Key point 10-09.3. Churches can reduce the risk of liability based on negligent supervision for the sexual molestation of minors by adopting risk management policies and procedures.
A Louisiana appeals court affirmed a 10-year sentence at hard labor for a volunteer youth worker who raped a 13-year-old girl while taking her home from a church event. A 13-year old girl (the "victim") attended youth group meetings at a church. The victim and several other members of the youth group went to dinner at a local restaurant. Some of the volunteer youth workers also attended this event, including an adult male (the "defendant") and his pregnant wife and 1-year-old son. The defendant and his wife drove separately to the restaurant.
After dinner, the defendant's wife wanted to take their infant son home. The defendant volunteered to take the victim home in his truck, and it was during this ride that the defendant started rubbing the victim's leg. The victim asked him to stop, but he pulled over onto a dirt road, parked the truck, and raped her despite her begging him to stop. The defendant then exited the truck from the passenger side and locked the door so the victim could not escape. He got back in the truck and drove her home. Before the victim exited the truck, the defendant said, "I hope I didn't cross any boundaries." The victim arrived home around midnight, and both of her parents were asleep.
The next morning, the victim told her parents that the defendant had "rubbed her leg" on the way home the night before, but did not tell her parents about the rape. The parents arranged a meeting with their pastor and the defendant. When confronted with the victim's allegations, the defendant started crying, and admitted to inappropriately touching her on her leg and apologized repeatedly. The parties did not discuss contacting law enforcement.
Three years later, the victim told two of her friends, and her youth pastor, about the rape. The youth pastor instructed her to tell her mother what occurred, which she did. Despite assuring the victim that she would not report the rape to the police, she did so.
A detective later met with the defendant. The defendant, who was not under arrest at that time, voluntarily agreed to give a statement. After being advised of, and waiving his Miranda rights, the defendant admitted only that he had touched the victim on her leg, and emphatically denied the victim's rape allegation.
The defendant was charged with molestation of a juvenile, and was found guilty by a jury. At the defendant's sentencing hearing, a probation officer testified that the defendant had shown no remorse for his actions. The victim's mother described the negative effects the crime had on the victim. The defendant also made a statement, stating that he prays for forgiveness everyday and that he had apologized to the victim and her family at the meeting with the pastor. After a careful consideration of the evidence, the trial court sentenced the defendant to 10 years at hard labor. It also informed the defendant of the sex offender notification and registration requirements.
The defendant appealed, arguing that the sentence was excessive in light of his lack of a criminal history and his family obligations, and that the record was void of any indication that he was an ongoing threat to the victim or others. The defendant expressed his remorse, and asserted that he was not among "the most egregious or blameworthy offenders." The state responded by noting that in light of the fact that the defendant faced a sentencing exposure of 20 years at hard labor, the 10-year sentence was not excessive.
A state appeals court affirmed the defendant's 10-year sentence at hard labor: "The defendant was sentenced to 10 years at hard labor, with credit for all time served. This midrange sentence does not shock the sense of justice, nor is it disproportionate to the severity of the offense. The trial court adequately considered all of the aggravating and mitigating factors when tailoring its sentence for the defendant. After a careful review of the record, we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing that sentence."
What This Means For Churches:
This case illustrates the importance of adopting, and enforcing, a "two-adult rule" that prohibits church employees and volunteers from being alone with a single minor. Had the church in this case adopted such a rule, it would have barred the defendant from taking the victim home without a second adult in his truck. This would have had the following consequences:
- The rape would not have occurred;
- the defendant would not have been sentenced to 10 years at hard labor;
- the defendant's wife and three young children would not have lost their husband and father, with the attendant relational and financial stresses;
- the church would not be exposed to liability based on negligence for allowing a minor to be alone with an adult volunteer.
Clearly, adopting a two-adult rule, while an integral part of a program to reduce the risk of child molestation on church property and during church activities, is of no value if the policy is not followed. Church leaders need to continually stress the importance of following such a policy, and be alert to violations. State v. Linder, 162 So.3d 1278 (La. App. 2015).