Rockne Roll/News-Register##Church on the Hill
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Church on the Hill
By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

Church sued for allegedly turning deaf ear to abused child

A 12-year-old girl and her mother are suing the Nazarene Church on the Hill in McMinnville, alleging church employees failed to act when the girl told them she was being abused by her biological father.

According to the $5.2 million lawsuit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court on May 23, the girl was in kindergarten through third grade when she told teachers, aides, counselors and clergy at the church about the abuse.

The accused molester is the girl's biological father, who allegedly gave his daughter herpes as a result of his assaults, managed to flee before the allegations were brought to light, said Randall Vogt, the Portland attorney representing the plaintiffs. "No criminal charges were ever brought, and he dissappared," he said. "We have no notion of where he is."

Vogt said church employees were required under Oregon law to report what the girl told them to legal authorities and church officials. Even the girl's parents were not told, he said.

Both the girl's mother and stepfather are licensed mental health professionals who were working at the church, located at 700 N.W. Hill St., six years ago when the girl allegedly first reported her father's crimes. Her stepfather was an assistant pastor, and her mother had a private practice in the same building.

"Both of them were physically at the church and co-mingling with the people who knew about this," Vogt said.

The girl chose not to tell her parents directly, he said. "She wanted to protect her father, who she still had feelings for," Vogt added. "Kids' behavior is not always rational, and kids are unpredictable and ... kids."

Jeff Cox, the business administrator at Church on the Hill, said he has been taking calls from reporters since the lawsuit was filed, but there's nothing he can say about the case. "We are unable to comment on any pending litigation," he said.

He added only that not being able to reassure parishioners and the community is emotionally stressful. "It is really difficult," Cox said. "We may end up later having something from the church council, but that's all we can say right now. We want to be polite and above board in our communication about this, but that's all we have at the moment."

According to the lawsuit, the girl's biological parents divorced in 2006. Although her father's parental rights were terminated, at the time of the divorce, he was still supposedly allowed extensive unsupervised visits -- including some overnight visits -- in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

The abuse allegedly continued for two years. "As a parishioner, the plaintiff had frequent and regular contact and professional interactions with various teachers, teachers' aides, counselors and clergymen at the Church on the Hill," the court documents state. "During those contacts, plaintiff revealed to various Church on the Hill employees and agents that she had been subjected to sexual intercourse."

Vogt said the girl made several attempts to kill herself and was hospitalized in 2011 as a direct result of being sexually assaulted.

A court date has not been set.

See Friday's News-Register for more on this story.

Comments

Mudstump

This story is truly sad. My heart goes out to the girl involved. I hope she is able to find the care and support she needs.

Lulu

Well, the Church on the Hill certainly didn't do her any favors.

tagup

Let get this straight....their happy to sue the church but they have never brought criminal charges against the abuser?

That's interesting.....I guess money is easier than justice...

TTT

The former McMinnville Chief of Police is / was also a parishioner. That could have been a decent person to inform.

Sonny

I think you are more right than you know tagup. It seems because no criminal charges were brought, the plantiff's feel strongly no justice was served. Who could blame them? But they are basically stating the church conspired to shield a child molester, they don't even know, for what purpose? Extracting money from a church for their stated reason is also not justice. It is a horrible thing that happened to the child and hopefully the offender came to his senses, walked into the woods and ended it all. I pray the family can obtain healing from the pain this man caused. But the church is not to blame here.

Mudstump

Sonny - "Vogt said church employees were required under Oregon law to report what the girl told them to legal authorities and church officials. Even the girl's parents were not told, he said."

Mandatory reporting is the law. If you don't report you have to deal with the consequences. We don't know what other criminal charges are pending or have been filed.

David Bates

Are the plaintiffs being identified by name and/or title? How many people are we talking about?

bonnybedlam

Tagup and Sonny, you need to read more closely. The abuser wasn't charged because he fled before the accusations came to light, which he was able to do because the mandatory reporters who knew about the abuse did not report it to the authorities. Or even the child's parents. Also note that the sentence right before "no chargers were ever brought" reads "We have no notion of where he is". He can't be formally charged until they find him. Which, again, they can't do because the mandatory reporters at the church chose to protect him rather than the little girl he was raping. It doesn't have to be a conspiracy, everyone she told could have ignored her without even speaking to each other about it, but ignoring her was a choice and the only reason to do it would be to save themselves and the offender from an investigation and potential bad press.

This isn't about money over justice, it's just about justice. The perpetrator is long gone, but the institution that covered up his crimes remains. Suing them is perfectly reasonable, given their gross betrayal of both the law and the five year old who was taught to trust them.

tagup

Maybe I confused by the term "brought". In criminal cases charges are filed all the time without a defendent in custody...a judge issues a warrent and the accused person is later arrested.

I understand that the defendent is not able to be found...have charges been filed?...is there a warrent for his arrest?

sbagwell

David:

The suit was filed by the mother as guardian of the child.

We are withholding the name of the child because she is an alleged sex abuse victim. We are withholding the names of her mom, dad and stepdad because those would expose her identify as surely as use of her own name would.

Church officials know all three of these people quite well, and I assume the same applies to the vast majority of church members. After all, the family had long and close affiliations.

We have run into that problem numerous times over the years and have always dealt with it in the same fashion.

If you expose a person as a sex abuse victim in a story, it leaves a permanent record readily accessible via internet search engines. Thus, it could pop up for her for the next 50 or 75 years as she went about seeking employment and such.

Should there be a stigma? I certainly don't think so, but there clearly is.

It's also a very personal thing. I suspect most people would rather not share with the whole world.

Sorry the story didn't make it clearer.

Steve

Mudstump

sbagwell - I applaud the News Register for withholding the names of the victim and family and can appreciate the reasons you outlined in your comment. This girl has suffered enough. I hope she finds the love and support she needs to heal.

kona

Just curious, " the child because she is an alleged sex abuse victim". Everyone seems to be suggesting that this did happen. Do we know that it did happen? So far, what is the proof? This is too bizarre. I am a little surprised that "the girl was in kindergarten through third grade when she told teachers, aides, counselors and clergy at the church about the abuse". It is very hard to believe that all of these people were told and no one said anything to the mother. Or, no one told the police. All of these people, no matter how ignorant would know the ramifications for what they were told. This will be interesting to see what really happened. If true this is a problem on so many fronts.

tagup

Has the alleged abuser been charged?....I'm still not clear on that point.

sbagwell

The second paragraph in the story reads:
"The accused molester is the girl's biological father, who allegedly gave his daughter herpes as a result of his assaults, managed to flee before the allegations were brought to light, said Randall Vogt, the Portland attorney representing the plaintiffs. "No criminal charges were ever brought, and he dissappared," he said. "We have no notion of where he is."
There is no way to even interrogate him in an attempt to build a case, let alone place him under arrest, if you can't find him. And he doesn't appear to have any interest in being found.
Steve

tagup

I guess I'm missing something.....if they can't "build a case" against the abuser, how do they have a case against the church?
Isn't the child's testimony enough to bring charges? Seems like there should be a warrant for the abuser at the very least......hmmm.

sbagwell

Yes, I think you are missing something.
First, it is against the law for a mandatory reporter to fail to uphold his duty to report allegations of child abuse, and a violator is thus liable for damages. It matters not a whit whether the allegations prove founded or not. Your duty is to report, period.
Second, the burden of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof in a civil case is a preponderence of the evidence, meaning 50 percent plus one. Those are very different standards. That's why Nicole Brown Simpson's family was able to successfully sue O.J. Simpson after he was acquitted of all charges in a criminal trial.
Finally, one of the ways you build a criminal case is interrogate the suspect, give him a chance to offer alibis, excuses, defenses and accounts, then check out his side of the story to see what matches and what doesn't. You don't start a case by indicting the accused based solely on the word of the alleged victim, then see what he has to say for himself.
Steve

kona

Wouldn't this suit need (or not) to name names? Who are these people?

kona

Again, I can't imagine any group of people ("plaintiff revealed to various Church on the Hill employees and agents that she had been subjected to sexual intercourse") especially any church ignoring this.

tagup

Yes Steve,
I understand the difference in burden of proof between criminal and civil cases....my question was have charges been filed? I get that the accused gets his opportunity to respond to the charges, but isn't it pretty common for an arrest warrant to be issued based only on the evidence of the accuser?...I'd hate to think that law inforcement shrugs and says "oh well" just because the guy hasn't been located.

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