When the complainant came forward with allegations of sexual assault against celebrity megachurch pastor Bruxy Cavey, she said she wanted to help prevent other people from going through what she had.
Since then, she says she has been taunted by online harassers claiming she is only trying to hurt Cavey and the church.
Posts from social media accounts — some with fake names — first threatened to name her, and then did.
This violated a court-ordered publication ban on any information that could identify her, issued as part of the ongoing criminal investigation of her allegations.
That court-protected anonymity is important to her because she feared she would remain known, indefinitely, only for her allegations against a famous pastor, she said. The Star has given her the pseudonym Alanna.
“The safety of the life away from him that I had fought to create was ripped away from me the instant my anonymity was taken,” she told the Star. “Their harassment showed beyond a shadow of a doubt why I didn’t come forward sooner until I had created safety away from him.”
She went to court to ask a judge to compel three popular websites to reveal some of her harassers’ identities. She won, and Facebook, YouTube and Reddit will disclose user information to her lawyer.
Since Alanna came forward, the Meeting House, once among the most prominent megachurches in Canada, has been besieged by scandal.
The church hired a third-party victim advocate, Melodie Bissell, who has received three dozen “allegations, disclosures and concerns” relating to clergy sexual misconduct. Church leaders say four people have come forward with misconduct allegations against Cavey.
Church officials now say “a number” of these victims of alleged abuse by former church elders have been harassed online and via social media.
Bissell, who was hired by the church to confidentially receive concerns and allegations of sexual misconduct, said that she has also been targeted by threatening emails and she has forwarded them to police. She says the victims she is working with are “very fearful due to the harassment that they are seeing and hearing.”
Cavey, 57, was charged in June by Hamilton police with sexual assault for his alleged abuse of Alanna. His lawyer says his client “has maintained that he has not engaged in criminal activity.”
She was a church congregant who told the Star in an in-depth interview in August that Cavey pressured her to keep their relationship secret.
Alanna alleged he singled her out after she sought his help with counselling as her relationship was crumbling and that his behaviour intensified from flirtation and lingering hugs to groping.
The relationship escalated to include sex, Alanna said, and with hindsight of the imbalance of power between them, she alleges he sexually assaulted her. “I don’t see it as sex. I see it as abuse,” she said in a previous interview.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, there is no consent if sexual interactions were induced by someone abusing a position of trust or authority. The criminal charge against Cavey has not been proven in court.
A church investigation into those allegations, which concluded before police charged Cavey, found he abused his power and authority as a member of the clergy and that his actions amounted to sexual harassment.
Cavey resigned from the church then, describing the allegations in a blog post as “an extramarital affair.”
Alanna says Cavey is partly to blame for the harassment she has received.
After his blog post, a campaign of intimidation and threats began, perpetrated by Cavey’s followers, Alanna alleges.
“Within days of coming forward to the church, I was hearing from friends at the church that Bruxy had shared my identity and suddenly my LinkedIn profile had unusual people viewing it,” Alanna said.
“Bruxy didn’t need to directly harass me because in taking this action he could find other people to become his flying monkeys while he played the role of victim of a false narrative who was taking the moral high road.”
“I’ve been called a liar, a scorned woman, … an abuser, a homewrecker, and other worse things not worth repeating by people who belong to the church or regularly listened to his teaching.”
In a statement, Cavey’s lawyer said he’s “seen no evidence of Mr. Cavey being involved” in the harassment against Alanna.
“While Mr. Cavey may have significant support in the community, he has no control over what his supporters may say or do,” Brendan Neil said.
The initial social media posts from accounts with fake names, made before the court-ordered publication ban was in place, threatened to release Alanna’s identity if the Meeting House continued to refer to the allegations as “clergy sexual abuse.” One anonymous poster said they were not trying to justify Cavey’s alleged actions and referred to his alleged behaviour as “inexcusable and reprehensible,” according to a court filing by Alanna’s lawyer.
“We’re not sitting here in Bruxy’s corner applauding. In fact, he has no part or knowledge in our speaking out,” the post said, according to the court filing. “Yet, while his actions are reprehensible, so are the actions of THE MEETING HOUSE and the ‘victim.’ The victim is NOT a victim by any stretch of the imagination.”
A since-deleted video posted online in early April named the complainant and threatened to release the complainant’s “full” identity if she did not “come clean.”
Since then, posts on social media have identified Alanna by her full name, violating the court-ordered publication ban.
Hamilton police opened a criminal investigation into the online harassment but said it has “insufficient evidence” to proceed.
Danielle Strickland, a popular former Meeting House pastor who resigned over her concerns that the church initially mishandled and minimized Alanna’s allegations against Cavey, says the subsequent online hate directed at the complainant was “shocking.”
“I find it genuinely hard to believe, even if you disagree with someone, that you would vilify them or bully them online.”
In August, the Meeting House leaders told congregants that an internal investigation had “substantiated’’ additional allegations against Cavey, including one case involving a minor.
The church did not provide any details about the allegations, except saying two constituted sexual abuse and a third involved sexual misconduct.
The church has adopted a definition of sexual abuse from the Mennonite Central Committee, which states that sexual abuse by a church leader refers to “any sexualized behaviour that occurs within the church context and where one party has more power than the other.” The perpetrator can be anyone in a leadership position, paid or volunteer, the church’s definition reads.
Cavey is not facing criminal charges related to these cases of alleged abuse.