Survivor’s group urges Missouri AG to investigate boarding school abuse

WGEM [Quincy, IL]

April 15, 2024

By Joe McLean

Network of abuse survivors cites recent string of church school scandals

A group of abuse survivors staged a rally in front of the Missouri Attorney General’s office in Jefferson City Monday, calling for the state’s top law enforcement authority to investigate a trend of abuse at private Christian schools.

The group is called the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests, or “SNAP,” and said the reports of abuse are coming from largely unregulated “faith-based” boarding schools in Missouri.

“These kinds of places are ripe for abuse and cover-up,” said abuse survivor and former director of SNAP David Clohessy. “They tend to attract, unfortunately, predatory individuals who know they have a captive audience of victims.”

Among recent examples, the group lists Lighthouse Christian Academy in Piedmont, Mo., where three owners were arrested and charged with kidnapping, the now-closed Agape School in Stockton, Mo., where a mother is suing over the death of her son who she said was raped at the facility, and Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch in Humansville, Mo., where six former students have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse.

According to a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, the cases involving Circle of Hope are still pending and scheduled for a joint trial starting Oct. 28.

The group also pointed to Kanakuk Kamps near Branson, Mo., where in 2009, a staff member, Peter Newman, was revealed as a serial child molester.

“We’re living in an epidemic of child sexual abuse, where 1-in-13 children will be sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday,” said Child U.S. Advocacy CEO Kathryn Robb. “Many think that might be a conservative number.”

A priority of SNAP is the passage of Senate Joint Resolution 64, which proposes a Constitutional amendment to open a window of time when victims can pursue a civil case against an abuser regardless of when the crime happened, lifting the civil statute of limitations to align with the criminal statutory window.

Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, and Maryland have recently opened similar avenues, as have many other states.

“Clergy have seemingly absolute power over these children and their families. And the fear is tremendous when they have to deal with the with what these priests and other clergy are doing,” said Ken Chackes, an attorney for abuse survivors. “Many who were abused by clergy, describe the fear that they felt when the most powerful person in their lives and in their families lives is doing this to them.”

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office did not respond to the bureau’s questions, instead, only stating via his spokesperson, “I will always fight for Missouri to be the safest state in the nation for children.”

Bailey was appointed Attorney General in January 2023 and is running to be elected to the office against fellow Republican Will Scharf.

Former assistant Attorney General and civil rights lawyer Elad Gross is running for the office as a Democrat.