WENY reported that a former youth pastor has been charged with sexually abusing a minor while employed at Abide in the Vine, located at 1277 Taylor Rd # 4, Owego, NY 13827.
The Pennsylvania State Police learned that an alleged victim, now in her 40s, was abused by 52-year-old Robert Fenton from 1996 to 1998. The former youth pastor is accused of lying and manipulating the church community, including the girl's parents, into believing that "God meant him to be with her." The two were engaged in 1998 but ended the relationship later the same year. The victim alleged that Fenton began sexually abusing her when she was only 14 years old and he was 26.
Following the breakup, Fenton blamed the girl for destroying his ministry and relocated to Australia. He is being extradited to the United States. He is being charged with statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, and related charges.
Attorney contributor Laurence Banville is an experienced church sex abuse lawyer licensed in New York. Laurence has represented numerous victims of church sexual abuse in private civil lawsuits. He recently shared his insight on the legal options for victims sexually abused by a youth pastor.
"Too often lately, we see reports of sexual assaults occurring within religious organizations. Unfortunately, sexual predators will strategically place themselves in power positions allowing them to gain the trust of vulnerable victims, like children. When a youth pastor is allowed to abuse their position in order to exploit minors, we need to look at what the church did to prevent the abuse. Churches have a legal and moral obligation to ensure the congregation is safe from preventable dangers, such as sexual abuse. They should conduct background checks, install cameras on the church property, and investigate any misconduct report."
"In some church sex abuse cases, the abuse only happens due to negligence of the religious organization. For example, the church could be liable if a youth pastor had prior sexual misconduct complaints filed against them but were still employed. If a religious organization is considered negligent by failing to prevent the abuse, the victim may have grounds to file a lawsuit. However, the statute of limitations varies by state, so victims are encouraged to speak with an experienced church sex abuse lawyer to explore their options."