Sounding the alarm……. Let us P.R.E.Y.!

Sounding the alarm……. Let us P.R.E.Y.! April 18, 2024

silhouette of couple walking away with some distance between them
Image by Eric Ward on Unsplash

When church becomes unsafe

                “If you want to keep your daughters safe, don’t ever take them to church”, he said.

– This was the advice given to Kathy Durbin by the man who had sexually abused her 27 years earlier, when she was a teenager, and he was the assistant pastor at her church.

 Kathy Durbin is one of several people featured in a four-part documentary series titled: “Let us Prey: A Ministry of Scandals,” which premiered on Investigation Discovery in November of 2023. The docuseries features various Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) churches, their schools and several former members, highlighting stories of physical and sexual abuse.

Kathy shares her story in this podcast interview on the Cults to Consciousness YouTube channel.

The following is a summary of Kathy’s experience as told on the podcast interview and a discussion of some of the lessons learned.

The abuse started when Kathy was only fifteen. As a young girl in a very conservative Christian church, she had been taught to obey those in authority, so she did what her assistant pastor (a married man) told her to do. When she later spoke up about what was happening (the abuse), the immediate relief she felt was followed by instant regret. She was blamed for everything and made to write an apology letter to her abuser’s wife for ruining their marriage.

The lead pastor told her that if the authorities got involved, she would lose everything (her school and the ministry she was involved with), and that they could lose the church. She was guilted into silence.


Kathy later found out that the lead pastor told her parents that the deacons had decided against calling the authorities. On the other hand, he told the deacons that the authorities had been contacted, and that they (the deacons) needed to decide if the church should be told about what happened.

What actually did happen was that the lead pastor made a deal with her perpetrator (the assistant pastor), that if he agreed to leave within 24-48 hours, the church wouldn’t report him to the authorities.

Kathy feels the lead pastor manipulated situation so he could get the outcome he wanted- protecting the image of the church and his paycheck. She is now an emergency room nurse and says she has called Child Protective Services several times in the course of her work. She wonders how different her life would have been if someone had done the same for her.



The “pedophile shuffle” – abuse gets perpetrated

Kathy later attended Bible College, only to find that the man who had abused her was there. Having to see him three times a week was a bit too much for her and she ended up leaving the program. The “ripple effects” didn’t stop there. The abuser, after moving to another church, was providing counseling sessions for a couple. Ten years later, the man he had been counseling got arrested for the same thing he had done to Kathy.

Kathy had a sister who was married to a youth pastor. One day the lead pastor announced that Kathy’s brother-in-law (the youth pastor) and his wife (Kathy’s sister) were moving away to help someone start a church somewhere else. Later, her brother-in-law was charged with abuse and ended up in prison.

Her brother-in-law used her experience to silence his victims

Kathy later heard reports that her name kept coming up during the investigation that involved her brother-in-law. It seemed everyone that was interviewed mentioned her name. She later found out that he had used her experience to silence his own victims, warning about potential consequences of reporting him, with comments like:

“You’ll lose all your friends like Kathy did.”

“You’ll be the black sheep in your family, like my sister-in-law, Kathy.”

Mental health concerns were ignored or denied

At a stage in her life, Kathy was crying herself to sleep and didn’t realize that she that she was depressed. Mental health issues weren’t acknowledged in her community. She referenced a video in which the leader of her former church community is heard saying, “If they want to jump off the bridge, let them… it will clean out the gene pool.” 

Needless to say, this attitude towards mental health issues can have dire consequences.

Justice was delayed, but not completely denied

Almost three decades after the abuse, Kathy got a call from the District Attorney’s office. The victim advocate told her: “We are pressing charges on your behalf.”

Kathy describes this as a pivotal moment, when she came to the realization that someone thought she was worth justice. In the weeks and months following the exposure of her abuse, no one had taken the time to ask her what happened, including her own mother! Her abuser had taken her self-worth and now she realized that she had value. The adults in her life, including her pastor had not valued her in that way when she was younger.


Let us P.R.E.Y.!


Church is supposed to be a safe haven for everyone, including children and adolescents. The status quo is unacceptable, and change must come from within. I don’t believe the solution to the current situation is simply to “pray” about it. So, let’s flip the switch: Let us “P.R.E.Y.” in a way that will actually protect children, teenagers and anyone who is vulnerable.


Protect and Prevent 

Recognize and Report 

Empower and Educate




Protect and Prevent

Children and adolescents must be protected from abuse, particularly from known perpetrators. Prevention includes education about setting appropriate boundaries, speaking up, and providing an environment that is safe and secure. The lack of sex education in many religious environments, rather than protecting girls, can make them even more vulnerable to abuse. In the story above, the lead pastor asked Kathy if she was pregnant – when she didn’t even know how people got pregnant. Her ignorance was not a protective factor, it very likely made her more vulnerable.


Recognize and Report

We need to be aware of the red flags in order to recognize abuse. Regardless of whether you are a mandated reporter or not, you can take a proactive approach and report abuse when you are aware of it. For those of us who are mandated reporters, even the suspicion of abuse is reason enough to make an official report. We may not have any control over what happens next, but it’s the least we can do.


Empower and Educate

We need to educate children and youth to understand what constitutes abuse, while empowering them to speak up for themselves. For those who have already become victims, we need to empower them to share their stories and avoid treating them the way Kathy was treated when she spoke up. Despite the pitiful way in which the situation was handled by her church community, Kathy eventually discovered that storytelling can be powerful. Her 10-page victim impact statement was so powerful that the judge changed his mind and gave the perpetrator a harsher sentence. In Kathy’s words, her pastor did not think she had enough value to get justice, but this judge did, almost 30 years later! She wishes just one adult in her life would have validated her when she was younger. She is now training to be a mental health nurse practitioner to help other victims of abuse.

Yard ….   Yank …..  Yell

When used as a verb, “yard” refers to confining animals in a space (a “yard”), symbolic of providing a safe environment for them. Why not extend this concept to children, not to confine and control them, but as a commitment to providing environments where they are safe and secure?

And while we’re at it, let’s call (“yell”) for help when needed, pull (“yank”) victims of abuse out of those dangerous situations and keep them safe.

“But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

-Matthew 18:6 (Douay-Rheims Bible)

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Let’s make a commitment to keep children, youth and all who are vulnerable safe.



National Sexual Violence Resource Center

About Olapeju Simoyan, MD, MPH
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan is a physician, board certified in family medicine and addiction medicine, with a special interest in the connections between faith and health. She strongly believes that faith and critical thinking are not mutually exclusive. As a female physician, Dr. Simoyan is also interested in women's issues and writes about religious abuse and trauma, with a focus on how misinterpretations of biblical texts have led to the perpetration of abuse within church settings. She has combined her writing and photography in several books, including Living Foolproof, a devotional based on reflections from the book of Proverbs. Her latest book, Transformation and Recovery - Lessons from the Butterfly, is a workbook suitable for people in recovery from addictions and other behavioral disorders. You can read more about the author here.
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