Church calls for underage sexual assault victims to be named

Westside Family Church of Lenexa.Facebook

A Kansas church is asking for the identity of two under-age girls who were the victims of sexual assault at a holiday Bible school to be revealed by the court.

Westside Family Church of Lenexa has accused the girls' family of a "Pearl Harbor-styled barrage of negative publicity," Baptist News Global reports, after the family "tactically decided to 'draw fist blood' on the issue publicly" by leaking the story to the press before notifying the church it was being sued.

The church has therefore called on the case to proceed without the use of pseudonymns to protect the teenagers' identities.

"Ordinarily, defense counsel would stipulate permission to use of an alias in a case involving a minor claiming sexual abuse. Sadly, the minors' parents and attorneys have chosen a different path," the church said.

"They should not be able to hide behind pseudonyms after systematically and intentionally initiating a campaign specifically designed to damage Defendant's reputation."

The church is being sued by the family after a teenage member of the congregation, Kessler Lichtenegger, was convicted of attempted rape and attempted electronic solicitation with a child under the age of 14 in a case involving their 13- and 11-year-old daughters in 2014.

He was sentenced last year to 17 years in prison.

The victims' family claim that church leaders behaved negligently in allowing Lichtenegger access to children during a holiday camp as he had previously been convicted of sexual assault against a 15-year-old girl.

On June 9, the girls' mother released a statement saying: "We are saddened by the need to file this lawsuit on behalf our daughters and all children at Westside Family Church. We feel that the Church Leaders did not take the steps necessary to protect our children from this publicly known, convicted sex offender. We feel they willingly enabled him to participate in student ministry.

"We are hoping this lawsuit will bring awareness of the need for better sexual predator policies to be put into place and firmly administered at Westside as well as other organizations and venues where parents have a right to expect their children are safe."

However, the church has denied knowledge of Lichtenegger's crimes.

According to the Shawnee Mission Post, Brad Russell, a lawyer representing the church, said that Lichtenegger's father had told pastors previously there was "something going on" with his son, but did not tell them it related to sexual misconduct.

The church's decision to file for the removal of protected identities for the victims has been met with severe criticism.

Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and himself a survivor, David Clohessy, told Baptist News Global it was unprecedented for a religious organisation to try to "out" a minor in a sexual abuse case.

He branded the move "stunningly callous" and warned that it would deter other victims from coming forward.

"It will also rub more salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of this suffering family," Clohessy said. "It is a shameful move by officials who profess to be 'Christians.'"