Child Sexual Abuse Survivors Sue Living Word Fellowship Church
SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – A church in San Diego is being sued by three survivors of child sexual abuse. The lawsuits accuse the Living Word Fellowship Church of allowing church leaders and other adult men to repeatedly molest and rape children.
The plaintiffs are all former members of the church, who say Fellowship leaders created an environment that allowed rampant sexual assaults against children to occur.
Plaintiff Amber Thompson said she was raped by a pastor and two other men when she was between the ages of 7 and 8. Anaiah Shehori, another survivor and plaintiff said she was first abused at the age of 4 and then frequently assaulted and raped by a fellowship member who often babysat the victim.
A third plaintiff, Lindsey Weck said she was 12 years old, when an adult youth group leader started grooming her for a sexual relationship and began to have sex with her when she was 14.
The abuse described by the plaintiffs was first disclosed in October of 2018, when another former Fellowship member, Shalom Abrahamson Caples posted an open letter on Facebook in which she detailed the sexual grooming and molestation she endured at the hands of one of the church’s most prominent leaders.
Irwin Zalkin, the San Diego attorney who represents all three women said church leaders used their positions of power to coerce, shame and manipulate women and children.
Zalkin noted that the church culture is structured to give sexual predators greater license to commit their abuses, because children are assigned to an adult who is not the child’s parent.
According to Zalkin, “children are essentially raised by assigned non-parental adults who control every aspect of the child’s life.”
The lawsuits detailed a church culture in which the men attended parties where girls, many of them under the age of 12 dressed in miniskirts and acted as alcohol servers.
Zalkin said during these parties, the men were allowed to grope the girls’ buttocks under their skirts and touch them sexually.
According to the legal complaints, parents who learned of the sexual abuse were told not to go to police and the situation would be handled internally.
After the allegations began to surface last year, church leader Gary Hargrave wrote a public letter of apology.
“It has become more and more apparent to me through our internal process of reviewing the allegations that there are deep underlying flaws that have existed within the fellowship which permitted an environment where such actions could occur without correction and discipline,” wrote Hargrave, who has since resigned.
The Living Word Fellowship said it has launched an internal investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct.
The plaintiffs are asking for unspecified damages. The abuse survivors said they want the church to be held accountable and some said they want the church to close its doors forever.