Baptist Youth Workers Guilty of Sexual Assault on Young People in Their Ministries
Two former youth workers at independent Baptist churches are now facing prison time after engaging in sex with young people at the churches they served.
Jeffrey Forrest’s path to justice was a long one. He served as a youth worker at various churches. Working at a daycare operated by Pioneer Drive Baptist Church, an independent congregation in Abilene, Texas, he allegedly had multi-year sexual relationships with at least four students between the ages of 8 and 15 in the 1990s. Initially, local officials questioned the charges against him, but one victim re-emerged after receiving counseling that surfaced the past abuse.
Forrest skipped a 2016 court date and fled to Mexico, leading U. S. Marshals Service to declare him one of the 15 Most Wanted fugitives in America last Spring. His story was featured in a program on the Investigation Discovery cable channel.
“The unimaginable crimes allegedly committed by Jeffrey Forrest make him a significant threat to the public, especially children,” said the Marshals, who arrested Forrest in Mexico in May 2020 and brought him to the U.S. One of the identifying traits that led to his identification was a Star Wars tattoo.
In April, he was found guilty of two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child and sentenced to 99 years in prison.
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Former Illinois youth pastor Roger VanRaden pleaded guilty in February after he was accused of having sex with a teenager who was also a member of his congregation. In April, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
For four years, VanRaden repeatedly had sex with a teen girl in his youth group at Faith Baptist Church in Champaign, Illinois, with some of the encounters happening in the church. After the victim came forward, he confessed to a sheriff’s investigator that he had had sex with the girl and knew it was wrong. He was fired from his position and banned from the congregation.
Prosecutors had argued for a 23-year sentence.