Child sex abuse cover-up allegations rock Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, has been rocked by allegations of widespread sexual abuse by pastors, church employees and officials.

A 2019 independent investigation resulted in a 300-page report that uncovered sex abuse cases dating back more than two decades. The report revealed that denomination leaders ignored and covered up sex abuse allegations while vilifying sex abuse survivors. At least 200 abusers within the SBC have been convicted or pleaded guilty to sex offenses, according to independent news reports.

Kamehameha Schools’ Shameful Legacy of Sexual Abuse

A towering symbol of Hawai‘i pride, Hawai‘i’s Kamehameha Schools has educated some of the Hawaiian Islands’ leading lights since 1887. Named for the monarch who united the Hawaiian Islands, Kamehameha’s boarding school on Oahu provided families of native Hawaiian descent the opportunity to educate their children on a campus with more than 70 buildings, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, an athletic complex that seats 3,000, and a resources that rival those of the world’s most-elite private schools.

The school’s storied history, however, belies a dark secret that has only recently come to light. For generations, school administrators covered up what lawsuits by more than 30 former students have described as decades of “monstrous sexual abuse” perpetrated largely against male boarders who were entirely in the trust and care of Kamehameha Schools.

Brave Sexual Abuse Victims are Coming Forward and Making a Difference

With its narrow focus on catching and punishing offenders, the criminal justice system too often leaves crime victims feeling forgotten, and in many cases victimized all over again. That’s especially true for victims of child sexual abuse, many of whom endure years of torment before bravely coming forward.

During National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, we recognize the key role that our civil justice system plays in helping these individuals. Unlike the criminal courts, civil litigation focuses squarely on helping victims obtain justice and holding responsible parties accountable.

It’s an honor to help victims achieve a measure of justice through monetary damages and awards against perpetrators and parties that too often turn a blind eye to their responsibility to protect individuals in their care.

 

 

Lawsuit: San Diego Catholic Diocese Hid Assets from Sex Abuse Victims

A new lawsuit claims the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego attempted to hide real estate holdings valued at more than $450 million to avoid paying out legal settlements to hundreds of victims of childhood sexual abuse.

The lawsuit follows a February announcement from the diocese that “staggering” legal costs from hundreds of new sex abuse lawsuits could force it to file for bankruptcy.

Cardinal Robert McElroy wrote in a letter to parishioners that most of the assets were “depleted” due to settling earlier abuse claims. Facing new lawsuit filings, the diocese may consider bankruptcy to compensate victims, he wrote.

Call for Swift Action to Pass EARN IT Act – Keep Kids Safe

A bill in Congress aimed at preventing online child exploitation is making its way through Congress as reports of explicit images and videos of children are rising.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children received 29.3 million reports of images and videos to its cyber tip line in 2021, the highest number of reports ever received in one year.

“While the scale of child sexual exploitation and abuse online is increasing, so is our ability to tackle it. An urgent, whole-of-government response can help keep kids safe,” said Daniela Ligiero, executive director and CEO of Together for Girls.

Despite the increasing dangers to children and the rise in child sexual exploitation, technology companies have come out in force to defeat the federal legislation, called the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act.

Opponents claim the EARN IT Act would harm online speech, privacy, and security. Tech companies are concerned about the possibility of litigation exposure for failing to fight child sexual abuse material on their platforms. They say that free speech would be threatened and that ultimately, their legitimate services would be shut down.

Tech companies also argue that should the EARN IT Act become law, child abusers would go into hiding on offshore accounts and the dark web, making law enforcement’s job much harder. And, they say that EARN IT would discourage the use of encryption, harming the privacy and data security of everyone.

However, the bill, according to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, does not sabotage privacy, undermine encryption or give the federal government new power.

In reality, the EARN IT Act would incentivize technology providers to finally address the online sexual exploitation of children while still respecting user privacy and free speech. The act would:

  • Clarify that there is no immunity for social media and technology companies that knowingly facilitate the distribution of child sexual abuse material.
  • Give victims a path to justice and possibility of restoring their privacy.
  • Update existing federal statutes to replace “child pornography” with the more accurate term “child sexual abuse material.”
  • Establish a commission of survivors, technology representatives, privacy and civil rights experts and other stakeholders to recommend best practices for tech companies to implement to detect, remove and block the exploitative content.

An estimated 500,000 online predators are active each day on the internet, according to the Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center.  An estimated 89% of sexual advances directed at children occur in internet chatrooms or through instant messaging. In over a quarter of all reported exploitation incidents, the online predator will ask a child for sexually explicit photos of themselves.

“This is very personal to me,” said Alexandra Gucci Zarini, founder of the Gucci Children’s Foundation, which cites statistics that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused. “When I was just 12 years old, a predator was targeting my friends from school via AOL Instant Messenger from a computer within our family home – literally the ‘House of Gucci.’ Those were the first days of online sexual exploitation of children, over 20 years ago.

“Our politicians and our society should have taken action back then to protect our children and their health and safety. But we have instead prioritized the privacy of the predator. It is finally time for action by our politicians and to hold tech companies accountable.”

How We Help Sex Abuse Victims 

Our national sexual abuse lawyers work one-on-one with survivors, offering a direct, personal level of care and discretion. We use our decades of experience battling big organizations to fight on behalf of survivors, aggressively taking on those responsible for causing pain and suffering. If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, we can help.

Southern Baptist Leadership Mishandled Sex Abuse

After years of parishioner reports and a 2019 investigation by reporters at the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) released a report detailing sexual abuse allegations against pastors, church employees, and officials. The report shows lack of action on the part of individual churches and the greater leadership to cover up allegations and resist any reforms. The SBC is the second largest Christian denomination in the United States, with approximately 14 million members as of 2018. It is a coalition of independent churches, and members are counted as parishioners at these churches.

According to Guidepost Solutions, the independent firm chosen to perform the investigation, many of the attempts to silence accusers and prevent reforms were to avoid legal liability. The report lists many of the tactics used against the accused, including intimidation and painting accusers as opportunists. These tactics have been documented in many other sexual abuse and assault cases, used by both individuals and large and small organizations to convince accusers to recant or simply quiet down.

The History of Sex Abuse Allegations Against Churches

Although sex abuse accusations at the Catholic Church have dominated press coverage of these types of abuses, other churches have seen parishioners and others served by the church come forward with allegations of sexual abuse by clergy and lay people working for these churches. The SBC is simply the most recent large religious organization to respond to accusations.

A Christian pastor in Tennessee and Indiana pleaded guilty to sex abuse charges. Another pastor was sentenced to 105 years in prison for molesting multiple children over a period of years. An Oregon man filed a lawsuit against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints after learning that the man who abused him had abused other victims before him and was still allowed to serve in the Church. The LDS church was also sued for their alleged role in covering up cases of abuse in Boy Scout troops.

Details of the Southern Baptist Sex Abuse Report

The report, which was released in May 2022, covers sex abuse cases from 2000 to the present and is nearly 400 pages. It includes not only descriptions of specific sex abuse cases but also the responses of church leaders and the reasoning behind their actions. Additionally, the SBC released a database of nearly 700 offenses. The list was found during the investigation, as it was being kept secretly by an executive committee staff member, although the SBC has told reporters for years that gathering the names of clergy and staff who were credibly accused of sexual assault was impossible.

The database is not complete, and it only includes the names of those who have confessed to sex abuse, been convicted of it, or have been confirmed by some other criteria. Survivor names have been redacted to protect their anonymity. There are also completely redacted entries that haven’t been confirmed. Recent, high-profile cases of a youth pastor and a longtime church leader in Texas cannot be found in the database. The SBC has a link on their website for survivors to make reports.

How We Help Sex Abuse Victims 

Our national sexual abuse lawyers work one-on-one with survivors, offering a direct, personal level of care and discretion. We use our decades of experience battling big organizations to fight on behalf of survivors, aggressively taking on those responsible for causing pain and suffering. If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, we can help.

Adult-Survivors of Child Sex Abuse Raise Allegations in Several States

In March 2020, as states around the country issued stay-at-home orders in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers at the National Sexual Assault Hotline noticed a devasting statistic: for the first time ever, half of the hotline calls were made by children under the age of 18. As a result of the incoming contacts, it was clear to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), which runs the hotline, that child sexual abuse was escalating in both frequency and severity. Many children found themselves quarantined with their abuser, and the abuser was now abusing them daily.

While the pandemic upturned much of the normalcy in our world, children, and even those who were once minors, continued to live in endless cycles of shame, fear, and pain. Although this last year has been one of isolation for the purpose of safety, there are still countless sexual abuse allegations and police investigations taking place in States like Texas, Illinois, and California. For many, safety seems so far out of sight.

Clergy Sex Abuse Allegations on the Rise

There is a wide range of reasons people don’t report their experiences with sexual harassment or abuse to authorities and oftentimes even hide them from friends and family members. One reason may be self-blame, according to Karen G. Weiss, an associate professor of sociology at West Virginia University. “The public may not realize just how many victims of any crime blame themselves for their own victimization,‚Äù Weiss said. “They may question what they did wrong and believe it was their fault.‚Äù Another reason, and the one most likely common among victims of child sex abuse, is that many people who have been molested don’t realize it as such. It’s not until they’re well into their years of adolescence and young adulthood that the abuse materializes into reality. Some never come forward; others do so only decades later.

Recently, two brothers in their 60s described years of sexual abuse suffered from Michael Pfleger ‚Äì a now-former catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. They grew up in an improvised neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, the two youngest of five children who joined the choir at the Precious Blood Catholic Church. They said they were drawn to a young, charismatic seminarian who directed their musical performances and took them out for pizza. The men, whose abuse began in the early 1970s, never revealed the secret, not even to each other — at least not until the younger of the two submitted his allegations to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

Such occurrences exist in Texas too. As of November 2020, Six former students at the Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas joined a lawsuit saying they were abused by priests when they were enrolled there during the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of the most troubling aspects of the case is that the Jesuit Order had knowledge that these priests had accusations lodged against them for sexually inappropriate conduct and yet allowed them to remain as teachers at the Prep School.

California Assembly Bill 218 Helps Hundreds to Come Forward

In 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that allows new lawsuits to be filed – lawsuits based on old child sexual abuse allegations previously barred by the statute of limitations. The new law provides a three-year window beginning in January 2020 for new lawsuits to be filed. Today, for the first time, attorneys handling those cases have a clear idea of just how many victims are taking advantage of this window. In Northern California alone, there are a little over 600 victims of clergy abuse. Experts expect a significant rise in more new cases in Southern California, even though many victims never cross the threshold of publicly admitting their priests sexually abused them.

A spokesperson from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) explained in a statement that every time a survivor comes forward to tell their story, society becomes much safer. “We know that many Catholic abusers are alive and unmonitored, meaning they pose a current danger to the communities they live in. Fortunately, Assembly Bill 218 will help repair that problem, allowing survivors to come forward and creating safer, more informed communities.‚Äù

How We Help Sex Abuse Victims

Our national sexual abuse lawyers work one-on-one with survivors, offering a direct, personal level of care and discretion. We use our decades of experience battling big organizations to fight on behalf of survivors, aggressively taking on those responsible for causing pain and suffering. If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, we can help.

Adult survivors of child sex abuse are getting a renewed chance at justice.

In California, Hawai‘i, and a handful of other states, new laws are extending the time limit to file a case and allowing survivors to seek legal action and compensation. Survivors who may have been previously time-barred from suing abusers or the institutions these abusers represented now have the opportunity to file a lawsuit, even if the abuse occurred decades ago, or if a prior lawsuit was filed but dismissed as time-barred.

The damage of childhood sexual abuse committed by adults within trusted institutions that we depend on is resounding. Many young survivors’ complaints were ignored or silenced as children, while others were time-barred because they waited until adulthood to report the abuse. Still, some victims in their 50s and 60s are just now uncovering repressed childhood sexual abuse. These survivors are finally making the connection to years of psychological distress, failed relationships, and destructive behaviors stemming from long-forgotten or suppressed abuse.

Galiher DeRobertis & Waxman is helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse find justice and compensation. We are part of a network of experienced sex abuse attorneys representing survivors across the country. Our Childhood Sexual Assault Legal Team offers dedicated and heightened level of survivor support and discretion. If you are an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse and you believe you have a potential lawsuit, contact us. We will meet with you to evaluate your claim with no obligation on your part. To learn more about your legal rights and options, please call 1-877-8-ABUSED (1-877-822-8733). Our team will begin working immediately and aggressively to obtain the best result for your case. Contact is kept confidential.

Click here to learn more about Child Sex Abuse and how Galiher DeRobertis & Waxman can help you.

Powerful Failures: Institutional Neglect and Abuse

Established institutions can often make us feel part of an important community: one that is productive, safe and inclusive. Because of this, we understandably trust them with our families and even our children. For decades however, countless allegations and cases brought forth by victims of child sexual abuse refute that trust. Prominent institutions like The Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America (BSA) are deemed complicit in the sexual abuse their young members face. Despite obtaining lists of suspected pedophiles in their ranks, these institutions have failed to protect the children they are responsible for in favor of maintaining their reputations and standing.

As a result of this, victims of sexual abuse are now being encouraged to speak up despite obstacles like the stigma surrounding critique of religious institutions and the statutes of limitations in different states. When victims are allowed to face their abusers in court, they can hold institutions that neglected to implement vital safeguards and suppressed critical information accountable; ending the vicious cycle of abuse and neglect of children in these positions.

Continuing Scandals of The Catholic Church

In 2002, a series of investigative reports on the Catholic Church’s abuse crisis was published by The Boston Globe. The Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage was detailed in the motion picture Spotlight and entirely changed the way people discussed and responded to such abuse.

Today, victims of child sexual abuse in religious circles are much more encouraged to legally challenge major institutions with their allegations. This is supported by a recently filed lawsuit in Buffalo, New York. The Buffalo News reported on an allegation from a 45-year old anonymous plaintiff who was abused by a Reverend Smyczynski in the mid-1980s. The plaintiff claimed that the family was made to keep quiet about the abuse he faced as a 10-year old altar boy when an annulment process was sped up for his parents. In the Church’s central practices, a marriage annulment is often a long and rigorous process that can discourage individuals from attempting it to begin with. However, Reverend Trautman, at the time chancellor of the Buffalo’s Diocese, was willing to grant a speedy nullification in exchange for covering up Smyczynski’s abuse of the victim.

While 35 years have passed since the plaintiff’s abuse, the lawsuit names Trautman and the Buffalo Diocese as defendants. The lawsuit is significant in that it represents the many children that were put in harm’s way as a result of cover-ups and the failures to report abuse. This issue is also true in the Boy Scouts of America’s child sexual abuse cases.

Boy Scouts and Victims  

At the onset of the 20th century, Boy Scouts of America was founded with the purpose of instilling the values of a responsible, dutiful, and moral citizen in American youth. However, as early as 1919, BSA’s mission has been overshadowed by the predatory behavior among scout leaders. This is made evident in the ineligible volunteer files, a paper trail of years of abuse recorded by BSA in order to maintain confidentiality of the incidences.

At least two men from California have brought forth allegations against their former scout leaders with many more preparing to file similar claims. Hundreds of survivors across the U.S. are sharing their stories with lawyers. While most of these men have named their abusers within the organization, BSA has persistently concealed their identities despite their recorded knowledge of the abuse. The supposed cover-up by BSA essentially provides legal standing for the victims to file suit.

Extending the Statute of Limitations 

Until recently, California law required survivors who wanted to hold their violators accountable to file a lawsuit by age 26, or within three years of realizing their psychological injury or illness was caused by childhood abuse. However, a new California law, Assembly Bill 218, allows survivors to override the previous legal hurdle. Enacted in Dec. 2019, the new law, also known as the Child Victims Act, provides a three-year “look-back window.” This means that sexual abuse claims that have since passed the statute of limitations can be pursued. California courts can now triple the amount of damages awarded to a victim if there was an attempt to cover-up the abuse.

For the victims of sexual abuse in California, this means that the chance to receive both closure and justice for the trauma faced at their time in BSA is not lost.