SK women accuse counselor of misconduct

Two South Kitsap women have filed charges accusing a Port Orchard-based counselor — who is a former youth pastor at First Christian Church — of sexual misconduct during private sessions.

The women, identified as Client A and Client B, allege the 46-year-old — currently registered with the state as a private counselor — engaged in sexual activity with one and inappropriate touching with another while both were his clients, according to the complaint filed with the state Department of Health on Oct. 1, 2003.

Client A, who declined to give her name, said she began sessions with the counselor in 1999 — the year he received his license — after he was recommended by another member of her congregation at First Christian Church.

She said the contact between her and the counselor began slowly with hugs, then escalated into sexual activity.

“He was so warm and believable that you can’t believe you’re being manipulated,” she said, saying that at first she hid the relationship from her husband. “I trusted him, and was so convinced that he cared — I wasn’t sure what had happened.”

The former client said she ended the sessions, but did not come forward to press charges until she learned of Client B, who claims she was touched in a sexual manner by the counselor in December 2002. She declined to speak about the incidents.

“I had to be sure that it was more than just myself,” Client A said. “Once I found out there was another woman, then I knew he had planned it — he was using grooming techniques on me.”

Client A claims there are several more women who have been violated by the same counselor, and she wanted to file charges to encourage them to come forward.

“Maybe there are other women who don’t really realize what happened to them, and they will come out for their own healing,” she said. “I want to stop him, because I’m afraid that other women will go to him.”

Pam Mena, program manager for the adjudicative office of the Department of Health, said her office conducted an investigation into the two women’s claims and found sufficient grounds to file formal charges.

Mena said the counselor’s behavior outlined in the women’s allegations potentially violated two state laws governing licensed counselors: RCW 18.130.180, which defines unprofessional conduct as any sexual conduct with a client or patient, and WAC 246-810-049, which defines sexual misconduct as any sexual contact or activity with current or past clients.

Mena said once the Statement of Charges is received by the accused, he or she has 20 days to file a response either requesting or waiving a hearing.

According to documents filed with the Department of Health on Oct. 24, the counselor requested an opportunity to reach a settlement, and to have a hearing if a settlement cannot be reached.

If a settlement is not reached and approved between the parties, Mena said, the matter will come before the Health Law Judge in a hearing scheduled Feb. 3, where the charges will either be dismissed, or professional sanctions may be applied.

Phone calls to the counselor’s residence and his lawyer’s office were not returned.

Mena said the counselor’s license was renewed last month and does not expire until October 2004. She said there are currently no sanctions barring him from practicing as a counselor.

Kevin Hestead, the senior pastor at First Christian Church, said the accused counselor worked as a youth pastor for the church from 1995 until 1999, when he went into private practice.

Hestead said the church had no official authority over the counselor or his practice, but he was a member of the congregation and Hestead said he had recommended him.

“There have been times I had recommended a number of people (as counselors), and he was one of them,” Hestead said.

Hestead said the counselor was still attending the church with his family when the allegations came to light in March and the state began an investigation.

Hestead said he did not meet the two women until they approached him to tell their story after they filed charges.

Although the counselor was not an official employee of the church at the time, Hestead said he and the elders of the church spoke with him regarding the investigation.

“We thought he should immediately stop counseling women alone,” Hestead said. “We said, ‘As your elders and as brothers, we don’t want you to be in the situation again, and we don’t want any other women to be harmed.’ ”

Hestead said his first priority was to protect others, and the second was to (the counselor) himself.

Hestead said the church has been waiting until the state concluded its investigation of the case and to see if any actions were taken against the counselor to make a formal statement to its congregation.

“If it was a staff person we would have done something immediately,” he said. “However, he is a part of the Christian community, and with something of this magnitude, I think there’s a public-trust issue involved. A counselor in many ways has a similar responsibility as a pastor — if that trust is violated, we have to take some steps to restore that.”

Hestead said although the counselor was not asked to stop attending the church, soon after charges were filed his family stopped attending, and he said the church was never given any reason or explanation.

“They came a couple of times afterward, then we didn’t see them at all,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re attending another church or not.”

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