PC(USA) Faces Lawsuit Over Sexual Abuse on Mission Field

A victim of sexual abuse filed a lawsuit on Monday against the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).

Sean Coppedge claims the denomination failed to protect him and other children during their stay at a boarding house in Congo, where his parents were serving as missionaries.

"On the night I was sexually abused I immediately informed the Presbyterian authorities, but little was done, even though they knew the perpetrator had abused at least one other person prior to me," Coppedge said of his 1988 experience on Monday, according to The Courier-Journal.

The PC(USA) – the country's largest Presbyterian denomination – acknowledged in a report this year that dozens had endured sexual and physical abuse on the mission field. After years of collecting reports from abuse victims and witnesses, the denomination's Independent Abuse Review Panel detailed the findings and expressed regret in more than 500 pages.

The report, released in October, records incidents of abuse spanning a 40-year period. After extensive investigation into the 85 allegations of abuse it received, the panel concluded that abuse did occur in 30 instances on eight different mission fields, including Congo, Egypt, India and Thailand.

According to the comprehensive report, many of the alleged offenders were teachers, houseparents and peers, and most of the victims were children of missionaries. Many of the abuses occurred at schools and boarding facilities, where children were separated from their missionary parents.

While some victims chose to remain silent, others who did report abuse said they were not protected from further harm.

Despite an apology by leaders in the mission arm of the PC(USA) and a commitment to continue to improve support for mission families, Coppedge said the denomination needs to be held accountable, as reported by the Louisville-based Courier-Journal.

In his lawsuit, Coppedge, 36, alleges that he was sexually assaulted when he was 14 years old at the Methodist-Presbyterian Hostel, a boarding house in Congo. The perpetrator was an older boy, he said. His parents, meanwhile, were serving as missionaries hundreds of miles away from the hostel.

Though he reported the abuse, the Presbyterian employee at the boarding house told him to keep quiet about the matter, Coppedge recalled on Monday.

He also maintains in his suit that the PC(USA) should have been aware of the vulnerability of mission children to sexual abuse as it had received reports even before he became a victim.

The PC(USA) currently has almost 200 missionaries serving overseas. It has already adopted some reforms to its policies and work practices, including an updated screening process, the implementation of additional training for mission personnel, the provision of a counselor, and the creation of a position that allows for unbiased response and support of those reporting abuse.

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