Clergy sexual abuse: Grooming of the vulnerable

Oakville News [Ontario, CA]

September 15, 2022

By Jay Pugazhenthi

As more sexual abuse allegations came to light at Oakville’s megachurch, The Meeting House retained the services of victim advocate Melodie Bissell.

The Meeting House, an Ontario megachurch headquartered in Oakville, recently reported that former pastor Bruxy Cavey is facing new allegations of sexual misconduct – one of them involving a minor.

Hamilton Police previously charged Cavey with sexual assault in June.

In solidarity with victims, the Meeting House retained the services of Melodie Bissell – a victim’s advocate; the church revealed, in June, that it had received 38 reports of sexual abuse against four former pastors from the megachurch.

Decades of consulting in abuse prevention have given Bissell the insight that abuse isn’t black and white.

“I don’t think there’s any abuser that wakes up in the morning and says ‘I’m going to abuse someone today’. It’s a slippery slope. I don’t think in their mind they would think that they were grooming someone,” stated Bissell.

In fact, most relationships between an abuser and a victim start small. It’s usually something as simple as texting someone, sending emails, using private chat, meeting someone for coffee, or in a counselling situation. The abusers continue to find themselves in situations where they are one-on-one with the victim.

Gifts and compliments follow until the victim is “won over.” Eventually, it inches past a point of no return.

The abuser might say, “you can’t tell anyone about this. You’re going to have to go to your grave with this.” 

Manipulation around the victim’s silence is common. The abuser might even warn – “if you tell someone, people aren’t going to find their way to Jesus.”

The victims, however, are not always minors; in many cases, they are adults. A point of contention is that the victims are old enough to know they were doing something wrong. But Bissell stresses that “there’s no such thing as consent when it comes to abuse,” regardless of age.

“The whole time, there’s this inner debate going through the victim’s mind, and they’re trying to rationalize, ‘why is this individual doing this?’ But they’re the executive director. They’re the pastor. They’re a man of God. Or it looks like they have a good marriage.”

Bissell has noticed that churches and organizations have taken the initiative to prioritize safety and listen to victims in recent years. But, child sexual abuse is still underreported. 

“Three percent of phone calls that went into child and family services were of sexual abuse. However, if you ask adults if they ever experienced child sexual abuse, the percentage is much higher – 25-30% of adults say they were sexually abused as a child,” says Bissell.

Churches are almost always short of volunteers, which is how abusers find their way in. According to Bissell, sometimes churches are so desperate for volunteers that they shortcut the screening process.

A way to combat this issue is to have a six-month waiting period for new recruits. 

“That means if you start coming to this church regularly, you’re not going anywhere near children and youth until we’ve gotten to know you. So we can see how you interact with the rest of the congregation.”

Bissell has had to endure horrifying stories of abuse in her long career, but through it all, her faith remains unshaken. 

“I know from my many years of living and walking with Jesus that this is not God. God gave us free will. [Abuse] is not God. God is good. God is just. God is holy. And I have faith!” continued Bissell.

Cavey, as well as a senior pastor and two youth pastors, are no longer with the Meeting House church due to the allegations.

Watch our interview with victim’s advocate Melodie Bissell here.