Eroticizing Power

December 8th, 2017

I came across this resource for clergy sexual abuse and the concept of eroticized power seems relevant among the current mass reports of sexual misconduct among powerful people in politics and Hollywood.

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.”

This is especially true of youth workers. We have been given a sacred place in the lives of vulnerable teens. The very nature of our position will attract individuals with proclivities towards eroticized power. As a result, we must remain vigilant over our own industry. The propensity towards misusing power in the ministry in a sexual manner plagues us today and hinders our ability to be taken serious as a profession.

We are stewards of power, power that comes with the positions we hold, positions we’ve been called to by God. We will be held accountable for how we steward that power and how the power we wielded impacted those we’ve been called to serve.

As the great Uncle Ben Parker, from the Spiderman comics, once said,

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

chrisChris Schaffner is a certified addictions counselor working with chemically dependent ’emerging adults’ and is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.


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