UPTOWN — Uptown's Jesus People USA commune faces another sexual abuse lawsuit from a former member, a filmmaker who alleges he was molested in the Christian community as a child and then "treated like a criminal" for speaking out.
Jaime Prater, the plaintiff in the suit, recently released "No Place to Call Home," a film that alleges that Prater and dozens of other former Jesus People suffered sexual abuse as children at the commune between 1974 and 1998.
Prater's lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court late last month, alleges he was "sexually assaulted by a resident of the JPUSA Commune over a period of several years," as a child living in one of the commune's housing facilities in the 1980s.
The suit charges that church leaders allowed children "to live and sleep in a communal manner without any safe supervision," and "failed to implement policies and procedures to ensure the safety of minor children living in the commune ... after they had knowledge of prior sexual assaults."
The 38-year-old filmmaker had earlier told DNAinfo Chicago that "a man who lived in my bedroom" molested him when he was 10.
Prater said that commune leaders convinced his parents he was lying, isolated him from other children and treated him "like a criminal" in the years after when he spoke out about the alleged abused.
Jesus People, with some 400 members living together in dormitory-style housing at 920 W. Wilson Ave., have been a staple of the Uptown community since settling in the neighborhood in the 1970s.
They are a vestige of the Jesus Movement, a crew of evangelized hippies who embraced urban missionary work, communal living and Christ. Jesus People runs several local businesses, including Wilson Abbey and a roofing company, and social service agencies such as Cornerstone Community Outreach.
Lawyers for Jesus People and members of its administrative council did not return requests for comment.
The Evangelical Covenant Church, also named as a defendant in the suit, views the allegations as "very serious," and is gathering information about the accusations, church spokesman Edward Gilbreath said Thursday.
The ECC is a denomination of more than 700 churches in the U.S. that includes the Jesus People.
Member organizations, while responsible for their own governance, are expected to notify authorities of any allegations of abuse, according to Gilbreath, who said he couldn't comment further on an ongoing legal matter.
Prater left Jesus the commune in 1999. He now lives in Indiana.
In January, Georgia woman Heather Kool filed a lawsuit that also accused Jesus People of negligence and of maintaining a secretive, authoritarian leadership structure that led to her sexual assault as a child and endangered other kids. Kool accuses commune members and leaders of failing to notify authorities once she revealed as a teen that she was molested.
Court dates have yet to be set for both Kool and Prater, who are both seeking jury trials and more than $100,000 in damages.
Police investigated allegations of past sexual abuse at the commune last year but didn't pursue criminal charges, Chicago Police Department spokesman Adam Collins said. The statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions has expired in many cases reported to police, he said.