US Christian group accused of covering up sexual abuse of minors

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Michele “Chelle” Rowland was looking for salvation when she joined the International Churches of Christ. She never imagined that, three decades later, she would lead a legal battle accusing the controversial Christian religious organization of enabling sexual abuse of children in its congregation and covering up other alleged abuses, but that’s exactly what she did. Still working.

“They cover the spectrum of abuse,” Roland said. “It is an abuse of power – spiritually, physically, psychologically, financially and sexually.”

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Roland and his attorney, Bobby Samini, have filed a series of lawsuits against the International Churches of Christ – abbreviated as ICOC – alleging that its leaders failed to report as well as women and children who worship Conspired to cover up the sexual and emotional abuse of. with them.

One of the lawsuits is from Roland himself. She accuses the church and its leaders of fostering an exploitative environment that resulted in her being sexually assaulted by an ICOC recruiter. Collectively, her complaint and others accuse ICOC of being a dangerous cult — the Los Angeles-based organization with about 118,000 congregants vehemently denies that characterization, saying it is a fact about the abuse allegations. Search is on mission.

Michelle ‘Chelle’ Raymond. Photograph: Courtesy of Michel ‘Chelle’ Raymond

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The lawsuits, which seek damages, describe disturbing examples of molestation against minors. And they accuse ICOC, its founder, Thomas “Kip” McCann, and affiliated organizations of creating a “pervasive culture of acceptance of child abuse.”

According to February filings, the mother of two young girls who were sexually assaulted on church grounds was allegedly told by a church elder, “What happened to your girls is not a big deal.” “Most girls are sexually abused by the time they are 18.”

Five women filed a complaint in December saying ICOC failed to stop convicted pedophile and church member David Saracino from sexually assaulting them when they were aged between four and 17. According to legal documents, Saracino received a 40-year prison sentence. For raping a four-year-old girl in 2004.

Another February filing claims that Anthony M. Stowers, a transgender man, was molested from the age of three while in the care of an ICOC preschool. Legal documents alleged that Stowers was abused as ICOC members and leaders, who were not employees of her school, were not given access to students.

Stowers, in the filing, recounts “multiple instances” in which they were pulled out of classes and brought to another ICOC property where they were filmed as well as molested and photographed while naked.

Like many other plaintiffs who have attached their names to allegations in the lawsuit, Stowers’ abuse reportedly continued into his teenage years, when he said he attempted to alert church leaders several times. His complaint claims that ICOC employees who were legally bound to promptly notify authorities of their reports of abuse, including counselors, doctors and psychologists, “actively concealed [them] and took no remedial action”.

According to his complaint, the legal obligation existed whether or not Stowers had evidence to support his allegations.

Rowland said of the lawsuits, “They’re so brazen that they got away with it.” Stating that other instances of abuse have driven victims to suicide, Rowland said: “They didn’t think they were going to be caught because of the statute of limitations. They’re like, ‘It’s been ten years! We Everyone is safe, okay?’ No, fool. You’re not.”

For years, the plaintiffs were barred from seeking legal action against the ICOC because statutes of limitations generally prohibit suing for long-ago damages. But two newly enacted California laws helped set the stage for the cases against the ICOC.

The Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act as well as the California Child Victims Act have extended the time frame that victims of sexual abuse must initiate legal proceedings, effectively giving minors a second chance at justice.

As the bills were signed into law, Rowland — who hosts a podcast for cult survivors whattheflock — says she began getting inundated with messages from former ICOC members who wanted to share their stories of abuse. Roland said it was an eye-opening moment for him.

Often using a legal pseudonym in court cases involving sexual violence, she said: “I’m Jane Doe 1, so I knew there was abuse. But I thought I was an enigma. I didn’t think it was like many other happened to people.

These firsthand accounts inspired Samini to fight the case.

“I didn’t expect we would be so personally touched by the stories of our survivors,” said Samini, whose past clients include rapper T-Pain and DJ Paul of the Oscar-winning group Three 6 Mafia. “It’s so hard, day after day, for people to hear that they were sexually abused in their church by people they trusted.”

Roland and Samini say they are working with at least 100 more alleged victims. “At this point, it’s a bottomless pit,” Roland said, adding that he and Samini have received a thousand calls from people with similar claims. “We are getting more calls every day.”

Social activist and former ICOC member Justine Lieberman said she has been working with victims of spiritual and sexual abuse in the church organization for the past decade. Lieberman described a noticeable shift in recent months. “I have been fielding calls and connecting with victims and survivors every day since November – in such numbers that at one point I lost my voice,” she said. “We are not going to stop taking calls at all hours.”

Similarly, former ICOC member Chris Lee, executive director of Reveal, an online resource for former cult members, said he too is fielding calls from fellow former members.

“I’m a man in my 50s, so I’m not likely to be the first person women tell us their rape or sexual assault stories,” Lee said. “And yet, during the past year, I’ve heard from at least three people.”

California State University sociology professor emerita Janja Lalich, who leads the Knowledge Center on Cults and Coercion, said she believes the ICOC has at least “characteristics of a cult”. One aspect he specifically noted was the lawsuits description of a religious culture that permitted molestation and never reported it to the authorities in order to avoid scandal.

Lalich said, “Anything can be done in the name of a belief system – that’s where abuse comes in.”

ICOC officials have publicly denied that their organization, which they described as decentralized, is a cult. But otherwise he hasn’t addressed the lawsuits.

Founder Kip McCain’s attorney, Anthony J. Fernandez, would not comment beyond saying he “continues to gather information about the allegations” in the lawsuit against the ICOC.

“These are serious allegations and we are working to investigate the basis of the claims and determine the appropriate legal response,” he said.

US Christian group accused of covering up sexual abuse of minors

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