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South Congaree community supports accusers while having mixed reaction to pastor’s sexual assault ch

Bond denied for former Dunn's pastor on sexual assault charges

Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) – Former South Congaree resident and pastor William “Bill” Oswald was denied bond Wednesday on multiple charges of having inappropriate sexual contact over and over with several female children while leading the congregation of Dunn’s Chapel from 1996 through 2001. Many community members have taken to social media to express shock, sorrow, and anger regarding the allegations that have now surfaced more than 20 years later. The one emotion that’s has been nonexistent is a mistrust of his accusers who came forward after all this time.

When the allegations first surfaced and Police Chief Josh Shumpert and his staff filed the charges, a very few quietly asked how such a heinous act could stay hidden so long. Without showing anger or animosity to the few that asked that, others explained over Facebook how difficult it is for an abused young child to come forward and level accusations against a person like Oswald who was acting as a church’s spiritual leader. They said that being the head of the church also raised his status to that of a leader in the entire community. One person also pointed out that those years were much different, a time when accusations against depraved Catholic priests were just beginning to be whispered. “If you attended the church and the pastor was popular with your parents and the congregation, children wanted to like him too. Sometimes, saying something against the pastor can be akin to not liking God,” one community member who asked not to be identified said. “If your mother came home after each service and went on and on about how good the message was, it would be terribly difficult as a child to openly say something negative about that pastor.”

Another long-time local pastor pointed out that even in the late 1990s, many churches had little or no rules, checks, and balance in place to protect children like they do today. He said that most churches now have strict policies that require extensive background checks, rules that mandate no adult can be alone with a child, and video surveillance that covers where children at a church congregate, learn, and play. “Even now, if a trusted church leader who’s never been charged with misconduct tried, there are opportunities to separate a child from others and groom them for abuse. Just like at school, in scouting programs, or in a sports organization, there is no 100% guaranteed way to prevent an adult whose intent on harming a child from having the chance.”

Experts on child and church safety say it is important for a parent to watch a child and look for subtle things that may give clues that he or she is being groomed or is being abused. If the leader is spending a disproportionate amount of time with one child while seemingly ignoring others, that’s a warning sign. They also say to look for gifts that the leader provides a child; something as simple as candy to expensive things like video games are clues something may be happening. “This doesn’t prove anything inappropriate is happening,” the expert said, “It simply means you need to communicate with your child and ask them about their relationship with the adult. Don’t make accusations or scare the child and make them think they’ve done something wrong. Instead, ask simple questions about how things went on the recent youth trip or at Sunday School. Then, listen and let the child talk.” The expert also said that something as harmless as a ride home from a function is okay if several adults are included, not just one alone. “Lastly, never ignore your child saying someone at church or anywhere else makes them feel uncomfortable or is weird and creepy. If your child begins to make excuses about not wanting to go to a youth program or something they used to enjoy, suddenly comes down with a tummy or headache right before the meetings, or their personality, grades or behavior suddenly changes, that should immediately raise red flags. Don’t ever discount your child’s accusations because they’ve been a “Drama Queen” or told tall tales in the past. Law enforcement can quietly look into things to ensure nothing inappropriate is going on.”

In South Congaree, as angry as some are, as disappointed or in shock as others have been, faith seems to be key to starting the healing process. Many have called for prayer for the victims, the community, the church, and even the accused as this shocking case works its way through the legal system. One Facebook user said, “I’m proud that after all these years, the victims have found the strength to come forward. There may be others out there that have been through the same thing, and this will give them the strength to make themselves known too.”

South Congaree Police Chief Josh Shumpert has said there may very well be other victims of Bill Oswald in the community. If you were violated, or know someone who might have been, he asks that you notify the South Congaree Police Department at (803) 755-2760.

William "Bill" Oswald

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