Three teens charged with rape at Lutheran youth conference
Church youth retreats are often fondly remembered as times of getting close to God, committing one's life to Christian service, and the occasional crush. But attendees of last week's concurrent "Rainbow of Gifts" and "Holy Commotion" retreats at Trinity Lutheran College in Issaquah, Washington, will remember it as a time of horrific violation.

According to King County prosecutors, three local boys, ages 16 and 17, raped three young Alaskan girls (two 14-year-old cousins and a 15-year-old) during the conference.

"The boys invited the three to a dorm room late Sunday night to talk," says the Associated Press. "One boy grabbed one of the girls and pulled her into another bedroom, while the other two pinned down the other two girls in that room and raped them, court papers allege."

Initially, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the girls were not going to report the rapes out of "fear of humiliation," but changed their minds when one of the girls was raped again the following day.

Dave Ellingson, ELCA's local Congregational Ministries Coordinator, downplayed the crime. "We all make mistakes and this was a big mistake," he told Seattle's KOMO-TV (video). "And young people are probably prone to mistakes more than many people. But there's forgiveness and new possibilities and hopefully everybody will learn from this. … [Students at the retreat will] learn to be trustworthy by being trusted. … So, an unfortunate thing happened here and we'll learn from it and go on."

Weblog doesn't do original reporting for this feature, so we haven't talked to Ellingson. There's a chance he was misquoted, or incompletely quoted. Still, his comments seem blasé about these rapes under his watch.

"You do your best to make sure all the kids are in their rooms by midnight, and we have hall monitors who walk the halls for at least an hour (after curfew), but you can't watch every kid 24 hours a day," he told The Seattle Times. "We deeply regret what's happened."

Weblog is not linking to this story simply because it's horrific. This isn't tabloid journalism here. This is important to talk about because in Protestant churches, one out of five cases of sexual misconduct are committed by youth.

Rape happens in youth groups, and churches and denominations need to have better systems in place to prevent it from happening. Simply having students promise not to go to the opposite sex's dorm room, then looking the other way at "youthful indiscretions" isn't going to cut it. If the Roman Catholic clergy sex-abuse scandals have taught us anything, it's that church leaders can be held accountable for abuse. According to the Post-Intelligencer, an adult warned a group of girls to be careful around these three boys. If the church leaders knew there was a danger, they could be liable.

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So far, Weblog hasn't seen a statement on the case at the ELCA website or at ELCA's Region 1 site. If one is posted, we'll let you know.

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