Los Angeles, CA, August 20, 2020 --(PR.com
)-- Two alleged child sexual abuse survivors have filed another civil lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the Fellowship Church
and related persons and entities, alleging they were repeatedly sexually assaulted by Church leaders when they were underage minors. This new lawsuit builds on the allegations of earlier lawsuits filed by three other alleged survivors filed in May 2019. The Plaintiffs in this new lawsuit, Kristina Pfeifer and Shalom Caples, allege they were sexually abused on numerous occasions as minors over several years while they were members of the Fellowship Church and religious school in North Hills, California in Los Angeles County. The Plaintiffs in this new lawsuit are represented by The Zalkin Law Firm and Lyndsey A. Gallagher, The Gallagher Law Group.
“Kristina, Shalom and the Plaintiffs in our other lawsuits are brave alleged survivors who have stepped forward to tell their stories of the alleged rampant sexual abuse suffered by what could be hundreds of children who were under the control of the Fellowship Church leaders including those at the highest level of the organization,” said Irwin Zalkin, attorney for the Plaintiffs. “According to the complaint, allegedly, this is a story of an insular communal cult in our community that was led by male pedophile predators who used their positions of power to subjugate women and prey on children, ruining their lives forever.”
According to Wikipedia, the Fellowship is also known as The Living Word Fellowship
. The group was founded in South Gate, California, by John Robert Stevens
in 1951. At its peak in the 1970s, the Fellowship had about 100 member congregations including the church in North Hills, CA. Fellowship oversight was centered at Shiloh, a farm and retreat site near Kalona, Iowa.
The complaint alleges three series of sexual assaults alleged of Plaintiff Shalom Caples that occurred from age 8 through her teen years by two different perpetrators who were adult church leaders. Allegedly, during this time, Shalom was under the control of church leaders while she worked doing church duties and while she was living at the church compound in Iowa. The lawsuit alleges that local and national Fellowship leaders were aware of sexually inappropriate proclivities towards children by these perpetrators and did nothing to protect her or other children.
In 2018, Shalom posted an open letter
that went viral on social media alleging the pervasive sexual abuse that was perpetrated and condoned by Fellowship Church leadership. Her brave letter encouraged many other alleged victims to step forward and led to the resignation of Fellowship Leader Gary Hargrave.
The lawsuit further alleges: Plaintiff Kristina Pfeifer was born into, and raised in, the Fellowship until approximately the age of 13 when her family left; from a very young age, Kristina and members of her family were extremely close to Fellowship Founder John Robert Stevens and his wife Marilyn, who would take over leadership of the Fellowship after her husband’s death in 1983; Pfeifer suffered two series of sexual assaults by two perpetrators who were church leaders; during this time, Kristina was forced to work for church businesses and operations and was exposed as a minor to a highly sexualized environment behind the scenes of the church including parties at houses owned by the Local Church, for members in the Fellowship; she was also frequently exposed to members of Church Leadership engaged in viewing pornography in the presence of minors, viewing Playboy magazines, and commenting on women’s bodies inappropriately.
The complaint alleges that from about age 8 to 10, Kristina was repeatedly molested and harassed by two different perpetrators (who are named as Does in the lawsuit as required by California law) on numerous and repeated occasions. The complaint further alleges how, from about the age of 10 to 13, Perpetrator 1 repeatedly and continuously sought Kristina out on a daily basis in order to molest her.
The complaint also alleges: how members of the Fellowship live an almost communal lifestyle with the local Church as the center of the community; children are assigned to an adult, not a parent, to develop what is referred to as a Designated Relationship or “DR”; the DR’s role is central in the child’s life; the child is compelled to disclose everything to the DR and take the DR’s guidance in all aspects of the child’s life; the child is often left to the custodial care of other community members and is even required to engage in work for the DRs, other community members and Fellowship related entities; how for these Plaintiffs, these church sanctioned assignments led to an environment where minor children were sexually abused by church leaders with access and control over children separated from their parents.
“The way this sect is organized creates a perfect storm for child sexual abuse to run rampant,” alleges Zalkin. “Children are forced to obey adults, other than their parents, who have almost unfettered control of their lives. A perfect haven for child predators.”
This new lawsuit alleges a detailed background about the operations of the Fellowship being closely controlled by what is termed in the complaints as Defendant Doe 1 “Supervisory Company,” located in Kalona, Iowa where the founder set up Fellowship operations. Defendant Doe 2 is the “Family Ministry Corporation,” a California corporation located in North Hills, CA in Los Angeles County. According to the lawsuits, the “Supervisory Company” and the “Family Ministry Corporation” controlled all decisions of more than 100 local Fellowship Churches.
The lawsuit cites six causes of action for damages against several Doe defendants that include the Supervisory Company, the Family Ministry Corporation, the local church in Los Angeles, the Church-run school, and possible other Does to be named later. The Plaintiffs seek a jury trial and treble damages for pain, suffering, loss of earning, and expenses for medical and psychological treatment.