Thursday, July 31, 2008

The risk of false accusation

The woman who accused a Kentucky Southern Baptist youth pastor of sexually abusing a teen “now admits the story was made up.”

Clayton Pruett was arrested in mid-December 2007, after a mother filed a police report alleging that Pruett had abused her 15-year-old daughter.

With a packed courtroom of church-goers, the court dismissed those charges in January 2008 when the lead investigator was unable to attend the hearing because of a family emergency. Pruett then filed a defamation lawsuit against the mother who made the accusation.

Now, in settlement of Pruett’s defamation suit, it’s reported that the mother has signed a document saying that her statement to police was false. The mother, Debra Johnson, was a school board member for the district in which Pruett also worked as a substitute teacher and wrestling coach.

Pruett, who was on paid voluntary leave, has been reinstated to his duties as youth minister at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. The school district has also reinstated him as a substitute teacher and wrestling coach.

Pruett states his great relief and his belief that the truth got out.

False allegations of sexual abuse are a terrible travesty that cause great harm. The possibility of a false allegation is a possibility that should never be overlooked. But it should also be kept in perspective.

Experts say that, for those who report having been sexually abused in childhood, fabricated sexual abuse reports constitute only 1 to 4 percent of all reported cases. It is a real risk, but it is also a risk of low likelihood.

For this reason, the risk of false allegations cannot be a legitimate ground for church and denominational leaders to do nothing about reports of clergy child molestation. Every allegation deserves to be treated seriously -- for the sake of both the accuser and the accused. This is why other faith groups now have lay-person review boards to objectively assess those clergy abuse allegations that cannot be prosecuted through the criminal justice system -- and that’s most of them.

Clayton Pruett’s nightmare ended after 7 ½ months. I have no doubt that those were miserable months for him. However, I also know that, for most clergy abuse victims, a mere 7 ½ months of misery would be a blessing.

It is far easier for a falsely accused minister to get his career back than it is for a sexually abused kid to ever again regain their innocence and trust. For most clergy abuse victims, the nightmare continues for decades.

This story shows the essential choice that confronts church and denominational leaders when they face a clergy abuse allegation. On the one hand, the feelings and reputation of a grown-up are at stake. On the other hand, the physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual and sexual safety of potentially many kids are at stake. The prudent and moral choice would be to err on the side of protecting those who cannot protect themselves -- children. It is easier for an adult to repair his reputation than for a child to repair his psyche.

To be falsely accused of abuse is a terrible thing. But it is even more terrible to be sexually abused and then attacked or disbelieved upon reporting it.

Clayton Pruett states, “The church has been behind me 100% the entire time.”

Among the many scores of Baptist abuse survivors I have spoken with, I have never heard a single one say anything remotely similar to that. To the contrary, most would say that the church was 100 percent against them.

And they would tell you how profoundly painful that failure of the faith community was for them.

Additional news: Accuser recants sex abuse charge against Baptist youth minister


Anonymous said...

This is the fear that all ministers live and work with. It is one of the hazards of the job. This man will never get his ministry back because there will always be those who want to believe the worst and enjoy spreading lies. Also, insurance companies like Brotherhood strongly discourage churches from letting anyone accused of a sex crime work with children.
Part of the reason this problem exsists is simply because the SBC has refused to recognize the problem on either side, provide true and fair information, and use all of their powerful influence to address and begin to stop this problem.
I admire Christra for being willing to post this. It would have been easy to just ignor this tragedy. By posting this story she strengtens the argument for the SBC to get serious and do something rather than preach sermons to the choir.

Anonymous said...

I think 1 in 4 allegations being untrue is hardly a small number. Out of a 1,000 allegations, that means 250 are lies. That' s 250 lives devastated, 250 families torn up.

Mojoey said...

I've followed over 200 cases in the last three or four years. Only 2 have had false accusations.

gmommy said...

Gosh Jennifer....and only 750 lives devestated at a young age by sexual predators...most of whom continue to abuse and are never held accountable.

Christa Brown said...

Jennifer: It's not "1 in 4" accusations that are estimated to be false. It's "1 to 4 PERCENT." That means it would be 1 to 4 out of 100.

A lawyer who DEFENDED Catholic dioceses in over 500 clergy abuse cases concluded for himself that only 10 were likely based on false allegations. And this was a guy who was defending them and who likely had access to heaps of internal information and documents.

Mojoey: Welcome here! Your 2 out of 200 number is obviously right on the mark with what the experts say.

Junkster said...

The fact that this man's church backed him all the way really shows the importance of having a review board outside of the local church. While great for this man, so many times the same response of supporting the minister is given and it later turns out the allegations were true.

It is understandable (and good) that a church would love and support its ministers. But abusers are well aware of this tendency and use it to their advantage. So please keep working, Christa, to advocate change and accountability in the Baptist system. I'm sure that at times it is frustrating and painful to run into such resistance and oppositions from so many Baptist leaders who are supposed to be on the side of right and truth. But what you are trying to accomplish is so very important.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." Galatians 6:9

gmommy said...

Christa!!! the "boss" got your theme song(Never give Up) from scripture!!!!:)

Christa Brown said...

"No retreat, baby.
No surrender."
[Galatians 6:9 - sort of - the "Boss" translation]

Thanks gmommy and junkster!

gmommy said...

I stink on details :):)

Lin said...

"This man will never get his ministry back because there will always be those who want to believe the worst and enjoy spreading lies."

On the other hand, we have congregations that know their pastor was a predator or that he protected a predator and rally around him.

Funny how it might really come down to how much power one has, how well liked they are and have nothing to do with actual truth.