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When Can You Sue a Church Leader for Sexual Assault?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

News of children, teens, and even adults being sexually assaulted or even raped, by religious leaders is unfortunately something that appears in the news too often. Just last week, a lawsuit was filed in North Carolina alleging that a youth counselor who was attending seminary training abused his authority and attempted to groom a teenage girl for sexual assault.

The lawsuit alleges that the counselor urged the teenager to confide in him, especially when it came to sexual urges, so that they could talk about those urges to supposedly resist them. However, when the counselor was invited into the girl's family home for Christmas dinner, the situation quickly escalated. After eating, he took the teenager on a drive, where he parked the car at the church, then allegedly raped her. If this wasn't bad enough, the counselor is alleged to have continued to manipulate the teenager, by telling her that people would turn against her, her reputation would be damaged, and no one would believe her, all so that she would continue to have sex with him.

Authoritative Abuse

When a church leader or employee abuses a minor, it is handled similarly to when a teacher takes advantage of a school-aged child, or a therapist sexually assaults a patient. Generally, individuals who are in positions that place them as an authority figure will have additional duties they owe to those whom they have authority over. Those duties expose the authority figures to potential criminal and civil liability, and even civil penalties, if they are caught abusing their authority to perpetrate sexual assaults.

For a church leader to attempt to have a sexual relationship with a member of the congregation, in and of itself, may not be criminally illegal (so long as they are both consenting adults). However, there could very well be civil liability and consequences.

As a preliminary matter, the person could lose their position with the church (or other organization). In addition to that relatively minor consequence, they can be civilly sued under several legal theories of liability, including fraud, misrepresentations, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and others.

Statute of Limitations for Assaults on Minors

Typically, when a minor is injured, they do not have to worry about the statute of limitations expiring on their case until after they reach the age of 18. This means that a child who is assaulted at age six, can sue their attacker over a decade later. If the state provides for a two year statute of limitation, then in this example, the child would have until they turn 20 years old to file the lawsuit.

For adult victims, each state has a different statute of limitations that will apply to your case. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, abused, or raped by a church leader or other authority figure, you should seek legal help.

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