On January 3rd, the family of Jane Doe, a minor, filed a lawsuit in the Third Circuit Court in Wayne County, MI against The First Presbyterian Church of Plymouth and two of its employees, seeking accountability and justice for sexual abuse that was perpetrated by a third-party adult male against five-year-old Jane Doe during Sunday School at the Church.
On Palm Sunday 2017, Jane Doe’s parents entrusted Jane’s safety and well-being to the Church and its employees during Sunday School. Despite representations and assurances to the Doe family that Jane would be properly supervised at all times, two Church employees responsible for the Sunday School class allowed her to leave the classroom alone and unsupervised. In the 20 minutes that Jane was missing from the classroom, her absence unnoticed by Sunday School teachers, an adult man took Jane into the bathroom and sexually assaulted her. Even though the Does reported the abuse to the Church the next day, the Church failed to notify other parents that a child had been sexually abused on Church premises, or that the police were investigating, for nearly a month. During that time, other families continued to leave their children in the Church’s care, unaware of the unresolved danger.
The Does’ lawsuit alleges that the Church allowed anyone who entered the Church unfettered access to Sunday School children, understaffed its Sunday School program, and failed to properly train or supervise its employees. Because of the Church’s failure to implement the most basic safety measures to protect, or even record who was allowed access to, children in the Sunday School program, law enforcement—despite conducting a lengthy investigation that included DNA evidence—has been unable to identify the man who assaulted Jane Doe, and the perpetrator remains at large, continuing to pose a risk to children in the community.
The Doe family, represented by The Fierberg National Law Group attorney, Monica Beck, brings this lawsuit to seek justice for Jane, to incite change in the Church’s policies, practices, and attitudes toward the safety of children entrusted to its care, and to ensure that no other child or family suffer as they have. “Our churches must be the safest communities for children and the least safe for those who hurt them. When the church fails to protect and advocate for the little ones in our midst, it fails to reflect the very heart of Jesus,” said Boz Tchividjian, a consulting attorney specializing in issues related to child abuse and protection in church communities. By speaking out, the Doe family hopes to end the silence around child sexual abuse, raise awareness about a culture that minimizes and covers up abuse occurring within religious institutions, and hold the Church and its leadership accountable for events that have forever changed their lives.