Responding To Charges Of Sexual Harassment: Priorities For Religious Organizations

Written exclusively for My Community Workplace for Religious Organizations

Trinity Wall Street, a church in New York City, recently announced that it placed its famed director of music and the arts on leave while it investigates allegations of sexual misconduct made against him.

A former employee at Juilliard accused the music director, who has been nominated for Grammy Awards and has served the church for more than a decade, of sexually assaulting her during the 2014 Juilliard music festival in Aiken, South Carolina. In an interview with The New York Times, the woman said she helped organize the festival, which featured the music director and the acclaimed Trinity choir.

During the festival, the music director allegedly asked her to get him a drink at a house where Juilliard staff members were staying. While she was preparing the drink in the kitchen, she claims the music director groped and kissed her for almost two minutes, ignoring her repeated calls for him to stop. The Times interviewed both a friend and a colleague of the woman, both of whom said they remembered her describing the encounter with the music director at the time.

The former Juilliard employee said she did not report the incident to law enforcement because she was in a different state and was "pressed for time in the middle of a tour."

She was 24 years old at the time of the alleged sexual assault. She said she felt powerless to defend herself against such an influential figure. She said she worried at the time that she would suffer professional consequences if she spoke up. She said she still has panic attacks that she attributes to the incident.

According to the Times, the woman reported the incident to Juilliard, which vowed not to hire the music director in the future. Juilliard issued a statement recently that it knew of "unacceptable conduct" by the music director in 2014. The school said that at the time of the incident, it offered full support to the employee and informed the music director that he would not be invited back.

In a statement to The New York Times, the church said that it first learned of sexual misconduct allegations against the music director through social media in February 2022. The former Juilliard employee had posted a detailed account of the alleged sexual assault on her social media accounts.

Trinity stated that it has hired outside counsel to investigate the allegations. The music director was placed on administrative leave on March 1, 2022, and will remain on leave during the investigation. The music director denied the allegations through his attorney. Javier C. Herna?ndez "Trinity Church?s Conductor Put on Leave Amid Investigation" (Mar. 13, 2022).

Commentary and Checklist

This church, upon learning of the allegations, placed the accused on administrative leave and hired an investigator. These are the first appropriate steps to take when such allegations are made, no

matter the level of fame or respect an accused enjoys in your religious community.

Although the article did not indicate whether the accused was put on paid leave, that would be appropriate pending the outcome of an investigation.

This makes sure the accused is not financially “punished” pending the outcome of the investigation, but it also separates the accused and accuser, preventing further harassment, should it be determined through the investigation that harassment did, in fact, occur.

Here are some additional best practices for preventing sexual harassment in your religious organization:

  • Have a clear sexual harassment policy in place that protects all individuals from harassment. Make sure it is clear that illegal behavior that takes place off-site is still subject to the policy.
  • Have multiple reporting mechanisms in place so that anyone can report without fear of retaliation. Accept anonymous reports.
  • Investigate every report, no matter the accuser or the accused.
  • Train employees and volunteers on the policy.
  • Have trainees sign an acknowledgement of the policies upon hiring and after every training session.
  • Make sure no one is retaliated against who participates in or supports an investigation of sexual harassment.
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