Religious Sexual Abuse

A young woman with blond highlights prays over a red Bible in a church pew

What Can You Do About Church Sexual Abuse?

Places of worship should be safe havens to lay your troubles down and embrace your faith. But what if that safe place turns into a setting for abuse?

People often turn to religion to gain a sense of community and connection, of belonging to something greater. What if that sense of comfort and connection is shattered by abusive sexual acts? What if your role as a believer turns into the role of a survivor at the hands of clergy members?

Religious sexual abuse takes advantage of a person’s faith and threatens their relationship to their community of support. Because churches are institutions that work to maintain their hierarchy, reports of abuse are often disregarded or covered up. When that happens, predators are able to hide within the halls of your church, endangering other innocent worshippers.

We at the Pride Law Center have dedicated our careers to helping survivors of sexual abuse and assault regain their power and find peace through the justice system. We believe you, and we are here to help you hold abusers and their enablers accountable. Reach out to us at our San Diego offices online or by calling 619-516-8166 as soon as possible.

Read on for more information about religious and church-related sexual abuse, and your rights as a survivor.

Every nine minutes, a child is sexually assaulted in the United States, and 93% of survivors know their assaulter. This includes church youth group leaders and member of clergy.

What Is Church Sexual Abuse?

When a person in a position of religious authority exploits a churchgoer in order to satisfy their own desires, it is considered church sexual abuse. This includes individuals in any sort of power position such as a priest, minister, rabbi, pastor, or imam.

Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, includes any unwanted sexual contact. This includes inappropriate touching, fondling, use of pornography, sexually suggestive activities, nakedness, and sexual assault.

When sexual abuse occurs in a place of worship, it’s often confusing for survivors because they were most likely exploited by a person they looked up to and trusted. If this describes your experience or know someone who has been taken advantage of by a clergy member, we can help you understand what has happened to you. Contact our attorneys online or by calling 619-516-8166 — all your communications with us are completely confidential.

How Common Is Religious Abuse?

It is difficult to determine how common religious sexual abuse is, because roughly 2 out of every 3 sexual abuse incidents are never reported. National statistics show that 63% of adult sexual assaults are not reported to authorities, and only 12% of child sexual abuse crimes are reported to the police.

Here’s what we do know about the occurrence of religious sexual abuse:

  • Hundreds of thousands have been sexually abused by Catholic clergy in recent decades, including the Eastern Orthodox church
  • Protestant Christian churches have also come under scrutiny for worldwide sexual abuse of adults and children, including the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Mormon (LDS) Church
  • There is child sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community as well
  • Abuse of women is prevalent in the Muslim faith, as highlighted by the #MosqueMeToo movement

The more that sexual abuse is covered up, the more common it becomes. Sexual abuse causes long-term harm in children and creates generational trauma for adults. By speaking out and pursuing justice for yourself, you can help expose predators, prevent future abuse, and clean up the church you rely on for solace and spiritual guidance.

Regardless of faith, no religious organization is exempt from the risk of sexual abuse. We believe you, and what happened was not your fault. Contact the attorneys at the Pride Law Firm at 619-516-8166 to tell your story and discuss your options for justice.

What Are the Effects of Church Sexual Abuse?

Whether the abuse happened decades ago or weeks ago, survivors experience a range of emotions. This can include anger, sorrow, rage, or even fear — fear of speaking out, of repercussion, or blame. These are all normal emotional reactions to abuse.

Survivors share many of the same feelings:

  • Guilt about what happened
  • Self-blame
  • Difficulty with adult sexual relationships
  • Trouble setting boundaries
  • Struggles with self-esteem

If you’re an adult survivor, chances are you’ve kept feelings inside for a long time. Perhaps you have tried to tell someone who didn’t believe you, or you don’t have someone you feel you could trust. The effects of the trauma might still be emotionally impacting you.

Recovering from this experience can begin with telling someone and seeking professional help from an experienced sexual assault attorney. Simply take the first step and reach out to us at (619) 415-8822 — we will take care of the rest.

What Should You Do if You’ve Been Sexually Abused at Church?

If you’ve been a survivor of church sexual assault or abuse:

  • Do not return to the church for now. Even if you would find the place or the community comforting, religious leadership may try to protect their own reputation and dissuade you from contacting police or taking further action.
  • Speak with a sexual assault attorney. Your attorney will help you understand your options moving forward and will explain how the legal process will look. At the Pride Law Firm, we offer free, 100% confidential consultations to discuss your individual matters.
  • Seek care and counseling. Beginning to process your feelings and talking with a counselor can help tremendously. Compensation from a lawsuit can help provide valuable means to meet with the top specialists in their field.

Many states across the country have been changing their laws to hold abusers accountable. Where you live makes a difference. Here is a guide to the laws in your state.

Any person who’s received unwanted sexual attention or advances is a survivor of sexual abuse. Secondary survivors are those who indirectly experience the church leader’s sexual misconduct such as spouses, children, and fellow churchgoers. If you, your spouse, or your children are among the survivors, we can help you get the peace and justice you deserve.

Can You Sue a Priest? Can You Sue a Church?

The answer to both is yes — if you have been abused by a priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, or other clerical leader, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against them.

If you have been harmed by a church, temple, or mosque, you may be able to sue the institution itself and any decision-makers whose negligence directly injured you. Examples of such negligence include placing a known predator in your path, lying or destroying evidence of sexual abuse, or failing to report what they witnessed or heard to the proper authorities.

How Much Do the Victims of a Clergyman Get in a Lawsuit?

Each case is unique, so there is no one number that describes an average church sexual abuse lawsuit settlement.

Here are examples of damages that survivors can claim:

  • Medical costs including psychological treatment
  • Lost wages and a loss of earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering, including emotional distress and conditions like PTSD
  • Punitive damages, which are financial penalties to punish wrongdoers and deter future abuses
  • Wrongful death damages for family members of those who were lost to suicide

What you receive from a settlement or verdict is based on your specific losses, and the ability of your attorney to translate those losses into monetary figures the court can understand. An experienced sexual assault or child sexual abuse attorney is essential to secure the justice you deserve.

Contact an Experienced Sexual Assault Attorney

Clergy members who sexually assault or molest those who look up to them must be held accountable for their criminal acts. Statistics show that sexual predators continue their abuse until they are caught. Not only can filing a lawsuit offer significant closure for yourself, it can also ensure your perpetrator does not have the chance to hurt someone else.

At The Pride Law Firm, we are more than just legal advocates — we are trusted friends to those who have suffered the heartbreaking reality of church sexual abuse. We will guide you through each step, and you will never be alone. Managing partner Jessica Pride has been fighting on behalf of survivors of sexual assault for more than ten years. She and her team have secured justice for hundreds of individuals and families, helping them heal and move forward to brighter futures.

If you have suffered sexual assault in a religious setting, contact us today at 619-516-8166. Your information remains in strict confidence and all initial legal consultations are free and without obligation. Besides finding justice for your wounds, you can help end the cycle of abuse by coming forward to create a better future for yourself and others after you.

Early Commuication for Parents

Religious Sexual Abuse FAQs

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What is religious trauma?

Religious trauma syndrome (RTS) occurs when a person struggles with maintaining their faith or feels conflicted about their church or a set of beliefs.

For those who survive sexual assault or molestation from a trusted religious figure, their faith may be shattered. Breaking away from that environment can cause further religious trauma, as it could mean changing their entire lifestyle or leaving behind family members, friends, and whole communities. Predators often use the fear of excommunication or damnation to control individuals and coerce them into sexual acts.

Weaponizing religious trauma is a powerful tactic used by predators. The next FAQ describes other examples of abusive psychological devices.

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What is grooming?

“Grooming” describes multiple actions used by predators to weaken, isolate, and manipulate individuals to prey upon them. Often used to describe child abusers, grooming can be done to adults too, especially in situations like religious settings where the predator holds a position of authority over the parishioner.

Grooming could entail a minister, priest, rabbi, or imam giving a member special treatment to create feelings of gratitude and indebtedness. It can include isolating the member away from group events for one-on-one time. The attention may be accompanied by inappropriate touching, commenting on the survivor’s appearance, or asking about their personal life.

This type of favoritism is often the beginning stage of grooming, followed by secrecy, initiating sexual contact, and controlling the relationship. Recognizing the signs can help ensure survivors that they are not to blame, and could help prevent abuse going forward.

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Can a church-goer consent to sex with a church leader, pastor, or priest?

The concept of mutual consent does not apply between a churchgoer and their religious leader due to the power differential between the two. The differential of power between a religious leader and a churchgoer is like that of a physician and a patient, or a teacher and a student.

Because of the power a church leader holds over congregation members, a churchgoer may feel they lack the authority to refuse sexual advances. For this reason, the concept of consent becomes virtually meaningless, and any sexual relationship between a religious leader and a congregant automatically negates mutual consent.

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What is institutional abuse?

Institutional abuse, also known as organizational abuse, is when individuals are harmed by the structures or hierarchy of an institution or care setting. Examples include places like churches, schools, prisons, rehab or mental health facilities, and workplaces (including the armed forces).

In instances of sexual abuse cases, institutions may close ranks, and hide wrongdoing instead of punishing it. They may also intimidate, threaten, or otherwise silence those victimized because they believe open honesty would harm the reputation of the organization.

Church leadership may prioritize the image of the institution over the well-being of parishioners, moving sexual predators around to unsuspecting congregations. In this way, the church itself becomes the perpetrator of sexual crimes, which is why the institutions themselves are frequently named in lawsuits from survivors. If you have a case to bring against a religious institution, contact the Pride Law Firm at 619-516-8166 to hold them accountable.

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