our employee was the victim of a sextortion scam — did we mishandle it?

A reader writes:

I volunteer on a staffing committee in my mainline Protestant church. Our employee in a role focused on young people self-disclosed that he had taken and electronically sent an inappropriate picture to someone who he believed to be a 27-year-old woman, but who he only knew online. He became a sextortion victim and disclosed it to us when requests for money ramped up in combination with threatening to release damaging evidence to his employer.

We took this seriously — sought legal advice and also encouraged our employee to seek his own legal advice and report the crime to the police. Legal counsel first advised us to immediately terminate him, which we were uncomfortable with because he was a self-reporting victim of a crime that happened outside of work. We worked with legal counsel to devise a safe return to work plan, including eight weeks of paid administrative leave to seek therapy and legal assistance. We crafted a social media policy and a code of ethics policy which did not exist prior. We offered him the opportunity to return with a six-month probationary period dependent upon signing and agreeing to those policies, submitting regular reports from his therapist, and having sufficient adult support for all events so as to never leave him as only one of two volunteers (a minimum of three, when the typical requirement is a minimum of two).

After returning, he repeatedly butted heads over what he saw as unfair requirements. He felt our response was overreacting and the stipulations for volunteers at higher numbers was onerous. It felt like I was working harder to keep him in his job than he was. It turns out I was. We did not know that before agreeing to return, he’d decided not to remain beyond a few months. He returned with a plan to wind down his work and leave on his terms. We entered in planning on seeing transformation and growth. Obviously, we had mismatched expectations and goals from the start.

We terminated him after 3.5 months because he was railing against the boundaries and safeguards in place and not performing up to the standard we had set. We provided two weeks of pay at termination, which were not legally required.

Seven months later, he released a 6,000-word public blog and series of TikTok videos disclosing his transgression, and detailing his paid administrative leave, his return to work, and subsequent termination from his point of view. He calls out several “flags” he experienced: 1) We denied him an annual raise at the time of his return to work, 2) he was “scolded” (i.e., provided feedback that wasn’t glowing) about how he performed relevant parts of his job, 3) HR and his boss met together before their weekly status meetings (required as part of probation) which felt like ganging up him, and 4) we required him to sign policies and receive therapy reports, which made him feel like a criminal.

I am wondering if I’m that far out of line with workplace norms. I feel we treated him fairly. We provided paid leave for him to deal with the mental and legal consequences. We provided a second chance, albeit with some strict boundaries and milestones to be met. I did all I could to offer a path to stay and honestly, he had already decided not to stay long term. He paints us as having treated him unfairly in his blog, which is read by many members of our community. I write to you to see if you think that I did him wrong so I can learn for the future.

I appreciate that you’re asking because, yes, I think your organization did him wrong. Significantly so.

He was the victim of a crime. He didn’t solicit a minor or expose kids to inappropriate material or flash people on the street. He sent a nude photo of himself in what it sounds like he believed was a consenting adult relationship. Now, maybe there’s more to it than that — but based on what you’ve described here, he was simply the victim of an extortion scam. (And since it was a scam, I’m betting the recipient explicitly requested that photo, which is typical in that type of scam.) You yourself call him the victim of a crime!

So what was his crime that resulted in all these consequences — the administrative leave, the new supervision requirements, and, especially, the reports from his therapist? In particular, the latter is highly, highly intrusive, and not something an employer should ever require — but especially not when someone has been victimized.

Your letter reads as if this employee transgressed in some serious way and can’t be trusted around kids now. You say you hoped to see transformation and growth. Transformation and growth from what? Again, he engaged in private adult conduct with a consenting adult, and then was victimized. (When I first read your letter, I assumed he must have sent nude photos to a minor, but it doesn’t seem like he did.) The appropriate response from you as his employer was support and sympathy — some time off for legal help if he needed it (typically that would mean an afternoon or two; eight weeks of mandatory leave makes no sense). Nothing warranted directing him to seek therapy, let alone the other measures put in place.

I assume the fact that you’re a church accounts for the response, but even in that context this is overstepping. I assume your organization must think adults sharing private photos consensually is a terrible sin … which is a framework I fundamentally disagree with, but giving it a good-faith shot: Do your employees sign any kind of moral code of conduct agreeing not to engage in private sexual behavior with other consenting adults? If so and if this violated that, then either fire him or treat it like any other conduct issue, which presumably would mean issuing a serious warning and being clear that any additional offenses would jeopardize his job. All the rest was excessive and misplaced, both from a management point of view and from a human one. If he didn’t agree to any kind of moral code of conduct, then you don’t have standing to police his private sex life. If you want that standing, you should be very, very clear about the outside-of-work conduct you require and ensure people opt into that before you hire them. (I’d argue it’s an overstep regardless, but if nothing else an employer owes its employees transparency about it.)

But if you’re asking me to assess this from an employment/management perspective: The organization was in the wrong, it treated him as a criminal when he was a victim, and he was right to take issue with what happened.

{ 1,054 comments… read them below }

    1. tinaturner*

      If it had been a non-sexual scam, just something where he was gullible, would you want him working for your church?
      Who thinks sending a nude photo this way is “safe”? He could send church funds cause he thinks it’s safe, is that OK too? It’s a crime.
      How poor does his judgment get to be to be defended here?

      1. Alan*

        Sending a nude photo to a partner, even a virtual partner, isn’t criminal, and honestly, isn’t even that weird if solicited. Sending church funds is criminal. Apples and oranges.

        1. RagingADHD*

          For some issues, yes. Exercising good judgement is a basic job expectation in a lot of roles.

          There are jobs that won’t hire people with bad credit, for example. And there are a lot of ways to get bad credit through absolutely no fault of your own. But it makes you a risk to certain employers.

          1. Kiwi Leslie Knope*

            Bad credit is caused by repeated bad behaviour. This was one dumb mistake. If the employee had a pattern of dumb mistakes that’s different, but LW didn’t mention that.

            1. Elke*

              Or… exorbitant and unmanageable medical bills or a million other things unrelated to overspending on frivolous things.

              1. Kiwi Leslie Knope*

                Sorry, I didn’t meant to offend. I’m not from America so we don’t have the same issue with healthcare costs etc – it didn’t occur to me. I didn’t mean to sound judgmental; it was more to point out that bad credit is a bad example because it’s usually about long term activity as opposed to a one off mistake.

                1. Magenta Sky*

                  The person I know with the very worst credit score was the victim of an investment scam by a close friend, who went to prison for embezzling several million dollars for his (eastern European) mistress.

                  His (the friend’s, not the embezzler) credit is still recovering, despite his six figure income.

                  There are many ways to get a *very* bad credit that are not only not the person’s fault, but are the direct result of that person being the *victim* of a crime.

                2. Anonomatopoeia*

                  I mean, my ex torched my credit in ways I am still recovering from years later. They opened accounts using my information, charged things (or more likely, made cash withdrawals which they used to buy weed), then always maintained the account without my knowledge for a couple of months (withdrawing more cash to make the payments…) and then just …stopped paying, but collected the mail, and therefore hid the evidence until such time as the thing went to and right on through collections. My only options were to either let them garnish my wages or sue my own spouse, which is, it turns out, not super easy to do without also getting divorced which is complicated when one shares children and also neither party can afford to live alone. They also failed to pay primary bills as we had agreed, but failed to tell me, so that we had issues like needing to come up with enormous deposits to keep the power on (which then meant other bills had to wait) or needing to get high-risk car insurance for many hundreds of dollars per month (again, jeopardizing other bills — at the time ordinary insurance for just me would have run maybe $23 a month instead of, you know, $735). This is not even close to the whole list.

                  Anyway, so the primary bad judgment was mine, but it was a one-off: it was the person I married. *shrug* So my credit does preclude getting some jobs. I am scrupulously honest with the smallish budgets in my control at my actual job, and would be even if I had a lot more in my portfolio, but I totally get why no one would want to hire me to manage a business’s cash flow — but I would be more than a lot ticked off if I were rejected from a job making hippopotamus hula hoops (FOR the hippos, not made OF the hippos…) for my credit score.

            2. Birb*

              Wow. Please do some research into the many, many ways people can have bad credit or no credit without “bad behavior”.

              1. Kiwi Leslie Knope*

                Fair enough, I could have worded that better. I was only trying to point out that bad credit is usually long term, not one mistake, so it wasn’t really comparable.

                1. Bagpuss*

                  I don’t think that’s accurate. It’s pretty common for people to wind up with poor record for all sorts of reasons which aren’t really about judgment – I live in a country with decent public healthcare so medical bankruptcy isn’t a thing, but issues like illness meaning someone can’t work, or a divorce or relationship breakdown, or redundancy (lay offs) or having multiple expensive issues that wipe our your savings can all result in bad credit – and it’s also much more likely to be a problem for people who are worse off to start with.

                  For instance, if my car dies, I’m in a position where I have savings so I’d be able to get it fixed, or failing that, could afford to replace it. However, there have absolutely been periods of my life where the only way of dealing with it would be to either put the repairs on credit card and then hope I could scrape together enough to pay it off, or get a loan to replace it and then struggle to pay the monthly repayments – and someone in that position who needs a reliable car to be able to work has no choice, even if they know that the repayments / credit card bill is going to be nigh on impossible to pay and that they are likely to end up missing payments. Or where they can just about do it but it uses up all the slack in their budget and then some, so if they then have a week where they can’t work and don’t get paid, they have to pick between eating and missing a card/loan payment. And of course the missed payment may be a one off but then there’s usually higher interest, and it gets harder and harder to catch up.

                  Thinking poor credit always equals poor judgment is a *very* privaledged assumption

                2. Ash*

                  So are you saying that bad credit among your countrypeople is due to bad decisions, but bad credit in other countries is more forgivable? I think you should stop trying to defend your initial statement, which as many commenters have demonstrated, is inaccurate and mean.

            3. Ash*

              The number one cause of bankruptcy is unaffordable MEDICAL BILLS. How dare you make such a classist statement: “Bad credit is caused by repeated bad behavior.”

              1. Birb*

                The prosperity gospel teaches hateful people that Their God assigns resources and health based on godliness. Bad things happen to bad people, disabled people just don’t have enough faith in Their God, Their God is just testing them temporarily, if they’d just believe / go to church / give the first 10% of their earnings to the church, Their God would obviously not let this happen.

              2. Kiwi Leslie Knope*

                In my country, we have a public health system. So before you get so angry at me, please consider that other people have different experiences.

                1. Broadway Duchess*

                  I think that door swings both ways: before you assume bad credit is the result of bad decisions, please consider that other people (and countries) have different experiences to yours.

                2. owen*

                  i would ask you, kindly, to please step back and re-examine your prejudices here.

                  even in nz bad credit can come from many things that are neither long term or the fault of the person with it – for example, a one-off emergency where a car needed to be fixed so a person can continue to get to work to earn enough to maybe pay the minimum balance (because they barely earn enough to cover food and rent and fuel) and maybe not pay the minimum balance (because the minimum wage is still not a cost of living wage in a lot of places), and the spiralling interest of a credit card then becomes impossible to keep up with. It can begin with very small amounts – and wind up in thousands upon thousands. It’s a similar debt trap as payday loans exploit, and those are widely considered predatory.

                  The ability to have savings of a few hundred to cover a necessary, emergency repair, is a privilege many just do not have, even in NZ. Many do not have whanau who can afford to help them out of the debt spiral (or help them avoid getting into it in the first place), either.

                  This doesn’t even begin to cover things like being the victim of fraud or other crimes, or needing more home healthcare help than the government can cover, or your ex ran up your credit card bills and then ran off, or many, many other scenarios beyond ‘this person repeatedly behaved badly’.

                  (i assume nz bc the kiwi- if you are not a fellow kiwi, but another country… well the same holds true in most of the world, if a person can access credit at all)

                3. Hot Flash Gordon*

                  Many people have their credit tanked by a divorce or because of a job loss after the pandemic, or they lost everything because of the 2008 recession. That’s not bad behavior, that’s just shitty stuff that happens to good people.

                4. Zap R.*

                  As a Canadian with chronic conditions, I can confidently say that having a chronic illness is exorbitantly expensive even in a country with a public health care system.

                  (Granted, Canada’s public health care system is hot garbage. But my point stands.)

            4. Typing All The Time*

              My relative had her social security number compromised. It took her a decade to get everything straightened out and her credit history was a mess.

                1. ND*

                  I wish the other commenters would read your repeated apologies for your initial comment about credit ‍♀️

              1. Parakeet*

                Most of the staff at my workplace had SSNs leaked in a small-business health insurance provider’s data breach. The organization made decent guidance about things like credit freezes and identity protection options available, but some people are still constantly getting alerts about fraud attempts because someone tried to steal their identity in some way (and it’s alerts rather than the fraud actually happening because they got that guidance).

            5. Kay*

              Or they were a victim of fraud?? That is a mess, isn’t easy to fix and from what I’ve seen friends go through – I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Then there is divorce, an actual lack of using credit, a lost job, an accident, health problem, death of a loved one, and I’m pretty sure there is a whole system stacked against the poor… Just to name a few. Bad credit doesn’t always mean bad behavior.

          2. Betty Beep Boop*

            But that’s usually less about judgement and much more about vulnerability to bribery or blackmail.

            1. RagingADHD*

              Right, and the employee in this instance was vulnerable to blackmail (even fake blackmail).

              But to the point about judgement, employers can and do fire employees for doing things that are perfectly legal but make them look bad.

              Let’s say a very progressive nonprofit that worked with the poor had a highly visible employee who turned out to have a sideline distributing something online that was highly offensive to their values – maybe social media comments about wealth and poverty being based on your quality of character.

              Or, as has actually happened, you might have police officers or military members participating in a closed text chat group full of racist and misogynistic posts.

              They’re off the clock. The things they’re doing are legal, and arguably nobody else’s business. But it violates their employer’s values and has the potential to create a ton of bad PR. Not all employers will fire an employee in those circumstances, but it’s a reasonable option.

              1. Magenta Sky*

                “Right, and the employee in this instance was vulnerable to blackmail (even fake blackmail).”

                Until he self-reported to his employer, which is *exactly* the right way to *not* be vulnerable.

              2. Scammers are the problem, not the victims*

                You want to talk about the judgement of the victim of a scam, let’s talk about judgement.

                First I want to point out that scammers work very hard to be as convincing as possible, and everyone has the potential to be scammed. It is not *morally wrong* to be the victim of a scam.

                I want to discuss the judgement of the employer. The employee was blackmailed and threatened, and he had the correct response: cut off the source of the blackmail. The employer punished that, for some reason, thus indicating to other employees that they would NOT be safe to come to their employer in a similar situation. That is very poor judgement on their part.

                Was it you who implied that the person would be at risk of sending the employer’s money? The victim in question demonstrably refused to send any money to the scammer, so why on earth would you leap to the conclusion that he would send someone else’s money? Sending a photograph is a lot different from sending money.

              3. Zap R.*

                Being the victim of a sex crime – even if it’s due to “poor judgment” – is in no way comparable to posting racist memes to the cop group chat.

      2. Engineer*

        If he left his car unlocked and it got stolen, he would still be the victim. If he left his apartment unlocked and he things were stolen, he would still be the victim. If he bought a bunch of gift cards because he got an email from the “pastor” asking for them, he would still be the victim.

        His actions were not illegal. The scammer’s actions are, in every jurisdiction of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It does not matter if he did or did not exercise poor judgement, because that is not rhe problem. The problem is the scammer and now his church, because when he went to them for help they victimized him further. The shame of being the victim of a scam is what allows these scammers to continue to act. And now people have to deal with not only the shame, but fear of retaliation by their employer.

        1. emmelem*

          Thank you for pointing out that “the shame of being a victim of a scam is what allows these scammers to continue to act.”

        2. Hot Flash Gordon*

          I was going to make this point too. As society develops ways to reduce risks of becoming victimized by crime, criminals will continually look to exploit vulnerabilities. My husband had his car stolen and the last I checked, buying a Kia that was built without the proper anti-theft components isn’t a crime, nor does it mean he deserved to have his car stolen.

        3. allathian*

          Sure, if he left his car unlocked and it got stolen, he’d still be the victim and would have the right to ask the police to investigate the crime. But because he left his car unlocked, he wouldn’t get a dime from his auto insurance policy. Insurance companies can and do require their policy holders to exercise due care to lower the risks of theft of and damage to property. Poor judgment has, and IMO should have, consequences.

          By the same token, sending nude photos of yourself to someone you only know online is reckless. The minimum precaution should be that you’ve interacted with this person on a video call before sending anything. (Even that isn’t foolproof, I’ve met 14 year old girls who looked adult enough that I would’ve sold alcohol to them without question when I worked retail (drinking age 18 here). Now cashiers are supposed to card anyone they think looks under 30 to lower the risk of selling to minors who look older than they are.)

          I’m afraid that I can’t dredge up much sympathy for this guy. Sure, he was a victim, but he should’ve known better than to send nude pix to someone he barely knows. Even sending pix to someone you’re in an actual relationship is fraught with risk, given the numerous cases of revenge porn that happen when relationships break down and the recipients of the pix take it badly.

          1. Inusurance person*

            Please do not use inaccurate insurance information as a point of comparison. I have never read a car insurance policy or heard of a claim denied because a car was unlocked, and I’ve been in the industry 20+ years.

            No, complete ruin is not a fair punishment for bad judgment. Nor is it particularly Christian, since we’re explicitly talking about a church here.

          2. Heather*

            Do victims of sexual abuse share in the responsibility for being victimized? Does their outfit choice create shared liability? What if they don’t leave their home knowing an abuser is also there? What if they’re a minor with no place to go? This is a slippery slope that I don’t think you want to go down.

          3. Andromeda*

            Ahh, I’m struggling to keep my kneejerk emotional response in check here, but being as cool-calm-and-collected as I can:

            In these kinds of scams, vulnerable people are manipulated by people who want to do them harm into trusting them. Happens in basically any kind of scam, not just sextortion. It’s the same with people who get into abusive relationships. It’s not just “well if they were smart/vigilant enough, they’d be able to see it” — it’s not as though people begin conversations with “hi, I plan on doing you major harm”. No, they go out of their way to seem trustworthy to begin with and the social engineering techniques that get used are improving all the time.

            I really don’t mean to pile on, and this is as much a reaction to anyone else making similar remarks as it is you specifically. But this really is punishing someone who’s been groomed for their “poor judgement” because they… responded exactly the way that people do, when they are manipulated. The business wasn’t directly harmed (like eg if he’d given them access to company credentials or money). The only way this line of argument would make sense is if this job required employees to be resistant to continual psychological abuse to do it effectively.

          4. Not a butt*

            great point! If your employee left their personal car unlocked and it was stolen would you put them on probation? I think for most people the answer would be no.

            In this case poor judgement did have consequences. He was extorted, embarassing material could have been sent to his workplace. I don’t think it is the employer’s responsibility to add to add to them.

          5. JM60*

            By the same token, sending nude photos of yourself to someone you only know online is reckless.

            It’s only reckless if having those nudes shared without your consent would cause you much distress. If you genuinely don’t care if your faceless nudes are shared, or if it’s in the category of “I’d prefer if they weren’t shared, but oh well if they are,” then it’s not reckless. It’s instead a risk you’re willing to take, and we take risks of all sorts all the time.

      3. MouseName*

        That is not the same thing at all – sending personal nudes is not a crime, sending employer funds to an unapproved person is.

      4. Rex Libris*

        Beyond everything else, assuming it was a premeditated scam, the perpetrator probably put considerable time and effort into convincing the victim that they had a sincere romantic (if online) relationship. It’s not like they just got a random email asking for nude pics, and said “Sure, that sounds like a great idea!”

        1. Worldwalker*

          In fact, it’s an entire industry; a branch of the common romance scams. These people are absolute professionals. People who have deliberately engaged with them to investigate the scams write that they’re amazed by how convincing they are.

        2. Fishsticks*

          Can you imagine that being your job? “Yeah, just spent ten hours flirting with a guy in the States, no money yet but it’s gonna happen for me, I’m sure.” and you just have to hope this guy sends the nudes, and even more so is willing to pay you off even if he DOES send them. What a gamble of time and energy.

          1. Greg*

            I read an article about the people who run those spam text scams (the one where they randomly send you a message saying, “Fred, is that you?”) Most of them are themselves the victims of human trafficking. They get recruited out of some small village in SE Asia with the promise of a job in Malaysia or the Philippines or wherever. Then they get taken to a remote compound and put to work running these scams on Westerners. It’s a pure numbers game. They send out millions of messages with the hope that a small subset responds, and a small subset of that group actually engages in a conversation. Best thing you can do if you get them is block the number and don’t respond. If you do, you may get flagged as a live account AND you will get the spammer on the hook for not “closing” you

      5. McS*

        I like this framing. If an accountant fell for a standard financial phishing scheme, what would be the response? Probably not re-evaluating their overall job performance and requiring reports from a therapist. Probably a re-training for the entire staff because if they could fall for it, others probably could too.

        I agree with Allison that OPs tone is not “falling for the scam was a lapse in judgement that made me question this employee.” but “sending nude photos to consenting adults is a flag for someone who shouldn’t work with kids.” And I agree with her that the second statement is not true or fair. I’d challenge the OP on their confidence that no other employee in this role engages in that behavior. How would they know?

        1. Anon for this*

          Yeah… I went to high school with a freshman who… matured… early enough that she could pass as an adult, and she bragged to everyone that she was seducing college age and older men, in some cases when they were on drugs and not in their right mind anyway. And bragged that they wouldn’t tell anyone because if they did they would get in trouble because she was 15.

          Imo if someone thinks they’re in a consenting relationship with an adult and sends them nude photos… that doesn’t make them a horrible person. It makes them someone who made a mistake, involving a scammer who probably invested a lot of time and energy into making this seem like a real relationship.

        2. Starbuck*

          “sending nude photos to consenting adults is a flag for someone who shouldn’t work with kids.” And I agree with her that the second statement is not true or fair.”

          True, but in this case I can absolutely see why the church would want to seem like they’re covering themselves if the sextorter was threatening to notify the employer or take things public. Regardless of what we think on this forum, church congregations are more likely to be puritanical in these matters and demand someone in this situation be fired, deserved or not. But like Alison said, they probably should have just fired him. I don’t think that’s right! But honestly from the church employer’s perspective, that’s the sensible thing to do.

          1. Kay*

            If they had a policy of – you are not allowed to have nude photos of you in existence – sure. I could even understand if he was married but had an affair, but between consenting adults is a step too far.

            1. allathian*

              Yes, I agree. And to ensure that nothing like this ever happens in the future, the church employer should state in their employee policy that sending nude pix, even to a consenting recipient, is a fireable offense.

            2. Starbuck*

              I don’t think it’s surprising though for a church employer to reserve the right to judge any behavior they deem “sinful” or immoral as a dealbreaker for employment. I agree it’s bad practice, but that’s just how a lot of these places work. Should they change, yes, will they – I doubt it.

      6. Quake*

        Why is part of your response is “What if he had comitted a crime?” How is that useful or relevant?

        1. Worldwalker*

          “The guy at the next desk was scammed by a professional criminal. But what if he’d committed a crime instead?”

      7. Seriously People*

        I came here to basically say the same thing. In a world where everything on the internet lives forever, if someone is stupid enough to send d*&^k pics, they are only victims of their own stupidity. That is the boneheaded things a 14 year old does, not a gown a$$ adult. I would never be able to take them seriously again or trust them.
        Now, if it was a situation where the pictures were non consensual or the person was threatened or coerced to send pictures in the first place, I would view that very differently.

        1. Pricilla Queen of WFH*

          That is so out of touch. Sexting is a part of modern day relationships of all ages. Taking photos of yourself is normal. Sending them to someone consensually is normal. All of these phrases are just a walk away from “they were asking for it” essentially.

          Revenge porn laws are there for a reason, because the only issue here is consent and not the action of taking or sharing a photo. And in the world of deep fakes and AI barreling towards us this mindset is going cause a lot of strife.

          Also poor judgement outside of work is not ever a reason to fire someone, and if it was then it certainly isn’t a reason to police someone’s behavior like this.

          1. llama*

            No, its not. It is stupid because you immediately lose control of that photo forever. If everyone jumped off a cliff would you follow?

            1. GirlBob*

              Depends. Why are they jumping off the cliff? If there’s a herd of rampaging wilderbeests coming straight at us, and the ocean underneath, yeah, I might take a chance with the cliff too. Sometimes the group does something for good reasons.

              That being said, do I send nudes? No. Would I ever send nudes? Also probably no. (In this horrifying world of AI, does that even matter? Also probably no, but I digress.) But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a fairly normal thing, and the problem is not with the sending of nudes, but of people like you who treat the people who’ve done it like pariahs. Well, and the scammers, they’re pretty bad too, but they couldn’t exist without people like you and OP.

          2. Medusa*

            Seriously. I would never send a nude, but I am also fully aware that this is standard behaviour today, at least in less “conservative” societies

        2. Kiwi Leslie Knope*

          I think you might be surprised at how many people you do trust and you think have good judgement have actually sent nudes online. You just don’t know about it. At least this guy admitted to it. That would have been hideous to do.

        3. Rex Libris*

          People do inadvisable things all the time when they’re in (or think they’re in) a romantic relationship. The National Association of Attorneys General estimates that over 40 million people in the U.S. have reported “revenge porn” cases, and 80% of those arose from instances where someone sent explicit photos to an (at the time) romantic partner, so that’s an awful lot of people to just write off as stupid.

            1. Mango Freak*

              Ok…but sending nudes via an electronic device is SUPPOSED to offer a guarantee of privacy.

              Did you know that if you write a check to a business, they can (logistically speaking) just take money out of your checking account whenever they want? Is it “playing stupid games” to write a check to a business? If a business breaks the law and just steals your money, should I say “sorry not sorry?”

                1. Mango Freak*

                  No one’s telling YOU what chances you should take.

                  What’s funny about your stance is:

                  1) basically you’re arguing against the existence of laws (if a crime is known to be possible, the victim is at fault!)
                  2) this crime being a matter of “unrecoverable dignity” is pretty debatable, except that you WANT it to be. You are amongst the people insisting it be undignified!

                  I have no idea if the victim of this crime lost any dignity–indeed, it seems he went on the internet and reclaimed that. But I know he lost money and his job. All because some people weirdly get off on punishing him for his victimhood.

                  “I have to deny him dignity, because he risked his dignity.” The logic is a mesmerizing circle.

                2. Mango Freak*

                  Like literally you’re saying the bank thing is fine because the money is recoverable. *Because there are no consequences to you.* But when we say, “There shouldn’t be consequences for consensual adult sexting” you say, “There should be consequences, because he knew there might be consequences!” What??? You don’t think any bad situation should ever change?

                  (No, of course you do, when you think a situation is bad for YOU. You just don’t think this situation is bad. You like shaming people.)

                1. Lunita*

                  A check is not a contract; it is a method of payment. By Yellow Rose’s logic, if you “play stupid games” by paying with checks and thus giving employees access to all your account info, you could win the “stupid prize” of having money stolen. So even though the expectation is for the info to be used a certain way-just like with sexting-if you really want to be certain your info will never be misused you’d have to pay with cash.

        4. Parakeet*

          I think, and I say this as someone who has seen the stats for work-related reasons, that you are wildly underestimating the number of people who share nudes (not always on the surface Internet either, but by text messages, apps, or other means of communication) with consenting dates and partners and are extorted. Believe me, it’s not just something that kids do. And someone who is extorted in this way is absolutely the victim of a crime – as Pricilla said, this is just “they were asking for it.”

          1. Rosie H*

            My mind is officially boggled. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with consenting adults sharing nude selfies, I just can’t get my head round anyone wanting to!

              1. Rosie H*

                Ah, now to me, attention is not normally fun! Unless it’s the attention of family or close friends, and I wouldn’t want to get their attention by sending them nudes!

                1. Mango Freak*

                  But surely you’re familiar with the concept that SOME people enjoy sexual attention, right?

                2. Mango Freak*

                  (I think there’s a bit of a problem on the internet where when you explain a behavior, people think you’re prescribing it. I promise I’m not trying to sell anyone on sending nudes.)

          2. stratospherica*

            Exactly. This guy was effectively the victim of a sex crime, and being punished for it at work, and people are saying that it was his fault, or trying to paint a scenario where HE committed a crime! I’m shocked.

            1. Princess Sparklepony*


              I couldn’t believe the LW plan of action they put in place. That was so far over the top it was in the stratosphere.

        5. Skye*

          My topless photos were for medical reasons. I had surgery in the upper chest area and the surgeon needed a look at how it was healing, and his office was an hour and a half away so it was a lot easier to send him photos than drive there. I didn’t take them on an internet-connected device, so they’re not just floating around Google Photos, but they’re presumably still in his files. There have been leaks of nude photos from medical files onto the public Internet before.

          The photos were consensual. I was not threatened or coerced. But if you think that was stupid of me and you could never trust me again, I honestly feel that’s your problem, not mine.

      8. Whoa*

        I am a gay man in my early thirties who lives in a big city, who is also an executive with significant HR experience. I have sent literally hundreds of nude photos in my life, always consensually, to people I meet in online spaces where that kind of thing is normal and expected.

        The same thing is true of almost every other queer city-dwelling man I know. It’s also true (with far lesser frequency) of many of my female and straight male friend. This is normal, healthy, consensual behavior for people in my demographic to do in their personal time. There is nothing “unsafe” about it. Sending a photo to someone in that context to asks for it is not poor judgement, and comparing it to sending company funds is WILD.

        If this happened to me, I would go to my employer, let them know we needed to have a slightly uncomfortable conversation, explain what happened so they had a warning, and awkwardly laugh it off. If my employer reacted with anything other than sympathy and a shared cringe, THAT would be far worse judgement than anything I had done.

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          Whoa – wish there was a like button.

          I’m an old straight woman who has never sent a nude photo but I get that people do. If I looked better, I might be tempted!

          Absolutely agree with your take on this.

        2. Fishsticks*

          Yeah, I feel like as an employer my response would be sympathizing with the person, letting them know I’ll make sure to delete any such items that may be sent to me, and maybe we can look into some advice on what to do when something like that happens to you. Full stop. You get my support and empathy, and we figure it out together.

          Can’t extort you by sending your nudes to your employer if your employer doesn’t think it’s a fireable offense to have someone else make you the victim of a crime.

        3. Seashell*

          I am older than you, and I have never and probably would never send a nude photo, even to someone I strongly trust. Relationships deteriorate, systems get hacked, and people die and have other people handling their electronics, so there’s always a chance the picture could get out. That said, there are a lot of people on earth who do things I would never do (nude modeling, nudity in films, becoming a Real Housewife), and they may have perfectly reasonable judgment.

          I would say, if you’re fine with potentially anyone in the world seeing you naked, feel free to send those photos. I wouldn’t fire someone over it unless it was clear that was against the terms of employment.

          1. JM60*

            I think this is the sort of thing that can vary a lot from one person to another, and I think so many people here are making the wild assumption that having your nudes shared without your consent would be devastating to everyone. That is the case for many people, and for those people sharing nudes with random consenting adults online is reckless, but it’s not the case for everyone.

            For myself (and I suspect Whoa too), having my faceless nudes shared without my consent falls into the category of, “I’d rather someone not do that, but it wouldn’t bother me that much if it did happen.” For those in this category, the cost/benefit analysis likely favors taking the risk of sharing (with consenting adults) if you’re getting something out of it. And if you do, that doesn’t mean your employer has reason to question your judgement.

            1. Timothy (TRiG)*

              I’ve been fairly reckless when it comes to sharing nudes (like, I suspect that describing the photo would break the rules), and I just decided that I didn’t really care if any leaked. So far, none have, to the best of my knowledge. I’m pretty relaxed about it.

      9. rightokaysure*

        Your response makes a small amount of sense. And if they’d handled the situation consistent with that perspective via one of the means Alison suggests in her letter, then that would have been a good response. Are you suggesting employers should require their employees to seek therapy and disclose the confidential therapy sessions to the employer if they cause security breach?

      10. Susannah*

        How is it poor judgment? Some people like to share nude photos of themselves. How on earth do you connect that to embezzlement or mismanagement of funds?
        This is the same attitude that led LW’s organization to treat this man as though he had done something shameful and criminal.

        1. allathian*

          To be fair, he worked for a church employer, and to them he undoubtedly was doing something shameful. Christian churches are generally not well known for being sex positive.

          Not that there’s anything wrong in sending nudes to consenting adults, whom you are absolutely certain are actually consenting adults. If in doubt, ask them to show ID, and if you’re interacting on video online, take a screenshot of the ID to protect yourself from accusations of engaging in sexual activities with a minor.

          1. Zap R.*

            In Canada, at least, some of the mainline Protestant churches are pretty chill. If OP works for say, the United Church of Canada or a progressive Anglican parish, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the victim to assume that sending nudes on his own time was fine.

            1. Drew*

              Yeah, in the US, if someone identifies their church as mainline, 90% of the time that is going to be a denomination that, for example, does not prohibit LGBT clergy or require their employees to abstain from premarital sex.

      11. Worldwalker*

        Why would you think that he would steal money just because he sent his girlfriend (even though “she” wasn’t) a nude picture “she” asked for?

        If he’d sent money to a Nigerian prince, should he be fired for that, too? I’d argue that falling for a scam that has been around for literally hundreds of years is even more indicative of bad judgment than thinking with the wrong head when his GF asked for a picture.

        How about if he picked up a hitchhiker and got mugged? Go to his hospital room to fire him?

      12. Matt*

        “Non-sexual scam”: if he was the perpetrator, of course not.
        In this case, he was the VICTIM. Nothing else. Would you terminate the victim of a non-sexual scam?

      13. Jules*

        If he sends church funds somewhere on his own volition, that’s one thing. He doesn’t own those funds. That would indeed be criminal. (At least colloquially. IANAL, and Imma guess you aren’t either.) He owns his own body (for now!) and its image. He can distribute it how he wants.

        If we fired everyone who ever demonstrated poor judgment–even wildly poor judgment–in their personal life, most of us would be unemployed. Being a victim of a crime, even being a schmuck, doesn’t make you unemployable, holy heck.

      14. The Shenanigans*

        Yeah this kind of attitude is why I don’t go to church anymore. There is absolutely no sense of nuance or context in your belief system. Of course it should be safe to send a nude photo in an adult consenting relationship!

        Yes, of course, the church should allow him to stay, without all the consequences. Unless you kick out any adult who has ever had consensual adult sex, he did nothing different. I guarantee you that pretty much every other adult working there has taken sexy pictures and sent them to someone at some point. This is the same BS purity culture that leads to harming every victim of a sexual crime. It’s just simply immoral. SHAME on the churches for allowing the evangelical cult to infect mainstream belief with this horror!

        Have you never ever done something that other people could shame and harm you for? Of course, you have. It is only chance that nothing happened to you. You aren’t any better than he is. So why punish him for what amounts to bad luck?

        And as far as bad judgment…maybe you should read what Jesus said about judging others and taking out the clear log in your own eye before judging the speck in this guy’s.

    2. I&I*

      OP, I think it’s worth noticing that you’re so deep into the weeds of your church culture that a lot of people here aren’t even sure exactly why he was in trouble – you seen to take it for granted that it’s obvious, but it really isn’t. Outside your church culture, he deserves nothing but sympathy.

      If your church requires its employees to adhere to a sexual code of conduct, that needs to be made clear BEFORE you hire them – including what the consequences would be. Ethically, you should make it clear at interview stage so that people know what they’re signing up to, because not having a private sex life with what you think is another consenting adult is frankly a pretty onerous condition, and it’s wrong to waste people’s time.

      At this stage? Yeah, he’s got every reason to be angry. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if he felt more sexually violated by you guys than by the scammer.

      1. boof*

        My best guess is with all the catholic church scandals regarding children they feel anything sexual with a supervisor needs to be under a microscope – because what if there was an accusation later and/or this got out to some parents that they knew about it (also a common teacher dilemma – all kinds of totally reasonable private activities may be held against them “for the children” by irate parents if they get public)
        But that’s really not ok and at most they should have confirmed that it looked like they had good reason to think it was another consenting adult (and VERY different if there was a lot of “barely legal wink wink” subtext) – like from the police report I suppose (honestly there’s a lot of ways to overstep here but that at least seems within the realm of reason)

        1. Anonimato*

          I’ve worked in youth ministry in progressive mainlines and yeah- this rings true for my experience.

        2. I&I*

          You may very well be right – but the fact that OP didn’t feel the need to explain is significant. It says to me they may not actually have a thought-through reason for everything they did to him, just an instinctive reaction that what he did was a problem and a desire to protect themselves by blaming him. With that much power over employees lives, they have no business not being clear and transparent.

        3. AJ*

          I taught Sunday School back when my children were young, and even then (they’re now in their twenties) we always had a two-adults rule; i.e., you couldn’t be left alone in the room with the kids. If the other adult had to leave, you were to open your classroom door, stand in it, and wait until they returned.

          Over the top? Maybe, but we were informed of it prior to volunteering for the position, it was to protect us as well as the kids, and as it was standard practice, no one was singled out.

          1. JM60*

            A key difference is that a two-adults rule and a “no extramarital sex in your personal life” rule is that the latter doesn’t actually protect kids.

  1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

    “Legal counsel first advised us to immediately terminate him, which we were uncomfortable with because he was a self-reporting victim of a crime that happened outside of work.”

    Fascinated to know what legal counseling’s reasoning was for this.

      1. Jellyfish Catcher*

        I also question if the demand that the therapist discussions be brought to the church is even legal. I question the therapist in doing so, but the victim probably gave his consent under pressure.
        The person who now needs damn good legal advice is the victim.

          1. Alan*

            Yes. And the “legal” advice perhaps as well. A friend worked for a religious charity and her sole job turned out to be keeping them from doing anything illegal. The leaders were chosen for their religious cred and made their decisions based on religious grounds without regard for legal requirements. She became their brakes.

            1. Random Dice*

              Clearly this lawyer just went full-on BURN THE WITCH! SCARLET As ALL AROUND!!!

              It’s genuinely shocking that every single thing this church did was horrific and terrible.

              1. Bagpuss*

                Well, or their advice was rather more nuanced and OP either misunderstood or has the information second hand. The lawyer may well have actually told them something such as :
                – they would not be breaking any laws if they chose to fire him OR
                – If the investigation showed he had knowingly sent explicit images to a minor they should fire him OR
                – If he was found to have sent sexual material from a work dvice they could fire him
                Or any number of other slightly more nuanced pieces of advice
                And of course the advice would be based on what the church told the lawyer. If the lawyer was told “We found our employee, who works in the youth team, is sending explicit images to others and the police are involved” then the advice is obviously going to be different than if the discussion is “An employee of ours has been the victim of a blackmail attempt, the blackmailer has got copies of explicit photos of the employee and may seek to dox them, where to we stand?”

        1. Yorick*

          Reports from the therapist can just mean documentation that he’s going to and participating in therapy. It’s still an overstep to require it but it doesn’t mean they’re getting (or expecting) details about the sessions.

          1. Anon for this*

            The Catholic Church tends to pay for counseling for molestation victims, and request the counseling notes. They usually sign. And when they would hire us, my boss would always revoke the signature and give the therapist a talking-to. (Source, I’m a lawyer who sued the Catholic Church a whole lot.)

            1. Mango Freak*

              ‘They’ meaning the victims? So, the victims sign, and the victims hire you, and your firm revokes the legal relevance of the signatures?

        2. LaMi*

          Right? I know that under HIPAA, psychotherapy notes have even stricter regulations than regular medical notes. That being said, it’s all null and void if the patient (employee/victim) authorizes them to view the records or hands them over himself, but I still find it exceptionally disconcerting that OP would require the employee to provide mental health records in order to remain employed. That feels deeply violating. It also feels like it could so easily be weaponized against the employee when the OP nor anyone else in this workplace is (likely) a licensed mental health professional. And regardless of whether it has been/would be weaponized, what use are the records for a non-mental-health professional? A simple return to work letter should be more than sufficient (but still not necessary in these circumstances).

        3. Birb*

          My abusive mom made sure we saw a “Christian Counselor” from our church who was NOT a licensed therapist. They still refer to it as therapy, and “therapist said” to give false legitimacy.

        4. LegalWithConsent*

          unfortunately there are many situations where individuals need to sign over therapy notes to continue with some type of program, legal action, or other use. As long as you sign the consent form it’s legal. The worst is when you have to sign them over for legal activity because they become part of court records and public records. This happened to me twice in college (at age 17 when my parents signed and 18 when I did). It’s made me unwilling to get therapy for a very long time and only do it now after significant vetting and with therapists who agree to take very minimal notes.

      2. WhoAmIWhyAmIHere*

        “Legal counsel” means lawyer (or solicitor/barrister in the UK, or “notario” in Mexico). Though who knows whether OP knows that, maybe they did get their advice from HR and called it “legal counsel”.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I tend to find legal advice is often extremely conservative – not politically, as in “opposed to any form of risk or exposure.” When we consult our lawyers they generally advise something that seems quite onerous or unnecessary “just in case” – so I wouldn’t be surprised if the lawyer’s analysis was simply “this employee probably doesn’t have a legal case against firing, and if there’s going to be any sort of trouble you might as well fire him now to avoid it.”

          1. Observer*

            “this employee probably doesn’t have a legal case against firing, and if there’s going to be any sort of trouble you might as well fire him now to avoid it.”

            Sensible and competent counsel should know better. Because there really is no legal risk in treating him fairly. But there is reputational risk in firing him for being a victim. And there could be financial repercussions. Because if had been fired, he would certainly been eligible for unemployment insurance. And he could just as easily sued for unfair dismissal as anyone could have sued them for not firing him.

            And, as we can see, the org now has the reputational hit of their stupid behavior.

            1. B*

              Right… reasonable legal advice in a situation like this might be, “If you want to fire him, you are free to do so.” Hard to see a legal reason to actually recommend firing him.

              1. Honestly, some people’s children!*

                My experience was if I contacted the attorney who handled our employment lawsuits and said “X happened. My boss wants to fire him.” their advice was essentially either “I can defend this” or “I can’t defend this”. It was still the boss’ decision, that was just one component of it. The boss could agree to a more defensible alternative or go ahead and fire him. The attorney not saying “OMG NO!!!” doesn’t mean they thought any of this was a good idea.

            2. Overit*

              In the US, faith-based employers are not required to pay Unemployment Insurance. (They may do so, but almost none do.) Therefore, if an employee is fired or laid off, they are not entitled to Unemoloyment.

          2. ampersand*

            This was my read of it, too. They’re a church, the employee’s photo was potentially going to be released, in this context that could reflect poorly on the organization depending on who found out about it…legal counsel probably advised nipping this in the bud before it caused problems for the organization.

            And 100 percent agree with Alison that this was a huge overstep. I feel bad for the employee!

            1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              Thank you! I feel like I am stuck defending this poor lawyer under these circumstances. It is horrible that this happened to this employee, but the lawyer’s job is to protect the church. They advised to let the employee go. My guess is the lawyer probably suggested an amicable split, low drama, and throwing some cash at the problem.

              Also, as to the lawyer weighing in on the return to work plan, I suspect the lawyer just confirmed whether it was legal or not for the church to require certain things on the employee’s part, not that they suggested any of this. Because even a subpar lawyer would have said “If you think he is a danger to kids, fire him. If you don’t, then this is only going to create intrigue and create a real “where there is smoke” vibe. And then, if the pictures come out, it will look like those are the tip of the iceberg and the church has reason to suspect more and still didn’t fire the guy for some reason. And that will look worse”

              1. Emmy Noether*

                The amicable split from the start would have probably worked out better for everyone than this clusterfork, in hindsight. So not a bad call from the lawyer, who could possibly see where the church’s attitude was likely to lead.

          3. TootsNYC*

            the mystery novelist Rex Stout made that observation in a Nero Wolfe novel. A rich woman reads a book critical of the FBI and sends it out to people, against her lawyer’s advice. She tells him lawyers are only to be trusted about the law, and they’re not supposed to tell you what to do, and does it anyway, knowing she’ll face retaliation.

            then she hires Nero Wolfe to take on the task of making the retaliation stop. He takes the job mostly because he agrees with her about lawyers.

            The Doorbell Rang

            1. Velawciraptor*

              That was such a good one. :) It’s always lovely to find another Nero Wolfe fan out in the wild.

          4. Fried Turnips*

            we have legal counsel at my company and he does a lot of IP stuff (he’s very good at it) and also advises on the employment law stuff (he’s very bad at it – because he doesn’t really know the case histories, intricacies, laws, he just advises the most conversative route possible. like “if we don’t have written policies, we can’t be sued for not following them.”)

            lawyers specialize too, and it can mean that a lawyer great in one area is terrible in another.

          5. RedinSC*

            This was my thought. Any time I’ve consulted with my works’s lawyer it’s VERY conservative advice steering the business away from any hint of a problem.

          6. M*

            Also, legal advice quality always depends on how a lawyer is briefed.

            If the staffing committee went in and told the lawyer “we’re horrified that Jake did this, it’s appalling, it’s against our religious code, what can we do?”, it’s… not insane that even a very secular, reasonable lawyer might say “well, if this is your attitude, you’re better off just letting him go now”. The employee probably didn’t have a legal case against firing then, but he might well *now*, because of how badly this has been handled – so, arguably, it wouldn’t even have been bad advice, from the perspective of “how do we stop this client getting sued?”.

            *Should* that have been the case? Well, I’m not a huge fan of religious institutions’ exemptions from sections of employment law, so, uh, no. But that’s not a thing your random low-level legal adviser can do much about.

        2. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

          my first thought was another member of their congregation that happens to be a lawyer.

          1. Rainy*

            Same–and a lawyer who is a member of their congregation is 200% not the place to get employment law advice from.

          2. irritable vowel*

            Yeah, I’m pretty sure a church congregation isn’t going to have counsel on retainer.

            1. DisgruntledPelican*

              That really depends on the size of the church. I work for a synagogue. We have three.

            2. L*

              A mainline protestant church would be part of a denomination, and that denomination would absolutely have lawyers on retainer.

              1. Anna Haugen*

                Sure. But that doesn’t mean that that lawyer is available to individual congregations. Religious institutions in general are in a state of financial freefall as people die and few young people are church members these days. I am a minister in a mainline denomination, and while the synod does have a lawyer on retainer, that is just in case *the synod* gets sued for some reason, and they don’t have money in the budget to cover legal fees–even just consultation!–for individual congregations. When my congregation got sued because of a minister’s sexual misconduct (the molestation happened in the 70s, the lawsuit happened in 2018) that was the sole responsibility of the individual congregation and our insurance company. The synod’s response was “wow that really sucks, do you need help finding a good lawyer (that you will have to pay for yourselves)? we’ll be praying for you.”

            3. J*

              I’d disagree and yet also agree. I know several churches who have a nonprofit or tax lawyer on retainer but almost none with an employment lawyer. They could call for a referral at the firm they use but I’d bet this is some retired lawyer in who knows what field who attends the church and is on the board. Just a hunch after having to work with the type versus actual employment attorneys.

          3. Rex Libris*

            Many mainline Protestant churches are governed by a board made up of selected prominent members of the congregation. It’s reasonably likely this is where the lawyer came from, and the primary motivation was to divorce the church from any ensuing scandal as quickly as possible.

        3. Panhandlerann*

          Some (many?) churches don’t have HR. They have a personnel committee consisting of volunteers or something like that.

          1. dandarc*

            This. Sounds like this church has a particularly bad personnel committee (and the congregation collectively probably doesn’t even realize it).

          2. A*

            Many churches don’t even have a volunteer personnel committee. They have a minister, and a church council/board of volunteer laypeople that makes all the non-religious decisions, and that’s it.

        4. UKDancer*

          Yeah I’m not sure where they are in the world but I’d be surprised at a UK solicitor advising someone to fire a member of staff in this siuation. They would be more likely to explain whether this was likely to be considered gross misconduct, the risks of an employment tribunal and the likely outcome.

          I’m not a lawyer but I’d be surprised at a reputable UK lawyer recommending firing someone in this circumstance. I think you’d lose at tribunal for one thing in the UK.

          1. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

            im gonna guess this email came from the US, as a (sadly) lifelong resident.

      3. Ex-Teacher*

        This is a church, so “legal counsel” could literally be a member of the church that happens to be an attorney (that may not specialize in or have experience with employment law).

        Not a particularly good situation to get clear, unbiased advice.

      1. Observer*

        They should have fired the legal counsel for that advice.

        Yup. It’s terrible advice. It does absolutely nothing to protect them, but does present risks – as they are now discovering.

        1. Rainy*

          Odd how a modicum of grace and empathy on the part of this organization would have avoided the bad publicity resulting from *checks notes* the employee truthfully relating their experience with management when they were the victim of a crime.

          It’s like the law of unintended consequences and the Streisand Effect had a hilariously Sophoclean baby (which they then–inevitably–hobbled like a donkey and flung down a hillside).

          1. AJ*

            I’ve heard so many stories of churches responding with what they hope is grace and empathy to *perpetrators* of crimes, trying to stick to their ideal that anyone can change, that this opposite situation is ridiculous by contrast.

            1. Rainy*

              Yeah. Hard not to read this letter and think of the three documentaries on Hillsong that I’ve watched recently and marvel that the bad actors get a million chances to keep abusing and exploiting people but this poor dude who was a victim of an extortion scheme is treated like this. Yikes.

    1. Employee of the Bearimy*

      I assume it would have been due to violations of the ethics policy that did not actually exist at the time of the victim being caught in this scam.

    2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      Oh, he was in a youth facing role (pastor, counselor, spiritual teacher, etc) at a religious institution. Nevermind. Logic straight out the window.

      1. Generic Name*

        As someone who isn’t Catholic, and has never worked for a religious institution, can you explain why being a youth pastor (for example) makes a difference in this situation? I thought your comment made perfect sense and was very logical. I wonder what legal counsel’s reasoning is as well.

        1. cardigarden*

          It’s a “there’s been a well-documented history of abuse of minors” thing. Anyone who works with minors, especially within the church, has to deal with increased scrutiny.

          1. cardigarden*

            **Granted most of the documented history is regarding the Catholic Church and not necessarily any of the mainline Protestant Churches like LW works for. The increased scrutiny is still there.

            1. Southern Ladybug*

              Yes the Catholic Church is well documents. However, there are multiple, multiple examples in evangelical denominations, including Southern Baptist. I will put a link in the next comment. You can also google the Southern Baptist Convention report detailing decades of cover-ups. That is a “mainline” protestant church in my area of the country.

              1. Chris W*

                “Mainline Protestant” is a term of art that specifically covers a group of theologically liberal protestant denominations that made up a majority of protestants up until the mid-20th century and explicitly does not include the denominations generally described as “evangelical.”

                Calling the Southern Baptists “mainline” because they are numerically and culturally dominant in some parts of the US is a bit like calling sedevacantist Catholics “protestant” because they are protesting the current state of the Roman catholic church. It makes sense in light of the generic meaning of the term, but also is the complete opposite of the way that those terms are defined and used in this specific area.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  May I ask why people are fixating on whether Southern Baptists are “mainline”? First, not everyone in the comments are going to be using that term using the term of art definition, and given the size of that group, it makes sense to talk about them in the context here. Second, whether they are “mainline” or not under the definition you and others are using is a side issue and not relevant to whether (1) the OP acted properly or (2) why a church might act the way OP’s did. It’s a distraction.

                2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                  Folks are somewhat fixated on whether specific churches are or aren’t mainline, because for some churches, this would be a predictable set of consequences for a lapse in judgement; for other churches, this is an egregious abuse aimed at the victim of a crime. The clear mismatch between LW’s actions and the employee’s expectations means we’re down to just the word “mainline” to tell us which set of churches we’re talking about.

              2. Rex Libris*

                Mainline doesn’t mean “majority”. It’s shorthand for the larger liturgical denominations with antecedents in the Reformation… Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, etc.

            2. Jezebella*

              There is abundant evidence to the contrary. Protestant and Evangelical churches are by no means innocent of harboring predators. The difference is, perhaps, that the RC church is global and has a huge infrastructure with a history of covering up abuse of minors.

            3. Mine Own Telemachus*

              oh boy, I invite you to check out the Southern Baptist Denomination’s troubles in that area!

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’m well aware of that aspect; it doesn’t change anything in my answer. Again, either fire him or warn him if you must, but the mandatory leave, required therapy, reports from the therapist, etc. are ridiculous, as is penalizing the victim of a crime.

            2. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

              I think Alison’s answer still stands, even though she didn’t explicitly address this concern; I expect anyone who works with kids probably has a sex life, and has a right to engage in consensual activities with other adults without my knowing about it or judging it. This employee has the right to that privacy too, and it’s not his fault that his private sexual activity threatened to bleed into his professional life.

              1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

                Except, in the eyes of the religious institution, it became public and/or could have become public. This is enough to fire an employee or impose restrictions on him, especially if he’s in a role that in a religious facing capacity (pastor, instruction, etc). The Catholic Church will fire unwed teachers who become pregnant because it goes against the sex before marriage policy. Up until the sex becomes public, the Church can’t really do anything- but as soon as it’s a known issue? The teacher is open to being fired. I suspect it’s the same in this case- the employee ‘s private life and private sexual proclivities weren’t an issue until it became public. Then, all bets are off, even if the two parties are consenting adults, as it seems like it is in this instance. (Unless we find out more details.)

                1. Kermit’s Bookkeepers*

                  Let me rephrase, because I truly don’t mean to be flippant about anyone’s sincerely held religious beliefs: I understand that some churches have strict policies for their clergy and staff regarding sexual activity and other actions outside of work that they worry could reflect upon the moral perception of the church itself. I do not agree that a person’s consenting and private activity should factor into their employment. However, if that is a factor for this church, they should be incredibly upfront about it at hiring, and the consequence of a situation like this should be a standard form of professional discipline: a write-up or termination (if such is legal in this case). A stringent rehabilitation program such as this one is a huge overstep for an employer to administer to an employee.

                2. Observer*

                  This is enough to fire an employee or impose restrictions on him, especially if he’s in a role that in a religious facing capacity

                  True. But if you put restrictions on someone, they have to make sense. And this does NOT.

                  Because the assumption is that since this happened he’s a high risk of molesting the kids. And it’s just not true. If my kids’ school or after-school programs did something like this I’d be MORE worried, not less!

                3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

                  Yes, they do. I’ve read that and I know it happens.
                  It’s messed up, I think. But you understand the situation when you take the job.
                  What happened here is that the “pregnant teacher” was required to wear a scarlet A, required to go to therapy and report back on it, forbidden from working alone, and given other onerous requirements to keep his job.
                  OP writes that the employee did not act in good faith to finish his probation* and instead left.
                  I read the terms of his probation as tools to force him out because OP was not a teacher who chose to have a baby.
                  OP was a victim of a crime and all the resulting stipulations, including probation are punishments not for making a choice that violated their policies, but again, for being the victim of a crime.

                4. Florp*

                  Sure, but the teacher in the Catholic school gets that code of conduct or an employee handbook that spells that out when they are hired, and they have the opportunity decline the job if they object.

                  This OP / church was applying a non-existent code of conduct retroactively and making up the consequences for violating it as they went along. Much like the teacher who declines to work for a Catholic school based on their code of conduct, this employee has declined to work for this church *now that they know what the code of conduct and double secret probation actually is,* and OP is somehow bitter that the employee didn’t act like a grateful, abashed penitent desperate to get back into the church’s good graces.

                5. TootsNYC*

                  sometimes it’s less that it’s a sin and more that it’s tremendously distracting, sometimes to the tune of making the program completely ineffective

            3. Observer*

              Seems like Alison completely missed this aspect in her answer.

              Nope. Because extra scrutiny or not, nothing he did warrants this kind of response. (In fact, an argument could be made that the reverse might be true.)

              Firing him could make sense because he would be seen as engaging in inappropriate behavior that makes him a poor role model. But treating him like he’s at high risk molesting the kids? To be honest, this is such a *stupid* response, it makes me worried about what risks they are subjecting their youth members to, because they have no idea of what they are doing.

              1. Golden*

                OP didn’t mention it, but a common part of these scams is that after the photos are sent, the “father” of the recipient will angrily contact the sender letting them know that they were actually talking to his underage daughter, and include the threats OP mentioned. The fear of being labeled a pedophile is one of the drivers for the victim to fall deeper into the scam and send money for “the daughter to attend therapy” or something like that.

                I’m not sure if this particular scam included the underage minor thing, but the potential that someone (even a scammer) may be alleging that the employee sent nude photos to a child could be the reason they’re treating him as high risk. Not that I agree with the approach, but just some context I didn’t see written anywhere.

              2. bamcheeks*

                But also, this ISN’T treating him like he’s at high risk of assaulting or otherwise harming kids. Everything I’ve done on safeguarding has emphasised that if you have real, grounded, evidenced concerns about someone, yoh don’t just “supervise” them, you *remove their opportunity to build up relationships of trust with children and young people*. Your responsibility isn’t just “make sure this person doesn’t molest children on church premises / during church activities”, it’s to protect children, and that includes not allowing people who are believed to be a risk to children or young people to use spaces like churches, schools and other activities to build up trust so they can meet that young person in public or another setting and say, “hi, you know me, it’s Alex from church. Want to go and get a burger?”

                If there were real concerns about this employee and his ability to be around young people, this would be a terrible, negligent way to handle it.

                1. Twix*

                  100% this. Policies like “No 1-on-1 contact between kids and adults” make sense as general policies for youth-facing positions both to avoid creating situations where abuse is possible and to limit liability. Imposing them on a particular person you believe is at high risk of abusing minors so they you don’t have to remove them from having contact with minors makes zero sense.

                  (Which is an entirely separate issue from whether the events in question suggest someone is at high risk of abusing minors, which they don’t.)

                2. Quandong*

                  It seems to me that there’s an extraordinary lack of understanding from this church admin re: how to protect children and young people from predators, and what predatory behaviour and grooming actually looks like.

                  They need urgent education and training in this area. I doubt the children and young people who attend the church are as well-protected as they should be.

              3. I&I*

                If anything, it seems like evidence that his sexual interest is in consenting adults! Surely that’s what you want in a youth worker?!

          2. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

            OP starts the letter saying they are a Protestant organization, which does not include the Catholic church. There is no reason to bring up the Catholic church in relation to this question. In addition, sending a nude photo from a consenting adult to a consenting adult is not a crime, legal or moral, and has absolutely nothing to do with his trustworthiness around minors. Alison is still correct.

            1. Mo*

              Conservative Protestant denominations can be more uptight than the Catholics when it comes to sex (and especially pornography).

                1. Sovreignry*

                  Only because they haven’t been brought to the same light, as we saw with the SBC’s recent scandal.

                2. Florp*

                  They maybe haven’t had the big organized lawsuits against a central bureaucratic organization, but Protestant and other denominations have certainly had the scandals. (Look up IBLP, SBC, various Mormon sects including the main one, Hillsong, The Falwells and Liberty University, some Amish communities, and probably more I don’t know about).

                  Insurance companies that cover these kinds of incidents for churches report more claims for protestant churches than catholic ones. Source: https://stopabusecampaign.org/2018/01/08/is-there-more-sexual-abuse-in-the-protestant-churches-than-the-catholic-church/

                3. A*

                  Aha. That would be nice. But no. There is no denomination with its hands clean. The Roman Catholics are more likely to have had the scandal go in the national news because they’re larger and more well-known than just about any other denomination, and they’re more likely to be sued because they are known to have deeper pockets, and once the ball got rolling “catholic sex scandal” became a self-sustaining thing. They are not more likely to have harbored perpetrators of CSA than any other religious group.

              1. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

                OP also said mainline Protestant, which is the opposite direction of the flimsy argument you’re trying to make. All I’m saying is that if we are talking about oranges, tangerines arent relevant.

                1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

                  It’s funny you should use that metaphor. Our history of the tangerine is incomplete but it may well be a hybrid or variety of the mandarin orange. So, likely relevant to an orange discussion.

            2. Observer*

              There is no reason to bring up the Catholic church in relation to this question.

              It’s not just the Catholic Church that’s had this issue. You should what’s going on with the Southern Baptists (which is a mainline religious group). I don’t mean to point fingers at them specifically, but the point is that this is a common church related issue, unfortunately.

              In addition, sending a nude photo from a consenting adult to a consenting adult is not a crime, legal or moral, and has absolutely nothing to do with his trustworthiness around minors.

              Yup. That’s the heart of the problem here. They can have all the policies they want around this stuff. But when you act as though this behavior has anything to do with being a predator or child molester, you’ve actually *increased* the risks, because you are looking in all the wrong places, and probably ignoring the real risks.

              1. Laura*

                The Southern Baptists ARE NOT a mainline protestant church. They’re under the evangelical umbrella. Mainline protestant churches include things like Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, etc. that used to make up the bulk of the protestant churches in the US.

                1. Observer*

                  I’m not talking theologically, and perhaps I should have used a different word. I’m talking population wise. They happen to be one of the largest denominations in the country.

              2. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

                All I am saying is that we are talking about one thing but referencing another. Feel free to discuss issues in Protestant denominations, especially mainline ones, but I was only trying to make sure we are on the right topic.

            3. Sovreignry*

              The Protestant Community is not immune to these kinds of things. The Southern Baptist Convention just recently was discovered to have covered up child predators just like the Catholic Church.

          3. Ellis Bell*

            I work in a Catholic school and… no, just no. There’s no policing of people’s private sex lives going on. You can’t be deliberately publicly sexual, and you may even have to be discreet about having a glass wine in your social media feed, but your private life is your own. Not to mention, this was the victim of a crime!

            1. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

              You also can’t be LGBT, have sex out of wedlock, or masturbate. So he was doing 2 of those 3 with the photo. And you know very well that plenty of Catholic groups police this stuff. The musical director at our Temple is a former Catholic who was kicked out for having a live-in partner without being married.

              1. Ellis Bell*

                I was actually talking about my own experience with people in my own diocese, not that of every Catholic community, in every country. It would be considered absurd here for someone to lose their job for having an unmarried partner. Not only is homophobia actively taught against in our school, one of our most senior leaders is LGBT. I don’t even know how you’d go about policing masturbation. I’m not making any claims for overall Catholism, the top down policies and prejudices suuuck, and is why I couldn’t follow the religion myself; I’m simply saying it’s perfectly possible to operate a religious group in modern society if said group really wants to do so.

                1. Ellis Bell*

                  But mostly I was speaking as a teacher! We are still allowed private sex lives, as far as I know ;)

              2. Frank Doyle*

                You also can’t be LGBT, have sex out of wedlock, or masturbate. So he was doing 2 of those 3 with the photo.

                …wait, which two? It’s clear from the letter than he’s a he and the intended recipient was a woman; taking a picture is not sex; and a nude is not masturbation. So that’s going to be a 0 out of 3.

          4. Ex-prof*

            But LW isn’t Catholic either. They said it’s a mainline Protestant church. (Not sure what mainline means anymore; it used to mean the kind of church that has a liturgy instead of a lightshow.)

            1. Emily*

              Yeah, I can tell by the responses people have different views of what “mainline protestant” is. Someone else mentioned Southern Baptists, and I would definitely not consider them “mainline”, so people’s responses will probably at least partially depend on what they consider “mainline” protestant.

              1. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

                i think a lot of these commenters dont know what mainline means and are just breezing past it.

          5. KayDee*

            I was wondering when I read this whether what was left unsaid about the threat to expose the employee was that the person who received the images indicated they were going to make the claim that the employee had believed they were sharing the picture with a minor. If I were a scammer trying to maximize what the person is willing to pay to keep it quiet, I’d see that as a obvious way to do so.

            I could also see it causing an employer to go overboard on covering their rears in case it does one day go public.

          6. Parakeet*

            The idea that someone’s consensual sexual activity with another adult has something to do with abuse of minors because it deviates from community norms, is an incredibly ugly one.

        2. HonorBox*

          The only thing I can think of is that there’s a line in the letter that the victim believed the person to be a 27 year old, so maybe they were younger? And that was making the extortion even more serious? Again, just speculating. But if someone in a youth facing role was sharing sexually explicit material with someone not of legal age, that could preclude them from being able to serve in a youth facing role.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            I suspect the opposite; the 27 year old woman they thought they were talking to turned out to be a member of the sextortion criminal enterprise, actual age and gender unknown but definitely adult. (It might be part of the sextortion scheme was threatening to send his picture to those youth as part of the threat, but then the crime would still be there even if they used his image).

            I think it’s just the way youth pastors are treated as automatically suspect if the word sex is uttered in their vicinity, and how the victims of sexual crimes are often judged and re-criminalized.

            1. Irish Teacher.*

              Ah, I assumed it was a case of they claimed to be 27, he sent them nudes, then they claimed, “actually, I’m 15 (most likely lying again). Pay up or I’ll have you arrested for sending nudes to a minor.”

              And that then the church panicked at the thought of the publicity of “guy working with young people in a church setting being accused, however falsely, of sending nudes to minors”. Not that that would make their reaction appropriate.

              1. Sloanicota*

                It can be simpler than that; a lot of youth-oriented organizations feel that they should hold any sort of mentor to an extremely high standard of behavior, so just displaying poor judgement in any context is enough to fire them, since they’re “not a good example for the youth.” The people making this decision probably feel like sending nudes at all is a reason to fire them. Having impure thoughts is reason enough in some places. Witness all the teaches fired for like, being photographed holding an alcohol beverage.

                1. Mari*

                  Yes, in certain Evangelical circles “think of/protect THE CHILDREN” is a major mantra and these groups will justify any behavior to cull those they perceive as not being in conformity with that attitude. Therefore all adults must always behave as if they’re in a rated G film to “protect the children.” Having any sort of sex life is a no-no.

              2. JustaTech*

                That was my read of the situation as well, although I still don’t understand the leap to “you need to see a therapist”.

                The only way I can see to go from “victim of extortion” to “need to see a therapist for their behavior” is if the employee stated that they became a victim of this extortion because they had a sex addiction that they were choosing to get treated.

                But that’s a pretty big leap, and even if that were the case the employer requesting anything beyond “yes this person is coming to therapy” is beyond invasive and inappropriate.

                It feels like a case of the employer covering their own behind gone to unwarranted extremes.

                1. Sloanicota*

                  There is an unfortunate intersection of therapy and religion where people who believe, for example, looking at pr0n is sinful might go to therapy to work on themselves since they can’t stop wanting to look at it. I can imagine a church believing that someone who did something like sending nudes to a stranger is very disturbed and needs counseling.

                2. Joielle*

                  Yeah – there’s a lot in this letter that doesn’t make sense to me, and I’m not sure if it’s because there are details omitted or I just really don’t understand the religious mentality around this stuff. If there were no minors involved and the scam was just “pay me or I’ll send your nudes to your employer”… I can see why that would be embarrassing to the employee but I don’t see how you get all the way to mandatory therapy reports, probation, and never leaving him alone with another volunteer.

                3. Rex Libris*

                  I wonder if, with the church basically compounding his victimization, the therapist was counseling him to develop a plan to get out, which may be why he chose to “wind down” his employment in the first place.

            2. Reality.Bites*

              There was in reality, probably no woman at all, not of any age, and if the person he was in contact with was actually a woman, she was in any event certainly not the woman in any photos he saw.

          2. Oryx*

            It’s a common scam that it IS an adult but they are pretending to be a youth pretending to be an adult, if that makes sense. So an adult will say they are 27 and solicit photos then come back and say “haha jk I’m a teenager and now you need to pay me $$ or I will report you” which is where the extortion comes in. But it’s an adult the whole time.

            1. Panicked*

              This is exactly where my mind went too. Usually it’s “I’m calling law enforcement unless you pay up” but the fact that the person works with youth for a church makes that the main target.

              I feel for the victim here. They probably had a job they loved, found themselves in a very scary and uncomfortable position, was forced to disclose all of this to their employer, and was then punished for being the victim of a scam. That’s really difficult and I hope they have actually supportive people in their lives. They obviously can’t rely on their employer.

              1. StarTrek Nutcase*

                Yeah, this was a big fail on the employer’s part. IMO, sending a nude photo via internet is not smart but in no way wrong between consenting adults.

                When I started reading this letter, I was impressed he was considered as the victim he was, but then just was gobsmacked at the extreme overreach in conditions by the Church. It was obvious, in their mind, he went from victim to someone needing therapy for his “deplorable” action. Their shock at his displeasure & nerve in blogging it is just another indication they have no clue how misguided they are.

                Only positive is other Church employees and volunteers there now realize just how they can expected to be treated if they ever are victims, self-reporting or not.

                1. GrooveBat*

                  Yeah, my first reaction was, “Oh, he’s traumatized by this and they hooked him up with therapy; how decent of them.”

                  I didn’t realize until further in that this was actually punitive.

                2. Starbuck*

                  Yeah I’m also assuming it was the “fix your naughty thoughts” kind of therapy and not something to actually help him deal with the trauma of being extorted.

          3. Worldwalker*

            It’s highly unlikely that the “27-year-old woman” was 27 years old—or a woman. Or an American. There are organized criminal groups, frequently in Eastern Europe and some parts of Asia, who do this professionally.

            There’s no reason to believe that the victim was lying when he said he thought “she” was 27.

        3. bighairnoheart*

          I would assume that, like with teachers, they’re just often held to incredibly high standards about what they’re “allowed” to do in their personal lives outside of work, because if their young students ever find out that their teachers are human beings who exist outside of the classroom, they’ll immediately self-combust or something. (I know it’s not always that extreme, but I have so many friends who are teachers and who are very freaked out about even minor things like drinking in public, being photographed in a swimsuit, etc. Because if a parent sees that and complains, they might face repercussions for it. It stinks.)

            1. Well*

              This is some the language from an old handbook for all staff at a religious orginzation. The place this is from had a strong legal team and the document required the employee signature.

              “It is our faith that life is a gift from God which we are called to respect from conception to natural death. We believe that God creates people in His image as male and female. He has instituted marriage as a lifelong covenant relationship between one man and one woman, and calls husband and wives to exclusive sexual fidelity. We believe that sexual relations outside of marriage are inconsistent with God’s call to holiness in our lives. We believe that anything which separates the conjugal act from Procreation (in vitro fertilization) is consistent with the dignity of human sexuality. We further believe that pornographic material undermines the dignity and image of God in individuals and promotes sexual conduct contrary to our beliefs. We require all who serve in (this church) to live in accord with our beliefs regarding human life, sexuality and marriage. Some may not affirm their agreement with our beliefs regarding human life, sexuality and marriage, and they are not required to affirm our beliefs in contrary to their own consciences, but all who serve in (this church) are required to life in accord with our beliefs regarding human life, sexuality, and marriage, and to do nothing to undermine, subvert or contradict our beliefs.”

              I would image the employee who was the victim of the crime is viewed as living a life outside of the agreed upon beliefs. I’m speculating that the newly written code of conduct that the letter writer had created will address any type of perceived misconduct so that they can more easily terminate employees who do not meet their moral standards.

            2. bighairnoheart*

              Ha! I think you’re the first one to recognize it here. Always cool to see another former toastie in the wild.

          1. Ambulance Chaser*

            The basic idea that allowing any external evidence that you have a sex life to exist could be a fireable offense, from the perspective of a church, is something I can file under Fair Enough, I Guess.

            But here, the LW and their church concluded it wasn’t a fireable offense, then still ordered the employee into therapy, demanded details of this therapy, and started staffing events so that no one would ever be alone with him. And then they wrote in seeking reassurance that this was somehow not weird. But it was weird! Deciding not to fire someone does not magically make any action short of firing that an employer takes reasonable or fair. That’s what the LW is missing here.

            I almost wonder if the full context wasn’t that this ridiculous plan was presented to “legal counsel” first, and they replied that trying to have it both ways would expose them to much more liability than simply firing him.

        4. Winstonian*

          Not Catholic nor the poster you commented to, but I can tell you as a having been a youth counselor for about 15 years when I was younger, our 20-30 year old male youth pastors/directors had a much rougher time with this attitude. I’m female so my involvement was perceived as maternal and nurturing, their involvement (and we were the same age) was questioned by some as predatory and “obviously” sexual in intent. Whenever anyone would ask why either of us did what we did you could hear a certain tone that the question was asked to him by some than when it was asked to me.

          1. Sloanicota*

            This is so hard because, I mean, there WAS a massive problem with youth groups, especially tied to churches or summer camps, having terrible issues – due to people looking the other way or assuming good intent. And abusive people do seek out exactly this kind of opportunity to be put into trusted roles where they will have a lot of access to young people (particularly vulnerable young people) and a premise for getting them alone. It may be only a few bad actors but it’s a real, severe issue … this sounds like an overcorrection when the solution should be structured policies that prevent any adults being alone and unmonitored with kids, I guess? I actually don’t know, it’s a difficult thing to solve.

            1. Observer*

              this sounds like an overcorrection when the solution should be structured policies that prevent any adults being alone and unmonitored with kids, I guess? I actually don’t know, it’s a difficult thing to solve.

              Yeah. It’s not an easy issue to solve. But it starts with policies that make sense! Like you have to understand the risk factors. And you have to see what works – like 3 volunteers is generally not going to make that much more of a difference than 2 volunteers (which is one of the policies the OP’s Church put in place.)

            2. Starbuck*

              It’s also a great way to reinforce patriarchal gender roles unfortunately – of course women can be trusted around children because it’s their natural inclination to be caretakers. Etc.

        5. Lenora Rose*

          I think they still mean the reaction by legal was bananapants but was in line with the exact kind of bananapants that is often demanded of youth pastors. Things which are treated as normal adult interactions even in schoolteachers are treated as horrible oversteps by all too many churches, not just Catholic, in youth pastors.


          A friend of mine was a youth pastor, and engaged to be married. (He was also a divorcee at the time and his fiancee had a child; these were not a young couple just out of college). When he and his fiancee bought a house together, the church pulled him aside and said he absolutely could not move in with her until after the wedding and still continue as youth pastor. And despite her being a respected member in the church community, they thought, his fiancee having a child was brought up at this point as something they were already “tolerating” despite being “a bit out of bounds”. (Plus, the child was one of the youth he was pastoring and absolutely adored him.)

          So he had to pay several extra months of rent on his apartment, *and* was left with a bitter taste in his mouth about their opinion of him.

          1. Employee of the Bearimy*

            An extended family member was forced out of his youth pastor position because it was discovered that he had spent the night at his fiancee’s house before the wedding, even though they slept in separate bedrooms and HER MOTHER was in the house the whole time. It’s a level of ridiculous that has to be seen to be believed.

        6. Madeleine Matilda*

          I belong to a mainline Christian denomination. All clergy, staff, and volunteers who work with children are required to take training keeping children safe and to follow requirements for doing so. Violating these requirements or not taking the training (which is required every 4 years) can bring consequences such as being removed from volunteer positions or being terminated. I don’t know if this is common in other mainline denominations, but I would hope it is.

          1. OMG It's 2024*

            But the victim of the sextortion crime was not engaged in any sexual/criminal activity INVOLVING a child and his sending a pic to a (presumed) 27 year old shouldn’t have caused them to suddenly look at him as if he were going to spontaneously combust into a pedophile at work. They really treated him poorly. This could have been handled so much better, in a “ok, sending nudes is not a good look, but you need to seek legal advice and we’ll give you time off as needed to deal with this. Thanks for the heads up in case we receive communication from the perpetrator of THIS CRIME that was committed towards you.”

            1. Lily Rowan*

              Yeah, I’ve passed the necessary background check and etc to be a Sunday School teacher at my church, and I could send a nude picture to my adult partner, and that would be FINE. Because there’s nothing wrong with doing that and in normal life, no one else would know about it.

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                Unfortunately in too many churches it doesn’t matter what you do, but what you are caught doing.

            2. Lady_Lessa*

              +100. While I think that anyone, in whatever capacity over children and teenagers, who is an abuser should be punished fully, this young man is a VICTIM. He self reported the problem.

              The church employer over reacted

          2. Big Bother*

            Yeah, the only way that this makes sense to me is that your scenario happened and then that the employee didn’t inform his bosses until after he’d run out of money to pay the scammer. Because while panic is understandable, you do actually want someone who works with children to report it ASAP if something sketchy happens with a (supposed) minor, especially if its leading to blackmail.

            1. Worldwalker*

              I think if it involved a supposed minor, the OP would have said so as justification for the punitive measures taken against the employee.

          3. Observer*

            All clergy, staff, and volunteers who work with children are required to take training keeping children safe and to follow requirements for doing so. Violating these requirements or not taking the training (which is required every 4 years) can bring consequences such as being removed from volunteer positions or being terminated. I

            That is *EXCELLENT* and should be standard everywhere.

            What are you going to be that the OP’s church doesn’t do anything like that?

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              If they’re a mainline Protestant church they probably *do* have that training (and this employee was likely responsible for ensuring that every volunteer completed it). It’s very, very normal in those communities and has been for years.

              But having those policies doesn’t mean you know what to do when an employee is the victim of extortion.

              1. Observer*

                If they’re a mainline Protestant church they probably *do* have that training

                Considering that they didn’t have code of ethics or a social media policy, and the chose seriously ridiculous conditions for his return to work, I highly doubt it. Because anyone who has had this training would have recognized that nothing in their list actually does anything to make the kids safer.

                1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                  First, I want to be clear that The OP and the leadership at their church treated this person HORRIBLY. They made incredibly stupid decisions, and I hope they take Alison’s response to heart and make sweeping changes.

                  But you’re conflating things that aren’t necessarily dependent on each other. An organization can have a policy about reducing the risk of sexual or other abuse of children/youth by those volunteering with them — and require volunteers to have training on that policy — without also having a written social media policy or a written ethics policy.

                  Would a *smart* organization have all of those? Sure. Might a smart organization have those policies be interrelated? Absolutely.

                  And YMMV, but in my experience “safe sanctuary” type trainings I’ve had at the mainline Protestant churches I’ve attended (United Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian) definitely do not include a section on “what to do if your youth minister is being extorted because he took an explicit picture of himself and sent it to a consenting adult.”

                  We frequently see on this site people making dumb decisions even when they have good information — humans are really stupid sometimes.

          4. HonorBox*

            Same here. But in this situation, nothing that this employee did should be seen as violating any type of training like this. He was engaged in a relationship with someone he believed to be a member of the opposite sex and well above legal age.

            I get the church wanting to protect itself from the potential bad PR that would come from this, but in this situation, it isn’t like a parishioner got an unsolicited explicit pic from the guy. It isn’t like he did something to, or with, a minor. He didn’t look the other way when a child was put in a dangerous position. He was the subject of a crime and actually reported it.

        7. ferrina*

          There’s two issues at play:

          1. Being an educator (even in a religious role). Any kind of teacher is subjected to a higher level of scrutiny than other professions. While a certain level of scrutiny makes sense, often teachers are subjected to an unreasonable level. There are many, many teachers whose careers have been derailed because someone finds proof that the teacher has engaged in sexual activity. It could be an ex-boyfriend sending private photos to the employer, or a locked social media account that a parent stumbles on, then suddenly it’s “think of the children! everything the teacher does ever must be unimpeachable!”

          2. Churches are notoriously weird organizational dynamics. It’s an institution that is often run by the clients, and, well, everything about clients still applies when the clients are church members. Some are reasonable and lovely; others less so. Add in that any pastor is inherently a representative of the church and the religion- the parishioners often feel that the pastor must at all times be absolutely consistent with how the parishioner interprets morality and the religious tenants. That includes things like gender politics, social involvement, and yes, sexuality.

          I’ve been close with several pastors and youth pastors, and they are under the highest levels of scrutiny. Sometimes it feels like they are constantly on public display to their congregation and being judged (some churches/individuals have it tougher than others). It’s really hard.

        8. JSPA*

          General verbiage about modeling a blameless life, I think?

          that’s of course both

          a) hypocritical (both in general terms, and because they’re to applying it to someone who may not even have been seeking sexual gratification–per se–in the instant, but responding to a request to see more)


          b) the sort of attitude that renders these sorts of scam profitable, and exposes people and organizations to extortion.

          I was going to say that they are expecting young people with bodies to have the self-control of people in orders who have taken vows…

          …but there are famous paintings and church windows of naked saints.

          So really, “don’t be pictured nude, or be treated like a predator” is a directive to be holier than the saints, or be cast out.

          And to have that message served with a side of leering, whispering pseudo-magnanimity, by people who apparently believe they’re doing the only sinner in their midst, a huge favor?

          Yeah, he’s got a legitimate beef.

          This is maybe 20% “love the sinner” and at least 80% “cast the first stone.”

          LW, tell your church that they have a motes and beams problem in their vision.

        9. Laura*

          It’s not a Catholic Church, though. People in general tend to waaaay overreact to adults who work with children having consenting relationships with other adults. This is why there’s so much pushback from certain people against allowing gay teachers to talk about their partners in front of their students. People worry about their kids becoming victims of sexual abuse, but the US still has this strain of anti-sex Puritanism running through it and people still think that consensual sexual activity is bad. But this attitude is NOT limited to the Catholic Church and neither is sexual abuse of minors!

      2. Pipe Organ Guy*

        This sounds really plausible to me as a recently-retired worker in the Episcopal church (parish organist, service booklet editor). All of us have had to repeatedly take trainings in anti-abuse and mandatory reporting. (Every time we get a new bishop, whatever the training package was before gets replaced with a new one and everyone has to complete it.) I don’t think that what happened to this employee would happen in the parish I just retired from, but it definitely happens in other churches, including mainline.

      3. Observer*

        Oh, he was in a youth facing role (pastor, counselor, spiritual teacher, etc) at a religious institution. Nevermind. Logic straight out the window.

        Nah. I could see firing him for extramarital s*xual behavior in that role. But there would have been no legal requirement to do that.

          1. BubbleTea*

            Extramarital means outside marriage, not in addition to. You needn’t be married for the term to apply.

    3. Ama*

      I kind of wonder if legal counsel is paid legal counsel or (as often happens in churches), a congregant who happens to be a lawyer and maybe isn’t an employment law specialist.

    4. CTT*

      My guess would be that it’s their all-purpose counsel who also handles real estate matters, bequests to the church, etc.

      1. Observer*

        You are probably right. And they should have told the OP and their Board to get counsel from someone who actually knows something about the relevant laws.

    5. AnonInCanada*

      That made me raise a Spockian eyebrow as well. What kind of legal counsel is this, blaming the victim for a crime committed against him outside of work? Sounds like this church needs a new lawyer. One that doesn’t expose them to liability from wrongfully-dismissed employees.

      1. OMG It's 2024*

        Well, WAS he “wrongfully dismissed”? Does he work in an AT WILL state? Did he agree to their policies and then refuse to adhere to them? Don’t get me wrong; I think he was treated VERY poorly and dismissing him was wrong–ethically; but, legally? I doubt he’d have a leg to stand on for wrongful termination. I’m willing to bet working with youth at a Church there’s SOME kind of “morality clause” or “implied code of conduct” or some such nonsense they could cite.

          1. HonorBox*

            No. They fired him. He was going to quit but they terminated him. Plus they set up a number of stipulations that made it almost impossible to do his job. They required additional volunteers. They required therapy and demanded reports from the therapist. And there’s a direct admission that there was no code of conduct or social media policy. While churches are more protected, there are a number of things that were done and changes made that could hold up in a lawsuit.

      2. Lilo*

        The thing to understand is that as long as he wasn’t dismissed for an illegal reason, he can be fired legally. Your boss can fire you because your favorite color is yellow, because that’s not a protected reason. (Obviously that can’tbe pretext). You can file for unemployment. So as long as there wasn’t a specific protection that applies, firing them is legal. (This is a US answerl.

        1. Lilo*

          I want to clarify that this is in no way a moral judgment on my part. Just that in the US getting fired in a way that feels unfair or wrong may be 100% legal.

      3. doreen*

        Probably no liability in the US . Even if it wasn’t a religious employer it’s unlikely to be a case of wrongful dismissal. There are some states that have laws prohibiting discrimination against domestic violence victims but in general there are no laws prohibiting discrimination against victims of other crimes. Not to mention it’s very likely that sending

        There’s whole lot wrong with this situation – but a lawyer giving advice that exposes the church to liability most likely isn’t an issue.

    6. Snow Globe*

      I’m guessing someone (church member?) who was a lawyer, but most certainly not an employment lawyer.

      1. Snow Globe*

        I’m also wondering how much the dubious attorney’s advice skewed the subsequent response. Perhaps since they were overruling the attorney’s advice to fire the employee, they felt they needed to demonstrate that they were being as cautious as possible?

        1. MassMatt*

          Right, and maybe it made the draconian conditions seem generous by comparison? If “fire him immediately” is part of the mix then the goalposts really get moved.

    7. cardigarden*

      If I had to guess, they probably jumped immediately to the potential liability (PR, mostly) the church would face if the congregation couldn’t/wouldn’t see the (the big honking) difference between “our employee did nothing wrong and is being extorted” and “turns out we hired a predator”. They were probably more worried about potential headlines in the local paper than anything else.

      1. londonedit*

        What would the headlines be, though? Adult sends nude photo to another adult who he thought he was in a flirty/sexting relationship with? That’s not a crime, and then the poor bloke’s had to suffer being the victim of a sextortion scam, which must be utterly terrifying.

        1. cardigarden*

          “Youth Pastor at [Name of Church] Found to Be Sending Explicit Images” can do a lot of damage on it’s own. Assuming that’s employee’s title. Headlines are where nuance goes to die and a lot of people don’t read beyond them.

        2. Irish Teacher.*

          I’m guessing they are fearing something like “pastor accused of sending nudes to minor,” assuming the scammer claimed to be a minor after receiving the pictures.

          Now, honestly, their reaction seems more likely to make things worse than anything else, because if I were a member of a congregation and heard a whiff of this, their reaction would be what would make me wonder, “why is he being punished if it was just a scammer pretending to be a minor? Is there something more to this?” and what could have people wondering if he did do something wrong. So it’s not exactly a wise reaction.

      2. A Poster Has No Name*

        Yes, this is my take. From legal’s perspective, they’re unlikely to end up in any legal/PR trouble from firing the guy, but could end up in some if they keep him and word gets out and people misinterpret what happened or just freak out (as people do, especially for people working with kids).

          1. Ellis Bell*

            Which I honestly think was predictable and avoidable. Maybe a few decades ago a sextortion victim would put up and shut up, but it’s been a while now since lots of people started taking a more outspoken route were they put shame in the right places.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes I mean people don’t tend to quietly go away now, especially not young ones. They’re often more likely to do what this chap did and share their feelings on social media.

      3. Temperance*

        What you’re missing is that they DO believe that he did something wrong – sending explicit photos to a stranger who is not his wife.

      4. Observer*

        They were probably more worried about potential headlines in the local paper than anything else.

        Joke’s on them, though. Because there are going to be a lot people looking at this (yes, even church members!) and saying “Why are you treating a normal adult like a predator and not wondering about why the head of the Celibates Club is hanging around the kids?”

    8. Temperance*

      My thought, as an attorney: the employee likely signed a code of conduct barring him from doing things that would violate the religious beliefs of someone at that church, which would include things like sending nude photos of yourself to a stranger. He would be terminated for his conduct, not the extortion, under that theory.

      The church has to weigh the consequences of someone finding out about the unchaste conduct of someone in a youth role. The kinds of people who care about what consenting adults do in their private lives would be deeply offended by this.

      (Disclaimer: this is how I grew up, this is not what I believe.)

      1. bamcheeks*

        This would make sense, but LW says that they drafted a code of ethics policy which did not exist prior to this incident. “We expected you to abide by a code of conduct in your personal sexual life that was never made explicit” may be normal for certain religious organisations, but it’s incredibly unethical.

        1. FromCanada*

          I was a preacher’s kid – all the ethical policies would have been implicit and expected maybe not written down. Basically they wrote it down to ensure their t’s were crossed if they ever have something like this come up again. Nothing about this letter surprises me. To be honest, most churches I’ve had experience with would have just fired him so the church in this case was trying to be kind and provide a second chance. I see where OP is coming from. The therapy reports is a little out there for me – but everything else, is better than what I would have seen as a kid.

          Keep in mind, with a black mark like this – this pastor would never work in a faith community again – and sending a nude picture is the black mark. Heck, I grew up in churches where if you divorced, you also would never work again as a pastor so this seems mild.

          I no longer attend churches like the one I grew up in (in fact right now I’m back to not attending at all) but none of this is surprising for anyone who grew up in churches let alone conservative churches.

          1. Lana Kane*

            “I was a preacher’s kid – all the ethical policies would have been implicit and expected maybe not written down.”
            Agreed. I grew up in Pentecostal churches and this guy would have been heaved out by his pants immediately anywhere I know of, and been told that the lack of a written code of conduct was immaterial. Again, not defending anything, but this is the reality of the situation.

            1. bamcheeks*

              I think in that case, don’t complain when you get bad publicity and people outside your church is grossed out by your lack of ethics!

              1. UKDancer*

                Yes. I don’t know the legal position regarding what the OPs church did but it looks presentationally dreadful to a lot of people outside it. So I’m not surprised the young man’s posts are getting some negative publicity for the church.

              2. Starbuck*

                It’s not seen as a lack of ethics to do it this way though. It’s like – we’re following the same religious teachings that obviously make this behavior sinful, you should have known that, and true believers would agree that you were wrong to do this and we’re right to disown you for it. It really doesn’t matter if it wasn’t written down anywhere beforehand, it’s assumed to be obvious. Yes we can see this is wack, but again – they don’t care what non-believers think about matters of sin!

      2. Observer*

        the employee likely signed a code of conduct barring him from doing things that would violate the religious beliefs of someone at that church, which would include things like sending nude photos of yourself to a stranger. He would be terminated for his conduct, not the extortion, under that theory

        And that would be a problem, but perfectly recoverable in terms of PR.

        But what they seem to have been accusing him of is a whole different kettle of fish. And lots of religious functionaries do understand the difference. The OP and their board need to learn that difference. Urgently!

      3. Worldwalker*

        The OP said that they didn’t have an actual code of conduct, so no, he didn’t. And I think that the OP would have mentioned anything that made the case for punishing the employee look stronger. So we don’t have to make up reasons; the OP told us everything that would make the church look justified.

    9. many bells down*

      I also work for a church, albeit a very liberal denomination, and when we found a former minister was using his work email to send explicit sexual messages to a member of a different congregation, it took 18 months of investigation before they revoked his credentials. Assuming this employee wasn’t using his work email “immediately firing” seems awfully hasty.

    10. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I’d wager the legal counsel was a member of the church and didn’t have expertise in this area.

      You see this a lot with large organizations that demand strict adherence to the church. They get church-affiliated experts to do this work instead of a neutral third party.

      I hope this guy sues because he’ll probably win.

      1. Starbuck*

        Win based on what legal principle though? I agree what the church did was morally wrong, but I don’t see that they’ve terminated him for an illegal or discriminatory reason. Unless possibly they’re in one of the few states that provides specific protections in the workplace for victims of crime, but even those I think are only for cases of domestic abuse.

        1. Snarkus Aurelius*

          Treating him like he was a criminal when he was not. Requiring him to turn over therapy information under duress.

          1. Starbuck*

            I totally agree those things are bad, but are they illegal reasons to fire someone? I wouldn’t think so. I don’t think there’s any restrictions against firing victims of crime, except for the few states that have specific protections for domestic violence victims. And requesting the therapy notes – again I don’t think that’s illegal for the employer to do. It’s the therapist who would have the expectation of confidentiality, if they were really a licensed therapist and not just a religious “therapist”.

    11. Beth*

      Same! Either the letter is leaving out significant details about what the employee did, or the poor guy did a perfectly normal thing (sharing a sexy photo with a consenting adult who asked to see it) and got not only blackmailed but also treated like a recovering sex offender by his employer. OP, if you think what you wrote here covers all the important elements of what he did, then I think you really need new legal counsel–yours might be making up legal liability out of thin air.

    12. D. B.*

      Maybe their reasoning was, “We represent the employer, not the employee, so his interests don’t concern us, and it’s perfectly legal to fire him, so why not just make the problem go away?”

    13. 1-800-BrownCow*

      My guess is that the ‘legal counsel’ was a church member practicing law that wanted to help the church to CYA (or CTA in this situation). Just in case the story leaked out or something more came out in the future and the church could reply to the public that the person had been terminated immediately on learning initial information. They likely didn’t view the person as a victim, they viewed him as someone who might make the church look bad because of their strict views.

      Initially, I was glad the church didn’t listen to the lawyer, but ultimately it may have been better for the victim in the long run since essentially he was victimized all over again by his job; just for being up-front and honest.

      1. Project Maniac-ger*

        That’s what I don’t understand – if he did something the church did not approve of, then why did they put all this time and money and resources into “helping” him? Why the fanfare? I can only assume we are missing big info here. Why not allow him to resign with a severance package and save everyone involved from this nightmare?

          1. Quandong*

            The OP wrote (many comments down) about ‘redemption arc’ of the employee so this sounds right.

    14. Jaina Solo*

      My suspicion is that legal counsel is someone within their church/faith. I grew up in a religious environment and everything is very insular. So any “outside” counsel or help in this scenario was probably from others who also have the same beliefs.

      Got to say, I can still tell I’m shedding my upbringing because this story made sense at first based on how churches handle stuff. But so glad Alison addressed all the wrong with this so maybe they can learn from this and do better.

    15. RagingADHD*

      The way that type of scam usually works is that the imaginary girlfriend claims to be an adult and asks for nudes. Then her imaginary father / uncle / brother shows up, declares that the recipient is actually underage, and threatens the scam victim with prosecution for sending nudes to a “minor.” Along with exposure as a supposed “pedophile” to work, family, etc.

      But it will all go away if they send money.

      Of course, there never was any girlfriend or father — it’s all the same person or team.

      The lawyer probably advised termination on the slim chance that there was a real minor this time, or in case the extortioner actually tarnished the victim’s reputation (and thereby the church’s) by releasing the photos.

      From the point of view of risk management for the church, it was overkill but not irrational at all. The parents of youth at many if not most churches would have seven collective conniptions if their youth pastor had nudes circulating online, if for no other reason than that you can predict with a high degree of certainty that if the photos are released anywhere, some kid in the youth group is going to go looking for them and share them around. And you cannot expect teenagers to “unsee” that and have a normal relationship with the leader afterward.

      And if there was any whiff of a rumor that there were a real minor involved – absolute hysteria.

      And I have to say, with as much awareness there is these days about internet safety, if I found out that the youth pastor at my church was sending nudes to some random stranger they met online, I would certainly expect them to be fired for such a severe lack of judgement.

    16. Festively Dressed Earl*

      “Help, Attorney, this thing happened and now we can’t decide if we should fire an innocent person or embark on a bananapants image protection and punitive overreaction campaign!”

      “Those are the only options you’ll consider? Then do the poor guy a favor and fire him. Pay him a decent amount of severance so that he can take his time finding a better workplace.”

      “Nah. Let’s talk about the bananapants.”

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        “Ok, well, you can’t do anything with illegal bananas, or bananas that discriminate against the person for being in a protected class, or pants that violate HIPPA. And you know the person may not feel comfortable in your required bananapants and end up leaving anyway? I mean, would you want to forced into those bananapants when you didn’t do anything wrong? And if there is some sort of random accusation about the person down the line, do you think any amounts of bananapants will prevent some people from saying “You were told person did a completely unrelated objectively not bad thing! You had to know no bananas, no matter how pants-y, would be enough. Why did you not think of the CHILDREN?!”?”

        “….We don’t want to look mean by firing them. So FOR THE CHILDREN, we must implement bananapants.”

        “Sigh. Ok, well, send those pants and bananas my way and I’ll try to keep you from opening yourselves up to any legal causes of action”

        CUT TO:

        OP: “We worked with legal counsel to devise a safe return to work plan”

    17. Coin_Operated*

      My guess is it’s a lawyer who is a member of the church, but someone who has been working in real estate or something completely unrelated to labor laws but because they’re a lawyer and church member, the church goes to them for all legal advice because it’s free.

    18. hbc*

      My experience with in-house counsel is that they will always look at (to them) the most immediate and/or outrageous potential litigation threat and come up with a recommendation solely based on avoiding that suit. For example, I had, “What if we hire the guy who tested positive for THC and then he runs a forklift into a crowd and we have to admit we knew he at one point used a drug (that’s legal in our state)?” In this case, probably, “What if he gets accused of molesting a kid and it comes out that we knew he was a deviant and still gave him access to kids?” Or maybe “Someone who sends nude pics is more likely to do something bad with nude pics, might as well fire him to avoid the risk.”

    19. Hats Are Great*

      I have done some legal work for churches and for public schools regarding this type of situation. There is absolutely no universe in which we wouldn’t immediately put the individual on paid administrative leave — the liability issues are so intense that you can lose your insurance over it. We would also in most cases not be legally allowed to have that person back on the property until DCFS had investigated and returned a “no child abuse indicated” designation. (Which would probably be pretty quick, on the order of two weeks.)

      Depending on the specifics of the situation, we might also have had to wait on the state’s attorney deciding there was no crime to charge.

      I have actually known a very good public school teacher to lose his teaching license because of sending consensual nudes to another adult (not a student or former student), because the students found out through community gossip. He was put on the sex offender registry and can never teach again. I have known multiple tenured, unionized public school teachers in a progressive blue state to lose their job (and sometimes their teaching license) for one bad (but not criminal!) decision related to sex and the internet.

      It’s ridiculous, over-the-top, and not caught up with the way the world works today. But teachers still get fired (typically in non-union states) for posting a picture to facebook holding a beer smiling with a group of friends (and not, like, drunk or at Mardi Gras, just having a beer at someone’s birthday party), state laws are VERY strict about sex *stuff* for teacher, coaches, and others with authority over minors, and insurance companies who work with schools and churches will DROP YOU LIKE A HOT COAL if you don’t follow the over-the-top process.

      (The rest of it’s pretty over the top. But the paid leave, followed by a DCFS investigation and local police involvement to say, “Yep, this guy got scammed; he’s the victim, not the perp” but be standard operating procedure.)

      1. JM60*

        I have actually known a very good public school teacher to lose his teaching license because of sending consensual nudes to another adult (not a student or former student), because the students found out through community gossip. He was put on the sex offender registry and can never teach again.

        They were sending consensual nudes to another adult, then got put on the sex offender list. How is that legal? I thought you could only be put in the sex offender list if you’re convicted of certain crimes, and it sounds like the teacher didn’t commit any crimes.

    20. Annie E. Mouse*

      This confused me too. It makes me wonder if there is more to the photo than a run of the mill nude. The letter doesn’t read like it is, but it would explain approaching this victim like a criminal. I don’t want to read in facts that don’t exist, but so many actions in this letter are confusing.

  2. londonedit*

    Yeah, if I was treated like a sex offender for one error of judgement in a situation that turned out to be scam, I’d be looking to leave that job as well.

    1. thighjelly*

      Right?! I had to reread the ages because it felt like the employee was messaging a minor when it turned out to an adult scamming the employee. The employer response was SO overkill. In what world is asking for therapy reports from an employee for ANY reason okay?

      1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        I suppose it’s possible that it was a minor, or at least someone significantly younger than the claimed age of 27, scamming the employee. If the “27-year-old woman” receiving the picture turns out to be an 19-year-old man, it’s still not the employee’s fault at all, but I can see the church panicking about the bad publicity.

        1. Nameless*

          Or that they at least claimed to be a minor at some point once they’d moved onto extortion? Which isn’t exactly credible once you’ve started extorting someone, but could still send a lot of people into a panic.

          1. Watry*

            One version of this scam involves a “minor pretending to be an adult”, and then once the pic is sent, an “adult relative takes over” the convo and starts with the threats to send to police/employer/relatives/friends. It’s the supposed second person that sends people into a panic tailspin.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            Yeah, the only way the extra supervision when interacting with children would make sense to me was if the scammer *claimed to the public* that the man was messaging/sending the picture to a minor.

            Even then, the church has no reason to send him to therapy, ask for reports, or any of the other bizarre things they did.

        2. Carly*

          I’m wondering if the LW framed it poorly and there is some minor stuff happening here? Because mentioning the recipient’s age seems odd.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            I think she wrote it that way to explicitly rule out that anyone thought minors were involved.

        3. Kiwi Leslie Knope*

          I feel like in that case, the employee is even more of a victim because he’s young and might not know better.

        4. Worldwalker*

          It might not even have been one person; with simple extortion, instead of longer-term romance scams, whoever has a free chat slot (they work multiple victims at once) will be “her” when he wants to chat.

      2. HotSauce*

        Even if the employee signed some kind of morality document this was out of bounds. At that point they should have just let him go, not forced him to go to therapy. And then to ask for reports from the therapist!? I don’t know what they were thinking.

      3. Dek*

        I kept checking because I thought maaaaybe he’d done it with a work account or something like that, but, like…no?

        Also, asking for therapy reports? Wtf?!

    2. mango chiffon*

      And honestly it may not have even been an error of judgement. If he had no way of knowing it was a scam initially, there is nothing wrong with an adult consensually sharing nudes with another adult.

      1. Artemesia*

        It is breathtakingly stupid to share nude images of yourself with someone you don’t know i.e. met on line and have never met personally. The odds of that being a scam are quite high; the odds of it causing problems even if not a scam are high. It is always risky to share nudes even with a boyfriend whom you trust now. We all know how that has worked out including for a congresswoman who felt she had to resign — but to send them to someone you don’t even know is just incredibly bad judgment.

        1. mango chiffon*

          I have met many friends and loved ones online, some of whom I have never met in person. I have numerous friends who have met their partners online, established long distance relationships, before meeting in person for the first time. I do not think it is innately a bad thing to share images with people you haven’t met in person.

            1. Ace in the Hole*

              I think what Mango Chiffon was getting at is that “someone you don’t know well” is not the same thing as “someone you have not met face-to-face.”

              Meeting someone in person doesn’t necessarily mean you know them at all. I had a nice chat with a stranger at the bus stop yesterday… they’re still a stranger. On the other hand, I have a few online friends I’ve never met face-to-face but I’ve known for many years and have a lot of history with.

              Now, there are typically a LOT of red flags in these sorts of scams. It’s quite likely that it moved very fast and he didn’t have good reason to think he knew this person well enough to trust with something so risky. But meeting someone face to face is no guarantee they’re trustworthy either. Whether online or in person, it’s important to be cautious and know how to recognize red flags.

          1. Not my coffee*

            I cannot put in to words how some adults of a certain vintage revile, are suspicious, punitive toward those who participate online platforms (Facebook, Bumble, etc.) to meet a romantic partner. You do not think it is innately a bad thing to share images with people you haven’t met in person, but many do.

            (I posted something similar elsewhere.)

            1. Reality.Bites*

              These tend to be the same people who think you get a job by going around to offices and offering to work free for a week. They know nothing of current realities in either sphere. (And I say this as a tail-end boomer myself!)

            2. Ellis Bell*

              I had some older male relatives react to the idea of my using a dating site as though I was advertising myself in an Amsterdam shop window. It was a wild concept to me, but it also explained some of psychology behind the messages in my inbox.

            3. Kayem*

              I met my spouse in a shared interest forum. When my grandmother (older than the Titanic) asked me how we met, I told her it was an internet forum and explained that it was like being pen pals. She grokked it immediately and was absolutely thrilled. In her experience as a young adult, plenty of couples started out being pen pals and it was perfectly normal. She didn’t see anything weird about it being on the internet. My mother, on the other hand, is still weirded out by her kid having “married someone from the internet.”

          2. Magpie*

            It’s not bad as long as you’re ok with any image you share being made public. There are any number of ways it could happen. Maybe the relationship sours and the person you trusted now wants to use your images against you. Maybe their account gets hacked. Maybe they let their niece play with their phone and she accidentally sends your images out to everyone in their address book. Unless you’re ok with someone other than the original recipient seeing your photos, don’t send them.

        2. Lenora Rose*

          It’s still not a criminal offense if they were requested and given consensually, and the victim of false pretenses is still not the one at fault.

          1. Observer*

            No one is saying that it is a crime. In fact if you look at the comment that spawned this subthread, you’ll see that the comment was saying that it’s just bad that someone was treated like a criminal over an error of judgement. And someone responded by saying that it’s not really an error of judgement.

            It is an error of judgement, and he should not have been treated like a predator over it.

        3. Tracy Flick*

          Most crimes are committed within the context of intimate relationships. You are much more likely to be harmed by someone you do know, and much more likely to be harmed as part of a real interpersonal relationship rather than as part of a “fake” social or romantic connection. Online scams are a risk, but so are assault and intimate partner violence. Most people cannot reliably judge character based on acquaintance, and most abusive people are manipulative. By your logic, it is “breathtakingly stupid” to go on a date, even with someone you have met in person. If one of your friends went on a date, would you call them “breathtakingly stupid” if they were victimized?

            1. Parakeet*

              As someone who works in this field – why not? My org certainly treats nonconsensual distribution of intimate images (or extortion to do so) as a form of sexual violence. And people get hurt in in-person date scams; pickup violence is a whole thing.

              It’s wild to me that this guy was a victim of sexual violence and so many people who I doubt would do this with other types of violence, are fixated on his judgment because the sexual activity was technological.

            2. Andromeda*

              I think the exact analogy is off the mark, but the real point is here:

              Online scams are a risk, but so are assault and intimate partner violence. Most people cannot reliably judge character based on acquaintance, and most abusive people are manipulative.

              The whole “well, it was SO STUPID to make the choice to send nudes” discourse totally erases the fact that there’s another agent here, putting all the psychological pressure they can on you to do exactly that.

              Is it poor judgement? Maybe! But when people start on that it always reads like “enough about the person who actually committed a crime and did serious harm to someone else. Let’s JUDGE a person for DOING A SEX THING”

          1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

            You’re right. And it’s even more breathtakingly stupid to marry — the potential for harm is far more vast when someone has legal control over things like your finances and medical decisions than if they have a silly little nude photo of you!

            When people say “error in judgment” they just mean “nonstandard decision that turned out bad this time”.

        4. Lils*

          But…it’s 2024. If you’re not sending nudes to people you’ve never met in the flesh (heh), well good for you I guess??? Normal, smart, adult people do this *all the time*. The pandemic made it an art form. This is like calling someone stupid for wearing revealing clothes in public–don’t shame people for having consensual adult sexytimes just because you’re uncomfortable with the medium.

          1. TPS reporter*

            agree this is not stupid behavior or an error in judgement. it’s a common practice for humans who are looking for romantic or sexual partners online.

            even if it was stupid or an error, how does it have any impact on this person’s ability to perform their job? he was informing his employer because he knew the scammer would reach out to them. he was smart to get ahead of the message.

          2. Alienor*

            I mean, the thing about wearing revealing clothes in public, being naked in front of someone in person, etc., is that you decide who sees your body, and how much of it, and for how long. Once someone has a nude photo of you, then you lose all control over who views your image and how it gets manipulated. I think that’s the thing that makes it risky/ill-advised, not the fact that it’s happening online.

            1. Lils*

              To act like the ONE criterion for determining whether a person is a safe recipient of seeing your nude pics is to have met them in person is a ridiculous oversimplification of the complex risk calculations entailed by modern dating culture.

              1. Alienor*

                I’m not saying that having met them in person is the one criterion, I’m saying that letting *anyone* have access to a nude photo of you is risky in a way that other types of exposure aren’t. Lots of people out there have had nudes sent around by someone they were actually dating in the physical world.

            2. hbc*

              Did you just claim that you control who sees you when you go about in public? That is categorically untrue, before you even get into the number of people carrying digital cameras with them.

              1. Alienor*

                Did you just claim that you control who sees you when you go about in public?

                First of all, that’s very aggressive wording, so how about if we dial it way, way back? I’m not trying to start a fight with anyone here and I don’t care for being treated as if I am.

                Second, I didn’t say you control who sees you in public. I said you control who sees you in revealing clothes, because you can choose your outfit according to your own comfort level before you leave your house. This is 100% true. There’s nothing at all wrong with wearing revealing clothes in public, but it’s a choice. Having your nude photo blasted across the internet is not a choice.

          3. Observer*

            Normal, smart, adult people do this *all the time*.

            Actually, they don’t. At least not at a point where you really have no idea who is behind the persona. This is not about prudery, but about common sense.

            Don’t send pictures of yourself in positions / dress that you would not want to be seen in public in to people you don’t know is simple common sense.

            It’s like saying that it’s not a lapse of judgement to leave your expensive car unlocked in a public street with no on to keep an eye on it. Sure, if someone steals the car it’s on the thief and you cannot claim that leaving the car unlocked means that is was OK. But it was still a stupid thing to do.

            1. Dahlia*

              Plenty of people absolutely do. If they didn’t… tbh it wouldn’t a common scam if normal, smart adult people didn’t do it all the time.

              1. Lils*

                This^^^ I promise you, people in your family and friends group are definitely doing this and there is nothing wrong with it.

            2. Butterfly Counter*

              Exactly. A lot of us grew up with cameras whose film you had to have developed by someone else, so the concept of nudes that only one person can see to see is (more of) an alien concept.

              But I teach Gen Z. They only know digital and they know that they are sending the nudes to one person and just trust that person not to share. Personally, I think this is foolish, but when you’re young and cute and in love, you do foolish things. Technology hasn’t changed that at all. It’s just made scams easier. I know my students think I’m being an old prude by warning against sending nudes. And I’ve had more than one come to be when they are being sextorted. :(

              1. Lils*

                I’ll shut up after this, but having worked in a photo shop in the 90s–people took nudes back then and sent them off for development, like a lot. If you ever took 35mm nudes and sent them off for development, a totally random stranger definitely looked at it. Not at my shop, but people could make extra copies to share with friends. I hear sometimes the photos were literally posted in the shop for people to laugh at or enjoy. Obviously the digital age increases the risk, but it’s not like taking nudes was either totally safe or totally unknown in the olden days.

                Modern dating and sex (and using the internet) entails complex risk calculations, and the resulting risk-mitigating behaviors are unique to each person. We shouldn’t recommend all-or-nothing solutions like total abstinence or never/always prescriptions, not only because it’s not realistic but because each person’s situation requires complex analysis. For example, in some ways sending nudes is a much less-risky sexual activity than other options. It’s about risk *reduction* not risk *elimination*.

                I’m uncomfortable with the sex-negativity vibe both in the original question and in the comments.

          4. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            Whoa, no, normal, smart, adult people do NOT do this all the time.

            To be clear, normal, smart, adult people DO send nudes to people they know casually, or haven’t met IRL. But more like the person they have been chatting to in the same Discord for a few months or virtually met by having a FB exchange on a mutual friend’s post. Situations where both parties don’t REALLY know each other, but they know enough to be confident that the other person is basically who they say they are–or at least aren’t planning to scam you.

            If you are throwing nudes to any rando who you run into online then it is less like wearing revealing clothing and more like handing out nude photos to folks at a speed dating event. And, yeah, that is a dumb thing to do unless you are looking to do nude modeling, because you have no idea who those people are either.

            1. Lils*

              No one said to throw nudes at randos. But to suggest that the one way to vet a person as a safe recipient of your pics is to meet them in person is both dangerous and unrealistic.

            2. Dr Wizard, PhD*

              Polite reminder that the norms for this in, for example, the gay community may be different than the ones you’re assuming are in place for everyone.

              1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                As the letter specifically was in the context of a man sending pictures to a woman, those are the precedents I am utilizing. No need to assume incorrectly my own personal norms or experiences.

            3. JSPA*

              seems far more common than not for (~)gay (~)men, and i’d hope we’re not saying they’re abnormal, dumb, or underage. Pretty common in any number of other demographics, too. “Don’t include your face or identifying tattoos” is generally considered adequate anonymity, especially as deepfakes exist (so unless you’re a congressperson or higher, nobody’s going to drop cash to figure out if they are real or fake).

            4. hugseverycat*

              If you read anything about these kinds of scams, the scammers usually build up a fake relationship with their marks over the course of weeks or months.

              They don’t just text you like “nudes?” and expect a response.

            5. Pescadero*

              “A 2018 survey revealed 40 percent of Americans have sent at least one naked picture of themselves, while data from 2015 shows nine out of 10 adults have sexted. “

          5. Beth*

            Agreed. Yes, there are jobs where this can backfire on you (schoolteacher, youth pastor apparently, high-powered political figure maybe) but that doesn’t change that it’s perfectly normal adult behavior.

            I think most of us would like to believe that our personal risk analysis strategies are good enough to keep this and other risks from backfiring on us. Like, okay, if I only send nude or near-nude photos to the friend-of-a-friend I’m talking about going on a date with, then I’m safer than if I send them to the person on a dating site that I’m talking on a date with, because a friend-of-a-friend is pre-vetted, right? And the person I hooked up with once off of tinder is still safer than the random person who DM’d me on instagram, because at least I’ve met them and gotten their vibe, right?

            But realistically, scammers are very good at finding the weak points in people’s risk analysis systems. Their entire job is to sneak in and make their victims feel safe. Assuming that victims must have done something extra stupid is a little bit of magical thinking–it’s “but that couldn’t happen to me, right? I know better” thinking. Most people doing normal adult things (like sending sexy photos to consenting adults who they think are safe to send them to) are just lucky enough to not get targeted.

          6. Houlihansolo*

            Honestly the level of victim blaming in this thread is wild to me.. in my country we’ve recently introduced “revenge porn” laws to explicitly make the non-consensual sharing of someone else’s nudes a crime. In 2024 it is so, so normal to share nudes as part of modern dating culture; if someone uses them to shame or blackmail you, THEY are in the wrong

        5. Dawn*

          I think “breathtakingly stupid” and “the odds of it being a scam or causing a problem are quite high” are both rather overreacting and uncalled-for judgments of other people.

          The odds of it being a scam or causing problems are certainly non-zero, but people do this literally every day and the actual number who get caught up in trouble over it are a very small minority of those.

        6. Helen of What*

          Based exclusively on my experience pre-marriage/monogamy: out of countless (seriously, I have no idea how many I sent out there) saucy and risque images exchanged with people online, exactly zero were a scam or led to blackmail.
          Would I advise being careless? No. Anyway, this employee didn’t deserve to be treated like a crook for being scammed.
          And btw that congresswoman was dealing with the error of having a relationship with a campaign worker. If it had just been revenge photos with no connection to work, no one would’ve cared.

        7. Random Dice*

          Can you please stop with blaming the victim of a crime?

          It’s so foul and offensive.

          Women don’t deserve to be raped for wearing short skirts.

          Men who share dick pix with liars don’t deserve to be blackmailed.

        8. Whoa*

          I don’t drink alcohol. I personally think drinking is “breathtakingly stupid” behavior. My opinion on that is informed by personal experience and culture. I am not going to assume an employee drinking in their personal time is evidence of universally poor judgement that extends to their ability to do their job.

          You need to understand that your feelings on consensual adult sexting (which is probably just about as common as drinking for digital-native adults) is also not going be experienced by others with different cultural and personal experiences as “stupid”.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Exactly. And it’s not illegal. While it may violate church policy, I’m very skeptical he can be fired for it unless he signed something specific.

        1. A Poster Has No Name*

          Why couldn’t he be fired for it? Assuming the church is in the US and he doesn’t have an actual contract, they can fire him for pretty much any reason that doesn’t violate state or federal law and there aren’t very many of those out there. Dudes who send nudes to people online isn’t a protected class, last time I checked, so I doubt he would have much protection from the law if they’d fired him.

          I’m not saying they should have fired him, I agree with Alison that they handled the whole thing badly and he should have been treated much better, but legally I don’t think he’d have much recourse.

        2. Tio*

          You can absolutely be fired for it; in pretty much any state they can fire you for whatever they want, and sending explicit photos is not a protected class (assuming this is in the states).

      3. Observer*

        And honestly it may not have even been an error of judgement.

        No, it was absolutely an error of judgement. 15 years ago I *might* have responded differently. But for heavens sake, in what world in 2023 do you not know that anyone can claim to be any age or gender, etc. and send nude pics to someone you never met or saw in person?!

        I mean “on the internet no one knows you’re a dog” is not exactly a new meme!

        1. Dawn*

          I think that perhaps your thinking on this is rather outdated.

          And you’re welcome to feel personally that it would be an error in judgment if you did it, but meanwhile most of the world has moved on from “on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog” – after all, that comic was published in 1993 and the internet and society both have evolved somewhat since then.

          1. Observer*

            after all, that comic was published in 1993 and the internet and society both have evolved somewhat since then.

            Yes, it has. And the problem has gotten worse, not better. Not all evolution is good.

            Talk to anyone who deals with cybersecurity on a regular basis and they will tell you that impersonation of one sort or another is a MAJOR issue they deal with.

            1. Dawn*

              Yes, because their job is in cybersecurity. My job is in customer service and I deal with far more shipping errors than the average person. My friend in banking deals with more financial databases in a day than the average human sees in a lifetime. Also, impersonation != sextortion, necessarily; most of what they’re dealing with is people impersonating IT personnel to get access to business systems.

              I’m not saying it’s not a problem at all, but the overall prevalence is far, far below what is being implied here. In 2022, across the entire United States and its population of 340 million, Homeland Security fielded some 3,000 replies and believe that the figure is underreported by as much as 1/3, meaning about one incident per 85,000 people, and most of those incidents can be defused simply by being aware of the scam in the first place.

              Most of the time, with some very basic due diligence and intelligence, you can trust that the people you meet online are who they say they are, and I’ve made many good friends (and more) online whom it turns out were not trying to scam me after all.

              1. Observer*

                In 2022, across the entire United States and its population of 340 million, Homeland Security fielded some 3,000 replies and believe that the figure is underreported by as much as 1/3, meaning about one incident per 85,000 people, and most of those incidents can be defused simply by being aware of the scam in the first place.

                I’d be willing to bet that Homeland Security is underestimating the issue, because not every type of scam is something that would be reported to them anyway.

                Beyond that, sure, a lot of these scams can be avoided by simple awareness. But that’s kind of my point – if you are paying attention you should know that these scams are out there and how to avoid falling into this kind of trap. Yet somehow people fall for it.

                Which is to say, that it is bad judgement because, as you say, awareness if generally enough to protect yourself. But also, one of the biggest reasons these scams continue to flourish is because how many people have bad judgement.

                PS Having bad judgement doesn’t mean that someone deserves to be scammed! As I said elsewhere, that would like saying that you deserved to have your car stolen because you left the door unlocked.

                1. Dawn*

                  I just disagree strongly that it’s inherently bad judgement, or remotely as prevalent as has been implied by some in this thread.

                  If I believed that the entire internet were so inherently untrustworthy that I could never responsibly share sensitive photos with anyone I hadn’t met in person, I’d… well. I wouldn’t want to continue living in a world where I were that frightened of what has become a basic human interaction that is over ten times less likely to go wrong than you are to perish in a fatal motor vehicle crash in any given year. And a bit judgmental of others besides.

    3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Yes. The organization is acting like he was unreasonable for looking to leave on his terms after winding down his work.

      Let’s see, victim of crime, put on paid administrative leave and required to submit my personal therapy reports? He was nicer than I was. I would have quit on the spot rather than wind up work.

      OP you treated a victim of a crime like the criminal. Now you are wondering how that went wrong.

        1. PlatypusDeniability*

          After my therapist sent them a report that said, “Lol, have you never heard of confidentiality? I’m not telling you shit.”

  3. NandorTheRelentless*

    Wow! That poor guy! I don’t see how he did anything “wrong” at all. He confided to you that someone was extorting him and you handled it by shaming him. Your response to his behavior was very incoherent.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Right – I can imagine one of the forms of extortion was leaning into the fact he works at a church and being upfront with his employer was a good faith action. One I don’t think he’d do again after this outcome.

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        Yeah, it’s really unfortunate that he confessed his shame and then instead of being understanding and you know, forgiving, the church *punished* him. For months on end.

        Like, what would “transformation and growth” look like in that context? “I made a mistake. I realized it. I owned up to it.” He can’t confess it more and he can’t undo it. He already did the most mature thing he could do.

        What I think the LW/the church wanted was performative groveling. Never stop apologizing, never stop feeling ashamed, show us how unworthy you are, be grateful to us for letting you grovel.

        I fear he has learned to be *less* forthcoming from this. I wonder if he’s a member of this church, because if I were, I would also leave the congregation.

        1. Snarkus Aurelius*

          I find it fascinating that the LW never defined “transformation and growth.” What does that even mean? How do you know when they’ve been achieved?

          Don’t send nudes anymore? I think the guy already got that message!

          1. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

            I believe “transformation and growth” is code for tell us we’re right and you’re wrong. Repeatedly, as The Unspeakable Queen Lisa said.

        2. Observer*

          Yeah, it’s really unfortunate that he confessed his shame and then instead of being understanding and you know, forgiving, the church *punished* him.

          Well, the fundamental problem is that they thought that they had something to forgive him for.

          The OP talks about a “second chance”. But second chance for WHAT? To not be a molester? He wasn’t one to start with, and he didn’t need a “second chance” at that. Inf fact, the church would have been wrong to give him a TRUE second chance (ie where he *knowingly* send those pictures to a minor.) That should have been an automatic firing with bad references.

          So this is a mess of the Church’s own making.

      2. Worldwalker*

        And neither will anyone else who works there. This opens the church up to all sorts of risks, including some employee with access to church funds embezzling money to pay blackmail.

    2. SereneScientist*

      Not just informally/socially shaming him, but setting up a ton of disciplinary apparatuses as if *he* had been the wrongdoer. This whole situation is baffling to me and rather smacks of purity culture for trangressing against a cultural norm in their church, rather than a workplace issue.

      1. Twix*

        I think this absolutely nails it. The only rational lines of reasoning I can come up with for the church’s actions are “People who send nude photos to other adults are sexual deviants who are more likely than average to be pedophiles” and/or “Sending a nude photo to another adult is such egregiously bad judgment that this person can’t be trusted any more”. The former is both factually and morally wrong on so many levels and the latter is ridiculous.

        1. Observer*

          “People who send nude photos to other adults are sexual deviants who are more likely than average to be pedophiles” ~~snip~~ The former is both factually and morally wrong”

          It’s also scary that anyone with decision making power thinks that because it really puts people at risk.

          I find it interesting that one thing that the OP’s Church did NOT do is to implement general safety protocols – things like appropriate background checks (ie you don’t care about some things, but you want to know if someone ever was convicted *actually* relevant crimes); and training on appropriate boundaries and child safety. Although I guess it’s good that they do require 2 adults to be with kids rather than one.

          1. SereneScientist*

            That’s a really great point re: no implementing general safety protocols. It highlights the fact that they were out to punish the former employee for a breach that is ultimately unrelated to the role but they felt was not in line with the moral character of the church.

        2. Grumpus*

          It just speaks to the LW’s complete ignorance of what counts as normal sexual behaviour. So many people send nudes.

          1. JM*

            It is still monumentally risky. Our phones and PCs are not half as secure as we like to think (or hope) they are. Anything we send can be made public intentionally or accidentally. I’m sad to say I had to learn that one the hard way, as someone whose nudes have been leaked.

            Soapbox moment because of the impact this has had on me personally… I know no one wants to think about this in the heat of the moment, but it’s important to consider before sending a compromising photo, what would be the impact if this were leaked? And if it would be damaging, do not send the photo. Not just for nudes but in general. Leaks and breaches happen all the time, and once our info is out of our hands, it’s already too late. Be careful out there, everyone.

            1. Observer*

              It is still monumentally risky.

              But that’s just not relevant to the issue at hand. Because although it’s stupid, it’s a very normal type of stupidity. And in the HIGHEST level of risk the the kids, it says absolutely *nothing* about how likely he is to molest or otherwise victimize the kids.

              I’m sorry that you ran into problems because of something you sent someone. But think about it. Would it have made sense for your employer to punish you for that with regard to a totally different set of issues?

              Like if you sent someone your login information because you thought it was tech support asking for it (and of course it wasn’t) would it make sense for your boss to now start requiring extra auditing of all of your expense authorizations and setting up extra approval processes before you can make any purchases? In this example, you were stupid, but n you certainly are not a thief. But that’s pretty much what the LW’s Church did here. The guy did something stupid, so now they are treating him not like he’s stupid about communications, but like he is a predator who is likely to harm the kids. How do you get from here to there?

            2. SereneScientist*

              Agree with Observer. I’m sorry you had a bad experience in this way, but it is fundamentally irrelevant to how LW and their institution chose to treat this person.

        3. Zarniwoop*

          #2 might have almost made sense if they had implemented a rule he can’t be near a *computer* without two chaperones.

          1. Twix*

            What I meant by #2 is that it was such a lapse in judgment that they no longer trust his judgment in general. Not an issue of “We don’t trust him not to do it again”, but rather “We don’t trust this person in an authority/leadership position to make good/moral decisions”. That one seems pretty likely in a lot of ways. It makes zero sense to keep someone you think is a risk to children in a youth-facing role with extra supervision. It makes much more sense to do that with someone you’re concerned might be a bad influence or role model or a PR liability. In that scenario the chaperones aren’t there because they don’t trust him not to abuse kids, but because they don’t trust him to uphold the tenets of their faith around their congregants. I realized after the fact that the bit about always having at least 2 chaperones never says that that’s only the case for youth events. Obviously those are the kinds of events a youth pastor is going to have the most involvement with, but youth pastors generally have other responsibilities as well. (My brother is a youth pastor in a very liberal Mainline Protestant denomination.)

      2. Violet*

        I’m assuming that since he works with youth, one of his duties is teaching abstinence, and the church expects him to follow that as well.

        1. SereneScientist*

          Certainly possible, which makes Allison’s other point above important: if this institution expects their employees to conduct themselves with certain moral standards in mind, then they need to inform and ensure the employee is aware and agreed to it in the first place.

    3. NandorTheRelentless*

      I wonder if it would’ve been just as bad for the employee to let the scammer send the pics to the church. At least then he’d have some plausible deniability (especially if his face were not visible, but even if it were, deepfakes are a thing).

    4. ferrina*

      “My employee had three beers then was mugged while walking home. We immediately put him on administrative leave and required him to submit therapist reports, and also to have additional supervision while at work.”

      Substitute in any other crime and it makes it super obvious how ridiculous this organization’s behavior was. The employee may not have had the best judgement in sending the photos, but he certainly didn’t cause the crime, didn’t commit a crime, and didn’t deserve to be treated like a criminal.

      1. NothingIsLittle*

        I actually think your example shows why the church would react like that (although I think it’s abhorrent and inhumane).

        Multiple religions maintain that alcohol is evil and ban its consumption. A youth leader at one of those churches is mugged after drinking three beers. Right now, no one knows that he was the victim of this crime, but if anyone finds out they learn that a religious leader was caught not following the tenants of the religion. He is immediately put on administrative leave during the case to ensure that if the situation becomes public, he is not actively participating in the church’s religious outreach and the church can claim ignorance to save face. A code of ethics is implemented to ensure that the faces of the church are adhering to its tenants for the optics.

        To be clear, in no world is the letter’s disciplinary plan even remotely reasonable, but I do at least would understand having him go on paid leave and implementing a code of conduct.

        1. Twix*

          I think this is spot on. It really, really sounds like the church considers sending someone a nude photo a moral crime and is far more concerned about punishing and minimizing the liability of that than supporting the employee as a victim. It feels very much like a “We’re punishing you to help you repent” response.

        2. ferrina*

          Not exactly. It would be one thing if the church was Mormon or another religion where alcohol was clearly frowned on. But for a church where alcohol is normalized (though alcoholism is frowned on), sex can still be an area where it becomes inherently frowned upon. Yes, the employee made a dumb decision to send nudes (or such), but having an extra beer is also a dumb decision (and equally low stakes when the person is walking/being otherwise responsible). No one would get blackmailed for having an extra beer- there’s a reason why the extortionist was confident in that nudes would be enough leverage to blackmail this employee.

          I would encourage the OP and others in the organization to think about whether their reaction is coming from a reasonable expectation based on their religious tenants, or if this is a knee-jerk reaction based on the Puritanical belief that “sex is bad and only done in the dark for reproductive purposes” It’s important to think about where (and who) we grant leeway vs where we draw a hard line. It’s really easy to absorb and replicate social norms that we aren’t aware of and may not even consciously subscribe to.

          *side note- if they had fired the employee for violating religious tenants/tarnishing public image, that would be more reasonable that what the organization actually did. Requiring therapy and demanding reports from the therapist is bonkers. It’s the worst of both worlds- violates the privacy of a person who acted reasonably, and if you think they acted unreasonably, then you still allow them to continue their actions with minor punishment. It’s just weird.

          1. Observer*

            I think that your side note is at the heart of the problem. You can argue if this expectation around adult behavior is reasonable or not. But, it’s the kind of situation where it’s possible to say that someone should have seen it coming because of the position.

            But if you think that that’s not really that big of a problem, why all the ridiculous and terrible theater? It has nothing to do with what he actually did and does nothing to deal with the possibility of danger to the kids.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      I kept waiting for the bridge between the two completely different takes that OP was simultaneously expressing: 1) That the employee was a victim and 2) that the employee was now in a situation were they were more or less on probation and appeasement duty to “stay” in the job. There was absolutely no bridge between these two ideas at all. Why does a blameless victim who came to his employers with truth, have to beg for forgiveness and do so much appeasement? Why is his “staying” in the job in question at all? Why the extra volunteers? So he doesn’t get scammed on the job?! It’s the most unexamined piece of illogical thinking I’ve ever seen.

      1. Grumpus*

        Right. The cognitive dissonance. It’s like OP knows they can’t describe him as a deviant, so uses the ‘victim’ label, but of course, thinks that any sexual behaviour is automatically deviant, so he must be punished.

  4. Kyle S.*

    I wouldn’t be surprised if LW’s org made him an ex-believer. Like Alison, I disagree entirely with this moral framework, but even if you subscribe to “love the sinner, hate the sin,” this is definitely not love.

    1. Abundant Shrimp*

      Him and a bunch of people in his circle/people who read his blog.

      I am refraining from commenting on whether I consider it to be the silver lining or not.

    2. Clare*

      Considering their own Bible states Jesus had a track record of hanging out with actual prostitutes who did a lot more than cave when the person they believed to be their partner asked for a photo, AND all he’s documented to have said was “Have you learned your lesson? Good-oh, off you trot, don’t do it again and we’re cool.” (paraphrased for brevity), the whole probation process seems a bit rich.

      I can perhaps understand taking an extra effort to have supervision in order make minors and their parents comfortable, but I would have made it clear that this was a service to them, not a punishment for him. It’s like making the kid who had his pants pulled down by the school bullies see the school counsellor for behaviour issues – there’s no logic to it.

  5. lunchtime caller*

    Often in these scams they do claim the receiving party was a minor, which I imagine is part of why this response reads like the children were less safe around him, but 1. the scamming party always claims to be an adult beforehand and 2. it’s almost certainly some random grown man in a scam call center somewhere and there was never a woman involved at all, let alone a minor. They’re acting like they really believe he was sending inappropriate material to a minor despite also claiming to believe him that he was being scammed, which is awful.

    1. Anonariffic*

      That’s my thought too- these scams are incredibly common and there are no children involved, it’s all catfishing from the start with fake photos. It sounds like LW and the church assumed the employee was being blackmailed over actual sex offenses committed against a real child.

      1. Jessen*

        Same. I follow some public legal advice stuff and this comes up all the time. Someone starts chatting as an adult and gets the target to send photos. Once they have the photos, the target is contacted by someone claiming to be the father/brother/etc. and tells the victim they were actually chatting with a minor and threatens them to pay up. Of course it’s always one adult scammer and neither the minor nor the father are real.

        But this definitely reads to me like someone hears “our employee was accused of sending inappropriate pictures to a minor”, panicked, and didn’t think it through before imposing restrictions.

    2. morethantired*

      I imagine that a church would need to take this sort of claim very seriously in spite of it likely being a scam. Imagine being a parent and hearing that kind of claim against someone who work with kids at the church? Though it seems like admin leave until a police investigation is wrapped up would be sufficient rather than everything that went down here.

      1. Tio*

        If I was a parent and I heard that an adult sexted another adult… I’d nod and move on. This guy wasn’t texting children, he was texting adults. Perhaps I’d consider it poor judgement in that case, but like, that’s not something that I’d consider hurting my child. I’d honestly have a much bigger reaction to finding out he was drinking and driving, for example.

        1. morethantired*

          I am replying to a post where it’s specified that the most common form of this scam alleges sexting a minor, and the scammer threatening to tell people about it. If someone goes to their employer and says “someone is threatening to say I sexted a minor, but it’s a scam” I would think there’s reason to rely on a police investigation rather than just trust it’s a scam.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Taking it seriously involves… taking it seriously. Like actually looking at the messages and then dismissing a false claim based on thorough examination of what actually happened which would be clear from the messages. You can’t just make out like the alleged crime really happened because that would be more serious for the organisation than it not happening.

        1. morethantired*

          That’s for the police to do. No org should be trying to determine the veracity of allegations of sexting a minor on their own.

        2. Random Dice*

          Well you’ve stumbled on the only wrong thing this church DIDN’T do: force him to pull out his phone and show them all his dick.

          I mean, honestly.

      3. Observer*

        I imagine that a church would need to take this sort of claim very seriously in spite of it likely being a scam.

        This is not how you “take this seriously” though. If you have any reason to believe that there was an actual child involved, you get the police involved. Either the guy is a predator, if he knew it was a child, or there is a really bad scam going on, if was told that it’s a 27 year old.

        In *neither* case is the right move to do what they did. If they believed him, the idea of requiring therapists is breathtakingly bad. And if they did NOT believe him, the idea that they thought that they had the ability to figure out how much of a risk he actually presents by looking at these reports is scary to me as a parent (and grandparent.)

      4. lunchtime caller*

        Honestly I would rather they fired people if they truly thought that was a risk, rather than this approach! (Which I believe was where the original answer landed as well)

    3. Echo*

      Yes, this is exactly what I think happened: the scammer claimed that they were a minor, and everyone including OP and the lawyer took the scammer at their word about that. It’s bizarre to me that they could all acknowledge it’s a scam but still believe that the scam only works if the scammer is an actual minor.

    4. DameB*

      Oh. I wonder if it’s *because* it turned out to be a man that they’re all upset? Maybe the church is deeply homophobic? (Like many others I feel like I’m missing something here b/c this seems just very very strangely wrong.) Or maybe it’s just that he had pre-marital sexual contact with ANYONE at all, man or woman?

      1. Jessen*

        It’s the most common version of the scam that I’m aware of, especially in this day and age when many fewer people care about two consenting adults sexting. And it explains the restrictions around children specifically. I wouldn’t be surprised if the LW just assumed people would know that this particular scam typically involves a supposed minor.

      2. Awkwardness*

        Yes, but with this explanation of the scam the conduct of the church makes at least sense.
        I was reading the letter and thought the whole time I was missing something.

        1. morethantired*

          Exactly! If this is the case, it’s really important context. All allegations of child abuse need to be treated seriously by churches. A police investigation should be able to determine if it’s a scam and provide the needed evidence.

    5. TPS reporter*

      right it doesn’t seem like the scam itself should be mentioned by the employer, if what they’re going for is that they don’t want to employ people who send nudes to random online people/people they aren’t married to. reasonably so, once you put nudes out there, it does open you up to a risk that those nudes could be released intentionally or accidentally. and a church esp might not want even a hint of that risk.

      Allison is right that they should make this code of conduct clear so employees understand they could be fired if the employer finds out someone sent nude pictures. the scam part and implication of impropriety with minors is irrelevant and very unfair to this guy.

  6. Winstonian*

    “…and having sufficient adult support for all events so as to never leave him as only one of two volunteers (a minimum of three, when the typical requirement is a minimum of two).”

    This particularly stands out to me as it reads that you’re treating him like a potential predator, especially if by “young people” you mean youth. Maybe that wasn’t the intention but that’s probably how he and possibly others took it. And that is disgusting behavior on your organization’s part.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’m sure he didn’t just “see this as onerous” – he was rightfully very offended.

      1. MPerera*

        I wonder if it made other volunteers wonder what was going on here, why this guy was being treated differently.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I had the same question. What did other staff know? What about members of the church?

    2. Nebula*

      Absolutely, the idea that an adult who would send an intimate picture to another adult is somehow then not a safe person for children/teenagers to be around is ridiculous. Are all the other volunteers permanently celibate? Because if not, then they are also adults who have engaged in sexual activity with other adults. I mean if it’s that much of an issue, then surely the biological children of heterosexuals should be sent off to be raised by nuns rather than their own parents, who had sex with each other in order to conceive the sainted child.

      1. Pipe Organ Guy*

        Churches can be weird. Every gay organist or other gay musician in Catholic churches needs to be aware that things can get ugly if the pastor of the parish decides to fire them for being gay, no matter how stellar the musician’s work is. I was looking over my shoulder for many years at one church where I was the organist, and I finally had it when the last choir director I worked with (a born-again charismatic–sort of Pentecostalism meets R.C.) kept going on and on with anti-gay innuendo. (I was definitely NOT out of the closet there!) I went to an Episcopal church; there are many interesting stories there, but my being gay was NOT an issue.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          Being gay is definitely not an issue in the episcopal church. When my wife’s church community found out she’d finally married me – her same-sex atheist partner – they were so happy for her they threw us a party and asked us if we’d be comfortable with the reverend blessing our union.

          On the other end of the spectrum, there’s my uncle’s church which expels kids from the church school for wearing rainbow colored socks. Because it’s homosexual symbolism or something.

        2. Random Dice*

          As an aside, feel free to work for any of the liberal Jews – Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, even most Conservative synagogues. Being gay isn’t an issue – most of our clergy are too.

      2. Clare*

        Unless they’re married, the idea is yes, they’re supposed to be celibate. Often those who aren’t self-select out of the children’s programs, because the church is less likely to overreact if it’s the lead singer sexting, compared to leader of the children’s program, for example. Or at least, that was my experience. That’s one of the reasons why so many of these people marry so young, because they’re good, rule following kids who are really keen to be allowed to touch another adult without their universe imploding. I’d say it’s highly likely that a very large proportion of any church’s unmarried youth leaders truly are totally celibate.

    3. Alienor*

      That part blew me away. I can’t see any reason why doing something sexual with another adult would mean a person could never be left alone with children. If it did, parents (who are presumably having sex with each other at least some of the time, in the same house where their children live) would never be able to be alone with their own kids.

    4. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      It’s also largely useless and performative! As the former employee noted, the two volunteer policy is already in place to prevent adults in positions of power from exploiting youth. The church already has that control in place! Adding another adult on top– and I assume the employee was in charge of finding these additional volunteers– is basically security theater.

      Honestly, so was the rest of it.

  7. Eldritch Office Worker*

    “We crafted a social media policy and a code of ethics policy which did not exist prior.”

    I realize a morality clause in a hiring contract might be different than these things, but the lack of them makes me seriously doubt he agreed to ANYTHING about letting his employer dictate his private behavior.

    1. L-squared*

      Even a “social media policy” as it is stated, may not really be what they want.

      To me a social media policy is like “you won’t claim to represent your employer on your social media profiles” or something to that effect.

      Assuming this was a private text message, on a non work issued phone, this wouldn’t be covered by that policy anyway.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes my company has a social media policy it means we don’t trash their product on social media. Also we don’t claim to represent them when giving private opinions. What we do otherwise is none of their business.

    2. Not my coffee*

      I think the organization started with a good idea. If they did not have social media policy or a code of ethics policy codified, it was good idea to create one.

      Treating the man like a potential predator to the young people….some people are not comfortable with online dating/relationships/whatever term in general. Anyone who engages in such activity and shares that is viewed with suspicion.

      1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        Though I don’t know that a social media policy would’ve prevented this at all – if it’s the standard sextortion scam stuff, it’s not like it’s in a public post on anything normally considered “social media”. They’d have been way better off with some training on identifying and avoiding scammers. Throw it in with phishing training and everything; churches are notoriously bad at IT security.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          I suspect the employee was targeted *because* he was a youth pastor and the scammers hoped the employers would overreact.

      2. Not my coffee*

        I am not saying a social media policy would have prevented this at all.

        I am saying an organization may not have any social media policy at all, and this situation prompted the question “do have anything in place regarding what people can post and/or interact with people online?” The answer is no, so they create a policy period. As an example I would offer companies that have been in existence ~50 years. They did not have social media policies 50 years. They created them when social media became a thing.

        To my second point, this commentariat skews younger than me. I cannot put in to words how some adults of a certain vintage revile, are suspicious of, punitive towards those who participate online platforms (Facebook, Bumble, etc.) to meet a romantic partner.

        At my vintage the church’s behavior is on brand.

    3. RagingADHD*

      I hear what you’re saying. At the same time, I can’t imagine anyone going to work for a mainline Protestant church, particularly in a role such as children’s or youth ministry, and being completely oblivious to the concept that the organization has opinions about sexual conduct and expects you to adhere to it.

      If the employee was totally blindsided by the notion that the church didn’t think sexting was okay behavior, then there’s a strong argument that he was profoundly ignorant or out of alignment of the organization’s mission and values. Possibly too far out of alignment to remain in a position tasked with promulgating those values.

      None of this stuff the church did in this instance was reasonable or necessary, but if they chose to, it would not have been unreasonable to fire him from a church job for sexting, even if it was not spelled out in so many words.

      No job has every single possible firing offense spelled out in detail. But it’s likely that most practicing mainline Protestants would consider this “conduct unbecoming” to the position.

      And I doubt the employee was confused about that. If he didn’t think it was a problem, why disclose at all? He could gave just told the scammer to pound sand and ignored it. But because he knew it put him in a compromising position, he wanted to try to get ahead of it.

      There was no need to go into all the shaming and invasion of privacy. They should “let their yes be yes and their no be no” (as the Bible says) and made a firm decision to keep him or let him go based on his own conduct rather than the conduct of the scammers.

      1. fidget spinner*

        Yes, the letter reads like the issue is that he was extorted, which is a terrible reason to give someone professional consequences.

        If the issue is that he sent nudes in the first place and that violates the church’s teachings… that’s understandable. People who take their children to a church that preaches “premarital sexual activity is wrong” and has a youth worker that engages in premarital sexual activity… parents aren’t going to appreciate that.

        But like you said… just make it clean and fire him. Treating him like a criminal who needs to be supervised around children is just a bad way to treat someone.

    4. fidget spinner*

      Yeah, this sounds like a case where they need a morality clause…. I’m Christian but a very liberal one, so this would be a total non-issue in my church.

      But in my more conservative past, yeah… ministers would absolutely get fired over this kind of thing. If your church teaches “any sexual behavior before marriage is sin” and parents find out the youth leader engages in sending nudes to someone he’s not married to… they’re not going to want that person teaching their kids. I actually know a youth minister who was fired for this very reason… He was “sexting” his girlfriend. Gasp, shock.

      But the letter really sounds like the issue is that he was extorted… not that he sent the picture in the first place. Maybe I was misled by the “Mainline Protestant” claims because mainline Protestants TEND to be more liberal in these areas than the Catholic Church or fundamental/evangelical churches. Maybe the “sexual behavior” was the problem in the first place. But if that’s the case… you need a morality clause.

  8. Krevin*

    I wonder if it matters how old the employee is. The letter reads differently to me if I assume the person is also 27 vs. reading it assuming the employee is 65.

    1. Myrin*

      It’s true that it reads differently but from a legal standpoint, there’s no difference whatsoever – a 27-year-old is just as much of an adult as a 65-year-old.

    2. Tom*

      i don’t think so because 27 is old enough to have an adult relationship with an older adult. it’s outside even the grey area. as much as *I* think that age gap is too big, it’s a judgment call that people had to make for themselves.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Personally, I’d perceive it differently if the person he sexted was claiming to be young enough they’d be easily mistaken for a minor (and visa versa). For example a lot of high school kids can pass for 19 and might actually claim to be that old. So a mature adult sexting a “19 year old” would set off alarms for me.

        I have yet to meet a child who could pass for 27. That’s well into adulthood. Whether or not I’d personally be comfortable with a certain age gap, it’s not inherently predatory.

        1. Krevin*

          Thank you for pondering with me instead of saying that I am the cause of these scams. Seems like some people protest too much.

      1. Krevin*

        I think the conclusion is the same but reading it when he’s 65 I’m like “that’s kind of gross but his employer shouldn’t involve themselves vs. when he is 27 I’m like “That is bullshit and his employer should be ashamed of themselves” But yea, I do think the conclusion is the same.

          1. Krevin*

            Not in how the employer should deal with it but I don’t see anything wrong with a 27 year old sexting a 27 year old but I am going to pass the tiniest amount of judgment on a 65 year old sexting a 27 year old. Once again, I don’t think this should have any impact on how the employer deals with it.

            1. I should really pick a name*

              What if the supposed 27 year old initiating the sexting? (which is very likely in a case like this where it’s a scammer)

            2. bamcheeks*

              Honestly, this kind of comment is why these scams *work*. There was no manipulation or abuse of power on the part of the man here: you’re just shaming someone for engaging in consensual sexual acts with other consenting adults because you think it’s icky. That’s a gift to the scammers who are playing on people feeling shamed and humiliated.

                1. Ivkra*

                  You explicitly said that you’d have a tiny bit of judgement for someone who was sexting a 27 year old if they were 65. That’s not “projecting” an opinion onto you, it’s reading the opinion that you wrote. Sometimes, putting your opinion into words on the internet means other people are going to disagree with it.

                  The scams rely on people paying money because the scammer can threaten them with the consequence of public shame and judgement, which you (and many, many, many others who have more than a “tiny” bit of judgement) are saying you would indeed have. You say you wouldn’t see anything wrong with 27/27, buuuuuuuut you do indeed see “the tiniest” thing wrong with 65/27, which the victim of such a scam would have to face from many people if the scammer revealed them.

                  Again, this isn’t projection. It’s what you said, and people are explaining to you why it’s a problem: because the victim now has to deal with every single person who feels as you do passing judgement on them – some a “tiny” bit, others far more severe, and apparently in this case, a church volunteer council deciding that it made him unfit to be around minors.

              1. Krevin*

                I didn’t know I was personally responsible for these types of scams. I have changed my attitude so hopefully they will all stop :)

            3. D'Arcy*

              Seriously? You’re not even talking an 18-year-old here; 27 is far enough into adulthood that I’d argue no reasonable person would consider that to be being “taken advantage of” on the basis of youth.

            4. Becky*

              But your comment said the opposite?
              “…reading it when he’s 65 I’m like “that’s kind of gross but his employer shouldn’t involve themselves vs. when he is 27 I’m like “That is bullshit and his employer should be ashamed of themselves” “

              1. Krevin*

                I think you are misreading what I wrote but I probably was not very clear. I think the employer should handle it exactly the same regardless of age.

    3. bamcheeks*

      As far as employment goes, this is irrelevant as “I’d read this differently if he’s hot than if he’s ugly”. Your personal icky feelings about age gaps between people in their late twenties and people in their sixties shouldn’t be a factor!

    4. Maggie*

      It doesn’t make much of a difference to me. A 27 year old is a very full and legal adult. 27 is not 12 or 15 or even 18. Also in this scam the perpetrator pretending to be a women repeatedly asks for a photo over and over again. So it’s not an older man going aggressively after a younger woman or trying to trick or groom her either.

  9. Antilles*

    Legal counsel first advised us to immediately terminate him, which we were uncomfortable with because he was a self-reporting victim of a crime that happened outside of work.
    If my lawyer’s advice was to immediately fire the victim of a crime, I’d be taking a very hard look at the qualifications of my lawyer.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      This is about the point in the letter where I started with “what the actual flying….?????” and it never righted itself.

      The organization needs to fix itself. They revictimized the victim of a crime.

    2. Phony Genius*

      This is what I found so weird. It’s not a case of them asking the lawyer if it’s OK to fire them and the lawyer saying yes. The lawyer originated the idea of firing him. If the lawyer thought that firing him was in the church’s best legal interest, what legal consequences did the lawyer think were possible if they didn’t fire him?

      1. Random Dice*

        I’m assuming they found a drunk homeless guy on the street, who claimed to once have been a lawyer.

        Otherwise I am utterly baffled by how any decent lawyer would think it was legally advisable to fire someone for having a crime committed against them.

        1. Leelee Spaghetti*

          I guess it’s possible the lawyer was part of the church community and was at least partial to the specific morals of the folks seeking advice? I can see how that might sway a person’s interpretation of available and appropriate options, even if they’re legally trained.

    3. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

      I was on a board of directors for a non-profit that contracted HR to an outside firm. 99% of the HR responsibilities were benefits, hiring administration, etc., but then two employees brought accusations of bounced paychecks, the ED threatening to cut their health insurance for using it too much, and another employee physically grabbing a child client. Our outside HR said “best practice” was to place the two whistleblowing employees on UNPAID LEAVE pending the investigation. According to them, this would give those employees an incentive to help us wrap the investigation up quickly.

        1. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

          Bingo, and that’s exactly what the lawyer I demanded we hire immediately said as well. The meeting where all of this came out was surreal for me. My jaw just kept dropping at every allegation (each of which had ample evidence to support it); we the ED then told us that she had placed the reporting employees on unpaid leave I have a hard time believing my face even remotely recognizable. I wanted to fire her (and the employee who grabbed the child) on the spot, but was talked down/overruled. I did convince them that we needed the entire situation reviewed by outside counsel, since there were multiple legal allegations at play. Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear and convincing to our counsel that the ED had broken any actual laws, and she took that as vindication for the whole thing. I made very clear that avoiding criminal prosecution wasn’t the only standard for her performance, then wrapped up my time on that board. The organization is now gone.

    4. Carly*

      This is such confusing advice for the situation that I’m struggling to understand how what the LW is saying is an accurate version of the story. Like, I’m at the point where I’m asking myself if they meant to type “17-year-old” lol

    5. 1-800-BrownCow*

      My guess is the lawyer was a church member that spun it with “It would be best to fire him before the congregation hears about it and wonders why he still works here. We might lose some of our ‘valuable members’ (i.e. the ones who make lots of money and religiously tithe) if they don’t like that he’s still here.” In many churches it’s all about a growing congregation and being dependent on those big offerings they collect.

    6. TPS reporter*

      playing devil’s advocate, attorneys are concerned with risk. the church lowers risk by outright firing and saying it’s because an employee sent nude photos deliberately to someone they didn’t know. leave out the scam, the reporting, the implications of minor involvement. the church could make a valid case that firing is warranted because this person didn’t follow a code of conduct they expect, even if let’s say he did send the pics to a legit adult woman and someone the pics were hacked and leaked online. again the church saying they just don’t want to employ someone who would even take that risk by sending nude photos is valid. while I think it’s unfair and unrealistic, still valid for firing.

      what they did with prolonging the issue and demanding therapist reports does put them in a worse position, likely what the attorney was thinking in advising them to avoid invading this guys privacy
      and being overbearing for a few months.

      what they did just makes no sense. either fire him or give him a warning as Allison suggested.

    7. incognitotoday*

      I used to work for the main offices of a large religious denomination (not the same as LW), and based on my experiences during my time there, I would think there are two things at play here with this recommendation: the first is what Allison said about religious institutions not being subject to the same laws as other employers, and the second is that the lawyer was looking through the perspective of financial liability. Liability was the lens through which almost every decision was framed, at my former employer. Even something as simple as a pancake breakfast had to be considered from a liability standpoint – “what if the weather is bad that morning and someone on the way to the breakfast has a car accident and sues us.”

      Since they could fire him without consequence, and he was a liability risk, their attorney probably thought it seemed like the tidiest outcome. At my prior workplace, our attorney wasn’t in-house counsel or anything – it was an attorney from the area who was also a member of the denomination who worked pro-bono for simple questions like this. I’m not trying to excuse it – it is gross. But that may be their line of thinking.

      1. 1-800-BrownCow*

        Huh, wonder where those lawyers were during Covid. The number of churches in my area during the shut-down that were advertising “Come worship at our 200+ member, tiny, cramped church, where we don’t require masks because our God keeps us safe and we’ll keep you safe as well!”. Maybe they weren’t concerned about that risk??

        But yeah, I can kinda see what you’re saying.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          They were being ignored. All we can do as lawyers is advise our clients–we have to do what they tell us in the end. So my guess is a lawyer said “you could get sued” and the response was “figure it out, lawyer monkey! We’re doing it”

          Additionally, I promise you that posted at these churches was some sign saying that by attending the service, an attendee waived all the church’s liability for any damages related to the attendee or their family, friends, coworkers, etc. contracting COVID, even if it was shown that it was contracted at a service or was caused by any negligent or intentional acts by the church.

    8. Bonnie*

      I give 100:1 odds that the lawyer is a church member of long standing who’s a significant donor. Actual legal advice gets… skewed in these situations where someone’s beliefs about conduct and perception of power over the situation override their legal knowledge.

  10. Chad H.*

    Yowsers. When you declined the ridiculous advice to fire him I was expecting an unreasonable employee. Instead you took someone suffering trauma and made them the criminal.

    No, you’re not entitled to reports from the therapist beyond determining if they are ready to return to work. No, you do not need a probation period, they’ve done nothing wrong. No, you do not need to increase staff levels when they’re present, they aren’t a greater risk…. And you denied an annual raise because they were the victim of a crime.

    To quote Joey Tribbiani, you are so far out of line the line is a dot to you. You should have provided a safe comfortable environment for them to ease back into their life, instead you sent the Spanish Inquisition.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      And therapists are bound by law to protect confidentiality. If the LW made his work status contingent on therapist updates, then consent was given under duress.

      That’s a very easy legal battle to win.

      Y’all need new lawyers, preferably ones who are experts in employment law and not affiliated with your church.

      1. Not that other person you didn't like*

        The poor guy who got railroaded and his reputation smeared by the organization for being a victim of the crime is the one who needs a lawyer.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Nodding emphatically especially about the line being a dot, and springing the Spanish Inquisition. What were they thinking?!

  11. Ripley*

    As soon as I got to the part about receiving reports from his therapist (!) I was like, yes, you mishandled it. Very, very badly.

    1. Indigo a la mode*

      For me, it was the making sure he’d never be alone with a volunteer! What do they think this guy was going to do?? Good on him for calling it out. And good on OP for writing in about it. The feedback they’re getting will hopefully drive some change.

    2. Ally McBeal*

      Yep. Like, I get that pastors and other people in church leadership really do need to be above reproach, and with that in mind it’s not great that he was sexting with someone who wasn’t his spouse (or longterm partner if LW’s specific denomination isn’t quite so strict), but the employer went way too far. No wonder he returned with one foot out the door.

      Also, the church’s lawyer needs to be fired immediately.

  12. Myrin*

    I’m legitimately astonished by how this letter started out seemingly sympathetic and level-headed and then kind of… did a complete 180 after the second paragraph’s first sentence. And it’s not like there’s a complete shift in tone or anything, it’s written as if the initial support and subsequent scolding and treatment are part and parcel somehow.
    I’m happy OP reached out to get others’ opinions on this and that she seems willing to learn but I have to admit I’m scratching my head a little because I can make neither heads nor tails of it.

    1. Umami*

      Yes, I feel like there is some essential piece missing about how he used his workplace equipment to take and send the photo, or some other connection to his job other than ‘I did this stupid thing that I am only letting you know because they are now threatening to send you an inappropriate photo of me if I don’t pay them’. What exactly would have been grounds for probation (and the other stuff) let alone termination??

    2. Massive Dynamic*

      This is ungenerous, but I suspect that in all of this, something normal human thing about the employee victim came out that is also something this particular church discriminates against. Like that he’s gay or what have you.

      1. Barb*

        That was my thought as well. I suspect the contact might have been a same sex contact and the church is violently opposed to the very idea.

        1. amoeba*

          “electronically sent an inappropriate picture to someone who he believed to be a 27-year-old woman”

          At least not to his knowledge…

          1. Massive Dynamic*

            Ah yep I missed that detail re: a woman – so then this could be the good ol’fashioned “moral failing” of engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage then. Doesn’t take much for some people to villanize others from a perceived moral high horse.

    3. amoeba*

      I’m assuming that the LW just genuinely believes sending nudes to anybody is just… a horrible sin/moral failing? I mean, not that that makes any kind of sense legally (or to me personally); but it does explain their viewpoint, at least.

      It’s still very wrong.

      1. Myrin*

        That only explains the second part of the letter, which is exactly my problem – if OP/her employer thinks sending nudes is an incredible moral failing, then it doesn’t make sense for her to call him “a sextortion victim” and to “encourage [him] to seek his own legal advice and report the crime to the police”.
        Like, either you’re damning him or you aren’t, you know?

        1. D. B.*

          I don’t think I agree. Blackmail is a crime even if the victim *did* do something wrong. In this case, there is no clear indication that he did anything wrong, but if the employer believes he did, it’s not inherently illogical for them to also recognize that he is the victim of a crime.

    4. Autofill Contact*

      Right, I’m reading it thinking “oh, good, they told their legal counsel no, gave him paid leave, and…wait. what? he has to do WHAT?”

    5. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      it’s written as if the initial support and subsequent scolding and treatment are part and parcel somehow
      Well, it is a church :/

    6. Ally McBeal*

      I wonder how much of the probationary policies were crafting with “What if the blackmailer goes public and doxxes the victim with the name of his employer (the church)?” in mind. This situation feels like reputation management was put way, WAY ahead of the employee’s wellbeing.

    7. lunchtime caller*

      Based on my understanding of the way the scam works, which usually by claiming the party that received the pictures was a minor, I have to believe they thought he had accidentally messaged a real minor who then threatened him, and were being understanding accordingly.

      1. Annie*

        Another thing I haven’t seen touched on, is that “but they lied about their age!” isn’t an ironclad legal defense if the sextortion victim ends up being prosecuted because of the messages.

  13. Umami*

    What on earth, why was there any punitive action against the employee/victim?? I … really don’t understand what your legal counsel was doing here or why these measures were taken when it doesn’t sound like anything about the employee’s situation was even tangentially related to his workplace or workplace equipment. is there something missing from the letter?

    1. Distracted Librarian*

      This. Even allowing for the fact that the employer was a church, this is awful. It reminds me of the scandal at BYU some years ago, where female students who reported being raped were expelled because they’d violated policy by drinking and/or allowing a male in their (off campus) apartments. I believe BYU changed this practice after public exposure.

      OP, your organization massively overreacted and punished the victim of a sex crime in an awful way.

  14. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    I seriously hope this guy files a lawsuit against this employer. This is deplorable and they serious overstepped their professional boundaries.

    1. Dezzi*

      Unfortunately, he probably doesn’t have any grounds for a lawsuit. You only get to sue if they fire you for an illegal reason, and churches are exempt from most of those laws anyways.

  15. Cafe au Lait*

    I’m getting a sense from OPs letter that part of the reason the employer came down so hard on the employee is because the employee is male. And therefore should “know better,” just like men can’t be victims of rape.

    OP, ask yourself “if this employee was a woman would we have made the same choices?” For the crowd: I get that changing the binary of the question (he/she, white/black, etc) isn’t foolproof, I’ve found that works as a good initial gut check in a given situation.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      Oh no, my experience here would state that they simply wouldn’t believe her claim that she was victimized.

      Caveat: that’s from the Catholic Church, not a mainline Protestant one.

      1. Random Dice*

        I actually thought that LW might have changed genders, for some reason, because this hysteria kind of only makes sense if it were a woman.

      1. SHEILA, the co-host*

        Agreed. It sounds like this is the sort of church that would look at a woman sending nude photos as someone who is purposefully leading men to temptation.

        Regardless of gender, I do think the church is approaching this from a “there is never a good reason to send nudes because “good” people don’t do this kind of thing” perspective, which would account for a good bit of the pivot from “he’s a victim” to “he doesn’t understand how to behave and needs training wheels.”

        1. SHEILA, the co-host*

          Also, without knowing more about this church, it’s hard to say, but my experience with these kinds of places suggests there is often a lot of black and white thinking going on. Therefore, in these folks’ minds, it’s NOT a leap to say that someone who did a “bad” thing (again, their definition of bad, not mine) by sending nudes to a consenting adult would maybe do it again and the next time the recipient could be a child. In other words, the thinking is “if they are a bad person they must do all sorts of bad things.”

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yes, there’s some interesting discourse out there about how seeing all “sins” as equal–as some sects do–really downplays how bad some acts are, while being overly punitive to others. So your Josh Duggar, in this view, is on the same level as someone who watched regular adult porn or drank a beer. Or conversely, someone who watched regular adult porn or drank a beer is as bad as Josh Duggar.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I genuinely don’t know what the answer would be to this question, but I think it’s a really important one for OP to mull over.

  16. bamcheeks*

    Plot twist: the employee did sign a code of conduct, but wasn’t allowed to read it first because that would be distrustful.

    I was similarly confused about what the employee was supposed to have done wrong that necessitated all this extra oversight, and it sounds extremely stressful for the employee. Once he came back, if he wasn’t performing at the same level as before because he was pissed off and planning to leave, then yes, it was fair enough to counsel him on failing to the appropriate standard. But I don’t understand what he was supposed to have done wrong that necessitated all this extra scrutiny anyway!

  17. Johnny Karate*

    I am always impressed by Alison’s ability to maintain a professional tone during these kinds of emails. Just reading it made me so angry, I wouldn’t be able to respond without a lot of time and revisions.

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      I could not agree more! I try to chanel her when having converations with certain individuals at work. lol

    2. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I agree. And I wonder what Alison’s advice would be for the employee in this case if he wrote to her. Like what should he say about why he left?

    3. 1-800-BrownCow*

      I sometimes wonder if Alison writes out first what she really thinks and wants to say, followed by the professional response. Then waits 24 hours, rereads her first part, feels a bit better, deletes that portion, and then posts. I’ll admit, I’ve written the angry email replies before and saved them until I was calmer and eventually reply with a professional response.

  18. Not A Manager*

    I think this falls into the same category of over-reaction that causes teachers to be fired for a social media post in a bikini, or holding a red Solo cup. This person works with minors, and his employer obtained evidence indicating that he is a sexual being who engages in consensual sexual activity with other adults. This in itself is reason to terminate him in a lot of employers’ eyes.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Yes, it reminds me of the apocryphal story of the teacher who was fired for a wedding picture of her and her husband toasting each other. We really need to climb down Mount High Moral Ground and accept that people who work with minors also live normal lives.

      1. boof*

        Wat? I can only find something about a catholic teacher being fired for posting their same-sex wedding photos (which is still really gross but it’s unfortunately unsurprising christian religion gross)

    2. MigraineMonth*

      That’s my read on it as well. Heaven forbid little Timmy and Sarah be taught by someone who has consensual sexual relations *with other adults* outside of a heterosexual marriage!

      1. AlexandrinaVictoria*

        For some churches, this would be enough. I worked in a church where a gay man was not allowed to be a deacon, because though being gay was ok, “practicing” was not. I was an unmarried hetero woman. How did they know I wasn’t “practicing?” If they found out I was, I have no doubt I would have been fired.

    3. Anonymous Koala*

      I know this is a thing, but it’s always struck me as particularly funny because often the same employees who balk at any evidence that their employees are having sex are the same ones who will absolutely fawn over anyone in their employ who gets pregnant or has children. And I don’t think marriage has anything to do with this, employers will still freak at married consensual sex – a local prominent figure near me was hacked and a sex tape she had made with her husband got leaked, and her career tanked almost literally overnight.

      1. Frieda*

        I know at least one female pastor who found that some men in her congregation would not accept communion from her when she was visibly pregnant. So fawning over pregnant “employees” might include staff, but definitely not always pastors!

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            A few teachers have been fired because they have a Facebook pic of themselves holding a red Solo cup at a party. The idea is that drinking alcohol in a casual setting (while of legal age) makes a person irresponsible and of dubious moral character.

            Those firings are reprehensible, but they have happened.

            1. Beth*

              Because, of course, nobody can drink anything out of a red Solo cup except booze. In fact, all liquids, when poured into red Solo cups, immediately become alcoholic. It’s magic!

      2. boof*

        I will say I vastly prefer to at least supporting pregnancy and mothers to acting like offspring are a punishment for their sins…

    4. Ellis Bell*

      I said something upthread about this, because I’m a teacher at a Catholic school. All the staff I know, (and that includes our affiliated church staff) have meticulously manicured asexual and proper social media, but this response to a private sexual interaction (and being the victim of a crime!) would outrage us all. I have some issues with my leadership but I know my headteacher would never put me through something like this. If this happened to any of us, the union would mobilise post haste; we’d probably be on picket before the end of the day.

      1. Dahlia*

        Legit I’m not trying to be nitpicky, but I think it’s important to point out that your school’s staff absolutely does not have an asexual social media. They have a sex-free social media.

        If they had asexual social media, Fox News would be calling them pedophiles and Matt Walsh would be saying they’re mentally ill — both real things that have happened recently.

        Asexuality is a queer identity and Catholicism is not particularly accepting of us.

  19. I should really pick a name*

    This response is likely discouraging anyone in the organization from ever disclosing anything.

    1. Inexcusable*

      Right? I get the sense that if some poor kid did report sexual abuse, this organization would focus on the kid losing their virginity rather than being the victim of a crime.

  20. Harper the Other One*

    On top of al the other issues, any situation where you’re requiring the submission of therapy reports is a major overstep and I am shocked that a therapist actually agreed to it.

    OP, the paid leave to deal with the legal side was admirable, but I have no idea why your lawyer recommended termination or why you treated him like a suspicious person. Unless there is a LOT you left out, yes, you vastly exceeded workplace norms and you did treat this person unfairly.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      It was an unlicensed therapist who won’t face consequences or it was a licensed therapist who didn’t know consent was given under duress.

      My mom forced me into therapy in college with the threat of not paying tuition so when I signed the consent to treat, everyone I assumed I did it of my own free will when I did not. No one ever questioned it either.

      I can totally see this happening to an adult.

    2. Vistaloopy*

      Therapist here. It could mean that the victim/employee was told to submit proof/records from his therapy sessions (such as progress notes), rather than the therapist sending anything directly. Which still is a huge overstep by the employer, but doesn’t indict the therapist.

    3. Observer*

      I am shocked that a therapist actually agreed to it.

      Not really. The therapist needs to do what will work best for the patient. And if the patient says “I can’t afford to be fired. I need to keep this job till I find a better one. Send the reports.” That’s what the therapist needs to so (assuming that it’s in writing.)

      But, yes, that’s just so over the top that I just don’t have words for it.

  21. Happy Pineapple*

    I am dumbfounded. Although admittedly not altogether surprised, given that certain institutions tend to have oversized reactions to matters in people’s private lives. Other than the fact that this was done outside of wedlock, what possible explanation can the administration have for disciplining this employee? Even if these pictures had leaked without the extortion scam, that still doesn’t make him a predator.

  22. Richard Hershberger*

    Given that this is a mainline, as contrasted with Evangelical church, this looks to me like the church going into a defensive crouch. I doubt that there is any serious expectation that unmarried employees be celibate, but there is a lingering cultural sense that they perhaps ought to be. The response is to the potential for scandal. The incoherent response to treat this guy like a potential predator is not because it makes a lick of sense for the situation, but because this is the response to a sex scandal that the church understands. This is not a good way to run any organization.

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      Oooh, so you’re saying the only “scandal” playbook they have is “Pedophile Priest” and they just took all the same steps instead of thinking through how this situation was different. That would at least make the paid leave make some sort of sense. And I’m sure the employee felt that they were treating him that way. I’d be angry too.

      Getting reports from the therapist would be totally inappropriate in all situations though – I’m surprised the therapist was willing to do it.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yup, that explains the lawyer saying “fire him”, the paid leave, the requirement for an extra volunteer *and* the “reports from therapist”.

        It also explains why the employee is so upset – he was the victim of a crime and his employer treated him like the worst kind of criminal.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Yup. That is exactly what I am proposing. I could be wrong, but it fits.

        Also, love your username. It gives me the urge to drive a zamboni.

    2. trust me I'm a PhD*

      I wanted to echo this. Without knowing the specific denomination, it’s impossible to say, but a mainline church almost certainly does NOT have a problem with consenting photo sharing among two adults. (I have experience in both evangelical and mainline denominations — this is a key difference.)

      What set this off is the potential for scandal, esp. since the scam was based around pretending that a minor would be involved.

      Tbh, I don’t think the social media and ethics policy are a bad thing. If I were a manager, esp. at a religious organization and of a position that involved youth, I would be a little concerned about the employee’s judgment in sending these photos to someone they had only met online; and being clear about expectations, again, especially in values-driven, religious contexts, where performance of particular values is part of the job, is always a better move. No surprises, everyone knows what they’re held to.

      The rest of it, though — planning to fire a victim of a crime (presumably for liability reasons) and asking for therapist reports are a significant violation of privacy and way overstepping.

      1. Johnny Karate*

        I don’t think there was anything in the letter that anyone claimed a minor was involved, even falsely. Just a straight up “we have your picture and will send it to people” scam. I understand that’s oftentimes how these scams work, but nothing in the letter (unless I’ve entirely missed something) confirms this.

        1. trust me I'm a PhD*

          No, it’s not mentioned. It would be a stronger claim for extortion, which is why I think a lot of comments gravitate towards that.

          My overall point is to emphasize that (as someone who has been in all sorts of church spaces) mainline denominations are typically open to consenting adult relationships, inc. LGBTQ+ relationships; people think “church” and their mind leaps to the more egregious evangelical restrictions — that’s possible, but not likely, if we’re talking a mainline denomination.

          I do think that even “we have your photo and will send it to people” will still set of a very particular kind of scandal troublesome to anybody but esp. a church youth pastor, in contrast w/, like a banker or real estate agent; the religious context and history and the involved population is going to make people a little more concerned.

          This matters b/c understanding the context a bit more helps think through the ins and outs of the situation, and how it might differ from a non-religious situation.

      2. WorkingRachel*

        I don’t know, my experience with the quite liberal mainline denomination that I grew up in and my immediate family all worked for was that there was still some expectation that employees would be celibate outside of marriage. I’m pretty sure that denomination is still okay with firing a pastor if they are found engaging in premarital or otherwise extramarital sex, and the big sticking point about 20 years ago on allowing LGBT clergy was that there was no God-approved way for them to have sex, since gay marriage wasn’t allowed at the time. (They eventually came down on the right side of that one, but only after years of debate.)

        I was taught that any sex outside of marriage is adultery, and I think that’s still the party line. An average church member might not feel judged for, say, having sex with a long-term dating partner, but church employees are often held to a higher standard either officially or unofficially, and in some churches there is still a lot of judgement around anything that could in any way be considered “promiscuous.”

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          I obviously don’t know the details, but it would be typical that the stance when you were a kid was stricter than it is today. Also, the rules for clergy often are stricter than for other employees.

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      You’re right on it. This was an absolute overreaction for a non-religious employer. And adult male sent nudes to a scammer who was pretending to be an adult woman.

      Even for a religious institution that expects no premaritial sex (I don’t know realistically how much a mainline Protestant church expects that, but my understanding is that’s what is in the Bible) or no cheating outside marriage if the employee was married, not allowing him alone with children is an overreaction since there was no one underaged involved.

    4. Blue*

      Yes – +100 to this comment. I’m a Presbyterian pastor, and the reality is that most liberal Protestant churches simply do not have a coherent sexual ethic. They believe that the fundamentalists have taken things too far but don’t have an alternative to offer. It’s all very DADT and like, sex/monogamy/consent/abortion/birth control/etc is stuff we have opinions about in our Monday-Saturday lives but we have absolutely no theological resources or perspective to help us figure this stuff out if it runs into our religious/faith life. I think it’s very interesting that the LW doesn’t actually articulate if they personally think the person did anything wrong. The consequences make it seem like they think the employee committed, vaguely, an infraction, but the LW is not able to actually express what that infraction was, probably because they cannot articulate it beyond “this employee made us think about sex at church and we find that extremely uncomfortable.” So to respond, the personnel committee (usually made up of volunteers without theological training, HR expertise, or legal knowledge) just started throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something would make the problem go away.

      I’m proud of this youth staff member for walking instead of absorbing the shame being heaped upon him, and I hope he finds healing and a new path forward in his vocation, whatever that may look like after this $h!tstorm.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        It’s very clear to me that the LW does personally think two consenting adults sharing nudes is wrong. The personal offense at the scam victim not seeing “but we did everything we could to save his job,” thinking mandated therapist updates are okay, and mandating he take all that leave…

        But you see this confidence in a lot of faith-based workplaces because of the like-mindedness that’s required to work there.

        I’m not trying to pile on, but this guy has loads of material for a pretty open and shut lawsuit because the people in charge couldn’t see beyond the original action of sending a nude picture.

      2. SHEILA, the co-host*

        Appreciate your perspective. I definitely replied above as if were evangelical rather than mainline…although I do wonder about regionality – if this is a mainline church in, say, Alabama or Texas, it could still be pretty conservative about sex-related issues.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        Sexual ethic: My take on the subject is that the Bible is not much interested in the subject. If you read the Bible and take away from it that it is about regulating sex, you are reading it wrong. On the other hand, the Bible is very much interested in the ethics of power. Many of the bits that superficially are about the ethics of sex are really about the ethics of power, and specifically ethical behavior in a power imbalance.

        But then again, I am a notorious heretic (liberal Lutheran edition). I also don’t think the Bible is about what you have to do to be saved. It is interested in that question, but also gives the answer: nothing, since there is nothing you can do about it anyway; but no worries, the Big Guy has taken care of it. I go so far as to assert that what the Bible is really about is how we ought to respond to the Big Guy’s grace.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Well, this evangelical agrees with you on pretty much all of those points.

          And the power a youth leader has over teens, plus in the power of parents in a church wanting their kids to be safe, resulted in a process where they panicked and failed in using their own power. They were kind of all over the place: giving extra pay, expecting therapist reports – it’s not a coherent response.

        2. UKDancer*

          Yes a lot of the old testament in particular is about how to make a functioning society with rules that work and that keep people alive and healthy in a desert location. An awful lot of it is about how to treat those in weaker positions in that society (slaves, women, prisoners).

          I found church very boring so spent a lot of time as a child reading the old testament in the dull bits between hymns and then trying to find out more about the society. I emerged with no religious beliefs at all but an abiding interest in social history.

      4. Ivkra*

        I really appreciate your adding this perspective, and I think you and Richard Hershberger are basically correct. Years ago, I joined an Episcopal church shortly after a couple people on a governing council had secretly framed the priest for soliciting a young man who worked in the office. It had all come to light before he was terminated, fortunately. My experiences with the rest of the council in the following years made it really, really easy to see how messy the business/reality side of running a church can get, particularly because the qualities that make people popular with fellow parishioners, or to seem like they’d be good for those positions, do not in fact make them good at the concrete physical details of maintaining a building. But… when you do have a church where the leadership wants to run it like a business, I think that’s often much worse.

        Also, “we asked a lawyer” almost always, IME, means “Shirley’s son is a lawyer, so we asked him,” and you can usually assume this about any other consultant a vestry says they talked to.

    5. Ally McBeal*

      I grew up on the conservative edge of mainline Protestantism, became full-fledged evangelical when I was a tween (my family switched churches, I obviously didn’t have any say), then converted to Catholicism as a young adult and now am no longer formally practicing. Having seen how different churches react to scandals in an almost uniform way, I think you are 100% right that this is organizational reputation management at its cruelest.

    6. President Porpoise*

      I’m going to take this ‘when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” observation in a slightly different direction. Based on my experiences and what I know about most religions, my (extremely cynical) take is that most protestant churches aim to cultivate a sense of guilt/shame within their membership when those members deviate from the arbitrary and strict conventions the church sets. When the guilt/shame/feeling of inadequacy sets in, the church can then swoop in and ‘build up’ the member, forcing the member to become dependent on the structure and support the church offers. However, the church never wants to fully eliminate those negative feelings – because then the member no longer needs the church. You may disagree with my language or assessment, or argue that churches/your church would never intentionally do things that way, but in many cases this is how the whole thing shakes out and how churches retain power, influence and support.

      In this case, it seems to me that LW and the church are intentionally fostering and prolonging the victims guilt and shame over the incident, with the hope of tying the employee more tightly to them. The lack of raise, the additional oversight, the therapy reports – what do those accomplish besides making your employee feel shame, guilt and inadequacy? Why break down an employee who you want to see transform and grow except to force them to conform to your out-of-norm requirements? A business should never do that to their employees. It is hallmark bad management. You should do some serious introspection.

      I am happy that this guy was able to, it seems, shake the guilt and shame enough to find a safer harbor to repair his sense of self worth.

    7. Bonnie*

      This was my take too. Although it probably says something about my former church of employment that my knee-jerk response was “dayum, 8 weeks paid leave AND paid severance?” When I left my job after 35 years in the church, I barely got a wave goodbye.

  23. YetAnotherAnalyst*

    LW, I think your church came at it from an “avoiding the appearance of evil” perspective, but you inadvertently helped the extortion here. This would’ve been a good place for some mercy and a little understanding, and maybe a training for church employees about how to recognize and avoid scams. There’s two parts to Matthew 10:16 – you’re focused on this guy not being “harmless as doves”, but the problem seems more about being “wise as serpents”.

    1. owen*

      also i gotta say, if you did come at it from “avoiding the appearance of evil” perspective LW1 you… kinda failed at that, too. Not only did you punish the employee, you did it in a way that would raise the very questions you were probably trying to avoid? The measures you describe are not only punitive to the employee, they’re *noticeable* to everyone, and i have to wonder what kind of explanation you gave for them (especially the ‘must have extra supervision’!)

      maybe there’s a way you could spin that without a) disclosing the employee’s victimisation or b) giving the appearance that the employee did *something* very wrong but i’m having a hard time thinking of wat it could be.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        This is so true. The church pretty much conspicuously announced they did not think they could trust this guy around kids–so now it appears there is “evil” but it is…being adequately supervised? Yikes on a bike.

  24. DramaQ*

    The therapy part is disgusting. Offering support is one thing because he was scammed and that carries with it a lot of shame and other complex feelings. But it sounds like you required therapy to prove he wasn’t a sex offender! That is completely unreasonable and intrusive. The guy was a victim of a crime and you’re treating him like he was a criminal. He was doing the honest thing and disclosing he had been a victim of extortion which you should WANT your employees to feel comfortable doing because it could potentially become a problem for the employer. The fact you treated him like a criminal is why people don’t come forward and then the employer is all shocked pickachu face when they find out how deep into the scam the employee is and how much money they have siphoned off the church.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Right. “Time off to deal with therapy and legal issues” sounded great because the implication (at least what I, a relatively reasonable person, assumed at first) was that he NEEDED/WANTED therapy. It sounds like they treated this guy like a convicted sex offender -with no trial, I might add.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I got to the part about “reports from his therapist” and blue-screened.

      That goes up there with “employees must be tested for a kidney donation match” for employer overreach.

  25. Liz*

    Maybe I’m the only one who questions the judgment of someone who sends a nude photo to a person they’ve only “met” online. Yes, this extortionist likely was a man in a call center and not a minor (or a woman), but the employee had no real way to know that when he sent the photo.

    Either way, not a work issue.

    1. Ama*

      Also, cons like these are very very good at manipulating their targets to get them to do things they might not otherwise do.

      1. Aeryn Sun*

        I used to work helping people file non-emergency police reports and I had a number of people who were scammed. They were often embarrassed and ashamed, but a lot of people who run these scams know exactly how to manipulate people – making them feel like it’s an urgent issue and removing inhibitions. Romance scams can often be a long con, too, being willing to take a long time to convince their victim.

        I think that the employee knows he made a mistake, but con artists get people to fall for it every day, it’s not an uncommon mistake to make.

    2. Tracy Flick*

      I agree with you that this is not a safe thing to do, but it is out of alignment with contemporary social norms to expect people to not send nude photos to people they have only ‘met’ online. That’s pretty common. I don’t think it’s fair to say that this employee had poor judgment. He behaved normally.

      And it isn’t an isolated example – it’s similarly unsafe to get into a car with a stranger, or drink heavily when you’re out at a nightclub by yourself, or nap on public transit, or sleep in a dormitory bed in a hostel, but those are also normal things to do.

      Plus, sextortion isn’t ordinarily something private citizens do for fun, but revenge p*** is. People experience this kind of abuse in normal intimate relationships, and at the hands of partners they know very well.

      1. amoeba*

        “drink heavily when you’re out at a nightclub by yourself”

        From the letter, this church reads like a place where that might get you fired as well….

      2. Ray Gillette*

        Yeah, I’m way more afraid of revenge porn than a scam. For one, my ex already knows my last name and where I work, so finding my boss’s contact information would be trivial. I don’t think my ex would do that, but that’s not really the point, is it?

    3. Antilles*

      It’s poor judgment, sure, but scammers like these are actually “professionals” in the same way as catfishers asking for money or social engineering hackers trying to weasel their way into a corporate network; they know what they’re doing and the best way to prey on people.

    4. bamcheeks*

      “Met online” can include weeks or months of conversations and/or video chats, though. Like, I’ve got colleagues that I’ve worked with for years that I’ve only “met online”, and there’s no way of knowing whether this scam was a five minutes chat or weeks or months of set-up. Calling it out as bad judgment is like calling out and elderly person who had their savings stolen for bad judgement: I mean, yes, probably it was, but the whole point of scams is that they find people who are vulnerable to the scam and then figure out what they need to do to hook them.

      (And given that this man lost his whole job and possibly career over this, It would probably have been worth a pretty significant investment of time! We don’t know how much he paid before he told his employer about it, but it could have been substantial.)

      1. mango chiffon*

        Agreed! And I have known of entire loving relationships that started from people meeting online and being in long distance relationships before meeting in person at all. The “met online” part is not innately a suspicious thing these days. And scammers have established ways to hook people and string them along for a long period of time if they know they can get a payout in the end.

        1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

          Case in point: my wife and I met online seventeen years ago, and had an online-only relationship for two years before we met in person. We’ve now been married ten years. A good proportion of my friendships in my adult life have been online-only, either for years before we met in person, or without having ever met in person.

          People get scammed in person, too–I have.

    5. Dinwar*

      There are a huge number of coworkers I’ve “only met online”. I worked with a mentor for a year once before I actually met him, and I’ve worked with one person off and on for six years and couldn’t put a face to the name if my life depended on it.

      I’ve also got a friend–a fairly close friend–that I’ve only met in person once. We’ve been gaming together for over a decade, as well as supporting each other through some hard times (and telling one another when we’re being morons!).

      For that matter, now that the water board has moved into the 21st century all my bills are paid online. I don’t see anyone from the power company, garbage company, water company, the bank that has our mortgage, or any of the rest.

      The world has changed. Online is part of life now. There are risks, sure, but they’re more along the lines of “If you walk down the street make sure no one picks your pocket”. Accusing someone of bad judgment because they “only met online” is, in today’s world, precisely on par with accusing someone of bad judgment because they “only met at a bar” or “only met at a church function”.

    6. Ally McBeal*

      I don’t even send nudes to people I’m exclusively dating! I truly cannot imagine sending nudes to someone I’ve never met. But unless someone intended to post a risque photo to a private Snapchat group (or whatever) and accidentally posted it on their employer’s social media channels, it’s none of the employer’s business.

    7. Ellis Bell*

      I mean it’s not great judgement to share your bank details with a stranger either, but would this amount of shaming happen in that sort of situation? Also, people who are determined to trick you into believing they can be trusted, tend to get their way.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        This is where I come down. Falling for a scam always involves ignoring your better judgement–acting out of a place of “feeling” when your logic brain would be screaming “OMG, of course your bank isn’t going to send you an email saying you have overdraft $40,000 and you have to call right now to fix it or they will report you to the IRS and FBI!” A cute “27 year old woman” you have had a few flirty chat exchanges with sends you “her” nudes and she is gorge–yeah, your pants feels are going to be running the show instead of logic brain, who is screaming “Dude, does it really make sense to you that this smoking hot random woman is begging for you to send her nudes–specifically with your face in them?! Women get sent dick pics constantly, she cannot possibly be this thirsty for nekkid wangdoodles!!”

    8. Anna Marie Julia*

      I feel the same way about people who run out to buy gift cards from a spam phone call or believe the IRS is calling them to demand payment on back taxes over the phone. Yet people still fall for it over and over again.

      Scammers can be really good at manipulation so that people do things they never thought they would.

      1. Dinwar*

        What I’ve been told by security professionals is that some of these scams are stupid on purpose. It filters out the people who are smart enough to know how to deal with such scammers. If you’re dumb enough to think the IRS will accept a gift card, you’re probably not bright enough to figure out how to effectively send the law after the scammers.

    9. 1-800-BrownCow*

      I disagree. While 46-year old me knows better to not send nudes to a person I only met online (course, no one wants to see those anyway, lol), I’ve also reflected before on some of the dumb things from my past, and I’ve questioned my own judgment I was using at the time. I put myself in some pretty stupid situations in my 20s and was lucky nothing bad came from it. You could also argue that the employee may be my age or older and so they too should know better, but even at 46, I still learn from my mistakes. I just think (and hope) I make less mistakes as I get holder If this was the only “obviously poor judgement” that they knew he’d done during his employment, maybe suggest he reflect on his poor judgement (which I hope and assumed he had already done) and then move on.

      Also, in many of these situations, the scammers are really good on convincing people to do what they want from them.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I’m even older, at 52. If there had been smartphones and such when I was 20 . . . I shudder to think of what I might have done, or had done to me.

  26. Nom*

    I feel like there must be more to this story that the LW didn’t make clear (for example, that there was involvement with a minor). There is no way legal counsel thought it was appropriate to terminate him immediately otherwise. Would love to hear a clarification.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        And I would guess this guy is a member of the church and was thinking about distancing the church from scandal. Not strictly speaking good legal advice, but there are definitely lawyers who will default to “no association with anything questionable”, especially if he personally found it morally reprehensible.

        The legal liability he’d be considering is likely foreknowledge if this guy later sexually harassed a member of the congregation, but that’s an astoundingly bad read of what happened.

      2. Chairman of the Bored*

        Half of lawyers are below average, etc, etc.

        This is why when you’re dealing with real stakes it pays to get multiple opinions.

    1. Dinwar*

      Legal acted to protect the church from backlash. It’s pretty common–they flat-out told me when I was onboarded with the environmental company that if I screwed up certain things (dangerous goods shipments mostly) their first action would be to fire me, as an olive branch to the agencies, showing that the company was serious about this sort of policy. Same thing here. Legal wanted to distance the organization from a potential liability and be able to say to interested parties that “We’ve taken appropriate action.”

      In this case, however, the reaction is bass-ackwards. In this letter, the person was the victim of a crime–they were deliberately misled and manipulated, and while it’s possible to argue the man didn’t make the best choices, it’s always wrong to punish the victim for the crime. As I said below, that this is a church only makes it worse, as it undermines the moral authority any church needs to maintain in order for people to continue affiliating with it.

    2. Shiara*

      The variation of this scam that I’ve heard of before is
      1. Target sends nudes to scammer they think is an age appropriate romantic partner
      2. Scammer “reveals” that romantic partner is a minor pretending to be older and so target has committed a crime. (Scammer often claims to be an outraged guardian)
      3. Scammer demands money to keep from going to authorities/employers. They may couch this in needing money for Minor’s therapy from target’s “grooming”.

      There’s no actual involvement with a minor, but there is an accusation of involvement with a minor (assuming this is the variant encountered by the OP’s employee)

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        This was my assumption of what likely happened to this guy. I feel like there must be a minor involved, real or perceived, in some way. Otherwise, all of the church’s responses seem disproportionate, and maybe they are, but I’d like some clarification from OP as to whether there was ever a belief that a minor may be involved.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      Random tired brain thought:

      Legal counsel realize how badly this situation would be botched and figured firing would do the least damage.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Honestly, that was my read immediately. Part of protecting a client is often from themselves and some have a terrible habit of being so afraid of “bad outcome X” that they pursue utterly panicked responses that, for whatever reason, often result in X happening anyway, but in a manner that is totally mystifying to client–no matter how many times you try and warn them off.

        Like the guy who walks in on the crime scene, tracks his DNA everywhere, gets blood on his shoes and promptly fleas the jurisdiction and hides out because he is afraid he “looks guilty.” News flash, buddy, calling the cops, a lawyer, a friend, ANYONE and being like “holy crap I just walked in on a dead body” makes you look a lot less guilty than paying cash for a motel in the Poconos and tossing your phone and all your clothes into the Schuylkill.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I mean, at the very least, “tossing your phone and all your clothes into the Schuylkill,” is littering. Even the bad dudes on the Group W bench move away from you for that.

  27. HonorBox*

    I found myself asking the question “why” in several instances as I read the letter. One of those instances WAS NOT when I read that the employee decided to make his way out of the organization. I give him a lot of credit for coming back and trying to bow out gracefully.


    WHY was your legal counsel suggesting immediate termination? Maybe there’s something we don’t know like you have a policy (perhaps he didn’t read all of the policies and just signed) about sharing of explicit materials. But nothing in your letter makes me think he did this at work or via a work-provided phone. You’d likely have said that. This guy was a victim of a crime and the immediate response was that you should fire him?

    WHY did he need to be put on leave for 8 weeks? That generally happens when someone does something wrong. He was put in a terrible position and you disappeared him for two months. While he needs to get some legal assistance and may want to seek therapy, he doesn’t need to be sidelined from work. What did he do wrong?

    WHY did he need to provide reports from his therapist? Again, he did nothing wrong. Asking for that is a huge invasion of privacy. You need updates for what reason? To ensure he understands how bad it feels to have this sort of crime committed against him? To ensure he isn’t going to share explicit pictures again? C’mon.

    IANAL, but it seems to me that your church got a pass when he just wrote a blog. He probably could have sued because you all seem to have handled this wrong in every way.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      These really are the questions! If OP has not yet considered self reflection or just asking “why”; even after the blog publicity, I would strongly consider they do so now.

  28. Amy the Rev*

    As a pastor of a mainline Protestant church, who oversees our children/youth programming, and has thorough knowledge of “Safer church” policies and practices, can confirm that this staffing committee/hr committee’s response is indeed batshit bananapants!

    If I knew this church I would encourage the clergy or moderator to reach out to their denomination for a situational support consultation, and maybe some remedial training for their HR volunteers. What baffles me even more is that ‘mainline’ often (though definitely not always) indicates a progressive denomination, and most of the mainline denominations (UMC, ELCA, UCC, PCUSA, UUA, etc) have an abundance of level-headed resources around this sort of thing. And are pretty sex-positive, too!

    1. Nebula*

      Thank you for coming in with this as someone with a similar religious perspective, that’s really useful to put this into context for just how ridiculous it is.

    2. Stay-at-homesteader*

      Thanks for this! The mainline part certainly confused me – I’d expect this of certain types of more conservative/fundamentalist churches, but not ELCA or UCC. I appreciate your clarification that they wouldn’t typically do this. Which brings me back to – it feels like there’s some info we’re missing here, where the employee did something that was actually…wrong. If not, whoo boy, this is bad.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        My guess is that it might not so much be about thinking the guy “sinned” as about covering their backsides after the string of scandals various churches have had in relation to child sexual abuse. My guess is they were thinking “how can we ensure we look like we did something to reduce the risk in case this ever gets out and people get the wrong end of the stick, thinking that he deliberately sent nudes to a minor or something?”

        Now, honestly, this doesn’t work from either side because if they thought he was a risk, they shouldn’t have had him around children afterwards at all and if they didn’t (and it doesn’t sound like they did), then what’s with all the requirements? But I’m guessing it’s a reaction to how many churches assumed innocence when there were all kinds of allegations against people and essentially stuck their fingers in their ears and said, “nope, nobody working for a church would do that, la la la” and therefore, they feel they have to react to any accusations/suggestions along those lines, even when it’s a case like this.

      2. Nom*

        I interpret mainline to be more progressive, (ELCA, PCUSA) whereas more conservative denominations like LCMS, PCA would not be mainline.

      3. 1-800-BrownCow*

        Don’t forget, even within the mainline denominations, not all subscribe to their more liberal beliefs. I grew up in an ELCA church in a very rural, conservative community. From hearing from family members that still attend there, there is a lot of upset at how “liberal” the ELCA church has become and their ~50 member aging congregation still holds to their very conservative beliefs. It’s just that many member in the 50+ age range don’t want to leave the church that multiple generations of their family attended to find a new home church that fits their conservative believes nor does the church want to switch because of the history/heritage. So they keep their ELCA status and don’t speak out much about what the head church believes. They still focus on their conservative moral values. And the local diocese for that church, which covers a very broad area, puts all their focus on the flourishing churches in the growing towns, so they’re basically left alone. I believe that church location will eventually shut down as they’re not gaining many new members anymore, unless new leadership comes in that makes the changes to align with mainline denomination. But I do chuckle when I hear ELCA as progressive and more liberal because I found my childhood church to be extremely traditional and conservative when I’ve visited family. In fact, I didn’t even realize the ELCA church was considered mainline and more liberal until well into adulthood. When I moved away from my home, I refused to attend an ELCA church because I thought, based on my younger life experiences, that it was very much conservative.

    3. OrigCassandra*

      Thank you, Amy the Rev. Yours is a perspective the OP is especially likely to listen to, and that’s very helpful.

    4. Pipe Organ Guy*

      I was trying to come up with what mainline denomination might be so badly reactive, and I suddenly remembered Missouri Synod Lutherans and Wisconsin Synod Lutherans. I don’t know how they are in a situation like this, but as a gay organist in a same-sex marriage, I stay far away from them.

      1. Fitzie's chew toy*

        As a former Lutheran (ELCA)
        I laughed out loud at this comment. So true. Steer clear of these denominations.

      2. SHEILA, the co-host*

        Yep. And while other mainline denominations might be less reactive on paper, there’s no predicting what individual churches might do.

    5. Lily Rowan*

      Thank you!!

      I am on the personnel committee at my mainline Protestant church, and this whole thing makes me shudder.

    6. Amy Gardner*

      I appreciate this as someone married to an Episcopal priest. I really don’t know what my spouse or the myriad clergy i know would do in this situation! I don’t think anyone would go so far as demanding to see therapist notes (!!), but i can also see a pretty extreme overreaction based on wanting to protect the church from any kind of liability, even if it’s only imagined (for instance, i am 100% sure that someone would suggest the possibility of the photo being sent to youth members).

      1. Rondeaux*

        How is saying the OP got it wrong any different than Alisson’s original answer or any of the dozens of comments that have followed?

        If you are saying the church was justified in their actions, can you elaborate?

        1. Ivkra*

          Those comments offer advice, thoughtful critique, and explain specific details. Alison’s advice also offered thoughtful, specific advice. You just posted a one-line sarcastic retort that both mocks the OP, and indirectly implies that it’s foolish to expect any better of churches, which is rude to the victim of this church’s conduct, the multitude of religious people and clergy who have commented here explaining their own perspectives, and the people who aren’t religious but who are expressing shock or surprise.

          1. Rondeaux*

            Not mocking the OP at all, just the institution. You’re right though, I didn’t offer anything substantive – I agree 100% with the advice given.

            I don’t see how my comment was rude to the victim – who i 100% support here. If you’d like to elaborate I’m happy to listen

  29. Green great dragon*

    Suppose this person had taken a photo and passed it to a 27 year old women who he’d gone on a couple of dates with and somehow LW had found out. Would they be acting this way? Considering him a danger to young people? I hope not, and they shouldn’t do it here.

    There probably are religious orgs out there who would consider it a sackable offence to give such a photo to a girlfriend, but pretty certain LW would have mentioned it if so.

  30. EvilQueenRegina*

    I would say the first thing to learn here is (assuming there is no more to the story and it wasn’t a situation involving a minor) get a different lawyer!

    1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      Why? The lawyer did their job–they advised their client of the most efficient and legal means to resolve the issue and avoid public scandal. The lawyer likely viewed this as the same as if the employee had sent the nudes and was hacked and advised the church to thus “treat the employee like a person who acted in a way in their personal life that could embarrass the client–terminate them, maybe not immediately, but put them on leave, arrange for the them to have a good reference and severance and avoid the scandal”

      The client was the one who opted for “treat the employee like a pedophile and end up in a scandal anyway”.

      1. UKDancer*

        But when I ask my company’s lawyer for advice I want them also to highlight the risks of things going wrong, likelihood of litigation being successfully brought against us and ways to mitigate the issue.

        Embarrassment isn’t the worst thing that can happen, it’s a factor. I’d expect my lawyer to give me options and an assessment of the risks and merits. If my lawyer just recommends the most extreme course of action and nothing else then they’re not doing what the company pays them for.

  31. SuprisinglyADHD*

    I’m baffled by this on so many levels. The employee was an adult in a relationship with another adult (the fact that the other person was planning on blackmailing him doesn’t mean he wasn’t in a relationship, just that his partner was lying). He shared what is as far as we know a requested photo of an intimate nature with his partner. The partner then turned around and extorted him for money in return for partner NOT COMMITTING A CRIME against him. Distributing a nude picture of someone without their permission is a crime in (I think) all 50 US states.
    In response, the employee’s job treated him like a sex offender for daring to think he could have an intimate relationship with another adult. Banned from the office for a long time, all events he works must be supervised by not one, but TWO other members, denied an annual raise, and required to get a therapist who must then write and submit regular reports to the employer!?
    Not only is he being blamed, but if the goal is to prevent the same thing from happening again, IT WOULD HAVE NO EFFECT. These alleged “precautions” would not have prevented the initial problem from occurring because it was off hours, online, with someone (again, as far as we know) who consented!
    I wonder if the staffing committee (or the church in general) would have had the same reaction if he was victimized in another way (for example if the relationship was in person when he was blackmailed over intimate pictures), or if the employee was a woman instead.

    1. ferrina*

      Exactly this.

      This is a bonkers reaction to finding out that the employee was a victim of a crime (OP even admits he was the victim!). Every step of OP’s plan was bonkers. The only part that made even the tiniest bit of sense was the additional volunteers, but that would only happen if and only if the blackmailer released the images publicly and there was backlash from the congregation. Even then, the additional volunteers would be as more for the employee’s protection from false accusations/assumptions and a little bit to assuage parents’ concerns.
      A crisis management plan is a good thing. Enacting a crisis management plan (and one as extreme as this!) before a crisis has happened is dumb.

    2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Treated like a CHILD sex offender, no less! Even though:

      1. there were no children involved
      2. the employee sent the photos to an actual adult
      3. employee believed he was sending the pics to an adult (as opposed to a child)
      4. employee thought he was in a relationship with that adult

      The employer’s response doesn’t even make any logical sense. If they believed he was the victim of a scam, why would they treat him as if he was actually (or thought he was but got busted by a sting operation or something) sending pics to a minor???

      It would be pretty traumatizing to hear both “I believe you” and also “and you are probably a criminal”

      Nothing about this response makes any sense.

  32. Alisa*

    Speaking as a church worker myself, in our setting this person would have been fired immediately. Sexting is out of bounds for what sounds like a youth pastor. Sexting, or any intimate contact with a stranger online, would not be seen as appropriate for a church worker- there should be a signed written code of conduct, but most denominations would take it for granted that it’s out of bounds. Nobody would want their children and teens ministered to by that person.
    However a lot of times when church workers “fall” like this, it’s because they were too stressed out and overburdened and lonely and had to look for intimacy and relationship in a secret way. OP needs to look at the community and see how burn out can be avoided.
    The worker needs to take up the crime against him with the police, of course, and I guess I would show compassion with some severance, to honor that he came forward honestly with this story.

    1. Engineer*

      People “fall” like this because sex is a pretty basic human need – and I say this as someone who’s asexual. Perhaps they wouldn’t “fall” if churches stopped treating basic human desire as morally corrupt.

      1. Harper*

        Yes! This!

        Alisa, I find your comment kind of gross. I have a long history with churches and I understand what you’re saying, but the idea that desiring a partner and sex is “fallen” behavior is still gross.

    2. bamcheeks*

      If religious employers can fire people for not adhering to unwritten and unstated code of conduct, you deserve all the bad publicity you get.

      1. Unwritten and unstated?*

        Sexual behavior – all of it – is banned out of wedlock in all mainstream Christian denominations. The only difference between “Mainline” and “Conservative” denominations is that the mainline ones don’t emphasize it as much. Rule of thumb – mainline clergy are held to the same standards conservative denominations claim to hold everyone to, unless EXPLICITLY stated otherwise (like the denominations which have publicly repudiated the bans on gay marriage and accepted gay clergy). Mainline denominations have just emphasized God’s Love and forgiveness and whatever instead of the Calvinist “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” line some of the more conservative denominations take. Note – forgiveness, not lack of something being wrong in the first place.

        Other than the therapy, which was intrusive (though a more normal denomination would have required pastoral counseling), nothing described here seemed out of place for a Christian pastor caught doing something like this. A conservative church would have just fired him.

        1. bamcheeks*

          “banned” is meaningless in this context without a fuller explanation of who it’s banned for and what the consequences of violating that ban are. I promise you nobody has ever tried to ex-communicate me from the Church of England for having sex out of marriage! Nor are non-ordained employees of the church required to abstain from extramarital sex. You may have the right to fire people for whatever reason you want, but you can’t claim your values are universally held by churches and expect the wider public not to be horrified by ethical lapses.

        2. merula*

          Just as one counterpoint, ELCA does not ban out-of-wedlock sexual behavior, and that seems pretty mainline to me. (Admittedly, I grew up ELCA, so maybe I’m wrong.)

          1. Unwritten and unstated?*

            ELCA’s statement on sex out of wedlock is laid out in a document called ‘Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust’. It is 44 pages long, but boiled down, it reserves sex to marriage and lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships.

            1. Unwritten and unstated?*

              The key is modern mainline Christianity isn’t a bunch of “thou shalt nots”. It defines itself more in “hygiene of the soul” terms – what is healthy for the human spirit. And premarital sex isn’t healthy for the human spirit, and so is against the rules. It just takes 44 pages to say that, instead of 1 sentence.

        3. YetAnotherAnalyst*

          I think you’re overstating this. Yes, mainline churches emphasize forgiveness – but sin is understood to be the fundamental human condition. It’s “for all have sinned and fallen short”, not “for most have sinned – particularly Bob over in the corner, who fell particularly short last Tuesday”.

          I don’t think anyone would say this guy’s actions showed great judgement, but fundamentally he’s a victim of a targeted act. The churches I’ve attended would no more punish him than they’d punish a pastor for being sued by his brother… which is also a sin!

        4. Harper*

          In my experience, and in the area where I live, sex outside of marriage in any form is banned in Christian fundamentalism, or most evangelical churches – think Baptist, Nazarene, Church of Christ, most Pentecostal churches. And yes, in these churches, ministers who are caught (or admit to) having any form of sex outside of marriage are disciplined in some way (removed from leadership temporarily or permanently, forced to make an open confession, etc.). As I stated in a reply above, it’s gross and in my opinion abusive, but it’s very, very common in churches that focus heavily on “holiness” or purity culture.

        5. Twix*

          That’s completely untrue. I’m an atheist, but I grew up in a Protestant congregation that’s part of the UCC and my brother is a youth pastor at another local UCC church. Opinions on premarital sex range from “Who cares?” to “It’s perfectly fine”. The differences between mainstream and conservative denominations aren’t just about emphasizing God’s love and forgiveness, they’re about interpreting the Bible through that lens. Many of the parts (and translation choices) of the Bible conservative Christians believe ban things are interpreted very differently. It’s not just a matter of willingness to excuse or forgive sinful behavior.

          1. Unwritten and unstated?*

            Excuse and forgive are very different, especially in a Christian context. You never excuse sin. You ALWAYS forgive it, ultimately, IF the sinner is penitent. At least the good Christian does. Punishment of sin is God’s, not man’s. Penitence, though, may need to be demonstrated through acts of contrition. (Such as counseling.)

            1. Unwritten and unstated?*

              That said, my familiarity with United Church of Christ is limited, other than that, by the time you reach that point of the Christian spectrum, you are about to exit the left edge of the main-line. The next stop on the Christian train is Unitarianism, then Unitarian Universalism, which is arguably not Christianity at all. (Universalism is non-creedal, Christianity is a creed.)

              1. Melissa*

                I’m the moderator of a UCC church in New England. I assure you we are not one stop away from non-Christian.

                We are a regular, mainline church, complete with Old Testament and Gospel readings every Sunday, communion once a month, and infant baptism.

                Your mileage may vary, as the UCC is wide and pretty diverse.

                1. Unwritten and unstated?*

                  Certainly Christian, I wasn’t saying you weren’t that, just VERY left-liberal, even for the main-line. The Christian family is very diverse politically, and the UCC is at the left edge politically, but doctrinally, pretty mainstream, to my knowledge, hence being one of the main-line faiths. Contrast to Unitarianism, which is not mainline.

              2. Amy the Rev*

                Just FYI, the UCC is a non-creedal denomination as well, coming out of the covenantal tradition where local church autonomy is highly valued (though we also believe in accountability, hence being a denomination). We talk about “testimonies of faith, not tests of the faith”.

              3. Bromaa*

                Unitarian Universalism is not “arguably not Christianity”, it’s “literally, explicitly, factually not Christianity”, which makes me rather suspect of the accuracy of your entire statement.

            2. Twix*

              I’m aware of that distinction, but it’s totally irrelevant to what I was saying.

              My point, which also applies to this comment, is that what you’re doing here is asserting your beliefs as the views held by all Christians/that people aren’t really Christian unless they share your beliefs on certain things. But what we’re talking about is people who consider themselves Christian in denominations that are generally considered Mainline Protestant. You not thinking that those denominations should be considered as such is not the same thing as Mainline Protestant denominations with significantly different beliefs than you not existing.

              1. Twix*

                Incidentally, I looked it up. The UCC is one of the “7 Sisters” Protestant denominations with over 700,000 members. They are literally one of the defining examples of what Mainline Protestantism means. I think you’re the one who’s off base about the definition of that term.

            3. YetAnotherAnalyst*

              I said it above, but I’m going to expand on it a bit here, because this is bad theology (at least for the mainline Protestant church in which I was brought up): sin is the human condition. Humans can’t go a day without sinning. Christians are called to forgive sins against themselves, so we don’t risk hypocrisy when we’re asking for our sins to be forgiven. Forgiveness for sins more generally is left up to God – including all the sins that don’t have a clear “against”, from runny noses to anger to consensual dick pics.
              And even for fairly significant sins, it would be an error to think outward acts of contrition equate to inward penitence. We’re talking mainline Protestantism here, so penitence is between a sinner and God, rather than submitting to the authority of the church.

              1. Twix*

                Yup, the UCC believes pretty much the same. Sin just isn’t treated as the foundation of the whole belief system. Things like confession and acts of contrition tend to be seen as weirdly transactional and performative and authoritarian and at odds with the idea of God as omnibenevolent. The message is basically “Everyone sins, which is between them and God. Those sins will be forgiven if you do your best to embody Jesus’s message of loving thy neighbor and doing good works.”

        6. Amy the Rev*

          @Unwritten and unstatedCorrection: sex out of wedlock is NOT banned in most mainline denominations, at the denominational level, if you consider mainline to be denominations like UMC, ELCA, Episcopal, PCUSA, UCC, UUA, etc… For proof, look at the most up-to-date sex ed curricula they have published, or at the myriad queer clergy they’ve ordained/hired before same-gender marriage was legal (or even just the number of straight clergy they’ve hired who live with a romantic parter to whom they aren’t married). There are of course individual churches within these denominations that skew more conservative, but by and large, what you are describing is not the norm.

    3. amoeba*

      “Nobody would want their children and teens ministered to by that person.”

      What? An actual… adult person with a sex life?
      Yeah, no, that statement is nowhere near as general as you appear to think. Most people are absolutely aware of and fine with the fact that the people taking care of their children are, in fact, human beings. Who are even allowed to have sex. Even outside of marriage, and yes, even online if they so chose.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        “Nobody would want their children and teens ministered to by that person.”

        Rather that than:
        A p-word priest
        A p-word layperson relative of a high ranking bishop
        A married man carrying on publicly enough with a woman other than his wife that the children and teens were aware of it even if their parents weren’t necessarily.
        A priest who eventually was elevated to a higher ranking and was later involved in the moving around of p-word priests.
        (And that’s what we got at our rural parish, y’all.)

        Don’t presume to know what parents will tolerate, especially if its outside the ministerial role and can be compartmentalized to that.

    4. Stay-at-homesteader*

      Out of curiosity, what type of church do you work at? Amy the Rev (above) had a pretty different take. I can kinda see how, for a youth pastor, it might make people question their judgement, but the OP didn’t really spell that out and I’m wondering why the church felt this was such a big issue.

    5. amoeba*


      “Sexting, or any intimate contact with a stranger online, would not be seen as appropriate for a church worker”

      Offline would be fine, then? Just imagining… “oh, no, can’t send you a pic, but sure, let’s meet up and have sex, that’s alright!”
      (Would’ve at least saved him from the scam in this case…)

      And yeah, I’m joking, as the whole thing is absurd.

    6. Harper the Other One*

      My husband is a minister in a Canadian Protestant denomination – intimate contact with a stranger/sexting is not considered out of bounds/worth of pearl clutching unless it involves inappropriate relationships with a congregation member. They have specific policies they recommend for safety, but I don’t think it’s correct to say that most denominations would take it for granted that a nude requested by and sent to a consenting adult through private contact methods is out of bounds.

    7. Seashell*

      I don’t know that everyone in every church on earth would care if their children were ministered to by an adult engaging in adult conduct with another adult. Also, sexting could just be conversation. Are churches firing men for sending their wives a text saying something like, “Ooh, you’re so hot! I can’t wait to be with you tonight “?

      1. Tracy Flick*

        Based on some recent headlines, I think a lot of churches would be overjoyed if men in leadership were merely sending texts like this to their wives.

    8. Juicebox Hero*

      “However a lot of times when church workers “fall” like this, it’s because they were too stressed out and overburdened and lonely and had to look for intimacy and relationship in a secret way.”

      Then quit shaming adults into feeling like their perfectly normal pantsfeelings are wicked and dirty. Are single church employees supposed to remain celibate for as long as they work there? I presume that young adults in OP’s and your churches meet, date, and get married. Why demonize it?

    9. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      Churchworkers “fall” like this because churches act like this and have ridiculous fantastical standards that can never be met.

      Punishing people for normal behavior leads people to hide their normal behavior. Inevitably some of them will be caught and then the public shaming and purging begins, which makes the other people doing these normal things hide them more. I guarantee you have people in your congregation engaging in normal behaviors like this that they are hiding because they fear being told they are bad people and kicked out of their community. It’s really twisted.

      The employee’s behavior was not wrong, or immoral, or perverted. The church members’ behavior was immoral and wrong, however.

    10. Green great dragon*

      Some people are just weird about online, because they personally don’t get it and therefore think it’s wrong. Saying something in person is fine, as long as you’ve a reasonable expectation of privacy, but saying those same words in a text is sexting and out of bounds. Someone that you haven’t seen face to face is a stranger, no matter how many hours you’ve spent talking on-line, but someone you’ve seen in person is no longer a stranger, though they’re still totally capable of scamming you.

      I am totally fine with my kids being taught by someone who dates and communicates with their dates, and I don’t care whether they’re doing it face to face, online, over the phone, or with quill pen and pigeon post.

    11. SomeWords*

      Was the person an employee of the church at the time of his supposedly sinful behavior?

      Does your church vet the entire online history of every employee? I guarantee plenty of them have participated in intimate contact with strangers online at some point in their lives.

    12. Nom*

      I don’t see much evidence that this person was in a church as conservative as the one you’re referencing. In the mainline protestant church I grew up in, sexting other consulting adults would not have neared cause for concern or termination.

    13. Anon for this one*

      Maybe not in your denomination, but there are denominations that acknowledge human sexuality exists and prioritize discussions of safety, respect, and consent – I can absolutely see someone sharing a story like this in, for instance, a UU “OWL” class (the church-run sex ed curriculum) as part of a discussion about online safety and how we lose control of anything we send as soon as we send it. Not in a “This is a sin” way, but in a “This is a a risky behavior for these reasons” way.

    14. Head sheep counter*

      I appreciate you replying and with an opinion that is unlikely to be popular. It helps provide context for this letter as I suspect the LW is from a similar background.

      It is so interesting to me that churches make enough money to have enough staff to have these policies. It is also alarming to me that normal employment rules/laws don’t necessarily apply to churches and I think frankly that needs review. But I also think churches that are large enough for that to be an issue probably should be taxed as well… so… there’s that.

    15. HonorBox*

      I’m not going to argue your church’s setting, but I do take exception to the idea of sexting or intimate contact with a stranger online. In situations like this, the person isn’t sending unsolicited pictures or content. They’re led to a point in a relationship where they’re asked to send something to someone they’ve met and feel like they know. So it isn’t a stranger in the same way as it would be if they just plunked down random numbers and sent a photo. They feel like there’s a relationship.

      So in this kind of situation, is it also out of bounds for someone working in your church to send an explicit message or racy photo to their spouse or a significant other that others in the church have met?

      1. Twix*

        I think this is an important point. A lot of people, especially older ones, tend to treat “Met online and haven’t met in person” and “Complete stranger” as synonymous. That’s not the world we live in any more. I have friends I’ve known for 20 years who I’ve never met in person.

    16. Sara*

      I would many fewer concerns about a person who sexts other consenting adults ministering to my child than I would someone who’s a-OK with an employer demanding reports from an employee’s therapist.

      1. Awkwardness*

        I wanted to write something similar, that there are a lot more ways to harm children or teens, for example in teaching them that boundaries are BAD.
        If parents only would take a look at those too.
        (And I say this as someone grown up in church and still attending)

    17. Maleficent2026*

      I was raised in a church that sounds similar to what OP and Alisa are describing. In these churches, usually what’s taught to teenagers is “don’t do pantsfeelings things with another person until you’re married”. If an adult is responsible for leading/teaching teenagers, they’re usually held to the same standard. It sounds to me that this is where Alisa is coming from when she made her comment.

      1. Ray Gillette*

        It does seem like there’s a bit of “shoot the messenger” taking place in the replies. I don’t like what Alisa has to say, but I can recognize that she’s accurately describing the beliefs of a pretty large number of people.

        1. Ivkra*

          I agree; my problem with what she’s saying is that she’s implying that she speaks for the majority of Christian churches and denominations, and that’s simply not true.

      2. Observer*

        If an adult is responsible for leading/teaching teenagers, they’re usually held to the same standard.

        That makes sense, whether you like it or not. But what LW and their colleagues did doesn’t really make sense in that context. They make it clear that they considered him a direct risk to the kids, and that’s bonkers.

        1. Pescadero*

          “That makes sense, whether you like it or not.”

          No, no it doesn’t.

          There are lots of things adults are allowed to do that children are not.

          Kids under 16 aren’t allowed to drive – so that does mean an adult responsible for leading/teaching kids should be held to the same standard?

          People under 21 aren’t allowed to drink alcohol – so that does mean an adult responsible for leading/teaching kids should be held to the same standard?

    18. Ellis Bell*

      I think it’s really important for a church to be super overt about it, if that’s what they believe; really shout about the message that they will punish anyone who sexts. This way, not only can potential employees opt out of working with you, but parents of teenagers who need up to date and informed relationship support can opt out of such terribly uniformed stances as well. I’m serious. Most teenagers (and people much older than that) tend to meet their dates, romantic partners and future spouse’s online; this is because it is not a “secret” method. It’s actually a very honourable and transparent way of approaching people, and it would come across as massively uninformed and ridiculous to suggest online relationships are somehow weird and dark. Then there’s the fact that no one is allowed to get to know strangers?! What?! That’s a real sense of false security right there; it’s very, very common for revenge porn to come from someone you knew for many years, or were even married to. It’s also common for kids to get scammed by their peers who they know and see every day. Teenage boys are known to bully and harass girls for nudes before disseminating the pictures. It’s not the “being nude” behaviour, or trusting someone, or making a mistake that needs addressing there…. and you’re in trouble if you don’t know how to appropriately treat victims. If the kids and parents at your church find out that you would fire someone for consensual sexual images, why on earth would they trust you with their own mistakes or issues? It’s so shortsighted and it sounds like urgent training is needed into what the issues around consent actually are.

    19. Ivkra*

      Respectfully, this looks like you may be considering the norms of your own denomination and those you’re familiar with as universal or near-universal in Christianity/Protestant Christianity/mainline Protestant Christianity. But “adults who work with children should not have sexual relationships with other adults” is not a norm of the faith in most denominations. It’s absurd to think so. I assume, based on what you’re saying about “falling” and expectations for youth workers, that you would not consider this inappropriate if the scam had been threatening to expose nudes or sexts that someone sent to a spouse.

      There are several pastors commenting on this same post discussing the perspective as their church (and other denominations they work with) sees it. I do not think your church is in line “most denominations” in this case.

      I also take significant exception to the comment “Nobody would want their children and teens ministered to by [a person who exchanged intimate texts/nudes with an adult stranger online].” I left the church many years ago – not for trauma, but for other reasons – but grew up in a Baptist congregation, and spent a lot of time in and around Evangelical and Baptist and similar churches and denominations. The sheer number of friends I had who were sexually assaulted by youth ministers was staggering. I think nearly ALL of their parents would have strongly preferred for the youth ministers to be exchanging nudes with fellow adults in private, rather than for them to be preying on their underage children.

    20. Mel*

      The number of single church leaders I knew back in the day who were in sexual relationships… Especially those who worked with teens and young adults.
      The relationships were all age appropriate, but they were not celibate. Despite them preaching celibacy before marriage… Hypocrites.

    21. New Jack Karyn*

      OP’s church did not have such a written code of conduct in place prior to this incident. If they had, I’d have a quantum of grace for their decision to fire him.

      But not for the way they treated him before the firing. That would still have been wrong and indefensible.

  33. J*

    Was the “taken and electronically sent an inappropriate picture” something like an unsolicited dick pic? That would make a little more sense of the rest of the letter, although it’d still be a massive overreaction and intrusion compared to what had happened. Reactions like this are the whole reason sextortion scams have any power in the first place.

    1. amoeba*

      Ehh, as it’s a scam specifically aiming at getting nudes out of people, I’d strongly assume it wasn’t unsolicited…

    2. ferrina*

      I think there’s a crucial difference between content and context.

      Content: what is actually in the picture. i.e., dick pic.
      Context: the conditions under which the picture was sent- who it was to, what had been happening in the conversation prior to this, whether it was solicited/unsolicited, etc.

      The context that OP gave wasn’t inappropriate (i.e., conversation with an adult in a context where sexual content was expected). I think commenter amoeba (and other commenters) have a good point that this was likely a solicited pic (since the whole scam depended on the person sending a pic). If the context had been different, I would have been more sympathetic to OP –for example, if there were minors involved, fire the guy immediately. If it was unsolicited sexual contact, likely fire the guy or do the serious probation route (depending on what the content was).

      That leaves the content. It sounds like the content was….adult. Folks can have some really big judgements about other adults having (consensual, safe) sexual contact. As you say, this is exactly what the extortionist was preying on. OP essentially took the extortionist’s side by treating the employee as someone that had done something illegal (which it doesn’t sounds like he did).

      1. Twix*

        Yeah, literally the first thing I thought when reading this was that “inappropriate” was a really moralistic way of describing a naked picture that was sent to another adult, because naked pictures are not inherently inappropriate. I kept figuring at some point there would be some context where this guy actually did something wrong other than maybe making a foolish decision, and then there wasn’t.

    3. roshi42*

      Yeah, I can’t help feeling the letter isn’t clear enough as it just doesn’t make sense. Everyone’s assuming the pic was sent consensually but what if the scenario was more like old male church leader sends unsolicited dick pic to young woman and she reacts by saying she’ll out him to his church – he fesses up but the church (being a conservative environment and assuming they have to hold their leaders to a high standard of behaviour, especially if they are guiding / advising young people) react poorly. Would that explain things better? I have no idea how these American churches work! Or ‘sextortion’ tbh, but perhaps this version of events fits the reaction better and still works with the info we have in the letter?

  34. OneAngryAvacado*

    Either the legal counsel mentioned is seriously whacked out or it feels like there’s been some big chunk of context missed out here, as I have no idea why they would jump to such a hard line. Were the photographs sent from a work computer or account? Taken with church logos noticeably in the background? Did one of the young people in the church accidentally see them?

    Otherwise yeah, this is a wild choice for the counsel and the church to have made.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think it’s just “protect the congregation from this pervert”, honestly. The lawyer makes their own moral judgments and completely obscures the fact this guy did not do anything wrong. Lawyers aren’t supposed to pass judgment, for the record.

  35. Worker Bee*

    Literally the only reason I can think of that would make this a work issue is if the photo in question was taken on the work premises/during work hours? Otherwise, as others have said, this seems like a lot of shaming and blaming on the part of the victim.

    I assume if there was a minor involved (i.e the person receiving the photo claimed to be a minor after receiving the photo that the employee thought was being sent to an adult) then that would have been mentioned in the letter to validate the wild demands (ASKING FOR THERAPY NOTES?!). Since that wasn’t mentioned, it sounds like their issue was purely with the employee sending nudes to strangers.

    1. BellyButton*

      But but but having any sort of s#x outside of marriage is a SIN! ;) I am assuming that is why this was made into such a huge thing.

  36. Artemesia*

    Wow. Alison nailed this one. Why should this guy be going to therapy. Nothing he did suggests mental illness or danger to clients. He is a grown man thinking he was forming a relationship with a grown woman who was victimized. The job consequences are similar to what you would suggest if he had been arrested in a prostitution raid with minors or something equally heinous. That the legal counsel thought he should be fired for this — which HE DISCLOSED is so ridiculous I can hardly believe it. He was entirely justified in roasting the organization as he did. (it may not have been prudent for his own future career, but it was justified.)

    1. HonorBox*

      I say this with full understanding that therapy is a very personal thing, but I’d suggest that this gentleman is owed some therapy NOW for how he was treated. He didn’t need to be forced into therapy because he was the victim of a crime. He could have chosen to seek therapy for that. But I’m hoping he’s getting some help now because the way this was handled is so abnormal that I know I’d need some help processing…

    2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      I mean, being the victim of a crime, and then being blamed for it by your employer (who may also be your church), would be things that a lot of people would seek therapy for! But not in the “you are wrong wrong wrong and need to change” way that the organization is demanding.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*


        He deserved therapy for having his trust and closeness violated in the initial scam, and then therapy again for his employer’s blame-and-shame-of-the-victim.

    3. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

      I mean, therapy might be super helpful to this guy, but it is ABSOLUTELY none of his employer’s business. Having recently been the victim of a (thankfully minor) monetary scam, it can bring up all kinds of negative feeling about yourself: “why me?” “why was I so stupid?” “will I ever be able to trust people again?”. And that’s all before getting into the sexual aspects of this. But, again, this is not something his employer should be involved in at all. Maybe they can give a recommendation of an employee assistance program if it exists, but that’s the absolute farthest their involvement should go.

    4. metadata minion*

      It’s an upsetting situation and a few therapy sessions would be totally appropriate for plenty of people to help them deal with it. But not required, and certainly not for weeks of forced leave.

      And that said, there are also plenty of people who would go “wow, that sucked” and move on with their lives, and not need any more help than they’d get from their usual social support structure when dealing with a stressful situation.

  37. Keymaster in absentia*

    Victims of sex based crimes do not need to be treated as though they are untrustworthy or deviant.

    I’m in full support of his anger. You treated him like a predator (reports from the therapist is so far over the line it’s on a different plane of existence) as though any minute he was going to show his bare torso to everyone around.

    Which is, where I think your (and your lawyer’s) misconception came from. You assumed because he sent a nude photo once to a scam that he was therefore likely to show his undercarriage to anyone at anytime. Maybe?

    It’s a pure logic fail. A victim of financial fraud isn’t likely to go around pickpocketing their coworkers after. A victim of rape isn’t going to assault their coworkers.

    And, as a survivor of a truly horrific sexual crime, I hope you realise that this is exactly the kind of response we fear when we’re trying to decide whether to report it.

    1. Lana Kane*

      “You assumed because he sent a nude photo once to a scam that he was therefore likely to show his undercarriage to anyone at anytime. Maybe?”

      This is a large part of it, I’m sure. Deviancy is deviancy, and it implies that it’s a part of you. Therefore, you can’t be trusted to restrain yourself at any given time.

      He may also not be seen as a victim because he willingly chose to send nude pictures, which is in and of itself considered deviant. (So he brought this on himself).

      (Mandatory disclaimer: I don’t support this, I’m speaking of what I know of conservative religious attitudes in churches, having grown up in that environment).

  38. Your Social Work Friend*

    Honestly shocked you found a credentialed therapist willing to give you this kind of information, and am going to assume that it was likely some flavor of pastoral counseling rather than, say, and LPC.

    What an absolutely bananapants way to handle a staff member coming to report that they’ve been the victim of a crime. Your organization penalized him for *checks notes* being forthcoming about his personal struggles that could have effected both his job and the public face of your agency. You reward his vulnerability and *his care for how this could reflect on your institution* by pushing him out of his job and way overstepping your boundaries in regards to his well being.

    Next time, give people some time off to handle the legal part if they need it, provide some information about local therapists, and thank them for their honesty in the face of great personal loss and shame.

      1. Your Social Work Friend*

        Probably. I love my church, my faith, the guidance it give me, and the wise counsel of my pastor but the level of training is just not even remotely the same for pastoral counseling as it is for other types of credentialing (I say as a credentialed therapist).

        1. Amy the Rev*

          Agreed! It was impressed on us in Seminary (and in our regular, mandated, boundary trainings) to remind congregants that “I’m not a trained therapist, I’m trained to help you think theologically about your life/to help you engage your faith”, and to try to limit pastoral counseling to 3 sessions for any given issue, and then refer them to a therapist. People give clergy so much trust, there’s a potential for so much harm if we abuse that trust and act beyond our training and credentials, especially with regard to human psychology/spirituality.

        2. Amy the Rev*

          Yes! Agreed. It is impressed upon us in Seminary to remind anyone to whom we’re offering pastoral counseling that “I’m not trained as a therapist, I’m trained to help you think theologically about/engage your faith as you process whatever is happening in life”, and to limit pastoral counseling sessions to 3 sessions per issue, referring them to a therapist after that.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      No doubt there are bad licensed therapists out there, but if a therapist knows their client is there under duress or asking them to give their employer regular updates because the employer required it, then a licensed therapist can’t do that. The APA is really clear about that *if the therapist knows the circumstances*.

      There’s a decent chance this “therapist” was an unlicensed “counselor” who was affiliated with the church. If this is the case, then any report is meaningless and there’s no licensing board to report them to for misconduct.

      I’d love for the LW to clear up that detail.

    2. ConsentExpected*

      unfortunately there are many, many situations where people have to sign over therapy records as part of legal actions, involvement in programs, and all sorts of other reasons. The worst us when it’s related to a lawsuit because they become public in that case. Happened to me twice in college as part of civil rights suits related to (physical) disability. Made me unwilling to get therapy for years and even now I’ll only see someone who agrees to take very limited notes.

  39. Juicebox Hero*

    What if he’d been having an online relationship with an actual adult woman, and they were sharing sexy photos and videos, which is a pretty normal thing to do in that case? And what if they broke up and she started posting revenge pr0n everywhere or sexploiting him to get revenge?

    Would you still be treating him like a borderline predator and criminal?

    Ok, he got scammed. Scammers are good at what they do. That’s why scams are still around. He was the victim of a crime. In my opinion, this isn’t a very godly way of treating an innocent scam and crime victim.

  40. Dinwar*

    “I feel we treated him fairly.”

    You treated him as a pedophile, threatened his job, and constantly belittled and insulted him FOR BEING THE VICTIM OF A CRIME. You treated him as the perpetrator rather than the victim. (Being a church only makes it worse–you have a rather significant example of what is expected of you in terms of compassion in your holy book. This is relevant to the business side, as moral authority is fundamentally what your role in the economy is.)

    No, you most certainly did not treat him fairly.

    Consider this from another angle. Let’s say his house got broken into. Would you respond “Obviously you’re untrustworthy. We’re going to put you on administrative leave, you need to get a home security system installed and provide us with videos as evidence, we’re going to put you under constant surveillance at work, and we’ll put you on probation so if you do anything we don’t like for six months we can terminate you”? Of course not! Such a response would clearly be unhinged. And you knew this, which is why you pushed back when your legal council recommended firing the poor guy.

    He obviously saw the writing on the wall and formulated an exit strategy. And yeah, he was hostile towards you–he acted in good faith and you attacked him. Any reasonable person would realize that they are not safe in such a situation, and would be constantly second-guessing every interaction they had with you. You actively threatened his livelihood for being a victim of a crime; he absolutely was wondering what other actions you were going to attack him for.

    As for the blog post and the rest, he’s doing a public service. If I were a member of your congregation I would absolutely want to know how you treat crime victims, and after reading your side I would have no confidence in your capacity as a moral authority. I certainly would never confide anything to you or anyone in your organization, which rather limits your capacity to act as spiritual guides.

    1. Amesip*

      +1 on everything!
      Except I absolutely guarantee that the entire congregation of this church (and likely congregations in other local churches) knew this whole story before the employee posted anything on social media. It sounds like the whole thing took about five months, not including the time he was debating coming forward, and involved most of the church leadership. That kind of thing gets talked about, especially in that amount of time. Every single member of that congregation has an opinion about this shitstorm of a situation, no doubt. In fact, it would not surprise me if the church splits over it or loses a lot of its membership in the near future!

      1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

        It’s mainline. They don’t split and start a church down the road. But yeah: another reason for this guy to distrust you. It is undoubtedly the talk of the town.

  41. Empress Ki*

    Therapy for what exactly ?
    And what kind of therapist is going to send a report to his employer ?

    1. Panicked*

      The religious kind that don’t operate with the same boundaries as licensed mental health providers.

  42. BecauseHigherEd*

    Yeah, that kind of response could lead to a lawsuit down the road. The sexual aspects of this aside, it’s wild that you created a social media policy *after this incident happened* and put him on probation *until he agreed to sign that policy*–basically, saying his employment could be terminated for not following a policy that didn’t exist until after the incident in question. If this was an incident that otherwise violated professional norms or anti-harassment laws (ex. he was sending messages to church members or other staff; he was sending photos using his work email; he was sending explicit photos while at work) then you should have just addressed it on those grounds. Because this incident happened wholly separate from his work, from an employment perspective this was very not okay.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      > put him on probation *until he agreed to sign that policy*

      It is worse than that actually – he was put on a 6 month probation period, when he returned to the job that he was only allowed to return to by agreeing to sign those documents. He left after 3.5 months, whilst still on ‘probation’.

  43. Lynn*

    I am particularly struck by the fact that you/your employer are surprised that he didn’t chose to tell you about his plans to ramp down and then leave on his own terms.

    If your organization couldn’t handle treating a victim of a scam appropriately, why on earth would he want to trust you with plans to leave? I mean, seriously, look how well it went last time he disclosed something (picture my eyes rolling like a really annoyed teenager here).

    I probably would not have posted the details about the scam, and being treated like a criminal as a result that he did…but, unless there is more to the story than you posted here, I don’t think he was wrong to do so.

    Reactions like these are exactly why these scams exist and work. People know that they will be treated like crud, even from friends and coworkers who are in no way harmed by a solicited nude picture, so they pay up to avoid this kind of reaction.

  44. Janeric*

    I would be interested to know how much paid maternity/paternity leave this org offers their staff. Like, I’d be inclined to be more sympathetic about the eight weeks of leave if people got six months or more to take care of and bond with an infant.

    1. Janeric*

      If the org offers less parental leave than they offer non-optional “victim of a crime” leave then I’d recommend not using the “we were giving him a chance to heal!” reasoning publicly because it seems disingenuous.

  45. Horrified by these so-called Christians*

    How could this LW even believe they are remotely in the right here? I agree 100% with Alison, this person was a victim and they treated him like a criminal. Also, I don’t GAF what religious institution this is: you are bad people and you should feel bad.

    If I were him, I would definitely speak with an employment lawyer about a case for constructive dismissal. If they kept him on but made it impossible for him to succeed or be treated like other employees, he may have a case (I am not a lawyer but I would definitely investigate this).

    1. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

      LW feels they are in the right because they are Christian. And therefore can do no wrong. The problem with most Christians nowadays is that instead of thinking that practicing should teach them how to be good people they think if they go to church they inherently are good people and can do whatever they want outside.

  46. BellyButton*

    “We crafted a social media policy and a code of ethics policy which did not exist prior. We offered him the opportunity to return with a six-month probationary period dependent upon signing and agreeing to those policies, submitting regular reports from his therapist, and having sufficient adult support for all events so as to never leave him as only one of two volunteers.”

    I had to read the letter a couple of times because I thought surely I was missing something! So prior to him being a victim there was no code of ethics policy and no social media policy?
    Did everyone else who signed those policies have to go on a 6 mo probation? Did all other adults have to have 2 people wit them when with the youths? None of this makes any sense to me.

  47. Ginger Cat Lady*

    Wow, your church’s handling of this was about as far from Christlike as it gets. That poor employee. I’m glad he’s away from your church.

  48. Skippy*

    I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but… Although the therapy and other probation was out of line, I don’t think the church would be wrong to fire him. There should have been a written policy, but it’s not reasonable to expect an employer to spell out every private act that would be out of bounds though legal. His behavior had the potential to reflect badly on his employer, and although in my world what he did would have been normal and acceptable, there are a lot of contexts in which it plainly would not. I almost never disagree with Alison but I would have fired him.

    1. Kyle S.*

      You think employers should fire people for consensually and privately exchanging nude photos of themselves?

      1. Anon for this*

        I think sending nudes to a person you know only over the internet, when you are a youth pastor, shows a certain lack of judgement.

        1. DisgruntledPelican*

          And we can see by all the good teachers and other youth oriented positions leaving the industries in droves how they feel about that. This is why qualifications for teachers in the most conservative areas are basically down to “has a pulse.”

        2. New Jack Karyn*

          Me carrying too many sacks of groceries in from the car and dropping the eggs also shows a certain lack of judgment. Gonna fire me for that?

          1. Anon for this*

            Fire you, no. Roll my eyes, call you an idiot, and give you training on safe grocery carrying? Yes. Especially if you’re supposed to be teaching other people about groceries and egg safety. (I don’t think the grocery metaphor really works here)

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              Don’t call me names, and don’t presume to train me on ‘safe grocery carrying’. I’ve already been embarrassed and paid a price.

              I’m an adult, and if I screw up in my personal life, it generally has little bearing on my work life.

      2. ferrina*

        This is one of a few scenarios where I think an organization can reasonably do that. I wouldn’t support my church/organization doing this, but I can see it being within the bounds of reason.

        The ethics of a church/religious institution are understood to be different than other organizations. The person in question isn’t support staff- he was hired to be a spiritual leader. Depending on the beliefs and culture of the church, it could be reasonable to expect people to adhere to certain ethics even if it’s not explicitly spelled out. (I don’t know enough about the denomination OP is in to know if that’s reasonable or not)

      3. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

        Technically don’t they already? A lot of firings over OnlyFans, especially in the teaching industry.

      4. Skippy*

        There’s no reasonable expectation of privacy when you send someone a photo. If celebrities have taught us nothing else, it is that private digital photos are really just pre-public digital photos.

        1. JM60*

          It’s a private exchange of photos in the sense that the recipient should refrain from sharing them, not that they necessarily will refrain from sharing them.

  49. Aeryn Sun*

    All of this is absurd but being required to attend therapy and have a therapist send updates to work is over the top horrible. That is absolutely an over the top request, and this employee has every right to be frustrated at that. It reads like he didn’t actually break any sort of ethics/conduct code so this church retaliated and eventually let him go. Just awful.

  50. Nomic*


    Assuming you’re still reading this, then you can clearly see that, treating this is as a company acting toward an employee, you really missed the mark. I hope you listen to those speaking above, even if it is abrasive.

    I think you also need to think about this from a church leadership perspective. You had a congregant who was being blackmailed for something that, while you may find it morally questionable, wasn’t illegal. You linked arms with the blackmailer and made all the threats come true. He came to the church for help, and the church cast him out. Your “help” was to treat him as a threat and untrustworthy.

    REPORTS FROM HIS THERAPIST? You’re clergy, you should absolutely know better!! People come to the church for compassion and hope. You not only failed an employee, but a congregant.

    1. HonorBox*

      Your last paragraph is perfect. They failed an employee and congregant, and I’m wondering what other members of the congregation will feel if they’re ever in a situation that is similar-ish. Are you going to ask the clergy for help? Even if the former employee hadn’t put out information on his blog, stuff like this gets out, and I’m now thinking about the potential long-term damage they’re going to do to relationships with others in the congregation.

      1. JustaTech*

        Not to mention, a person doesn’t have to have actually sent photos to get targeted with this kind of blackmail scam.

        In one kind the scammer just emails you claiming to have hacked your webcam and has video of you “doing private things in the privacy of your own home” that they will send to everyone in your contact list if you don’t pay them. (This happened to my MIL who mostly thought it was funny.)

        Or, in a more targeted attack, someone could photoshop or AI-art a person’s face onto someone else’s nude body and threaten to send those fake photos.

        In both those cases the victim hasn’t done anything even slightly in poor judgement, but it sounds like this church would still treat them harshly.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yeah I had the email about my webcam being hacked and having footage of me doing private things in my own home. They threatened to send to my employer. I laughed and ignored it, (I mean my employer really wouldn’t care) but I can see it might bother a lot of people as it was quite threatening.

          1. Peter the Bubblehead*

            This is why every computer device I have – personal and work-provided – the camera is covered with black tape at all times unless explicitly needed.

  51. Snubble*

    Lots of people in the comments trying to change the circumstances of the sexting slightly as some kind of gotcha – that if it has been a real relationship that went sour the church wouldn’t have done this, or if it had been sexing without pictures it would have been fine, etc.
    That is not how Christian purity culture works. The employee having a sex life is what they have a problem with, and they think they are protecting the children from this man who has demonstrated that he has a sex life. If there was a naked picture of him that he sent to his wife and it had gotten into the hands of a blackmailer, they would still be reacting like this. They understand the blackmail to have been a crime, but to them, he’s being blackmailed over a grievous sin. They are showing mercy and trying to keep him on, because the blackmail means he’s earned some leniency, but they absolutely think the sexting was extremely wrong and that someone who would take a naked picture of himself should not be trusted around children, and should be religiously counselled and therapied into never doing anything like that ever again. They are not drawing the distinction between consensual sexual activity and predatory behaviour that we would all draw. You cannot logic them out of this reaction and there probably isn’t some secret aspect that makes this all more reasonable. The underlying moral framework is different to yours.
    Source: I was raised in churches that think just like this.

    1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      Maybe it’s a “no true Scotsman” situation, but I don’t normally associate purity culture with mainline Protestants.

      1. Lana Kane*

        You’d be surprised how nominally progressive groups (religious and not) still hold on to some conservative attitudes.

      2. I edit everything*

        There is huge variation between individual churches within mainline denominations. The mainline churches in my very red, rural area are vastly different from churches of the same denomination in more liberal areas. The current split in the Methodist church is a representation of this. So yeah, a mainline Protestant church could easily have a purity-culture attitude about this.

    2. justpeachy86*

      +1 for this… exactly how most conservative, evangalical church leadership and older (read: giving funds towards salaries) members would feel.

      There might not be huge purity balls or things, but this is the belief set and decision making criteria.

    3. Statler von Waldorf*

      As a person who did the books for a church for a very short period of time before I quit over BS like this, I fully endorse everything Snubble said here. If anyone is trying to actually understand the “why” of all this, this is the comment that I feel explains it the best.

      I have nothing even remotely civil to say to the LW, so I will say nothing further on the subject.

    4. Awkwardness*

      and they think they are protecting the children from this man who has demonstrated that he has a sex life

      This is another plausible take on the situation.
      I am still trying to make sense of the letter. It is such an overreaction to make him attend therapy – for sharing a photo! I cannot wrap my head around it.

  52. thatoneoverthere*