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Years after they were sexually abused by a Chicago pastor, survivors find their voice

Two women find their voice years after being sexually abused by Chicago pastor
Two women find their voice years after being sexually abused by Chicago pastor 05:14

CHICAGO (CBS) – A former Chicago pastor charged with sexual abuse of a minor pleaded guilty to aggravated battery but won't be required to register as a sex offender.

Two of his victims told CBS Chicago they were frustrated by the agreement between Pastor John Kim's attorneys and prosecutors despite the pain they said they endured as children in his care.

"He would offer to give us a ride and then whomever that sits in the passenger seat, we just knew, like, 'OK, he's going to touch me,' " said Catherine Park.

Park met Kim when she was 13 years old.

"I knew what was going to happen and obviously that is not what I want for myself, so I actually sat at the very back of the van," Park said. "As kids left the van one by one, he asked me to move up and get close to him physically."

She said it started with a hug that was just too long. At the time, Kim was the youth pastor at Salvation Army Mayfair Community Church on Chicago's Northwest Side.

"As soon as I showed a sign of discomfort, it was immediately met with, 'Oh, Pastor John is just very affectionate,' " Park said.

A Friday night youth group always ended in a dreaded car ride home, Park said.

"He usually started with holding hands, which I thought was very inappropriate, and then he would lock his fingers with me," Park said, adding that Kim would be "just kind of rubbing the back of his hand on a girl's breast. I've seen it, and it happened to me before."

Kim worked at the church for years.

"[His] parents are the founders," Park said. "His sister was our Sunday school teacher. We just had no outlet to even convey this concern."

For years, Park remained silent about the abuse. It was only when an unthinkable situation decades later pushed her to come forward.

"My brother and my sister-in-law now, without having the knowledge that the pastor abused me, was going to officiate their wedding," Park said.

She made a move to confront Kim and wrote him an email. 

"You touched my groin that evening without my consent, intentionally and sexually, that evening," she wrote. 

He responded.

"I want to completely own my actions in the past and say I was wrong," he wrote. "My mind immediately goes to one other person that I also need to apologize to."

He was referring to Ellen Kim, who was 7 years old when she met Pastor Kim, no relation. She said the abuse started a few years later.

"Before I even knew that sexual abuse was, this already became routine," Ellen Kim said.

She said the validation of their shared experiences helped them file charges together in January of 2023. Pastor Kim was charged with three counts of criminal sexual abuse of a minor. They described the alleged grooming, non-consensual touching, and their struggles after the abuse ended in painful detail during their victim impact statements.

"I think I've always seen myself as 'I can't be loved,' " Park said. "'I don't deserve it because I am tainted,' but that's not my fault."

Pastor Kim pleaded guilty to reduced charges of aggravated battery and, as part of the arrangement, he didn't have to register as a sex offender.

Park said learning that was "a punch in my gut."

"Our goal from the very beginning was to get him on the sex offender list because that is the only legal safeguard that would have protected us growing up," Ellen Kim said.

CBS Chicago Legal Analyst Irv Miller said Kim "still has on his record that he battered, a felony, two young ladies."

"This was a negotiated agreement between the State's Attorney and the defense attorney in the case," Miller said. "Sometimes you have to give a little in order to get something that is meaningful."

CBS Chicago attempted to contact Pastor Kim multiple times and couldn't reach him.

"How were you able to find your own happiness after having gone through all this?" CBS Chicago reporter Sabrina Franza asked Park.

"In this journey, I was able to find my voice and to prove to me that I actually deserve that love that, at one point, that I didn't think I could reserve," she replied.

Park and Ellen found a new mission.

"Our goal is that we could just be a resource for other survivors," Ellen Kim said. "Our stories are not the same, but at least knowing you're not alone gives a lot of empowerment."

Late Tuesday, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office released a statement that said in part that John Kim "was sentenced to 2 years' probation, community service with the Cook County Sheriff's Work Alternative Program (SWAP), and he was also ordered to complete a sex offender evaluation and recommendations for treatment. As a result of the plea, the aggravated criminal sexual abuse charges for each case were dismissed."

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