Multiple sex abuse charges could be filed soon against a former Baptist deacon. 85-year-old Charles Sweet was charged with two counts of indecency with a child by contact on Wednesday, and investigators say there are more victims.
At Hays Hills Baptist Church in Buda, the leadership is grappling with the indecency with a child charges against the former deacon. Meantime, Austin Police Detective Eric Guevara made a plea to other victims. "I'd like to ask if you're ready to come forward, to please contact the Austin Police Department," said Det. Guevara.
According to the affidavits, Sweet admitted to the crimes against multiple young girls in Hays and Travis counties. At another point in his interview with detectives he said he "is attracted to girls younger than 12 years old."
The church released a statement saying Sweet was stripped of his membership and barred from even attending, after a 14-year-old girl made an outcry to Pastor David Sweet, who is Charles Sweet's son. That was September of 2012, but no charges were filed then. It is one of the two cases in Travis County filed Wednesday.
In January of this year, another woman made an outcry that Sweet had molested her as a young girl in a trailer where they held their youth ministries.
Detectives say the investigation is not done. "The investigation both here and in Hays County revealed that there's multiple other now adult female survivors," Det. Guevara said. "He also victimized some here in Austin at his residence and then also in Hays County."
Hays Hills is offering professional counseling to victims of Charles Sweet and partnering with MinistrySafe to train staff who care for children at the church.
Meantime, if you are a victim, call the Austin Police Child Abuse Unit or the Hays County Sheriff's Office.
Carol Midboe is a volunteer with the Survivors Network for those abused by faith leaders. She's also a survivor of sex assault herself. She said when she was 9-years-old living in Minnesota, she was abused once while at a camp.
"Predators seek out faith communities, predators seek out opportunities to where they're around children more often and more likely to have those one on one opportunities with children," she said.
Midboe believes abuse in faith-based communities has been going on for years but attributes the #MeToo movement as part of the reason why survivors are more likely to come forward with their story.
"(Predators) go into faith communities, which is highly trusting of individuals, the children and adults are less likely to have conversations about safe and unsafe touch or even have conversations about sexual abuse because it's been a taboo topic for so many generations," she said.
Austin Police said Sweet connected with victims through ministry work like bible study and tutoring at a site away from the church.
Midboe encourages parents to talk to their kids about where it's inappropriate for a child to be touched. And if your child goes to camp, ask questions about the camp's child protection policies.
"Are they doing background checks on their volunteer staff, are they doing federal level or state level. Are they collecting fingerprints," she said.
The Hays Hills Baptist Church provided this statement:
Almost seven years ago, we learned that in the past, Charles Sweet had sexually abused a member of his family. When we became aware of the abuse, we reported the abuse to the police and they began an investigation. We cooperated completely with their investigation and followed their counsel concerning how to notify the congregation. It has always been our desire to be transparent with the congregation while also protecting the privacy of the victim. So, at our members’ meeting on September 9th, 2012, we notified the congregation that due to grievous sin we were not only removing Charles Sweet from membership, but that he would no longer be allowed to attend Hays Hills. Investigators continued their investigation, but no charge or arrest was made.
We have now learned that investigators in Hays County have reopened the investigation as other victims have come forward. We believe sometime soon Charles Sweet will be arrested and charged with sexually abusing six girls, who are now young women. We are not aware of any instances of sexual abuse that occurred here at our church campus.
As members of the body of Christ, we want to demonstrate Christ’s care and compassion to these women. We want to take this opportunity to ask for prayer for the victims and their families. We are heartbroken by the pain of this circumstance and desire justice and healing for all.
Hays Hills Baptist Church will not tolerate abuse of any kind and ensuring the health and safety of our children and students is of paramount importance. At Hays Hills, all allegations of sexual abuse are reported to appropriate law enforcement and child protection authorities. In addition, we are committed to providing counseling and spiritual care to any impacted by past abuse. We recognize the critical importance of treating sexual abuse seriously and its victims with compassion. We intend to speak with transparency and to honor Christ in the way we care for any who have experienced past abuse.
We believe that this circumstance can be redeemed for good; we see this as an opportunity to emphasize the call of the church to be a safe harbor for children and youth. To this end, we are offering to provide professional counseling to the girls, now women, who were abused by this man who was once in our midst. As well, we are partnering with MinistrySafe, national experts in child sexual abuse issues, to provide training to staff members and volunteers serving minors at Hays Hills.