Pastor Arrested for “Continuous Sexual Abuse” of Teenage Relative
When we hear about a “scandal” involving a church leader that has sexually assaulted a child, most of us will recall seemingly-unending reports regarding lawsuits filed against members and former members of the Roman Catholic Church’s clergy. While such reports still, but now only occasionally, appear in the national or regional news media, as a national personal injury law practice we suspect that the number of similar incidents involving the Protestant clergy may be just as large.
In this post, the sexual abuse lawyer at The Doan Law Firm will review the details, as they are currently known, of a recent case involving the child sexual abuse-related arrest of a clergyman affiliated with one of the larger Protestant denominations, the Southern Baptist Convention. He will they explain why we feel that many such incidents go unreported in the national media before closing with suggestions that may be of interest to families whose children have been victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Forty-three-year-old Stephen Bratton, at the time an associate pastor at the Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated Grace Family Baptist Church in the Houston suburb of Cypress Station, was arrested on June 14th on a criminal charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child. The Houston Chronicle reports that the charge is based on allegations that he “inappropriate sexual contact” with a teenage relative, sometimes resulting in sexual intercourse several times in a single day, over the course of two years.
According to documents filed in support of his arrest, a criminal investigation began on May 16th of this year after Rev. Bratton informed his three fellow pastors of his conduct with his relative. After that meeting, two of the pastors called investigators from The Harris County Sheriff’s Department to the church and gave and a third pastor states that he reported the matter to the Texas Department of Family Protective Services.
Under Texas’ Penal Code, continuous sexual abuse of a child is a 1st degree felony. If convicted on that charge, Rev. Bratton faces a prison term of at least 25 years to 99 years in confinement and a fine of up to $10,000. Further, Texas law specifically states that even a first time offender convicted of continuous sexual abuse of a child must serve the entire sentence in a state prison and is forever ineligible for parole.
According to the Associated Press, Rev. Bratton has posted $50,000 bail and is currently free while awaiting trial.
Like many of us, we tended to view sexual abuse by clergymen as a problem that occurs primarily within the Roman Church or within a few of the ultra-conservative offshoots of established denominations (such as Warren Jeffs’ breakaway sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). Although we have been well-aware of this problem of this problem for some time, we are certain that you will find the following two paragraphs quite “disturbing.”
In a series of jointly-investigated articles entitled "Breach of Faith," the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle were able to document reports by over 700 victims of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist Convention pastors, deacons, and church “workers” that had occurred over a time span ranging from “recent” to as many as 20 years ago. The Chronicle also reported that the Southern Baptist Convention claimed, since it wasn’t required by law, or by church policy, to maintain such a database, it had no idea of the actual number of sexual abuse cases involving the staff of its affiliated churches. Writers at the Chronicle began organizing such a database, with shocking results.
That database, which is current as of June 2019 and updated each month, now includes 293 pastors, youth pastors, deacons, associates, or church workers who have been convicted of at least 1 sexual abuse-related offense in 30 different states!
Were you a victim of sexual abuse by a clergyman?
You might not be aware, but sexual abuse by a clergyman is both a criminal and a civil offense. This means that if an offender is found guilty, he or she can be sentenced to prison for quite a long time in most states. In addition, every state’s civil (non-criminal) law also allows a sex abuser to be named as a defendant in a lawsuit where the victim can demand that the abuser pay damages to the victim. Although often based the same facts, the “rules” that apply in each type of case are quite different.
In a criminal prosecution, the burden of proof is much “stricter” or “higher” than in a civil lawsuit. Since a defendant is always assumed to be innocent, the prosecution must prove each aspect of a criminal charge “beyond a reasonable doubt” or the defendant will go free. In a civil case, the rules are less strict and, even though the same facts may be at issue, usually require only that a jury (or judge) find that the defendant “probably” or “more than likely” committed some act in order for the court to award damages to the victim. These differences in procedure also apply to the statutes of limitations.
The statutes of limitations are basically “time limits” under which a crime can be prosecuted. Although complicated in their enforcement, a statute of limitations basically states a time that, after which, a criminal charge cannot be filed. The same holds true in civil lawsuits, although the statutes themselves are generally “looser” than with a criminal case. This is particularly true in child sexual abuse cases.
Most states have enacted laws to deal with the fact that children are not allowed to file a lawsuit on their own accord. Since this would allow many child sex abusers to go unpunished, the laws were changed to allow lawsuits to be filed well after the alleged event occurred, sometimes even decades after the crime itself! A relatively up-to-date summary of each state’s civil statutes of limitations can be found on the ChildUSA.org website.
If you were a victim of sexual abuse by some religious authority figure, be it a pastor or a member of a church’s staff, we invite you to contact the sexual abuse lawyer at The Doan Law Firm to arrange a confidential review of the facts in your case as well as a discussion of the legal options that may be available to you.
When you contact our firm, your case review and discussion are always free and do not obligate you in any way. Should you later decide to file a lawsuit, and that you would like for us to represent you in court, we are willing to take on full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.