• Key point 4-11.1. Clergy who engage in sexual contact with an adult or minor are subject to civil liability on the basis of several legal theories. They also are subject to criminal liability. Seduction of Counselees and Church Members
• Key point 4-11.2. Clergy who are sued for sexual misconduct may be able to assert one or more defenses. Seduction of Counselees and Church Members
A Texas court upheld the criminal conviction of a pastor for sexually molesting four teen-age girls who were students at a church-operated school. A church’s senior pastor (“John”) also served as principal of a school operated by the church. Over the course of a few years John molested and raped four female students ranging in age from twelve to eighteen. One of the victims later informed a police officer of John’s conduct, and John was later prosecuted and convicted for his acts. He was found guilty of twelve counts of criminal sexual assault, and received a sixteen-year sentence on each count. He appealed his conviction on several grounds, including the fact that one of the girls had “consented” to his behavior and so he could not have committed a crime. An appeals court agreed that consent was a defense, but it concluded that the girl had not actually consented. The girl testified at John’s trial that John had struck her when she previously had refused his advances, and so she never resisted him again out of fear for her own safety. The court concluded:
We find [John’s] demands carried an implicit threat that if [the victim] did not submit, she would be beaten, as she had been on at least one previous occasion. To hold otherwise, would be to require sexual assault victims who previously have been beaten for refusing the sexual advances of their attacker to again be physically forced to submit to the whims of the sexual predator or, at the very least, compel them to make an express threat of force before such person could be held accountable for their actions. This indeed would be a travesty of justice.
Application. Unfortunately, inappropriate sexual contact sometimes occurs between pastors and church members. This case illustrates that the victim’s “consent” may not be a legal defense if the pastor is prosecuted for his acts, especially if that consent was involuntary. The same principle applies to sexual harassment. A victim’s “consent” is no defense if the harassment was unwelcome. Graves v. State of Texas, 994 S.W.2d 238 (Tex. App. 1999).
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