Sexual Abuse in the Church
All parents want their children to grow up in safe and loving environments. Families who attend church expect that environment to be safe and welcoming, like a second home. Unfortunately, that isn’t always true. Reports of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church have heightened the public’s awareness of this serious problem and made families second-guess the safety of their church. The Catholic Church, however, is not unique. Sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy and trusted advisors within the church community can happen in any faith. Shame, fear, and guilt mixed with religion can be a potent force that intimidates and prevents children from speaking up about sexual abuse. However, it is important that children know they can turn to a parent or adult for help.
Victims of sexual abuse suffer serious psychological and emotional trauma. Sexual abuse includes not only sexual contact but also showing sexual images to children or making sexual suggestions to children. The long-term negative effects of childhood sexual abuse can include a range of behavioral disorders along with relationship difficulties, substance abuse, sexual dysfunction, diminished self-esteem, anger problems, anxiety, and more. Individualized counseling sessions, trauma-focused behavioral therapy, Solution Focused therapy, or group therapy administered by a licensed therapist can help set the child on a path to recovery. Treatment is based on what is best for the individual. Some victims of childhood sexual abuse may require life-long therapy in order to process and heal from the trauma inflicted on them.
It is difficult to know just how many people suffer from church-related sexual abuse. These figures are often not as easily found, and in some cases, they are drastically underreported. If you find yourself the victim of this type of incident, we encourage you to reach out to get help. Our church sexual abuse lawyer is here to help you, even if you are unsure that you have a case.
It’s estimated that 9.2% of children who are sexually assaulted at some point during their lives were adjusted by religious leaders. Some additional research indicates that as much as 2% to 4% of women churchgoers have experienced some type of sexual harassment, assault, or advancement by a member of the clergy.
A survey by Pew Research makes it clear that most people don’t have any idea how common this type of abuse is, and many are not willing to acknowledge it. Yet, it occurs in most types of religions.
Sexual Abuse Claims in the Catholic Church
Shock and outrage followed reports of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in 2002. The scandal that broke in Boston was not isolated to that city. In late 2018, reports of sexual misconduct by Indianapolis area priests hit the media. Allegations in one report date back several decades, according to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Archbishop Charles C. Thompson issued a public statement following the report for renewed transparency and accountability of the clergy. He further stated that he would be seeking the guidance of the Archdiocesan Review Board to assist in preparing a list for publication of all clergy, living and deceased, with a substantiated claim of sexual abuse against a child or minor.
These new conversations within churches and religious organizations are a positive step toward preventing future sexual impropriety committed by clergy. However, the church still needs to be held accountable for the many years of sexual abuse alleged by countless victims. Some of these victims may have repressed these memories as a form of coping and are now realizing this trauma. Media reports have uncovered that some churches reassigned clergy after reports of sexual abuse in a way to keep the abuse quiet rather than address the wrongdoing and show concern for the child’s well-being. This action allowed these sexual predators access to more children.
Our attorneys are currently investigating claims against the Archdiocese across Indiana, including Indianapolis, Ft. Wayne, and Evansville. These investigations preceded the list published by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis of the nineteen (19) priests with substantiated claims of abuse against them on October 11, 2018. The investigation process can be complex from both a legal and an emotional standpoint for clients. From a legal standpoint, the statute of limitations, which essentially creates a deadline for when claims can be brought, could keep victims from seeking justice in a court of law. For this reason, it is important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible to understand your rights related to your specific case. From an emotional standpoint, talking about the events can be difficult for victims of sexual abuse. Our trauma-trained attorneys have experience guiding victims through the investigation process in a way that does not re-victimize them. This can make a considerable difference for clients as they navigate the legal process in bringing a claim.
In addition to our legal investigation, the church has implemented a process for doing an internal investigation of claims made against clergy members that may not protect the victim’s interests. For this reason, we strongly urge anyone considering bringing a lawsuit against the church to talk with an experienced sexual abuse attorney before they contact the church.
Sexual Abuse Claims in Southern Baptist Convention
The sexual abuse crisis within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was brought to the forefront of public concern following a 2019 news report about an investigation conducted by journalists at the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. The public outcry that followed finally led to a decision by SBC leaders to allow an independent investigation into sexual abuse claims within the church. Guidepost Solutions was hired to investigate allegations of abuse committed by SBC Executive Committee members, reports of mishandling of abuse allegations and allegations of mistreatment of sexual abuse victims by SBC Executive Committee members. This investigation covered a timespan of more than 20 years.
In response to the Guidepost report, SBC leaders released a list of church leaders and volunteers who had been accused of sexual abuse. View a list of Indiana SBC Accused Clergy.
Sexual Abuse Claims in Fundamental Baptist churches
Hundreds of accounts of sexual abuse and molestation surfaced against numerous fundamental Baptist churches following an investigation by Fort Worth, Texas based newspaper the Star-Telegram. The media outlet conducted an eight-month investigation into claims of sexual abuse and molestation in 2018 after two men were arrested on charges of sexual abuse at a Mesquite, Texas, church. The investigation uncovered an alarming number of independent fundamental Baptist churches and affiliated institutions with numerous accusations of sexual abuse. By the Star-Telegram’s own report, it counted 187 separate entities involved in more than 412 allegations of sexual misconduct against youth and adults who attended or were employed by the churches throughout the United States. Some alleged abusers had dozens of accusations against them. Many of the victims were girls between the ages of 14 and 18. The majority of the sexual abuse claims are centralized in the Midwest, including Ohio and Indiana.
The investigation uncovered the fact that many alleged abusers did not face any criminal charges. Instead, these church leaders were often transferred to another church outside of the city where the alleged abuse occurred. Unlike the Catholic Church, the fundamental Baptist church considers itself to be made up of independent entities. However, many of these churches have affiliations through theological colleges or pastoral friendships. This system allowed accused abusers to leave the church communities where the sexual abuse or misconduct occurred and relocate to a new area. And similar to the Catholic Church, many of the victims of sexual abuse in the Baptist church reported the same feelings of shame and guilt associated with the abuse and a fear of coming forward to report the pastor or clergy member.
Sexual Abuse in the United Methodist Church
There have been claims of sexual abuse within the United Methodist Church. That includes ministers that have been sentenced after child pornography claims. There is also evidence of claims from many people brought against religious members for assaults and battery. Even as the organization recognizes that these risks exist and that it has resources and tools in place to educate and protect against them, claims continue to occur.
As more sexual abuse victims come forward and tell their stories, the Fundamental Baptist church has yet to take action to address these reports.
Types of Abuse
Sexual abuse can occur in many forms. No matter what type of abuse you’ve suffered, we encourage you to reach out to our church sexual abuse lawyers immediately for guidance and support. Our team is here to help you even if you are unsure you have a case. We’re passionate about supporting your needs.
These are some examples of the types of sexual abuse that can occur in a church or religious setting. These are just examples and are not fully indicative of what could occur.
- Sexual abuse may include members of the clergy using their position to exploit or harm others
- Sexual violence may occur in which physical abuse in some way occurs
- Sexualized conversations
- Hugging or touching without consent
- Creating a hostile environment
- Pressuring for sexual involvement
- Jokes and unwanted sexual language use
- Adult-sexual abuse
<li”>Child sexual abuse
Many people can be abused as well. That includes both men and women. It may seem that only women may suffer this type of abuse due to religious beliefs, but that’s not the case. More so, it can happen to people of all ethnic backgrounds, all types of religious backgrounds, and of all ages. It is most common for this type of abuse to occur in children or minors under the age of 18 as well as those who are younger adults, but it can occur to people of any age.
Recent Reports of Church Sexual Abuse
After reports of widespread sexual abuse in Southern Baptist Church, a church in Austin holds panel- KXAN, February 2019
A report published by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News found around 380 Southern Baptist Church leaders and volunteers faced allegations of sexual misconduct over the course of several years. An Austin Baptist Church hosted a panel to address concerns of its congregation about sexual abuse prevention and support for sexual abuse survivors.
Roncalli High School chaplain suspended amid sex abuse allegation, Archdiocese says- Indianapolis Star, February 2019
Fr. David Marcotte was suspended from ministry after a minor came forward accusing the priest of sexual abuse in 2016. The Archdiocese stated that it received the report of abuse from its victim assistance coordinator. Fr. Marcotte’s posts include serving as a chaplain at Roncalli and as a Catholic chaplain at the University of Indianapolis. He also served at SS. Francis and Clare Parish in Greenwood.
Statute of Limitations
Taking action immediately is always recommended. There is a Statute of Limitations that may play a role in your ability to file a claim. Civil lawsuits are bound by this statute, which means that you cannot pursue legal action against someone beyond a specific timeframe. This can vary by location.
In Indiana, childhood sexual abuse cases may be filed within seven years of a child’s 18th birthday or within four years from the end of a dependency on the sexual abuser.
A core component of taking action is to reach out to a highly experienced church sexual abuse lawyer. Even though you may believe that the religious organization will take action to help you, they also have very powerful attorneys that could work to reduce any claims you make.
Our team will help you make a claim properly. This includes gathering any available evidence. We will then work to hold the church or other religious organizations accountable. If we can prove that the religious organization had knowledge of the abuse occurring, such as having received a report of the abuse but failed to take action, we may be able to help you obtain compensation for your losses.
The claims process often focuses first on finding evidence and then approaching the appropriate organization with the claim. We highly recommend having our church sexual abuse lawyer by your side. Do not file a claim or accept any type of financial restitution from the organization until you know your attorney is there to support you and encourage you to do so.
Explanation of Damages
The losses a person suffers as a result of sexual abuse at the hands of a religious organization member will vary from one person to the next. Yet, in every situation, our goal is to determine how it has impacted you and, from there, what steps we can take to help you receive financial compensation for the losses you’ve incurred. Some examples of how this may apply include the following:
- Medical costs related to the abuse
- Psychological counseling costs related to the abuse
- Lost income or earning capacity related to the abuse
- Emotional distress claims
- Loss of life enjoyment
- Depression, anxiety, and the onset of other mental health disorders
Our church sexual abuse lawyer at Cohen & Malad, LLP will provide compassion and support as we help you to understand the details of your case. We will then work hard to prove your case and help you receive compensation for the losses you’ve experienced as a result of that abuse.
Resources for Survivors
The following are some sources that may be able to help you.
- SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
- Survivors Voices
- Victim Support Services from Indiana Criminal Justice Institute
Other Types Of Sexual Abuse Cases We Handle
We are proud to help families heal through the legal pursuit of sexual abuse claims. Here are a few more specific examples of cases we’ve handled.
- Adult on child sexual abuse
- Daycare sexual abuse
- Child-on-child sexual abuse
- Nursing home sexual abuse
- Residential treatment center sexual abuse
- School or sports organization sexual abuse
- Youth Sports Sexual Abuse
Experienced Sexual Abuse Lawyers
If you, your child, or someone else you know is a victim of sexual abuse or molestation, contact us. Our attorneys have helped many families get compensation to pay for the help they need in order to heal after sexual abuse. We understand the sensitive nature of this type of lawsuit and prioritize our clients’ privacy and trust while fighting to get them the compensation they need to assist them in healing and coping with sexual abuse.