Sexual Harassment in Christian Schools | Heidi Campbell

 

This weeks March4Justice across Australia gave further profile to the increasing community response that sexual harassment in any context is unacceptable. Australian of the Year Grace Tame highlighted in her speech:

 men are not the enemy, corrupt behaviour is the enemy”……“Behaviour unspoken behaviour ignored is behaviour endorsed”.  

Grace Tame | Australian of the Year 2021

This perspective is helpful to ensure that our workplaces remain focused on responding to those who use such behaviour whilst consistently and proactively fostering [and where needed correcting] workplace cultures so they are places of safety.

As Christian places of work there is a non negotiable expectation that all employees can work out their ministry in safety.  There is no biblical principal that contradicts this standard.  This high bar of workplace behaviour expected of Christians should result in zero cases of workplace sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace conduct.  However, we live in a fallen world and the flesh is susceptible to all forms of deception so we must be on guard at all times, not only to the possibility that such behaviour may occur in the workplace but also be ready to respond rapidly and wisely if such behaviour occurs.

Members may recall that during 2019 CSA sought to see if the national results from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) 2018 national survey into Sexual Harassment (SH) in the Workplace; Everyone’s Business: 4 th National Survey on Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces’, were reflected within our 140 member schools.  Of the 323 voluntary responses an overwhelming 308 respondents (95%) stated they had not experienced SH within the Christian school context within the last 5 year period. The findings showed that Christian schools did not reflect the AHRC national findings of 1 in three people experiencing sexual harassment within the workplace.

Following the AHRC survey Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins commissioned an inquiry in 2020 in relation to sexual harassment within the workplace, this culminated in the report titled Respect@Work, that states:

sexual harassment within the workplace is not a women’s issue: it’s a societal issue”

Kate Jenkins | AHRC Survey Sex Discrimination Commissioner

REFLECTION

The inquiry pointed to gender inequality as a key driver in workplace sexual harassment. This inequality relates to unequal distribution of power between the genders, and unequal access to resources and opportunities.

How does your school work to provide open access to all opportunities within the workplace?

 

The 2019 CSA report into sexual harassment in Christian schools did not identify sexual harassment as a workplace issue. The results demonstrated that Christian Schools are far safer workplaces with a dramatically lower prevalence of sexual harassment and confirmed that Christian schools as the employer do act against perpetrators.  What was identified in the CSA report was the lack of visibility of school wide responses, such as the review or improving of policies or reporting processes.

Informed by the 2018 AHRC findings, the Respect@Work inquiry examined the nature and prevalence of sexual harassment within the workplace, the drivers of this harassment and measures to adopt and prevent this from occurring.

The inquiry highlighted that cultural and systemic factors play a key role, both in creating and preventing sexual harassment at work.  The role of leaders was identified as key influencers.  As Christian workplaces already know, the bible is very clear on the level of accountability imposed on leaders, it is higher:

From everyone who been given much will be demanded, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Luke 12:48

The leader in a Christian school is asked to model accountability.  In treating each employee as an important contributor, extending grace and providing an ongoing environment of fairness and workplace relationships that  in turn hold one another to be accountable to the Word of God.  This focus is a safety mechanism because it keeps the focus of importance off oneself and onto others.

The inquiry identified that the presence of a male dominated hierarchical structure is a risk factor for increased sexual harassment.    The Christian workplace celebrates that everyone is called to serve according to the giftings of the Holy Spirit.  The focus is not on one’s gender, but on one’s offerings.  School devotions, leadership meetings, appointment of staff, school structures and communications are some of the avenues available to the school to demonstrate the school’s incorporation and expression of staff offerings.

The inquiry identified that isolated communities may be at risk to increased instances of sexual harassment because of the barriers that can exist to reporting or challenging these behaviours.  This is an important alert for schools that operate in remote areas or in smaller communities.  There can often be a higher degree of informal interactions and this can inadvertently permit the creeping of inappropriate workplace conduct.  The importance of encouraging and supporting external peer networks, having clear processes in place and modelling appropriate workplace interactions remain applicable safety practices.  AS for all employers, ongoing and deliberate exposure to Christian forums, literature and discussions and remaining abreast of societal trends is a helpful practice in remaining balanced and alert.

The inquiry noted that sexual harassment costs workplaces. The impact on employee mental health, loss of staff and productivity, and reputational damage are all casualties of such conduct.  Christian employers view the loss much deeper, to violate another person, whom God loves dearly, is to grieve the Holy Spirit.

Download “Nature of Sexual Harassment” PDF

“The creation of workplace processes requires consultation.  Whilst this require time, it also provides the school with valuable insight into the perspectives of staff and may inform the correction or embedding of workplace cultures.”

Keeping Christian Workplaces Safe

  • Accountability
    • Read the Word of God
    • Stay connected to Church, study groups, and relationships that support your walk with God
  • Remain open
    • Stay informed of social issues and discuss with your employees how to navigate these within the workplace
    • Encourage employees to participate in forums, workshops, discussions and engage with literature that furthers biblical understanding and application in everyday life
  • Inform and Act
    • Have a Code of Conduct, Statement of Faith and Sexual Harassment policy in place
    • Have processes in place that allow all employees to voice a concern
    • Communicate dispute or complaint processes to all staff so everyone understands how to access these
    • Seek wise counsel to help navigate these difficult matters

Download Keeping Christian Workplaces Safe PDF


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