They helped our family get the justice and support we needed.
Find A Local Lawyer
Sexual abuse in religious organizations is a global problem affecting many different religions and denominations. Tragically, sexual predators often seek out positions as religious clergy members, where they’ll be trusted by their communities. These predators then exploit this trust to commit unimaginably heinous crimes against children in their congregations.
Many church sex abuse victims have begun fighting back by taking legal action against their abusers and the religious organizations that have filed to protect their followers from sexual predators. If you or a loved one has been sexually abused by a priest or another religious clergy member, you may be wondering about your family’s legal rights.
The Legal Herald has nationwide connections with sex abuse victims lawyers who dedicated themselves to helping victims and their families fight for the answers, support, and justice they need and deserve. They are prepared to help your family find justice during this incredibly difficult and dark time.
Which Religious Organizations Have Problems With Sexual Abuse?
Cases of sexual abuse by clergy members have been reported in many different religious organizations, must some organizations have major and widespread crises with hundreds, if not thousands, of victims.
The Catholic Church has faced more clergy sex abuse allegations than any other religious organization. The church has faced more than 3,000 lawsuits in the United States and has paid out over $3 billion in settlements. The true number of Catholic Church sex abuse victims is unknown, as most have not followed lawsuits or even reported the abuse to law enforcement.
The victims in these lawsuits have accused the Catholic Church of negligently failing to protect their followers from sexual abuse by priests and other clergy members. Some priests who have been credibly accused of sex abuse have been transferred to other churches, where they have abused other victims.
Catholic dioceses have a legal and moral obligation to protect the members of their congregation from sexual predators. When church officials fail to do so, those who have been abused by priests may have grounds for a sexual abuse lawsuit against the Catholic Church.
While the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a relatively small religious organization, there have also been widespread allegations of sexual abuse by church elders and members of various congregations. Furthermore, critics have accused the Jehovah’s Witnesses of grossly mishandling reports of child sexual abuse.
Official policies of the organization state that sexual abuse allegations can only be reported to law enforcement if a third party witnessed the abuse. Some victims have accused the Watch Tower Society of pressuring them to stay silent in order to avoid bringing embarrassment to the accused abuser and the organization as a whole.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Sex Abuse Lawsuits and Settlements
Some alleged victims have fought back against the organization by filing civil sexual abuse lawsuits, alleging that the organization mishandled their reports of abuse and has put others at risk of being abused due to these inadequate policies.
Some of these lawsuits have resulted in multi-million dollar settlements and jury verdicts:
In 2007, the Watchtower Society paid out an undisclosed amount in an out-of-court settlement with 16 alleged sexual abuse victims. One plaintiff received $780,000.
In 2012, the Superior Court of Alameda, California ordered the Watchtower Society to pay $21 million in punitive damages, plus compensatory damages, due to the Society’s failure to disclose child abuse history of a church member to parents of the congregation or to report abuse allegations to authorities. This amount was eventually reduced to $2.8 million.
In 2015. another California court ordered the Watchtower to pay $4 million to a plaintiff after the organization failed to produce documents.
Independent Fundamental Baptist Church
According to an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, there have been hundreds of allegations of sex abuse in the independent fundamental Baptist community. This investigation found over 700 victims, but that number could be higher when factoring in those who have not reported being abused.
The perpetrators of this alleged sexual abuse included pastors, deacons, youth pastors, and other clergy members. Over the past 20 years, approximately 380 Southern Baptist church clergy members and volunteers have been accused of various forms of sexual misconduct.
Furthermore, this investigation found that churches have hired at least 35 Southern Baptist ministers and volunteers who had previously been accused of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct. Over 100 Southern Baptist youth pastors have been convicted or charged in sexual abuse cases.
Church of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormon Church) has also been the subject of several clergy sex abuse allegations. Like other religious organizations, the LDS church has been accused of failing to protect followers from sexual predators and even covering up the abuse to protect the church’s reputation.
Mormon Church Sex Abuse Lawsuits
In 2001, the LDS Church paid out a $3 million settlement to Jeremiah Scott, who sued the church for allegedly attempting to coverup abuse Scott suffered by church member Franklin Curtis.
In 2014, two Utah men sued the LDS church over allegations that they were sexually abused on a Hawaii church-owned pineapple farm between 1986 and 1988. The lawsuit accused the church of covering up this abuse.
In 2016, four people filed a lawsuit against the Mormon church for alleged abuse in the church’s Indian Placement program. According to the plaintiffs, they were removed from their homes on a Navajo reservation and placed in host homes in Utah where they were sexually abused.
In 2017, five Idaho men sued the Mormon Church and the Boy Scouts of America, alleging that both organizations were aware of sexual predators within their organizations but failed to contact the police or warn families associated with these groups.
Can I File a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Against My Church?
If you’re a survivor of sexual abuse in a church or another religious organization, it’s important to be aware of your legal rights. You have legal options in both the criminal justice system and civil courts.
Reporting your abuser to law enforcement can lead to a criminal investigation and possible charges and criminal penalties. However, if you were abused due to church negligence, it’s also important to hold the church liable for failing to protect its congregation members from sexual abuse. This is where a civil lawsuit comes in.
Establishing negligence is a complicated process that will require assistance from an experienced church sex abuse victims lawyer. You can learn more about your legal rights by connecting with a local lawyer for a free consultation. Our team is happy to refer you to someone from our dedicated sex abuse victims lawyers network.
How Long Do Victims Have to File Church Sex Abuse Lawsuits?
The amount of time you have to file a sexual abuse lawsuit against a religious organization will depend on which state the abuse occurred in. Each state has its own statute of limitations for sexual abuse lawsuits.
Several states have recently extended the window for filing these lawsuits and some currently have a one-year period where victims can file lawsuits regardless of when they were abused. Many other states have lawmakers pushing for similar legislation.
New York, New Jersey, and California have all recently passed new laws that have allowed sexual abuse survivors who previously were unable to file lawsuits to now do so. However, you should act immediately and consult a lawyer for an analysis of your statute of limitations.
You can learn more about how your state’s statute of limitations and local laws apply to your case by speaking with an experienced sex abuse victim attorney.