What Happens Next?

Jan. 21, 2018, 12:59 p.m. | By Rebecca Wessel, Oreet Zimand | 6 years ago

How a church handled sexual misconduct allegations against a sunday school teacher

Where only first names appear, names have been changed to protect the identity of the sources.

Despite the increased media scrutiny of sexual misconduct in the workplace, several groups of people have gotten woefully less coverage of their experiences. This series of investigations reveals the unique struggles that teenagers face in reporting sexual misconduct by teachers and authority figures, and the ways in which their voices were silenced.

Links to the other installments in this series can be found here: Part 2, Part 3

For Olivia, a Blair freshman, church has a powerful presence in her life. Her uncle is a priest and her mother is a well respected congregant. Yet, two years ago, the arrival of a new deacon changed her view of the church entirely.
He had graduated his class with highest honors and the church members were abuzz with the news that the new deacon would be joining the fledgling establishment, only a year or two old at the time. He had come to teach the older students' Sunday School and for the first couple months everything was fine. "He's really well respected because he came from a top church where he learned how to become a deacon, and when he started teaching we all liked him, he was nice," explains Olivia.

But things quickly took a turn for the worse. The girls in the class started to notice that while he insisted that boys and girls sit on opposite sides of the circle, he always sat with the girls, making sure there was a female student on either side of him. While boys who talked out of turn simply got reprimanded and moved away from their friends, girls who talked were forced to sit next to the deacon who used this opportunity to take advantage of the minors whom had been entrusted to his care.

"He would touch our legs. He wouldn't just pet our legs, he would rub, and then he would come close and whisper in our ears and you could smell his breath," Olivia describes. "He would always talk to us, whisper and come really close to your face, and it was kind of scary because we couldn't really do anything because he was really well respected," she says, explaining the lack of power she felt.

The girls were silenced by the church community and encouraged not to make complaints. Photo courtesy of Quiet Revolution.

Olivia did do something, though. After several months of enduring this behavior she repeatedly described as "disgusting," she decided enough was enough and that it was time to tell someone, anyone, about what was happening in that class. However, as soon as she opened her mouth she started running into roadblocks. "When I tried to tell my mom and I tried to tell some other people, they were all like, 'Oh no, he came from the top church!'" she mimics.

She then tried to go above her mom, above the common congregants, and take her complaints directly to her uncle, a priest. To her dismay, the response was exactly the same. "He also told me, 'No, he's from a high place, he got the highest credits in his class to become a deacon. You should trust him. He's really good, he's really smart,'" Olivia recounts disappointedly.

What happened next was... nothing. For months, Olivia and her classmates endured the patting, rubbing, and closeness of the decorated deacon lodging complaint after complaint, all falling on deaf ears. "Every time we tried to tell an adult they would say, 'Oh no he's not,' even after we came and told a lot of people that he's weird and he's touching us," Olivia says.

Girls in Olivia's Sunday school class united to speak up about the inappropriate behavior of their teacher.  Photo courtesy of spoindia.

Finally, relief came when the deacon was moved from the Sunday school to prayer services where he would no longer have contact with the students. Though the issue has come to a short term resolution, Olivia's relationship to the church and to all her fellow congregants is forever changed. She is frustrated that this went on for so long, at a loss for why even those closest to her chose to abandon her in this time of need. The church has yet to acknowledge the harassment or make any public statements condemning the behavior, and as of now, the deacon still retains a highly respected position within the community.

"Just because someone has a higher education value, they shouldn't be trusted like that... A lot of people did come forward to their parents and other people in the church. I don't understand why they didn't care," says Olivia.

Olivia's story is not an isolated case. Teenagers are often silenced by the greater community, who use their age and place in society as an excuse to avoid dealing with the real and sometimes devastating predicaments they face. Society must make a conscious decision to take all allegations of harassment seriously, and not make excuses for people based on age, status or anything else, so that no one will have to suffer alone like Olivia did.

Tags: silence sexual harassment allegations church

Rebecca Wessel. I love spending time outside, cooking and doing crafts! More »

Oreet Zimand. Hi! My name is Oreet and I am the 2018-19 Op-Ed Editor for Silver Chips Online! I enjoy figure skating, debating (anything with anyone at any time), and laying in the grass listening to Phil Collins's "In the Air Tonight" right before it starts to … More »

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