Pastor of scandal-plagued Korean church in Toronto on trial

The Star, Canada/January 17, 2012

The pastor of a scandal-plagued Toronto church told a parishioner that evil spirits would turn her into a hunchback-like creature, before he sexually assaulted her, an Orangeville court heard on Tuesday.

Jae-Kap Song, an Orangeville grocer and once pastor of the now closed Jesus First Church, near Steeles and Islington Aves., also told the alleged victim her husband was cheating on her and pressured her to have "revenge" sex with him, the woman testified.

The 30-year-old alleged sexual assault victim, whose identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban, said Song removed her bra, pants and underwear without her consent and assaulted her with his hand.

The alleged incident took place in the early hours of Valentine's Day 2010. Song was charged several months later, after nine members of his congregation were slapped with 485 charges — including gang rape — after Song accused them of sex crimes.

The church scandal made international headlines when it first erupted, bringing a swath of reporters from South Korea to the GTA to investigate a litany of lurid allegations. Most of the church members were South Koreans in Canada on student visas.

In October, the Crown dropped all charges against the nine members — including gang sexual assault, administering drugs for sex, threatening death, forcible confinement and assault — after a five-week pretrial, saying there was "no reasonable prospect of conviction."

Song sat quietly in court on Tuesday — his wife behind him — as his accuser wept during parts of her testimony.

Months before the incident, the woman said, Song told her an evil spirit from her husband's family was attacking her, and that without treatment she would get bigger and bigger, eventually growing into a "hunchback." On Song's advice, the woman said she took injections of an unidentified medicine — a "very expensive and rare item" that came from South Korea. She said Song also advised her to keep the injections a secret from her husband.

In the early hours of Feb. 14, 2010, a group of church members was gathered in a room adjacent to the apartment where the alleged victim lived with her husband, the woman said. Song began to tell the members, one by one, to go to bed. She said she was the last one left.

Without warning or consent, she said Song kissed her and began to speak of how he pitied her because of the "evil spirit" that was attacking her. She said he warned her that the colour of her skin would soon change and then requested that she remove her clothing so he could assess whether the process had already begun.

"He said, 'Come on, come on — let me see your body,'" the woman said.

She said she refused at first, but then consented to be led to an upstairs bedroom — down the hall from where her husband was sleeping — and to take off her shirt so that Song could examine her.

She noted that she was uncomfortable, but viewed Song as a physician. She also said she was afraid to disobey her pastor by leaving the room because he had not given her permission to go to bed.

The woman said the pastor then removed the rest of her clothing, while she lay on the bed "frozen" and in shock.

"It's serious," she said he told her of the skin condition, before assaulting her with his hand as he tried to convince her to have sex with him. She said she refused and he eventually backed off.

Afterward, she said she was too ashamed to tell anyone what had happened. The woman said she knew her husband admired Song and believed he was a true spiritual leader.

"No matter what, my cultural background, the woman gets all the blame," she said.

In cross-examination, defence lawyer Christophe Preobrazenski pointed out that the woman had only gone to police after sex assault allegations were made against her husband, who was also a member of the church. The defence will open its case when the trial resumes on Wednesday.

Jesus First Church once had a 50-member congregation made up of mostly South Korean women between the ages of 16 and 32. Many of the church's followers were in Canada on student visas studying theology and traditional Chinese healing.

The nine members charged and then acquitted of sex crimes were from a faction of the church that opposed Song and accused him of widespread sexual improprieties, according to former church members. The alleged victims were four members of the church.

Song also faces charges in South Korea of mischief, threatening forcible confinement and defamation of character.

Former church members described Song as a fine orator and something of a prophet, who some believed had the power to read minds and predict the future.

With files from Peter Small

Update: Pastor found not guilty of sexual assault

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