Wrestling’ Argument Not Enough to Clear Molestation Charges

What church leaders should know about recent case.

Church Law and Tax 1996-03-01

Child Abuse

Key point. A defendant can be convicted of child molestation despite his claim that he was merely engaged in innocent “wrestling” with minors.

A Georgia court upheld the criminal conviction of a man for molesting children despite his claim that he was only engaging in innocent wrestling. Many church leaders have been confronted with allegations of inappropriate contact by congregational members with minors during church activities or programs. Sometimes, when the alleged offender is confronted, he will deny any wrongdoing and insist that he was merely engaged in innocent horseplay or wrestling. The Georgia case illustrates that such “defenses” should not always be believed. The defendant was charged with touching the breasts and genital areas of several children through their clothing. He was convicted of two counts of aggravated child molestation, and seven counts of child molestation. On appeal he protested that he was innocent, and that the contact had all occurred inadvertently in the course of wrestling and playing with the children. The court did not believe him, and found the evidence sufficient to support his conviction. It observed: “Any hypothesis of innocent conduct on the part of the defendant is contradicted by the recurring and continuing incidents of touching the … victims of these crimes, and by the evidence of similar conduct which illustrated defendant’s state of mind and pattern of conduct.” This case is important. It demonstrates that a criminal defendant accused of child molestation can be convicted by proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” even though he protests his innocence and insists that his contacts with children “inadvertently occurred” while playing or wrestling. In reaching its conclusion, the court pointed to the repeated nature of the contacts, and evidence of similar behavior with other children. Bragg v. State, 457 S.E.2d 262 (Ga. App. 1995). [ Failure to Report Child Abuse, Negligence as a Basis for Liability]

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