Basic Facts about Collusion

by Dee Ann Miller
from author's home page:

Collusion with evil can and does occur often in every culture and organization. It commonly occurs in families, as well as institutions, whenever the presenting problem creates a sense of shame to those who would prefer to see the dysfunctional behavior minimized or totally ignored.

By this author's definition, collusion is the conscious or unconscious collaboration of two or more individuals to protect those engaged in unethical practices.

The degree of collusion seems to correlate with the amount of power or respect, whether warranted or not, that is held by the perpetrator. The more sacred the institution is deemed to be in it's idealized form, the greater the collusion. This is why clergy perpetrators bring the greatest amount of shock to so many congregants.

While people are often surprised and horrified when a father or mother abuses their child, the shock is multiplied and the degree of collusion is therefore magnified in most cases. This starts a vicious cycle--the more collusion we find, the more shocked we are. The more shocked people are, the greater the fear of speaking up. The greater the shock, the less likely people are to believe. The less they believe, the more persecution there is for the messenger and the messenger's family. Shooting sometimes seems merciful! The greater the collusion, the less likely one is to find justice--sometimes even in the courts.

So, anyone wanting to understand collusion, even in general society, will do well to go where conventional wisdom assumes a problem is least likely to be present. In the case of sexual or domestic abuse, the faith community seems to be the most shocked of all to find a perpetrator in their midst, especially in the leadership in the church itself.

Most shocking to many: people often collude to protect other colluders!

Persons who collude may do so actively (the fighting mode) or passively (the flight mode).

Collusion is usually far more devastating to victims than the primary abuse.

Please note: The DEMONS are NOT the perpetrators. They aren't the colluders, and certainly not the survivors. I've named the collective demons in an acronym--DIM thinking--DENIAL, IGNORANCE, and MINIMIZATION. We are all prone to participate in any or all of those elements. In fact, survivors generally do for a long time before facing reality. Sadly, few realize that those to whom they report may be stuck in DIM thinking, either from personal family-of-origin issues, previous acquaintance with abuse cases, or because of what they believe is the novelty of the current one that somehow should allow for "mercy" or minimal action. For every person who hears of such horrific trauma will be forced to go through the same process that the survivor did. Like survivors, in spite of training, people in power can also take a long time to face reality, if they ever do.

Behind collusion one will always find some form of DIM Thinking* (Denial, Ignorance, and Minimization). Ignorance here may refer to one or all of the following: mis-information about the dynamics of abuse, resistence to attempts to provide education, or a choice to ignore what one knows. Colluders may be guilty of DIM Thinking about the abuse, about collusion itself, or both.

Examples of passive collusion:

1. A member of the congregation decides that it is "none of my business" to get involved when she overhears the girls in her youth group discussing how uncomfortable they have felt in the past when alone in a counseling session with the minister or youth leader. Rev. Smith is approached by a member of his friend's church about concerns that the member's pastor, one of Smith's close friends, has been seen several times recently in restaurants at a table-for-two with a recently-widowed member of the congregation. Rev. Smith chides the member, telling him: "I know your pastor well. We fish together at least once a month. Why he was even president of our Ministerial Alliance last year! I'm going to pray that your spirit will be cleansed of this suspicious nature." Rev. Smith refuses to speak to anyone else about the problem. He does not even confront his friend. Biblically speaking he "walks by on the other side." (See the story of the Good Samaritan for further insights.)

2. A pastor ignores the recommendations of his denomination, refusing to encourage his congregation to adopt policies which would help insure safety and adequate supervision of the children and youth during church-sponsored programs and events. Bishop Johnson puts a letter from a victim in his "low priority" stack. In it, the young woman is voicing her weariness that she continues to be left hanging as the adjudicatory committee of their denomination holds meeting after meeting without taking any decisive action. She asks that the bishop call her at his earliest convenience. Later, when confronted by the victim's husband, he defends his passivity, saying: "I didn't see anything in the letter that needed a response."

3. Colleagues of the perpetrator, along with their wives, either shun the wife who is a victim of domestic violence and/or whose children are victims of incest by their father. The shunning gets worse once the woman files for divorce. Old friends quit calling. If they meet her on the street, they may strike up a conversation about the weather or politics, but never about the greatest trauma she has ever known!

Examples of active collusion:

1. Upon hearing of the allegations being investigated against his pastor, a church leader manages to find out the alleged victim's name, then calls other church leaders and key people in the community to make certain they know that the accuser is "crazy" and "has a history of immoral and untrustworthy behaviors.

2. Mrs. Anderson, a wealthy congregant, certain that her denomination did nothing wrong by ignoring the reports of "trouble-making" victims for almost two years, contributes $500,000 to help denominational leaders find the best attorney to defend itself against a civil suit. Several members of a congregation tell their minister's wife that she is no longer welcome in their services, but that her husband will continue to occupy the pulpit, even though she has recently been forced to go to a shelter for safety. They tell her that they are very disappointed that she is not willing to forgive, move back in the parsonage, and “start making things right again.“

3. When a young woman who is a recovering alcoholic reveals to people in the church that she is an incest victim, she is told that her story is not something that is appropriate for discussion in the women's group or anywhere else in the church. They insist she is blaming her father and not taking responsibility for “her part” in the abuse.

Later, she courageously approaches the pastor after she has maintained sobriety for several years. She wants help in starting a survivors' group in the church. She wants to give her testimony in worship service. The pastor tells her there would not be enough interest in her group. He is happy for her to give her testimony, as long as she avoids using disturbing references to her history of incest in any way.

4. Denominational leaders tell victims of abusive clergy that there is no money to help with their therapy. Yet these same leaders take in millions of dollars every year for missions or other causes to help oppressed people around the world. In addition, they have no difficulty announcing that they have a fund set up to help ministers who have been terminated for a variety of causes, including sexual abuse of congregants.


  • ROLE REVERSAL--thoughts or behaviors which treat victims as perpetrators and perpetrators as victims.
  • SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL--shaming of self or others for even daring to think or speak or be in conversation with anyone who is speaking about the abuse.
  • PASS THE BUCK--an endless game which allows persons at every level and in every capacity of an organization to rationalize that the work of investigating and then holding a perpetrator accountable belongs somewhere else. (Almost invariably the buck repeatedly gets passed back to the victim, who must either ignore the evidences of DIM thinking or search for the energy to once again speak out.)
  • LET'S PRETEND--going about all of the usual activities of the church while refusing to acknowledge the "elephant" issue of which most members are already aware on some level--an issue which is managing to impact the church in virtually everything it does. (might also be called "OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND") This game assumes that it is the responsibility of victims and advocates to initiate every conversation about the "elephant." If they do, then the problem is obviously theirs. If they do not, then there is no problem.
  • LET'S MAKE A DEAL--offering a victim or advocate something, either tangible or intangible, to keep quiet. (Examples: "If you will just go quietly to another congregation, we won't tell anyone that you had an affair with the minister." OR actually paying "hush money" in exchange for the victim's agreement not to take the perpetrator of denomination to court.)

Writer Linda Crockett, a victim of maternal-daughter abuse, gives us a wonderful example through her own horrific memoir about the common re-victimization of collusion from the non-offending parent.

Writer Dee Ann Miller, owner of this site, shows how the re-victimization plays out in powerful "faith" institutions through her 1993 memoir of collusion on the mission field, How Little We Knew and her subsequent mini-novel, called The Truth about Malarkey , a reality-based work of fiction set in Waco, Texas.

Dee Ann Miller is the author of Enlarging Boston's Spotlight: A Call for Courage, Integrity, and Institutional Transformation (2017) How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct (1993) and The Truth about Malarkey (2000)