Mom Says Church Reacted ‘Wickedly’ to Rape

     (CN) – An Oklahoma megachurch waited two weeks to inform a mother that her 13-year-old had been raped by one of its employees, then it lied about having contacted the police and blamed the child, the parent says in court.
     In connection to the alleged incident, Victory Christian Center, of Tulsa, admitted last week that its former employee Chris Denman has been charged with first-degree rape.
     The victim, whose name is abbreviated to M.B. in the complaint, sued the church through her mother in Tulsa County Court on Friday. Courthouse News redacted the mother’s name from the complaint and its coverage to protect the child.
     M.B. says Denman raped her in a stairwell during a church summer camp on Aug. 13, and that she reported the rape to church officials the next day.
     They allegedly responded by trying to cover it up.
     “Thereafter, defendant used four of its adult leaders, including Youth Director Paul Willenstein and High School Outreach Program Director Anna George to question and intimidate child victim so as to conceal her rape from the public and parent,” the complaint states. “During this questioning, Willemstein and George repeatedly told child victim the assault was her fault.”
     During a second meeting, Willemstein and George allegedly told M.B. again that it was her fault that she was raped.
     Though the church fired Denman on Aug. 24, M.B.’s mother says she did not learn about the her child’s attack until Aug. 30.
     That day, Harold Frank Sullivan, the church’s human resources director, informed the parent that M.B. had “an inappropriate relationship” with a church employee.
     “Wickedly, Sullivan told parent that the child victim had admitted to having a consentual sexual relationship with Denmon,” the complaint states. “Sullivan falsely informed parent that the police had been contacted. In fact, parent gave the first report of her daughter’s rape to the Tulsa Police Department on August 30.”
     The mother says the church’s senior pastor, Sharon Daugherty, knew of the assault and failed to inform the police. She says Daugherty called her to offer prayers, but never offered an apology. She says the “psychological abuse and manipulation” of herself and her daughter were “perverted and misguided” and within the scope of church officials’ employment.
     Victory Christian Center says on its website that five of its officials have since been charged with Failure to Report Abuse or Neglect of Child Under 18.
     The church says it has fully cooperated with authorities in their investigation and has suspended implicated employees.
     “The safety and well-being of anyone who comes on our campuses is extremely important to our ministry,” the church said in a statement. “We are deeply saddened and greatly disappointed by this event.”
     Victory Christian Center has also announced that another of its employees, Israel Castillo, was charged Sept. 17 with lewd or indecent proposal to a child and use of a computer to facilitate a sex crime.
     “Prior to their hiring, Denman and Castillo both passed a screening process that included personal references and a nationwide background check,” the church said in a statement. “No history of any criminal activity was found.”
     M.B. and her mother seek damages for negligence and emotional distress. They are represented by Michael Atkinson with Atkinson Haskins.

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