Jehovah’s Witnesses Sexual Abuse Case Goes to Trial

As a teenager, Stephanie Fessler was an active member of her local Jehovah Witnesses congregation.  That’s when she met Terry J. Monheim, an adult member of the church who befriended the then 14-year-old teen.

According to court records, Fessler had met Monheim when she became friends with her children in 2002 or 2003. Monheim started hugging and kissing Fessler on occasion and, with time, that escalated to oral sex and digital penetration.

The abuse occurred for a period of two years when Stephanie was 14 to 16 years old.  Monheim at the time was 49 when she began abusing the teenager.

When Stephanie’s parents became suspicious, they reported their concerns to the church authorities who chastised and publicly reproved the teenager instead of reporting the allegations to civil authorities as they are required to do in the state of Pennsylvania.

It wasn’t until 2011 when, as an adult, Fessler went to the Southwestern Regional Police Department and made a report that Monheim was charged.

Monheim pleaded guilty to indecent assault of a person less than 16 and corruption of minors, court records indicate. She was sentenced on May 22, 2012, to three to 23 months in York County Prison, running concurrently with five years of probation.

The civil lawsuit names Monheim, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Spring Grove Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses as defendants in the sexual abuse lawsuit.

The trial starts today and is expected to last four or five days.  During the trial, jurors will hear testimony about the church’s practices of keeping such allegations of sexual abuse out of the public forum and handled internally in spite of the clear legal obligation to report allegation of abuse to civil authorities.

 

Dumas Law Group has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, California, and other states.

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