On Wednesday, January 8, 2020, Sarasota Police held a press conference on the arrest of the former bishop and founder of the Westcoast Center for Human Development, Henry Lee Porter, alerting the public that several victims came forward with allegations of being sexually abused by the minister. Authorities including the FBI said there are potentially dozens more victims. Porter was arrested in 2020.
The recent investigation into the 72-year-old Henry Lee Porter, Sr. was initiated in October 2019, after Sarasota Police were notified of a Facebook video titled “Art of Manipulation — My survival of Molestation” from a user who said he was sexually abused as a child by a bishop at Westcoast Center for Human Development. The victim told detectives that his first memory of sexual abuse started at 15 and continued until he was 21. It included “fondling, masturbation, oral and anal sex.”
A couple of weeks later, a second victim told detectives he was 11 years old when he was sexually battered while under the “care and keeping” of Porter, according to the police affidavit. His parents were away for an extended hospital stay. He was a student at the elementary school run by the Westcoast Center. On January 2, 2020, Porter was arrested for one count of alleged sexual battery of a child under 12 years old, a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison.
Police interviewed more than 20 similar “fact victims” who provided statements outlining the abuse by Porter in various locations including on cross-country mission trips and on church-sponsored trips. The victims ranged in age from 12 to 19 at the time of the alleged abuse. According to Porter’s arrest report, when prior investigations were conducted in 1990 and the early 2000s, which revealed an anonymous letter that named 40 of Porter’s child sexual abuse victims, the statute of limitations prevented criminal charges.
Many lifelong Sarasota residents, including Fredd Atkins, wasn’t surprised to hear about Porter’s arrest.
“This story has been running around this community for 40 to 50 years with this man,” he said. “There’s a lot of people around here that are burned by this. Outside of here, too. It’s not a local secret. This is international — this man has been all over the world.”
Police say a number of factors have come into play that allowed them to bring the case to the State Attorney’s Office. The evidence substantiates the child sexual abuse allegations, it’s within the statute of limitations, and they have a victim who is willing to testify. Porter’s child sexual abuse victims are encouraged to come forward and give statements to Police as it provides credibility to other victims and potentially reveals details that can help with the current case. Additionally, Police say they can provide resources to help alleged victims with the healing process.
The role of pastors in the church is to support the spiritual needs of their parishioners. Education and often counseling and guidance in times of need are responsibilities with which they are entrusted. A trusted clergyman who sexually violates young children has no place working in the Church. Any ministry in which such a crime is committed must take responsibility for failing to properly screen potential priests and protect their parishioners.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by clergymen in Florida. If you or a loved one was sexually abused, raped, or sexually molested by a priest or other clergy, contact our law firm at 888-283-9922 or send an e-mail to sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz at [email protected] for a free consultation.