(Image: Private Media)

This is the second story in a series. Read the first story here.

Note: the following article discusses sexual assault.

The case of young international student Anna Crenshaw, who was indecently assaulted at a Hillsong gathering in Sydney in 2016, has continued to expose serious flaws in how the mega-church of Pastor Brian Houston handles claims of harassment.

As we revealed yesterday, Crenshaw ran up against a thicket of long-standing close ties at the highest levels of Hillsong when she decided to report her assault to the organisation in 2018.

And despite Hillsong’s protestations that it has done the right thing by her, the case has not gone away.

After an account of Crenshaw’s ordeal was published in The Christian Post in April, Houston attacked the story in a tweet, saying: “A number of things in the article are factually wrong, but abuse is NEVER OK. My understanding is Anna was originally abused in her father’s church in Pennsylvania. That makes it sadder. Whether abuse happens in Pennsylvania or Australia, it’s tragic.”

Houston later deleted the tweet and apologised for having “foolishly included information that was wrong for me to share”.

Anna Crenshaw’s father, Pastor Ed Crenshaw, who runs the Victory evangelical church in Philadelphia, had saved and republished Houston’s tweet.

It has added to an air of crisis surrounding Hillsong’s US operations, where the church has been hit by a series of scandals this year, including cases of pastors engaging in extramarital affairs and donations being used to fund lavish lifestyles.

Houston has already taken part in a major US television interview to answer questions about the church.

Inq can reveal that as part of its crisis management Hillsong has engaged lawyers from the Los Angeles office of the international law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to conduct an “independent” review of how it had handled the Crenshaw case, including the rights and wrongs of allowing the offender, Jason Mays, to return to a paid role at Hillsong.

Mays, whose father John Mays has worked with the Houstons for more than 35 years, had pleaded guilty in a magistrates court to “assault with an act of indecency” and was barely 12 months into serving a two-year good behaviour bond before he returned to work at the church.

One attorney assigned to the investigation has expertise in representing “companies and individuals in high stakes litigation” and advises clients “navigating both the court of law and the court of public opinion”, according to her bio. The lawyer had helped launch the firm’s crisis law and strategy practice group, which provides “legal and public relations assistance to companies and individuals facing scandals in the public eye”.

The other lawyer’s bio boasts that she excels in formulating “legal strategy and written product that will demolish the opposing side”.

The investigation is due to be finished shortly. How independent it is remains to be seen. Hillsong declined to answer Inq’s questions on whether or not the law firm has any previous or ongoing relationship with Hillsong, and whether or not it would make the investigation public.

In Ed Crenshaw’s view, though, Hillsong would never have initiated this “independent investigation” had Houston not tweeted “something that was undeniably horrid in his treatment of Anna”.

In April, Hillsong College sent an email to students who had started a petition to air their discontent with how Hillsong handled the Crenshaw allegations. Some had known the American student during her time at the campus in north-west Sydney.

The email, obtained by Inq, includes a list of promised Hillsong actions:

“First, we are listening to you as a student body, and we hear your concerns loud and clear. We also understand that listening is only an initial step. We are committed to additional tangible measures to address the concerns that have been raised about our reporting process and how to respond after a report is made.

“Second, we are committed to doing the right thing by the former student … Obviously, we have some areas that need to be addressed and improved.

“Third, we have initiated an independent and external review for how we have handled this case, including a review of our reinstatement of employment of Jason Mays.

“Fourth, we have been reviewing our formalised procedures and policies regarding serious and wilful misconduct (including sexual assault, sexual harassment and other crimes), with a view to strengthening these and ensuring they are appropriately applied at all times.”

Anna Crenshaw told Inq: “The email says that Hillsong has done the right thing in its dealings with me. Yet they have never apologised in any way.

“Their actions suggest to me that they are more interested in preserving its reputation than making perpetrators accountable.”

Despite her treatment at Hillsong, Crenshaw’s Christian faith remains unshaken.

“But they should understand that people of my generation think it’s OK for an organisation to come out and admit what has happened and then do something about it, rather than try to keep it covered up,” she said.

Hillsong has declined to answer our request for comment.

If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au