FAQ: Sexual Abuse by Protestant Clergy
Everyone is familiar with the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church over the last 20 years, but very little has been said about sexual abuse occurring within churches of the numerous Protestant denominations such as the Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and the Latter Day Saints. In today’s post, the clergy sexual abuse lawyer at The Doan Law Firm answers some of the frequently asked questions by adult survivors of sexual abuse by non-Catholic clergymen.
What is clergy sexual abuse?
Legal and psychological professionals define clergy (clerical) sexual abuse as sexual abuse that occurs when a member of clergy uses their position of authority to exploit and/or sexually abuse a member of their congregation. The types of sexual abuses range from repeatedly using sexually suggestive language (sexual harassment) to inappropriate touching to forced sexual contact (sexual assault).
I’ve heard very little about clergy sexual abuse involving Protestant clergymen. Does clergy sexual abuse occur in Protestant churches?
Yes! Although the Roman Catholic sexual abuse scandals have received much more publicity, an Internet search for “[denomination name] clergy sexual abuse” will suggest that reported incidents of sexual abuse in Protestant churches could be just as frequent as those reported in the Roman Catholic Church. Consider the following reports:
In 2019 the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News jointly published a series of investigative reports under the headline “Abuse of Faith: 20 years, 700 victims” describing sexual abuse by clergymen employed by churches affiliated with the Southern Baptists Convention (the largest Protestant denomination in the US).
Also in 2019, the website of the Public Broadcasting System’s “Newshour” carried a story, “3 of U.S.’s biggest religious denominations in turmoil over sex abuse, LGBT policy,” describing the turmoil inside the nation’s three largest religious denominations (Catholicism, Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church) as they struggled to cope with the issues of sexual abuse and LGBT rights.
A decade earlier, Baylor University published “The Prevalence of Clergy Sexual Misconduct with Adults: A Research Study” describing the problem of “clergy sexual misconduct”
These reports, and any number of others, have documented the fact that clergy sexual abuse is a recurring problem.
Have some Protestant churches tried to “cover up” reports of clergy sexual abuse?
Yes! Some denominations and individual churches have been known to suppress reports of clergy sexual abuse by intimidating the abuse victim, conducting a “sham” investigation that invariably “clears” the abuser, and/or refusing to cooperate with law enforcement agencies.
Is clergy sexual abuse a crime?
Yes! In the eyes of the law, sexual abuse is still sexual abuse regardless of the abuser’s occupation or the victim’s age! In fact, the criminal code of two states (Minnesota and Texas) have laws that specifically define clergy sexual abuse as a crime.
I was sexually abused by a member of my church’s clergy, but that was years ago. Is there anything I can do now?
Yes! Many victims of clergy sexual abuse were children or teenagers when they were abused. As a result of that abuse, these victims have suffered years of psychological turmoil as they attempted to deal with the emotional trauma caused by sexual abuse. Our legal system does, however, provide several avenues that may be open to adult survivors of childhood clergy sexual abuse who want to hold their abusers accountable, even if years later.
Although each state has its own set of criminal laws that deal with sexual abuse, abuse that occurred years ago usually cannot result in criminal charges because the time limits (“statutes of limitations”) for bringing criminal charges against the abuser will have expired. There are exceptions to this general rule, so it is always best to speak with a lawyer who is familiar with your state's criminal statutes of limitations. However, an adult survivor of clergy sexual abuse may be able to file a civil lawsuit against their abuser, even if the abuse occurred several years ago.
Practically all state’s laws provide for an extension of the statutes of limitations when the victim of clergy sexual abuse is a minor (under the age of 18). If the abuse victim was a minor, the statutes of limitations “clock” begins to run when the victim reaches the age of 18. In addition, some states have extended the statutes of limitations by several years to allow more clergy sexual abuse victims to be compensated for their years of suffering. For adult victims of clergy sexual abuse, the rules are different.
An adult victim of clergy sexual abuse must file a civil lawsuit within a certain number of years, where the clock starts to run on the day the abuse occurred. In most states, the statutes of limitations for adult sexual abuse victims is usually from 3 to 5 years.
How can I find out id I have a case against my abuser?
As you read in the previous section, both the criminal and civil laws relating to clergy sexual abuse can be confusing and will vary from state to state. If you were a victim of clergy sexual abuse, whether as a child or as an adult, you should speak with an experienced clergy sexual abuse lawyer who is familiar with both your state’s civil and criminal laws. One such lawyer is the clergy sexual abuse lawyer at The Doan Law Firm, a national law practice with offices located across the country.
At The Doan Law Firm, there is never a charge of any kind for us to review the facts in your clergy sexual abuse or for you to speak with our clergy sexual abuse lawyer to discuss the legal options that may be available to you. After discussing your case with our clergy sexual abuse lawyer, should you decide that a lawsuit is in order and that you would like for us to represent you in court, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a percentage of the final settlement we are prepared to win for you.