Church Sexual Abuse: Who’s Affected?

Were you or your child the victim of sexual abuse by members in a church or religious organization? If so, you may have a legal claim for damages.

Abuse by religious organizations has been covered extensively in the news, and is still a widespread problem. The religious organizations that are facing allegations of sexual abuse in the church include:

If you or a loved one were a victim of church sexual abuse, you may be able to take legal action against your perpetrator and others who turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse.

Use the form on this page to submit information about the religious organization sexual abuse.

An attorney will contact you for a free case evaluation if you qualify to participate in a church sexual abuse lawsuit investigation.

Religious Organizations Sexual Abuse

Southern Baptist

Many different religious organizations are facing allegations of child sexual abuse. In 2019, the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, was the target of news reports over allegations that hundreds staff had been accused of sexual abuse over the last two decades.

Further, some of those who were accused of sex abuse in the church reportedly returned to church duties. Victims of church sexual abuse claim the Southern Baptist denomination covered up the church abuse and failed to acknowledge the harm the victims suffered.

Read more: Southern Baptist Convention Votes on Sex Abuse Prevention

United Methodist

The United Methodist Church has not escaped allegations of religious organization abuse. Methodist ministers and other church staff have been accused of abusing their positions of trust in order to make inappropriate sexual contact with church members.

In 2015, the Methodist Church in Britain issued a formal apology for nearly 2,000 cases of abuse spanning the last six decades.

Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall

Jehovah’s Witness communities have faced concerns of sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls, as well, according to NBC News. Victims claim they were discouraged from telling others about their abuse by elders who allegedly warned them they would bring “reproach on Jehovah” and would be exiled from the congregation, JW Facts reported. 

JW Facts revealed that the Watchtower, the entity that oversees the actions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, helped cover up reports of sexual abuse, instructing victims and their parents to remain silent and only temporarily banning the alleged perpetrators from leading prayer sessions.

Read more: What Role Did the Watchtower Play in Sexual Abuse Cover Up?

Church of Scientology

The Church of Scientology has also faced allegations of covering up sexual abuse in the church. Actress Leah Remini, a former member of the Church of Scientology, has been exposing many of the abuses allegedly perpetrated by the church.

In her television show, “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath,” she spoke with two former Scientologists who say they were victims of sexual abuse. When one woman spoke out about her abuse, she was allegedly criticized for speaking ill of other Scientologists.

The second woman revealed that she had been molested by her father and that the church was aware of the sexual abuse because it was documented in her father’s confessional folder. As an adult, she decided to leave Scientology and was reportedly coerced into signing an affidavit stating that she would not sue over the alleged abuse.

Read more: California Sexual Assault Case Names Danny Masterson, Church of Scientology

Mormon Temple

Over the years numerous members of the Mormon Temple have come forward to make claims of sexual abuse against the Mormon Church. Men, women and children have all been victims at the hands of Mormon Church elders and leaders, and the abuse is still a widespread concern.

Despite the many claims that have been made, it has been revealed that a significant number of Mormon Temple leaders purposefully went out of their way to cover up instances of sexual abuse. In December of 2017 six Mormon families filed a lawsuit against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints claiming that the church covered up a case of child sexual abuse in Virginia, according to KUTV.

Read more: A History of Sexual Abuse in the Mormon Church

Sexual Abuse in the Church

In a church sexual abuse case, victims say they were pressured into silence.

Many people rely on religious organizations as a meaningful opportunity to share their faith with like-minded churchgoers. They not only develop a sense of community and fellowship with the staff and other church members, but they often find a sense of meaning by giving back to their communities in important ways through volunteer work and other activities.

However, religious organizations can also foster an environment that is susceptible to abuses of power. Many religions promote the importance of obedience or perhaps a reverence for authority, which may create an environment in which it is possible to groom children for sexual abuse.

Read more: A Guide to Sexual Abuse Prevention in Religious Organizations

What is the Truth Project?

In 2019, the Truth Project, which is part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, published a report called “Child Sexual abuse in the Context of Religious Institutions” which took accounts from nearly 1,700 abuse victims between June 2016 and November 2018. Of these abuse victims, 183 said they were victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by someone involved in religious organizations, such as church staff or other church member.

Although every victim has their own unique set of circumstances, the Truth Project found that victims of religious sexual abuse shared some similarities. Many of the abused failed to disclose their abuse while it was happening because they felt ashamed or embarrassed. They also were often aware that others were being victimized.

Because the religious organizations held so much influence over their communities, children who were victimized had a hard time telling anyone that they had been sexually abused by someone respected within the church. Further, perpetrators would reportedly be able to manipulate victims by using their religion against them.

When a victim of church sexual abuse got the courage to make a disclosure, they often reported it to someone with authority within the church. Many victims claim they were disbelieved, discredited and were not supported after they disclosed their abuse, even if they made the disclosure as an adult.

Religious Organizations Church Sexual Abuse & the Cover-Up Culture

Many religious organizations have been accused of having a culture that covers up church sexual abuse rather than holding perpetrators accountable and supporting the alleged victims. The organizational structure of many churches has allowed for abuse allegations to be concealed to protect the powerful and to prevent damage to their reputations.

This power structure has also made it difficult for young people to come forward to disclose that they have been abused. Even when they do come forward, many victims have complained that their concerns were dismissed and nothing was done.

With the growing awareness of sexual abuse in churches, more victims are coming forward with allegations of church sexual abuse and are seeking to hold their abusers and their enablers accountable.

One way to hold perpetrators of church sexual abuse accountable is to take legal action against them. Although a lawsuit cannot take away the mental, physical and emotional effects of the abuse, it can help to bring a sense of justice. Victims may also be eligible for compensation.

Read more: Scientology Church Sexual Abuse Uncovered

Sexual Abuse Long Term Effects

Sexual abuse in religious organizations can have a profoundly devastating effect on child victims, especially when religion was a central part of their family life. Because many church teachings involve lessons on morality, many victims of church sex abuse feel particularly confused or ashamed about the abuse.

Some of the long term effects reported by victims of church sex abuse include loss of faith, guilt, and a detrimental effect on their mental health. They may be more prone to suffer from depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Abuse victims may also be at heightened risk of high blood pressure and sleep issues, according to WebMD. Many victims have also reported that the church sexual abuse had an impact on their sexual behavior.

Read more: Researchers Learn More About the Psychological Causes of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

signs of sexual abuse

Because of their age and their dependence on adults for care and supervision, children can be vulnerable to sexual abuse. Their risk grows if they have other factors present in their life such as an unstable household or inattentive parents.

Signs of sexual abuse in children are not always easy to spot, especially when perpetrators take steps to conceal the abuse.

Physical warning signs may include signs of trauma to the child’s genital area such as unexplained bleeding or bruising. Sexually transmitted infections are also a sign that a child may have been sexually abused.

A child’s behaviors may provide clues that the child has been sexually abused. If a child doesn’t want to remove clothing to bathe or change, it could be a sign of abuse, according to RAINN.

A child that has been sexually abused may also suddenly not want to be alone with certain people or be separated from their primary caregivers. Sexual behavior or knowledge of sexual topics that is not age appropriate can also be a sign of sexual abuse.

Emotional signs of child sexual abuse can include a regression to behaviors such as bedwetting or thumbsucking that the child had already outgrown. Excessive worry and fearfulness may indicate abuse, as can nightmares or fear of being alone at night.

In addition to paying attention to a child’s physical, emotional and behavioral signs, parents who suspect their child is being victimized should pay attention to certain behaviors by adults.

Be cautious of adults who engage in unwanted touching, have age-inappropriate relationships, gives gifts to children for no reason, tries to be a child’s friend instead of filling an age-appropriate role in the child’s life, or spends a lot of time with children outside of their assigned duties or roles.

Read more: What are the Signs of Sexual Abuse in Boys?

Reporting Sexual Abuse by Religious Organizations

No one deserves to be sexually abused, but victims of sexual abuse deserve to have their perpetrators held accountable for their actions. In order to hold an abuser accountable, the victim or someone who witnessed the abuse must come forward to report it.

Although children may be reluctant to disclose that they have been sexually abused because they are embarrassed or ashamed, those that do disclose their abuse are likely to tell a trusted adult such as a family member, another member of the church, or someone from their school.

What Happens After You Report Sexual Abuse?

When the sexual abuse victim is a child, it is up to the adult to validate the child’s experience and report the abuse to the appropriate authorities, such as law enforcement and/or the Department of Health and Human Services.

A law enforcement officer or caseworker will investigate the allegations. Even if reporting the alleged abuse does not result in charges being filed against the suspect, the victim may be given access to counseling or other resources that will facilitate their healing.

In addition, the action of reporting suspected cases of abuse may have a deterrent effect if the offenders (or potential offenders) believe that they may be investigated. Perpetrators of sexual abuse often have multiple victims, so the act of reporting abuse may prevent them from hurting others.

How to File a Church Sexual Abuse Claim

If you or a loved one were the victim of church sexual abuse, you may be able to take legal action and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, the chances are good that your perpetrator also abused others.

By filing a church sexual abuse lawsuit, you will have the opportunity to hold your perpetrator accountable and prevent that person from abusing others in the future. Although it is impossible to take away the trauma you experienced, you may be able to recover damages for the physical and emotional toll you suffered.

Fill out the form on this page now to find out if you’re eligible to participate in a free religious organizations sexual abuse lawsuit investigation. If you qualify, an attorney will contact you for a free case evaluation.

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