Child Sexual Abuse Response Plan | The Church’s Legal Vulnerability

4. Injury. The extent of the psychological and emo- tional injury experienced by victims of sexual moles- tation has only recently been fully appreciated.

5. Number of victims. Recent studies suggest that the number of adults who were sexually molested or abused as children is staggering. Some studies suggest that as many as 27 percent of adult females and 16 percent of adult males were victims of molestation as minors.

6. Reporting requirements. All 50 states require certain individuals (“mandatory reporters”) to report known or reasonably suspected incidents of child abuse to state officials. This has exposed many cases of child abuse, and made victims less willing to re- main anonymous.

7. Support for litigation. An increasing number of attorneys and victim advocacy groups are encourag- ing sex abuse victims to utilize litigation as a means to secure justice and promote personal healing.

Example Cases of Litigation Below are a few examples of lawsuits brought against churches as a result of sexual molestation:

• A mother sued her church and its pastor, alleging that her 10-year-old daughter had been repeatedly raped and assaulted by a church employee. The mother alleged that when the employee was hired, the church should have known that he had recently been convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a young girl, that he was on probation for the offense, and that a condition of his probation was that he not be involved or associated with children. Despite these circumstances, the individual was hired and entrusted with duties that encouraged him to come freely into contact with children.

• A volunteer Sunday school teacher began picking up a second grade boy each Sunday morning and evening allegedly for church services, and on Thursday evenings to

participate in a church visitation program. This relationship continued for two years, during which time the teacher frequently molested the boy.

• A 6-year-old boy was sexually assaulted during Sunday school class. The boy attended a class of 45 first and second graders at a local church. During “story time,” the boy became disruptive, and the teacher allowed a teenage volunteer worker to “take him back and color” in an unused room. The adult teacher did not check on the boy for the remainder of the Sunday school session. The male volunteer allegedly abused and raped the boy, and threatened to hurt or kill him if he “told anyone.”

• A youth pastor sexually molested a 13-year-old boy. The boy then began molesting his sister, attempting to “act out” what the pastor had done to him. The church had hired the youth pastor though church leaders knew he had been guilty of child molestation in the past.

These sample cases illustrate the growing number of lawsuits directed at churches today. Since many out- of-court settlements occur, no one knows the full ex- tent of the legal activity. Churches engaged in litiga- tion can suffer devastating financial consequences. Substantial attorney fees and court costs occur. Jury awards have been in the millions of dollars. Punitive damages are possible. Out-of-court settlements often involve hundreds of thousands of dollars. Insurance may cover only a portion of the final total and some churches will have no coverage at all.

Why Churches and Church Leaders Are Sued Most of the lawsuits filed against churches for acts of child molestation have alleged that the church was le- gally accountable either on the basis of negligent hir- ing or negligent supervision. Both theories of liability are pivotal issues. The term negligence generally re- fers to conduct that creates an unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm to others. It connotes carelessness, heedlessness, inattention, or inadvertence.


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