Sexual coercion accusations, such as the ones leveled at Bishop Eddie Long, can be difficult to prove in court, but cases have been won against other religious leaders, experts say.
There must be proof that the religious leader compromised the will of his victim, said Atlanta attorney Lee Parks, who has represented people coerced into sex.
“It is not enough to say they got enough gifts until they said yes,” Parks said. “That is still yes.”
Proving that in the Long case will be difficult, because the plaintiffs were of legal age of consent, and don’t assert they were forced to submit, made drunk or drugged, Parks said. Consequently, there must be proof that Long had so much control over his accusers they had no power to resist, the attorney said.
Three defendants charge that Long used his mega-church position to build a strong personal bond with them, by taking them on trips and giving them lavish gifts. They said the church leader convinced them that sex with him was part of a healthy spiritual life. They also have claimed that Long violated his legal responsibility as a spiritual adviser. Long adamantly denies the allegations.
“There is a legal responsibility not to compromise your position of trust, to overcome another’s will,” Parks said.
If the Long case survived a judge’s initial review, it could go to a jury trial and take two years to be decided and another two years in appeals, Parks said. These cases often end in a financial settlement between the parties.
“The publicity in this kind of case is something the defendant does not want,” Parks said.