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Sexual Harassment at Church? Never!

Seven-year-old Cheltzie Hentz was rudely awakened to the world
of sexual harassment on her school bus. Boys repeatedly called the
Eden Prairie, Minnesota, second-grader crude names and made fun of
her because she didn’t have a penis.

After her mother, Sue Mutziger, submitted 22 pages of complaints,
the boys were lectured and briefly suspended. But Mutziger felt the
schools didn’t do enough to protect her daughter. Mutziger filed a
complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil
Rights (OCR). The OCR ruled that Cheltzie was indeed sexually
harassed and that the school district “failed to take timely and
effective action” to deal with or prevent the situation.

With today’s heightened sensitivity to sexual harassment, how can
you know if it’s happening in your ministry?

Defining sexual harassment is a daunting task that’s difficult
even for the courts. To one girl, a boy’s comments may be flirting
and to another girl the same comments made by the same boy may
constitute a menace. So much of it is up to the individual’s

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual
harassment as “verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature
that unreasonably interferes with a person’s work performance or
creates an intimidating or hostile or offensive

For children, some experts redefine sexual harassment as conduct
of a sexual nature that causes a child to feel humiliated, scared,
or uncomfortable.

Combat sexual harassment with the following:

Establish a policy. Your policy must apply to children
and staff. According to the Minnesota Department of Education, a
sexual harassment policy must contain the following:

-A stand against sexual harassment.
-A definition of sexual harassment.
-A listing of consequences for sexual harassment, such as
suspension from involvement in ministry activities for a certain
-A promise to investigate all complaints.
-An explanation of the complaint process (the complaint is to be
put in writing).
-A promise of protection from retaliation for any
-A promise of confidentiality for everyone involved.

Educate volunteers. Your staff members need to know
what to do if they overhear a potentially harassing conversation or
if a child complains to them. Why? The most important thing you can
do in an alleged harassment situation is to protect the victimized
child. Secondly, failure to act decisively could result in an
expensive lawsuit from that child’s parents.

Encourage children to report. Tell children you want to
know about anything that makes them uncomfortable-whether actions
or words from other children or staff. Tell kids that no one has
permission to touch them or say anything that makes them feel yucky
about being a boy or a girl.

Involve parents. Before an incident occurs, distribute
your sexual harassment policy to parents. If there ever is a
complaint, involve the parents of the child with the complaint and
the child or children who are accused of harassment. Tell parents
what you’ve learned and involve them in the process of finding the

Set up a meeting. Meet with the senior pastor, the
involved children, and their parents. Ask both sides to tell how
they perceive the situation. If there is evidence of sexual
harassment, remind parents of your policy and carry out the
consequences of the policy.

Monitor children’s behavior closely. Don’t throw a
harassed child to the wolves. Provide constant supervision for
children who have previously been harassed. If there are more
violations, intervene swiftly.

Use this guide to distinguish between harmful and harmless
boy/girl interaction.

Sexual HarrassmentFlirting
feels “bad”feels “good”
is degradingis a compliment
is unwantedis wanted
is illegalis legal
makes you feel sad or angrymakes you feel happy
urts your self-esteemincreases your self-esteem

Copyright© Group Publishing, Inc. / Children’s Ministry

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