Male leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses at a Utah congregation allegedly forced a 15-year-old girl to listen on an audio of a man raping her for four hours, in a bid to force her to say that the encounter was consensual.
The case, which was heard before the Utah Supreme Court, seeks to hold the leaders and the church at large responsible for intentionally inflicting severe emotional distress upon her.
Now in her late 20s, the woman claims she was 14-years-old when an 18-year-old man, a fellow member of the Jehovah’s Witness, increasingly bullied her and began sexually assaulting her in December 2007.
She also alleges that she was raped by the man several times, and provided the congregation’s leaders a recording of one instance.
Then in 2008, the church leaders forced her to confess that she voluntarily engaged in sexual acts with the man outside of marriage by intermittently playing the recording over the course of four hours.
However, the church claims and lower courts have ruled that it is a violation of religious freedoms of the First Amendment to hold them liable as it involves weighing the appropriateness of religious conduct.
Her attorneys argued that the woman sought out counseling and medical treatment as she dealt with anxiety, nightmares and poor performance in school.
“It’s an important and difficult case,” said Chief Justice Matthew Durrant at the conclusion of the hearing.
The justices advised lawyers of both sides to be prepared with questions about where a legal line should be drawn in civil claims tied to religious matters.
Justice Paige Petersen noted that simply convening the church tribunal process could distress a person in the faith who knows the conduct is viewed as a sin.
However, she added that a group may believe it must do anything necessary to find out what happened, including torture.