Women sue Adventist church, pastor accused of abuse: ‘I feel as if my truth should be known’ – By Karina Elwood (Orlando Sentinel) / May 28 2019
Tears streamed down Kenia Gilles’ face as she talked about the moment she told her father she was sexually abused by the pastor at their church.
“He said to me, ‘why did you not tell me?’ Dad, if I emotionally or mentally could have told you, I would have,” Gilles said. “But, I could not.”
Jeny Desronvil sat next to her during a news conference Tuesday morning at the Orange County Bar Association, clutching a tissue and saying she was finally ready to tell her story.
“I’m tired of sitting here and remaining silenced,” Desronvil said. “And if this situation is still going on, there’s people who are are probably suffering as well as I am. If I can be a light or if I can be an advocate to speak, that is what I would like to do.”
Desronvil and Gilles announced a lawsuit against Billy Leveille, who was the pastor of Bethel Eglise Haitienne Des Adventistes Church in Orange County, and the Florida Conference Association of Seventh-Day Adventists. The women said Leveille sexually abused them about three years ago.
He was arrested in March 2018 on charges related to the abuse of Gilles, who was 17 at the time. He pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse and was sentenced to seven years of probation, according to court records. Desronvil did not press criminal charges.
Leveille was fired from the church after it was made aware of the situation, according to police records.
The Florida Conference Association of Seventh-Day Adventists did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
According to the lawsuit, the abuse began in summer 2016 when the girls were appointed to secretarial positions at the church. Desronvil, 21 at the time, was Leveille’s secretary, and Gilles was an assistant-secretary.
The lawsuit said Leveille would take Desronvil and Gilles to hotels, telling them they were working on church projects, which is when he would abuse them.
In March 2017, video and photos of Leveille with Desronvil and Gilles in the hotel room leaked on social media.
Law enforcement was first notified about the situation after a man heard people talking about the sex tape on the Haitian radio station “Splash,” according to police records. He found a link to the video on Facebook and called Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
Attorney Modoline Altenor said at the news conference that Gilles and Desronvil were devout church goers. In the Haitian community, church and the pastor hold influential roles in the lives of young people, she said.
“You’re almost there more than you’re home,” Altenor said.
She said the video was shared thousands of times and the two girls were subjected to scorn when it became public.
“My senior year, instead of worrying about what I was going to wear to prom or graduation, I was basically hiding,” Gilles said. “I had to change my number, having to deal with harassment on all types of social media platforms, because of what happened, something I didn’t ask for.”
Altenor said they are are suing the Florida Conference Association of Seventh-Day Adventists on the basis that it employed Leveille without a background check and did not properly supervise his behavior.
She said she wants to see the organization change its policies to help prevent situations like this from happening in the future.
“Enough is enough,” Altenor said. “We’re looking for change. We’re looking for an internal cleaning.”
Both women said it was a hard decision to publicly speak out about the situation, but they did it to help any others that may be in the same situation
“I’m tired of being mentally, physically, emotionally, even spiritually abused,” Desronvil said. “I feel as if my truth should be known.”