Mitchell “Mitch” Olson, pastor of Grace Ministry Center in Kimball, Michigan, will not face criminal charges over “anointing” a female church member’s breasts, buttocks, and genitals. If you are not familiar with this story, please read, Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Mitch Olson Accused of Sexually Assaulting Church Member.
Nicole Hayden, a reporter for the Times Herald, reports:
A pastor accused of sexually assaulting a young woman will not face prosecution because the woman doesn’t fall under any classes of victims as outlined by state law, officials said Wednesday.
Pastor Mitch Olson, of Grace Ministry Center in Smiths Creek, was being investigated after the 20-year-old woman filed a police report in June alleging that Olson sexually assaulted her while performing a religious act. The Times Herald does not publish names of sexual assault victims. At the start of August, the St. Clair County Sheriff Department submitted the case to the prosecutor for review seeking a criminal sexual conduct charge.
The prosecutor concluded no criminal activity occurred.
“The conduct of suspect Mitchell Olson directed towards 19 year old Victim was morally reprehensible. The Grace Ministry Center head pastor’s conduct appears to be highly questionably and not religious in nature. It also appears to have violated the standards of the church. However, based on the information and law cited above, this conduct despite being immoral is not illegal according to Michigan criminal law. For these reasons we are unable to prosecute this case,” said Senior Assistant Prosecutor Paul Soderberg in the case review released Wednesday morning.
The woman told the Times Herald that she was heartbroken by the decision.
“It’s frustrating to know that it did happen but that Michigan law can’t protect me,” she said. “It’s very frustrating. I think if Michigan law was different he would be prosecuted … it’s frustrating that he can continue to do to other women what he did to me … I have learned through this experience that sexual assault is so minimized and that it’s easier for people to brush it under the rug rather than take action.”
The prosecutor’s case review does not argue if Olson committed the alleged acts or not, but states that the allegations are not criminal according to Michigan law.
“In reaching this conclusion, the People thoroughly reviewed the evidence presented in the sheriff department’s criminal investigation. It included the multiple disclosures and statements made by victim, which were consistent and reliable … The review also considered the statements of suspect Olson, who appeared to minimize his actions and while also deflecting away from the issue at stake,” said the prosecutor’s review.
To be a criminal act in Michigan, the victim either had to fall under a special class of victims or there had to be proof beyond a reasonable doubt that there was force or coercion involved in the alleged sexual assault.
The special class of victims includes children under the age of 16, incapacitated victims, family members, students of a certain age, special education students, persons in foster care, clients of mental health professionals, prisoners, and patients of medical doctors, among others.
“In contrast, there currently are no laws in Michigan that specifically list or protect members of a religious organization as ‘status’ victims against sexual contact by religious leaders, authorities, or pastors, etc,” according to the prosecutor’s review.
But while Olson may have manipulated the victim to consent to his touches, the actions were deemed consensual and not criminal by the prosecutor as there was no force, violence or threat of injury.
“It should be noted that a knowing consent to the touching is a valid defense to this (criminal sexual conduct) charge,” said the prosecutor’s case review.
David Moran, University of Michigan clinical law professor and co-founder of the Michigan Innocence Clinic, said consent is generally a fair defense to all criminal sexual assault charges.
If a victim knows the sexual conduct is happening, even if they are tricked into it, it’s hard to criminalize the action, Moran said.
“If a guy at the bar says I am a second cousin of (the president) and can get you a job in the government if you sleep with me, but it turns out he actually is not related, is that rape?” Moran said. “It’s very hard to draw the line between the different types of lies people use to get sex … everyone can agree it is unethical for a pastor to take advantage of a member of his flock, but it’s hard to draw the line if it’s criminal … It is innocence in a legal sense.”
Moran said often times sexual harassment lawsuits in civil court are available in cases where it is impossible to charge someone with a criminal sexual conduct charge.
Grace Ministry Center board members Gordon Farnsworth, Joseph Forth, Dave Frazier, and Lewis Hurley declined to comment for the story. We could not reach board members Caremy Snellenberger, Bev Wilson, Tim Holcomb or Hannah Herr. Some of the board members have since resigned, according to the police report. Former Assistant Pastor Justin Mcburney declined to comment and has since resigned from his position.
You can read all of Hayden’s excellent article here.