Are the choir director’s behaviors sexually harassing?

Dear Stop It Now!,
The choir director in church makes comments or jokes that are usually sexually oriented. He has also spoken about pornography in conversations. Girls have reported that he likes to touch them and that their space feels invaded when he stands too close to them. Is this sexual harassment?

Dear Concerned Community Member,
You are describing warning signs that adults should pay attention to in regards to our children’s safety. Please look specifically at the signs regarding adult behaviors that indicate they may be at-risk to abuse children. He is demonstrating several of those signs:

  • Making sexual jokes and comments around children
  • Referencing pornography when with children
  • Ignoring personal boundaries
  • Touching children

Are other adults aware of his behaviors? It is helpful to have alliesi and then I would recommend that this information must be reviewed as soon as possible with the adults responsible for supervising this man. While you indicate that there has been no disclosure of actual abuse made as of yet, I would say that it is critical that the adults plan for safety. I would advise you to please review our prevention tool on Child sexual abuse prevention for faith communities.  It is important that communities think about how they want to respond protectively to situations that are concerning and indicate warning signs of an at-risk situation. Please feel free to share any of our information with other parents and the bigger community.

One option is also to talk the choir director directly about his behaviors and the girls’ reports of how his behavior is making him feel. Conversations like this can be difficult but can also help successfully put into place the beginning of a safety plan. The conversation can be about what the expectations are of his behavior and what parents want for their children to feel safe. If this conversation can happen in a supportive manner, offering him support to help him keep safe boundaries with children, perhaps he will also begin to understand that his behavior needs to change and that adults are going to responsibly look out for children. Our guidebook, “Let’s Talk” may help you and others prepare for this conversation if this feels like a possibility.

I would suggest that folks immediately think about safety planning for these children while the adults determine how to proceed.  Even if the above suggested conversation takes place, I would think strongly about ongoing contact with children and what kind of supervision will help everyone stay safe. At the very least, he should never be alone with children without another adult being present.

And finally, I want to ask you to review and share our information on safety planning from our website, starting with Don't Wait: Everyday Actions to Keep Children Safe and Talking to Children and Teens. Every protective adult should be aware of safety planning for children and in their families.

It is most important that the discomfort felt by these girls be acknowledged and responded to. It’s great that they have shared their feelings, and the observations about this man’s behavior gives everyone very concrete points for conversation. I’m confident, that with the support of your community, you can protect children. I hope this information is helpful and invite  you to please contact us with any further concerns or questions.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: August 1st, 2012