#ChurchToo: Online movement highlighting sexual abuse in religious communities

FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - The #MeToo campaign is now spreading to your church. A new social media hashtag is aiming to bring attention to sexual assault in religious communities. It's called #ChurchToo.

People are speaking out about their experiences, but an area church is working to prevent these incidents before they even happen.

Twitter is at it again. Except this time, users are hoping to raise awareness on what they call, a hidden crime. It's sexual assault at church, and the numbers show that people between the ages of 12 and 34 are at the highest risk of being raped or sexually assaulted.

"85% of the people who do abuse are actually known by the victim. We tend to think, it won't happen here because we know everybody but that's not the case," says Bethel Church Senior Associate Pastor, Gary Siefers.

We tried contacting a rash of churches in the F-M area. Many of them didn't want to talk, they say it's a tricky subject. But at Bethel Church in Fargo, staff members work hard to ensure no incidents like these happen.

"We do background checks on volunteers and check references through an application process. For the staff, we have training on how to recognize abuse and not put themselves in a situation where that might happen," says Siefers.

We spoke with the Catholic Diocese of Fargo. Director of Communications, Paul Braun says they have a zero tolerance policy for any form of sexual assault. He says the church deals with any incidents harshly and swiftly. Braun says they work to keep a safe environment for everyone.

The most recent sexual assault related incident in a church we could find, was from this past spring. Father Thomas Feltman of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Richland County was placed on administrative leave for alleged conduct with kids.

No criminal charges were ever filed. To view the Catholic Dioceses of Fargo's official policies, click on this link: http://www.fargodiocese.org/victimassistance.