Sexual Abuse Within Religious Organizations

Religious Organizations The Catholic Church has a well–documented history of sexual abuse across the United States and the world. The Meneo Law Group has represented many clients in their fight for justice against the church. Unfortunately, there are many other religious organizations that have also seen men and woman of power within their ranks take advantage of their positions to perpetrate sexual abuse against their followers. The Meneo Law Group is prepared to serve any victim of institutional sexual abuse regardless of where the abuse occurred. Below are examples of abuse that have taken place within other religious organizations outside of the Catholic Church:

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints and Michael Jensen

Teenager Michael Jensen, a member of the Church of Latter–day Saints, was accused by multiple children of the church that he babysat of sexual abuse. Jensen’s parents held high positions within the church and were well respected. Christopher Jensen became a high priest and Sandralee Jensen was the president of the Relief Society. The family moved to West Virginia in 2005 where the abuse took place. Before the move, Michael was arrested in 2004 as a juvenile for groping two girls under the age of 14 and charged in two counts of felony sex abuse. Both of his parents were present at the trial and a bishop in Utah visited him in juvenile detention. After the move to West Virginia, no members of the church were made aware of these events. Despite these charges, in 2007, Sandralee offered up her son to babysit for a family. The boys disclosed four years later that Jensen abused the two boys he was babysitting that night. When the boys’ mother shared this with a church counselor, she was advised to call the local police which she did. At the time Michael was away on a mission in Arizona. The church bishop told authorities that he would make some calls to try and get Michael back to West Virginia. The church did not notify authorities when Michael was back home. Jensen was eventually found guilty of first–degree sexual assault and two counts of sexual abuse. The conviction caused other families to come forward. One mother claimed she spoke with a bishop and Sandralee about Michael abusing her son in 2008. Both the bishop and Michael’s mother brushed off the claims. In 2009 Sandralee asked the bishop in an email to help place Michael in a different home because of concerns for her other children. However, Sandralee continued to offer up Michael for babysitting jobs to families in the church. In 2010 Michael’s 12–year old sister accused him of lying on top of her and kissing her. He was kicked out of his home, but remained in good standing with the church, was ordained as an “elder”, and sent on his mission to Arizona. Before leaving for the mission he molested another young girl whose family he was on a trip with. In 2013 six families filed a joint suit against the church for failing to protect their children against the sexual abuse by Michael. The civil trial ended in a settlement in 2018 and Michael was excommunicated from the church in 2013.

Church of Scientology

In 2019 three lawsuits were filed against the Church of Scientology and its leader, David Miscavige, accusing Miscavige and various church branches of charges including sexual battery, racketeering, negligence, and conspiracy. One of the suits was filed by a 25–year old woman who claims she was sexual assaulted over several years while in Scientology’s care. When she reported an assault by a high–ranking official when she was 11, she was forced to do three months of physical labor and then sent to cruise–ship–based Sea Org, which she described “as a human trafficking scheme.” After escaping Scientology in 2018 she was stalked and harassed by church officials. In Scientology it is believed to be a “high crime” to report a Scientologist to law enforcement and that those who are sexually abused are assumed to have done something to incite or invite the abuse.

Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall

In 2019 the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office was working on a statewide inquiry focused on sexual abuse claims centered around Jehovah’s Witnesses in which the organization failed to report the accusations. Lawsuits filed across the country since the 1990s have accused the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their legal corporations of failing to report child abuse. In 2018 Alexis Nunez was awarded $35 million after years of sexual abuse by a member of the Thompson Falls Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. During the time of the abuse the elders expelled the abuser from the congregation, but then reinstated him and he continued the abuse. In 2014, the state of Delaware sued a Jehovah’s Witness congregation and two elders accusing them of failing to report child sexual abuse to authorities. They eventually reached a settlement agreeing to pay $19,500 to the Delaware Department of Justice, participate in child abuse prevention training, and report any future abuse allegations to authorities. One abuser in another case was sentenced to prison time and upon their release were reinstated as a Jehovah’s Witness. Other abusers have been found guilty of several charges and are currently serving time in prison.

Southern Baptist Church

In the last 20 years, at least 700 people have reported being sexually abused by Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers. Many of these victims not only suffered abuse but were rejected by their churches, and some were forced to forgive their abusers or get abortions. In June 2008, Debbie Vasquez who suffered sexual abuse for several years by her pastor asked the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and it’s 47,000 churches to take action against congregations that not only turned a blind eye to this type of behavior, but in some cases hired employees knowing of their past predatory behavior. The Southern Baptist leaders rejected the proposed reforms partly due to the fact that they “could not interfere in local church affairs” causing more victims to suffer abuse. Victims were as young as 3 years old. Since 1998, about 220 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have been convicted of crimes related to sexual misconduct or took plea deals. These included pastors, ministers, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons, and church volunteers. The crimes included sending explicit photos or texts, pornography, being photographed nude, and rape.

United Methodist Church and Rev. Donald Heckman

In 2018 four women accused Rev. Donald Heckman of sexual misconduct and abuse. 15 women in total had allegations of harassment or domestic abuse against Heckman. The accusations included groping, sexually explicit text messages, and threats. Heckman was to have a church trial but agreed to retire instead and would no longer be able to work as a minister in the United Methodist Church. The accusers were unhappy with the church and felt left out of the process. The accusers’ approval was not required before the church and Heckman came to their agreement of retirement.

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