CONGREGATIONS without families with children or youth: Policy should specifically address that members who have children or adolescent relatives visiting the congregation who have had a history of sexually abusing or assaulting a child or youth must be supervised and in the company of that adult at all times.
Sexual safety and abuse prevention is part of an ongoing commitment of congregation.
Demonstrated by actions such as statements on website and/or written materials; sexuality education in religious education that includes sex abuse prevention; social action campaigns as indicated in community or state; and/or including pamphlets and flyers from community resources that address sexuality and sexual abuse and violence in vestibule, pamphlet racks, bulletin boards, sermons on sexual abuse, etc.
Congregations that meet a minimum of three-quarters of the best practice criteria can receive the Best Practice Seal. The Worksheet for Internal Planning (PDF) can be used as a planning document by a congregation committee.
Once three-quarters of the relevant criteria are met, the Online Self-Assessment Form and a copy of the congregations’ sexually safer policy can be submitted online to the Religious Institute for review.
Congregations are responsible for their own self-assessments and the Religious Institute does not certify or assess if the submitted information is accurate, factual, or being implemented. Self-assessments should be done at least biannually to assure that policies are current and relevant to the congregation. Provision of the Sexually Safer Best Practices Seal does not guarantee that policies as reported are being implemented by the congregation. The Religious Institute is not legally liable for any violations that occur at congregations that display the seal.
NOTE: State law takes precedence over these policies if the state law is more stringent. Congregations are encouraged to have their safer policy reviewed by their attorneys and insurance companies.
List of Sexually Safer Best Practice Congregations
Sexually Safer Best Practice Congregations have completed a self-assessment of their sexual safety policies and procedures and meet at least three-quarters of the best practice criteria for a congregation of their size and composition.
The following congregations have submitted their self-assessment of their online policies which have been endorsed by their senior clergy and board of trustees.
The Unitarian Church in Westport (CT)
The Unitarian Society of Ridgewood (NJ)
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville (TN)
All Souls New London Unitarian Universalist Congregation (CT)
Disclaimer: The Religious Institute does not verify that policies and procedures are followed or implemented by the congregations listed below. Inclusion in this list is neither an endorsement or guarantee that the congregation is safe from abuse, harassment, and misconduct.
Denomination Policies and Programs
African Methodist Episcopal Church
American Baptist Churches USA
Christian Church ( Disciples of Christ )
Community of Christ
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Metropolitan Community Churches
Reformed Church America
Seventh-day Adventist Churches in North America
Sexual Harassment – Guidelines
Southern Baptist Convention
The United Methodist Church
United Church Of Christ
Unitarian Universalist Association
Congregation Handbook – Nurturing Healthy Boundaries within the UU community
For More Information
List of National organizations and web sites for more information
Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers is an international, multi-disciplinary organization dedicated to preventing sexual abuse. Through research, education, and shared learning ATSA promotes evidence based practice, public policy and community strategies that lead to the effective assessment, treatment and management of individuals who have sexually abused or are at risk to abuse.
Darkness to Light End Child Sexual Abuse. Online and in person training on child sexual abuse prevention and information about each state’s resources.
Faith Trust Institute Faith Trust Institute is a national, multifaith, multicultural training and education organization with global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence.
National Sexual Violence Resource Center The NSVRC’s Mission is to provide leadership in preventing and responding to sexual violence through collaboration, sharing and creating resources, and promoting research.
Prevent Child Abuse in America National organization focusing broadly on child abuse, including child sexual abuse. Chapters in each state may be a useful source for local referrals and support.
Religious Institute Multifaith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society. Creators of the Sexually Safer Best Practices Initiative.
Safe Church Samaritan An intensive one-year training and development on child sexual abuse offered by Samaritan Counseling Center in certain geographical hubs.
Stop It Now National organization on child abuse prevention, runs a hotline for help on discerning next steps in situations of suspected abuse. 1-888-Prevent