Have You Experienced Sexual Assault Or Abuse?
More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.
More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.

Youth Pastor Sexual Assault & Abuse: How to Get Help

If you've experienced sexual abuse, assault or grooming by a youth pastor, you have rights and options to seek help and healing. We can help connect you to an experienced lawyer who can help you explore your options today.

Survivor Advocate

Key Takeaways

  • Youth pastor sexual abuse is a seemingly growing problem across all religious sects including the Christian, Catholic, Mormon (Church of the Latter Day Saints), and Southern Baptists.
  • Sexual abuse by a youth pastor typically starts with grooming, where they build a relationship with the child or teen which then leads to sexual abuse, assault, or harassment.
  • If you have experienced any form of abuse by a youth pastor leader, you have rights and options. Reach out to Helping Survivors to understand your options including reporting to law enforcement or filing a sexual abuse lawsuit to seek compensation and justice.

Youth Pastor Sexual Assault: An Overview of the Growing Problem

Over the last few years, we have seen a rise in youth pastor sexual assault allegations across the United States. This increase may have occurred because there are more youth pastors than ever, and their roles have significantly expanded over the past few decades.

However, clergy sexual abuse is a known problem across every religious sect: Catholic, Mormon, Christianity, Southern Baptists, and beyond.

Individuals who are seeking to sexually groom, abuse, or harass minors often seek employment as clergy, teachers, sports coaches, or other roles where they have easy access to children and teens. The power dynamics of these roles make it easier to prey on children and teens. Thus, given the inherent trust and access provided, perpetrators of sexual assault and abuse are likewise drawn to becoming youth pastors.

It can take survivors of childhood sexual abuse years to come forward for a variety of reasons. Many feel they will not be believed or their church will excommunicate them. Others fear for their safety because of threats of violence or retaliation by the perpetrator. Additionally, many individuals may not realize they experienced sexual abuse, assault, or harassment. Given this issue, we wanted to share some examples of youth pastor sexual assault.

Examples of Youth Pastor Sexual Abuse

Sexual assault and harassment can take many forms, including physical, verbal, financial, and emotional. Often, perpetrators will sexually groom the individual and slowly escalate their behaviors after they have built trust with their victim. These examples of youth pastor abuse demonstrate this escalation in behavior.

  • Sexual coercion – Pressured, threatened, tricked, or forced into any sexual acts or conversations
  • Inappropriate sexual comments – Includes questions about sex in general, sexual partners, whether the victim has engaged in any specific sex acts, and any other unwanted sexual comments
  • Inappropriate touching – Includes tickling, touching a thigh, groping, or any other unwanted sexual contact
  • Voyeurism – also known as flashing or indecent exposure
  • Showing sexually explicit imagery or content
  • Asking for sexual images or videos
  • Sexual assault – Molestation, groping, forced oral sex, etc.
  • Rape – Involves sexual penetration and forcing males to sexually penetrate someone

After the grooming or abuse starts, many perpetrators will typically try to convince the victim that the abuse is normal, that they have a “special” relationship, and that the victim should not tell anyone. They may even threaten to harm the victim or their friends and family if they do tell. The perpetrator often does such coercion under the guise of keeping a secret and that their relationship is “special.”

If you or someone you love has experienced any of these forms of youth pastor sexual assault, you have rights and options to report, seek justice, and heal. These rights may depend on the applicable statutes of limitations, which set the deadlines for bringing criminal charges and filing civil lawsuits.

Consulting an experienced clergy sexual abuse lawyer as soon as possible can be incredibly helpful for survivors. An experienced lawyer can walk you through your options, including reporting to church leadership, reporting to law enforcement, and filing a civil lawsuit against the church.

Helping Survivors works with a network of law firms around the country. When you contact us, we can connect you with a trusted, experienced lawyer who can guide you in seeking justice and healing.

Reporting Options for Youth Pastor Sexual Abuse

Survivors of youth pastor sexual abuse have a few reporting options available to them. Experiencing sexual abuse can be an incredibly traumatizing experience. Those impacted should feel supported in whatever choices they make, whether they report it immediately following the abuse or come forward years later.

The first thing we recommend survivors do in terms of “reporting” is to document the harm they have suffered. Write down everything you remember, including dates, times, the perpetrator’s information, what happened in your own words, and any witnesses. Gather any available evidence, including text messages, photos, and video footage that may have captured the abuse.

After you document what happened, we highly recommend you tell someone close and trusted, such as a family member, friend, teacher, or other trusted adult. These individuals can provide emotional support and help you explore your options. Additionally, not only can the individual help you, but disclosing abuse to a trusted person shortly following the incident can serve as valuable evidence in a criminal or civil case should you wish to pursue these other options.

Report to the Church

If you feel safe in doing so, report the abuse to church leadership. Each religious institution is different, but contacting the church leadership via written communication, such as email, can be a good first step.

You can also work with a trusted person to help you through this process. They can accompany you at in-person meetings, receive copies of emails, and advocate for you.

Religious organizations that employ youth pastors and other individuals are legally obligated to create a safe environment for their staff and congregation. They must thoroughly investigate the report and take appropriate disciplinary actions.

If you have reported the abuse to church leadership and believe they did not take the allegation seriously, did not investigate thoroughly, or did not take disciplinary steps after an investigation, speak to an experienced clergy sexual abuse lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer can guide you on what to do next, including filing a police report or civil lawsuit.

Report to Law Enforcement

Many individuals impacted by sexual violence of all forms do not report to law enforcement for a variety of reasons. We understand and empathize with survivors. We know reporting to police can be incredibly daunting and confusing, especially for young people.

Anyone can file a report with law enforcement to document the harm that happened to them. Typically, you must file the police report at the local police precinct in the jurisdiction where the harm occurred, not where you live. The police will investigate based on applicable laws and available resources. The investigators then provide the results to a prosecutor, who determines whether to press criminal charges.

The prosecutor weighs many factors when deciding to press criminal charges. Survivors have little control over what happens in the criminal legal process after filing an initial report. They generally have little influence over whether an investigation happens, what charges—if any—are filed, and whether the perpetrator is offered a plea deal. However, law enforcement tends to take reports of clergy sexual abuse seriously, given the nature of the crime, the inherent trust in religious institutions, and the vulnerability of the victims.

Reporting to law enforcement is about more than seeking criminal charges against the perpetrator. It can also create a valuable paper trail should future harm happen or other victims come forward. It can also help you build a case if you choose to pursue a civil lawsuit.

File a Youth Pastor Lawsuit for Sexual Abuse

Over the last decade, many lawsuits have been filed against various religious institutions, such as the Catholic Church, for sexual abuse. The brave survivors who come forward to file these claims do so to prevent future abuse, hold perpetrators and the institutions enabling them accountable, and seek compensation for the harm they’ve suffered. This compensation can help them seek therapy, pay for medical needs, and move forward with their lives.

Filing a civil lawsuit, especially against a large religious institution, can be complex. An experienced youth pastor sexual abuse lawyer can make this process easier as they know what claims to file, how to protect your confidentiality, and how to negotiate with religious institutions for a settlement.

But time is of the essence—the statute of limitations imposes a strict deadline for filing a civil lawsuit. Many states require lawsuits to be filed within 2-5 years after abuse has occurred.

Youth Pastor Sexual Abuse Arrests & Allegations

Over the last few years, the media has reported on dozens of youth pastor arrests and civil lawsuits filed against religious institutions by survivors.

The following are just some notable youth pastor sexual abuse arrests and allegations as reported by the media. Some of these individuals have been convicted, while others have been arrested with charges still pending. Some of these incidents are also the subjects of ongoing civil litigation.

Saddleback Church Sexual Abuse by Youth Pastor Ruven Meulenberg

Ruven Meulenberg, a former youth pastor at Saddleback Church in California, has been criminally charged with sexually abusing at least four teenage boys between May 2016 and June 2018. These incidents allegedly occurred during church-related activities, such as movie outings and car rides. A jury convicted Meulenberg in 2018, but a judge overturned the conviction over juror misconduct. As of publication, he is currently awaiting a retrial. Investigators believe there may be more victims.

If you or someone you love has experienced sexual abuse at Saddleback Church or by Meulenberg, please reach out to us at Helping Survivors to understand your legal rights and options, including filing a sexual abuse lawsuit.

Brett Bymaster: San Jose Youth Pastor Arrested for Child Sexual Abuse

Brett Bymaster, a former youth pastor at The River Church Community in San Jose, California, was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault. The alleged abuse occurred between 2014 and 2018.

The investigation against Bymaster began after a young adult woman reported in January 2024 that Bymaster had sexually assaulted her when she was a minor. As of publication, he remains in jail on a $400,000 bail awaiting criminal trial.

Hipolito Gomez-Perdomo: Fort Collins Youth Pastor Accused of Child Sexual Abuse Spanning Thirty Years

Hipolito Gomez-Perdomo, a former youth pastor at Vida Abundante church in Fort Collins, Colorado, was arrested in March 2024 on multiple counts of sexual assault of a child. The allegations of his abuse spanned from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.

The first police report was reportedly filed against Gomez-Perdomo in 2019, but the District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges at the time. A female victim came forward in early 2023, accusing Gomez-Perdomo of sexually assaulting her in the early 2000s when she was a young child. After her report, an additional victim came forward with similar allegations.

Gomez-Perdomo served as a youth pastor with the Vida Abundante church in North Fort Collins. After the 2019 allegations, he reportedly left the congregation.

Investigators believe there may be other victims who attended the Vida Abundante church. There may also be others in previous places where he lived, including Fort Morgan, Colorado, and Houston, Texas.

Robert Fenton Extradited to the U.S. for Past Child Sexual Abuse Charges

Robert Fenton, a former youth pastor from Bradford County, Pennsylvania, was criminally charged with statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, and indecent assault in 2022. These charges relate to the repeated sexual abuse of a teenage girl between 1996 and 1998.

However, when the charges were filed, Fenton was working at a church in Queensland, Australia. Thus, the Pennsylvania Attorney General called for his extradition.

When authorities intercepted him in April 2024, Fenton was reportedly traveling from Brisbane, Australia, to Pasay, Philippines. He was barred from entering the Philippines because of his criminal record, which was found in the Interpol database. Fenton was placed on a flight from the Philippines to Los Angeles on Tuesday, April 23, 2024, and is believed to be in criminal custody at the time of publication.

Kenneth Travis Jewell & Central Baptist Church Sued for Alleged Sexual Abuse

A lawsuit filed in January 2024 against Central Baptist Church in Magnolia, Arkansas, alleges that former youth pastor Kenneth Travis Jewell sexually abused a minor. The plaintiff claims the abuse occurred while Jewell worked for the church between 2008 and 2011.

The lawsuit alleges that the church leadership was aware of the misconduct and failed to take appropriate action to prevent it. It also claims that the church attempted to cover up the abuse to protect its reputation. As of publication, the lawsuit is ongoing.

Youth Pastor Andrew Haines Arrested on Five Felony Sexual Abuse Charges in November 2023

Andrew Haines, a youth pastor from Marseilles, Illinois, was arrested and charged with multiple felony counts of child sexual abuse, including predatory criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving a girl under 13.

Despite the serious charges, Haines remained listed as a staff member on the Fox River Lutheran Church’s website for over five months as the church’s youth pastor and music director.

Haines’ criminal charges are pending. He has pleaded not guilty and was released under home confinement following his November 2023 arrest.

Survivors are Coming Forward — We Can Help

The survivors who came forward to report abuse to law enforcement or file suit have taken a brave step that may prevent future youth pastor sexual abuse. Many perpetrators have been criminally charged. In addition, lawsuits are pending against several of the institutions that enabled the abuse, and many more will likely be filed soon.

If you or someone you know has experienced any form of youth pastor abuse, you have rights and options. We can help you understand them and pursue the justice you deserve. Reach out to Helping Survivors today, and an advocate will contact you as soon as possible.

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