A man who once served as a bishop and also founded the Westcoast Center for Human Development church in Sarasota has been arrested on child sex abuse charges. 72-year-old Henry Lee Porter, Sr. was charged Thursday with sexual assault on a child under 12 years of age.
Sarasota Police started investigating Porter in October of last year for abuse allegations that date back to the 90s. At least three people have come forward with allegations that they were sexually abused by Porter in the 90s, when they were minors. Detectives say that they have also spoken with eight other males who have made similar allegations against Porter.
According to the alleged victims, most of the abuse happened at the Westcoast Center, in Porter's office, or at his home on 47th Street in Sarasota.
This is not the first time Porter has been accused of sexual abuse. Sarasota Police also noted in Porter's probable cause affidavit that he was also investigated for similar allegations in 1990 and in 2001-2002.
In the 2001-2002 case, an anonymous letter named 40 alleged victims. 20 of those alleged victims gave police statements regarding alleged sexual abuse at the Westcoast Center, on mission trips throughout the United States, and on other church-sponsored trips. However, the statute of limitations had already expired in this case, according to the police.
This investigation remains ongoing and Porter is being held without bail. Anyone with information or believes they were a victim has been urged to contact the Sarasota Police Department.
Attorney Michael Haggard represents victims of sexual assault in civil lawsuits. Here are some thoughts from Michael on the legal rights of survivors of sexual abuse in churches and other religious organizations:
Our team of sexual assault victims lawyers has tragically seen far too many cases of sexual predators who were close to their victims and in positions of trust and authority. We regularly see cases involving religious clergy members abusing members of their organization. Many survivors of this type of abuse have begun coming forward and taking legal action against their abusers and the religious organizations that have failed to keep them safe.
Churches and other religious organizations have an obligation to make sure their followers are safe from reasonably preventable dangers, including sexual abuse. Some cases of church sex abuse happen due to negligence by the organization, such as hiring a clergy member with a history of sexual abuse.
In cases of negligence, victims may have grounds for a lawsuit against the church, their abuser, or both parties.
If you or a loved one is a survivor of sexual abuse in a church or another religious organization, you can learn more about your legal rights in a free consultation with our experienced sexual assault victims lawyers.