I came across this article about clergy sexual abuse and the concept of eroticized power seemed relevant to the current blog series on sexual abuse in the church. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the following in the comments.
“A power imbalance is easily sexualized or eroticized. Carolyn Holderread Heggen notes that: The imbalance of power between men and women has become eroticized in our culture. Many persons find male power and female powerlessness sexually arousing. In general, men are sexually attracted to females who are younger, smaller, and less powerful than themselves. Women tend to be attracted to males who are older, larger, and more powerful. Male clergy have a great imbalance of power over their congregations, which are often predominately women, therefore, the stage is set for a sexually inappropriate expression of this power differential.
In some instances, misuses of power can be sexualized in situations that begin as mentoring. This could happen in the case of an older man or woman taking an interest in a younger person of either gender for the purpose of encouraging that youth’s development. Youth activities that begin as play can become a context of power and authority when youth leaders do not understand the power they possess simply by virtue of their age, authority and gender.
Because they have greater power, the leader always bears primary responsibility to protect the boundaries of the relationship. The person with the greater power must act in the best interests of the person with lesser power. This holds true even when the person with less power makes sexualized advances. A leader is the keeper of a trust and, as such, is responsible to ensure that no sexualized behavior occurs, “…no matter what the level of provocation or apparent consent.”