Thursday, June 30, 2016

SBC church seeks to 'out' child sex abuse victims

David Clohessy speaking to the press, along with other SNAP members,
outside Westside Family Church in Lenexa, Kansas
(Kansas City Star photo)

A Southern Baptist megachurch that is being sued over sexual abuse inflicted on minor girls has filed a court petition requesting that the girls’ names be made public.

Although sexual abuse lawsuits involving minors are typically filed under “Jane Doe” or “John Doe” pseudonyms in order to preserve the children’s anonymity, Westside Family Church in Lenexa, Kansas, has requested that the court require the children and their mother to proceed in open court under their real names.
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, described it as a “stunningly callous” and “mean-spirited” tactic.
Clohessy’s organization, SNAP, has been instrumental in bringing countless clergy sex abuse cases into the light of day. It was originally formed by survivors of sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests, but today, SNAP has members who were sexually abused within many other faith groups, including Baptist groups.   
Clohessy stated that, in his 28 year history of advocacy work, this was the first time he had ever seen a religious institution seeking to “out” a minor who was bringing forward a claim of sexual abuse. “I’ve never seen a defendant try to ‘out’ kids who are still kids in a child sex case,” he said.
For those of you who don’t know much about SNAP, let me just point out that SNAP is the organization whose work helped bring to light the child molestation cases that formed the basis for the movie “Spotlight,” which recently won an Academy Award. Clohessy himself has talked with hundreds upon hundreds of child sex abuse survivors and mostly survivors abused in religious institutions. He knows the ugly patterns of such cases better than probably anyone else in the country. Yet, with all the cases he has seen, Clohessy had never seen a church seek to “out” the identities of children who were sexually abused.
Incidentally, there’s no doubt that these children were sexually abused. The perpetrator is currently serving a 17-year prison sentence. The fact that he also had two prior felonies was a factor in determining the length of his sentence, and it also forms part of the basis for the family’s civil lawsuit against the church. The suit alleges that the church knew the perpetrator was dangerous and failed to take adequate precautions for the protection of kids.
And now … so desperate is this Southern Baptist church to pull out all the stops in trying to defend against the family’s civil suit that it is doing what virtually no other religious institution has previously done. It is seeking to publicize the names of children who were sexually violated.
Brad Russell, attorney for
Westside Family Church
(photo: Shawnee Mission Post)
The attorney for the church -- i.e., the guy who is pursuing this deplorable tactic -- is Brad Russell. In his court filing, he tried to justify the tactic by claiming that the family had used “a Pearl Harbor styled barrage of negative publicity” against the church.

As SNAP often does when it is trying to draw attention to a serious safety problem in a church, it held a press conference outside the church. I’ll leave it to you to take a look at the photo of that group of concerned citizens speaking out for the protection of children and decide for yourself whether you think it looks like “a Pearl Harbor styled barrage.” To me, it looks like attorney Russell went off on a grossly exaggerated and untenable rant.      
Since Westside Family Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, SNAP called on SBC officials, including newly-elected SBC president Steve Gaines, to denounce the church’s “inexcusable” tactic of trying to “out” children victimized by sexual violence. But of course, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting. Gaines himself has a much-publicized prior history of having kept quiet about an admitted child molester on his own ministerial staff. Yet, despite Gaines’ known cover-up history, Southern Baptists chose him as their leader just a couple weeks ago. That’s how dysfunctionally oblivious this denomination is to the dynamics of child sex abuse and to the ways in which its own leaders create such a hostile climate for those who would seek to report child molesters who prey on church kids.

Update 10/25/2016: The district court judge rejected the argument of the church's attorney and ruled that the minor plaintiffs will remain anonymous in court proceedings. The judge also denied the church's motion to dismiss the lawsuit. So, the case is currently set to go to trial in August 2017.