An Ethiopian Orthodox priest who sexually abused a parishioner during a depraved baptism ritual has avoided a jail term and is continuing to practise.
Gebrehana Semre of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church in St Phillips Square, Battersea, was handed a 12-month prison sentence last week, suspended for 18 months, after being convicted of assaulting the woman.
In September 2010, Semre used his position within the church to invite himself into the victim's home in order to bless the house and baptise her.
The 47-year-old priest, from Battersea, told the vulnerable woman she needed to be naked in order for the ceremony to be authentic.
She was uncomfortable with this, but trusted Semre as a senior member of the church and believed it was part of the ritual. Semre then carried out the "blessing" and sexually assault her.
Due to his high standing in the church and the Ethiopian community, the victim felt "intimidated and fearful" about reporting him to police or family.
But eventually she found the courage to tell family members who encouraged her to speak to the police in October 2010 and a full investigation was launched by Kensington and Chelsea Community Safety Unit.
In January last year Semre was charged with three counts of sexual assault.
He continually denied the charges forcing his terrified victim to relive her ordeal when she gave evidence in court.
Detective Sergeant Paul Power, who led the investigation, praised the victim's "strength and courage" in coming forward and setting an example to others.
He said: "This was a complete breach of trust by a man who was able to use his position within the church to sexually abuse a member of his congregation.
"The impact this has had on her is immeasurable, she is no longer able to be a part of the church that she believes in and she continues to be affected by this on a daily basis.
"I commend her strength and courage in coming forward and speaking out against this, and hope that this will encourage others who may have also been victims of abuse."
At Guildford Crown Court on Friday, May 18, Semre was found guilty of two counts of sexual assault and eventually admitted the third charge.
DI Jason Fitzpatrick, from Kensington and Chelsea Police, said: "This individual has clearly targeted vulnerable victims, believing they will not report to police through fear.
"Semre is still practicing within his community and I would like to assure anyone who may also be a victim of our support and commitment to their safety and encourage them to contact us."