In a lawsuit filed in federal court on Wednesday, a California woman claimed the leaders of her church recruited her at the age of nine to become a “sexual servant” for the church’s leader and others in the church’s hierarchy.
Sochil Martin says she was forced into “a lifetime of manipulation and abuse” by the men and women who run the Light of the World church, a Pentecostal sect which claims more than five million members in the U.S. and around the world, run by self-proclaimed “Apostle,” Naason Joaquin Garcia.
According to the lawsuit, the church controlled “every social, educational, and physical decision of Ms. Martin’s life, grooming her for a position as an unpaid propagandist for the institution and a sexual servant of its ‘royal family.'”
Garcia, an American citizen, is already behind bars in Los Angeles, awaiting trial on state sex trafficking charges. Church leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Law&Crime. They had previously claimed that Martin was an unreliable witness who was guilty of her own criminal misconduct.
Martin claims in the 65-page complaint that she was “trafficked throughout California and Mexico,” and was raped dozens of times and “endured numerous severe beatings.”
The young woman, who says she is now cooperating with federal agents and prosecutors, says church leaders first tried “to buy her silence” and sent “one of its infamous ‘enforcers’ to stalk and threaten her.”
Deborah Mallgrave, one of Martin’s lawyers, said Thursday that the lawsuit was brought on the behalf of many other victims.
“We stand here today and we are moving forward in court to speak for literally thousands of victims of Naason Joaquin Garcia and his conspirators,” Mallgrave said.
In an interview last month with the Law&Crime Network program Brian Ross Investigates, Martin acknowledged that she became a recruiter for Garcia, finding other underage girls to satisfy what California prosecutors have called “his apparently insatiable appetite for sex with underage girls.” Martin said the church leader insisted that his sexual encounters with the girls were recorded on video. Prosecutors say they have recovered thousands of such videos.
Another one of Martin’s lawyers, Joshua Robbins, told reporters on Thursday that the case involves the senior leadership of the church and has serious financial implications.
“It’s a case about the sexual abuse of children but it is also about organized crime,” said Robbins. The church “is a massive global organization that for decades has systematically exploited its members in ways that are not only gross violations of human rights but are also federal and state crimes.”
You can read the complaint below:
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Ariel Tu contributed to this report.
[Image via Law&Crime Network]