Some Churches Call Clergy Sexual Misconduct an ‘Affair.’ Survivors Are Fighting to Make It Against the Law.

Advocates push for legislation criminalizing sex between ministers and those they spiritually guide.

Krystal Woolston struggled with her mental health as a teenager, but she headed to college hoping for a brighter future. Then, a married pastor who seemed to care about her gave her a different path forward. He told her God wanted her to have sex with him to help her heal.

Looking back 12 years later, Woolston realizes how vulnerable she was to his spiritual manipulation.

“I was just falling, freefalling in so many ways,” Woolston said. “Everyone deserves to be able to go to church and be safe.”

It took her six years to understand this pastor’s pattern of “special treatment” was really manipulation and that the sex was, in fact, abuse. It took four more years to get her denomination to stop him from leading church youth trips.

Woolston doesn’t want anyone else to go through the same thing.

She and a small group of abuse survivors and advocates have been working to make sure it doesn’t. They want sex between clergy members and adults they are spiritually guiding to be illegal in all 50 states. It is currently only against the law in 13, including Connecticut, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, plus the District of Columbia. But advocates are working behind the scenes to introduce state legislation saying that these kinds of relationships, often characterized as “affairs,” are not consensual but criminal.

“Criminalizing abuse is another way of saying, Here, see, it’s abuse,” said Kate Roberts, an adult clergy-abuse survivor and cofounder of Restored Voices Collective. “The more it is legitimized as abuse in various ways, the better that is for prevention and for survivors getting the help that they need.”

Many states have laws that say people in …

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