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Sexual assault is defined as any form of sexual contact that occurs without the consent of the recipient. This form of abuse can occur at schools, during vacations, or even at church.

Sexual abuse by clergy occurs when a member of the clergy abuses a non-consenting person, usually minors. Clergy sex abuse in the Catholic church typically involves priests. For this reason, clergy abuse is also referred to as priest abuse.

Read on to know more about sexual assault by clergy. With this article, you’ll learn your legal options if you or your loved ones are a victim of clergy abuse.

What is Sexual Assault by Clergy?

What is Sexual Assault by Clergy?

Clergy abuse happens when a person in a ministerial role engages in sexual behavior with a parishioner or congregant. This can involve lay leaders, pastors, camp staff, volunteer church leaders, or other representatives of a faith community.

Sexual assault typically involves unwanted physical contact from the abuser. These physical touches may include: 

  • Tickling or other playful, aggressive touches that may be uncomfortable to you
  • “Accidental” touch of sexual areas of the body
  • A prolonged hug or pressing up against your body when hugging
  • Sexual intercourse with your religious leader

However, you must keep in mind that clergy abuse isn’t limited to physical assault. It can also include any of the following: 

  • Making suggestive comments
  • Talking about their sexual exploits
  • Asking about the intimate details of your relationships
  • Looking for sympathy about their partner’s sexual inadequacies
  • Sending inappropriate gifts, such as lingerie 

Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. It affects people of all sexual orientations, genders, and ages. 

Although sexual abuse by priests is not a new problem, it’s only recently that church officials and other religious organizations have acknowledged the issue. 

When Does an Act Become Sexual Assault?

Sexual contact or sexualized behavior by priests is a clear violation of professional ethics. There’s a difference in power between a person in a ministerial role and a member of their congregation. Because of this, you cannot give meaningful consent to a sexual relationship.

At challenging times, people usually seek support from their religious leader. At times of stress, you’re emotionally vulnerable and be taken advantage of by a religious leader.

To help you determine whether you’re a victim of sexual abuse by clergy, read the list below:

  • The priest or the religious leader gives you an unusual amount of attention
  • You’re uncomfortable and confused with the interactions with your religious leader
  • The religious leader touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or upset
  • The priest spends an unusual amount of time on you
  • You are receiving personal and inappropriate gifts from the religious leader
  • The priest invites you out for intimate, social occasions

What To Do if You’re a Victim of Sexual Assault

What To Do if You’re a Victim of Sexual Assault

If you or a loved one is a victim of sexual abuse by clergy, you must seek help.  Researchers noted that sexual assault by priests could result in learned helplessness and depression in victims.

It is recommended to visit a health professional who can help you cope with the trauma you’ve experienced. It may be difficult for you to talk, but sharing your confusion, anxiety, and fear with someone who can help you recover is a step in the right direction.

You must know that you are not to blame, even if you agreed to the relationship in the beginning. Remember that the difference in power between you and your religious leader invalidates any meaningful consent in the relationship.

If you intend to speak up against your abuser, the first step to take is finding out if your congregation has a specific regulation for dealing with complaints about clergy misconduct. If you plan to take legal action, consult an expert attorney who can help you file a lawsuit.

If you’re a victim of sexual assault by a clergyperson, contact Diamond & Diamond Lawyers today! The sooner you call,  the sooner we can press charges against your abusers.

Let Diamond & Diamond Lawyers Assist You

At Diamond & Diamond, we understand how much courage it takes for sexual assault victims to speak up and come forward.  If you’re a victim of clergy abuse, contact us now and we’ll evaluate your case for free.

Our team of dedicated attorneys at Diamond & Diamond Law is committed to offering you the best legal assistance. Call us today and know more about our company and our other practice areas, like slips and falls and car accidents.

Pro Tip

If you believe that abuse is taking place at your place of worship, talk to the victims and convince them to report the abuse.


In the US, statutes of limitation for sexual assault vary depending on the type of crime, age of the victim, and where the crime took place.  

Meanwhile, Canada has no statute of limitations on filing criminal charges for sexual assault. This means that victims can file criminal charges at any point in their lifetime.

Attempted rape is a form of sexual assault. Other forms of sexual assault include rape, sexual touching without explicit consent, and sexual coercion.

You must seek professional help to recover from the traumatic experience of sexual abuse. If you plan on filing a lawsuit, consult an expert personal injury attorney who can help you win your legal fight against your abuser.

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