Lawyers for the plaintiff say a fifteen-year old male who molested a seven-year old girl had an established history as a sex offender in another state.
(SALEM, Ore.) – Attorneys representing a 23-year old Oregon woman say she was subjected to multiple counts of sexual molestation and abuse as a 7-year old girl while attending the East Salem Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Kelly Clark of the Portland law firm O’Donnell & Clark LLP, says the offender at the time was a 15-year old boy who attended the same congregation.
Clark says the case is important, because it illustrates the need for churches to monitor and maintain people who are in a close proximity to children. Their law firm has been involved in a number of successful similar actions involving the Catholic Church that date back to 1999.
The 15-year old boy accused of committing sexual acts against the young girl over the course of approximately one year, had a history of sexual misconduct involving children in Washington state, and was under a juvenile court mandate to have no contact with children. Clark says the church should have known that.
He says the young man knew the girl through their enrollment in a youth group called Pathfinders. He was also her instructor in a sign language program at the church.
"I’m confident that we’ll be able to prove that church officials knew that this kid was not well and not safe to be around other kids."
According to Clark, the young man had a good deal of access to the girl, despite his criminal record.
"The fact that this young man was still a minor doesn’t mean in my mind, that he still couldn’t be a representative of the church. If he was, the abuse rose out of that status and the church is responsible."
Clark says that as a young woman, the plaintiff is permanently damaged by the experience at the Salem church.
The specific allegations are harsh. According to the legal complaint, the 15-year old, "sexually abused and molested Plaintiff—then 7 years old—for approximately one year between 1991 and 1992. The abuse included over one dozen instances of fondling, oral sex, and intercourse. All of the abuse occurred at ESSDAC facilities."
The attorneys for the woman say the defendants failed to investigate the background of the teen, referred to as S.H., "prior to accepting him as their agent in instructing the sign language class attended by Plaintiff, and continued to retain him in this agency even after questionable matters from S.H.’s past came to light."
They say the teen’s background could have been fully discovered by a reasonable investigation, indicating that he had some history of inappropriate sexual misconduct with children.
Defendants in the case include The North Pacific Union Conference Association of Seventh Day Adventists, Western Oregon Conference Association of Seventh Day Adventists, and Oregon the East Salem Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Attorney Richard Whittemore in Portland is representing the East Salem Seventh Day Adventist Church in the case. He made this statement to Salem-News.com Thursday.
“The church takes very seriously any allegation of sexual abuse. The filing of this lawsuit on August 29th was our first notice of the case; therefore we will review the case more thoroughly before making any further comments.”