Should Sex Between Church Employees and Teens Be Classified as Rape?
Update (Mar. 25): John and Charica Daugherty, pastors at Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, have entered no-contest pleas on charges of failing to report child abuse. The pastors previously had plead not guilty.
Now, the Daughertys have been handed a five-year deferred sentence, which is not a conviction.
In the wake of a child sexual abuse scandal at a Tulsa megachurch, Oklahoma lawmakers have cleared the first hurdle to classify sexual relationships between church employees and parishioners between the ages of 16 and 18 as rape–even if the relationships are consensual.
Senate Bill 175 would amend Oklahoma's definition of rape to include:
where the victim is at least sixteen (16) years of age and is less than eighteen (18) years of age and engages in sexual intercourse at any time during the victim's participation in a church youth program or membership in a church or place of worship with a person who is eighteen (18) years of age or older and is an employee or volunteer employee of the same church or ministry, despite whether the conduct occurs at a place other than the youth program locations or church or place of worship.
"The child advocacy community has identified churches and places of worship as areas where predators tend to seek employment to gain easy access to adolescents," said the bill's sponsor, Republican senator A. J. Griffin, according to Tulsa's News on 6. "It's also an area where parents tend to be a little more trusting."
The Senate Judiciary Committee changed the language to clarify that it does not matter whether or not the encounters occur on church property, as long as one person was "acting as an employee or volunteer in position of authority at the time," according to Griffin.
Following that clarification, the committee voted 8-0 to approve the bill.
The bill arises just as two Tulsa megachurch pastors elected to face a jury on charges of failing to report child abuse. John and Charica Daugherty, pastors at Victory Christian Center and the son and daughter-in-law of its head pastor, are accused of failing to report for two weeks the rape of a young girl at the church.
Three other VCC employees also faced the same charge, but waived the jury trial and elected to take a plea deal. Chris Denman, who worked as a janitor at VCC, was sentenced to 55 years in prison after pleading guilty last October to six felony sex crimes against children, including the rape.
CT previously reported on the VCC case in November 2012, when an Oklahoma county judge denied a motion to dismiss charges against the Daughertys.