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.
An Indiana court affirmed a 35-year prison sentence for a church’s volunteer driver who raped an adolescent female who was the only passenger in his vehicle during a trip to a church activity.
An adult male (the “defendant”) attended a church in Indiana, and drove parishioners to and from church using a van owned by the church. One day, the defendant drove a 13-year-old girl (the “victim”) and her family to and from the church. On the drive home, he told the victim that there was an activity planned for teens at the church the following day and that she should call him if she wanted to attend. The following day, the victim obtained her father’s permission to attend the church event and called the defendant to ask for a ride to the church.
The next day the defendant drove his personal vehicle to the victim’s house to pick her up. When she got in the defendant’s vehicle, he did not take her to the church, but instead drove her to a horse stable. When the victim asked why he had not driven to the church, the defendant explained that he needed to pick up some items from his home. He then drove to his home. When the defendant went inside, the victim stood at the door to wait for him. The defendant then invited the victim inside and took her to his bedroom. The victim attempted to run away, but tripped and fell onto the bed. The defendant forcibly removed the victim’s clothing and raped her while she physically resisted. When he was finished, he instructed the victim to put her clothes back on, and then drove her home. He admonished her not to tell anyone what had happened.
When the victim got home, she took a bath, placed her clothes in the washer, and fell asleep. She eventually told one of her friends what had happened, and that friend telephoned the victim’s father and told him that he needed to speak with his daughter. When her father questioned her, the victim told him what had happened. At one point, the defendant called the victim’s father and asked him not to bring criminal charges. The following morning, the father took her to the hospital. After speaking with the victim and her father, a nurse at the hospital contacted the police.
The state charged the defendant with Class A felony for child molesting. A jury found the defendant guilty as charged. The trial court sentenced the defendant to 35 years imprisonment. The defendant’s appeal was rejected by a state appeals court.
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 and enforced such a rule, it would have barred the defendant from driving the victim to church without a second adult in the vehicle. This would have had the following consequences:
- the rape would not have occurred;
- the defendant would not have been sentenced to prison for 35 years;
- the church would not have been exposed to liability based on negligence for allowing a minor to be alone with an adult volunteer youth worker.
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.
Also, note that a two-adult policy typically prohibits one adult from being alone with one minor. Permitting one adult in the presence of multiple minors, such as an adult teacher in a classroom with several students, is not prohibited since the opportunity for sexual assaults in such a setting is remote. This is the model employed by most public schools. This is significant since public schools are agencies of the state, and so churches that align their practices with those of the state through its public schools are far less likely to be liable on the basis of negligence for sexual assaults that occur.
A two-adult policy should apply to any church program or activity on or off church property. It should also apply to vehicles. Note that it is common for the two-adult rule to be triggered during an activity. To illustrate, a church adopts a two-adult policy prohibiting youth and children’s ministry workers from being alone with a child. A fourth grade teacher in the church’s Sunday school program has 12 students in his class on a Sunday morning. At the end of the class the children exit the classroom—except for one student who stays behind to talk with the teacher. While the two-adult rule would not apply at the beginning of the class, it would when only one student remains in the classroom at the end of the class. Consider another example.
A church adopts a two-adult policy prohibiting youth and children’s ministry workers from being alone with a child. A volunteer worker in the church’s high school ministry is asked to drive six teenagers home in a church vehicle at the end of a church activity. The driver drops off five students at their homes, and then proceeds to the sixth teenager’s home. While the two-adult rule would not apply initially, it would at the moment the driver is alone with the sixth student. Posey v. State, 110 N.E.3d 1190 (Ind. App. 2018).