It's every parent's worst nightmare. On Sunday, July 27, hundreds of miles from home, three Alaskan teens were reportedly raped while attending an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) youth conference in Issaquah, Washington.

The girls, two 14-year-old cousins and a 15-year-old, say that three boys attending the "Rainbow of Gifts" conference invited them late one night to their dorm room to talk. The next day, the girls reported to the police that the boys, all from the Issaquah area, raped them. The boys have pleaded not guilty and will be tried as juveniles.

The ELCA expressed shock and distress at the incident, but the news no doubt left many parents and church leaders wondering. How common are such incidents? Church law experts have both good news and bad news. While they say that violent sex crimes like this are extremely rare in youth ministry, sexual misconduct by minors is a serious danger.

"We have done hundreds of church misconduct investigations, and I have not heard of [a youth-on-youth rape] reported in any church we serve across the religious spectrum," says Martin Nussbaum, cochairman of the Religious Institutions Group of Colorado Springs law firm Rothberger, Johnson & Lyons. "However, kids misbehaving and acting out sexually is not uncommon. It is not more frequent in church activities than [at other youth events], but it does happen. Churches need to be prepared for that."

James Cobble, executive director of Christian Ministry Resources, said studies conducted by his group's Church Law & Tax Report show that about one of every four sexual misconduct cases reported in churches were committed by minors.

Earlier this year, 1 percent of 891 churches polled said their church received allegations of child ...

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