YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Friday morning, the family of a teenage victim of sexual assault faced their former youth pastor and teacher in the Mahoning County Courthouse.
Christopher Stivers, who used to work for the Gospel Baptist Church on Clingan Road in Poland, was convicted of sexually assaulting their 14-year-old daughter.
Stivers was arrested in November of last year and pleaded guilty to sexual battery charges in May.
Now he’ll spend seven years in prison.
It was a tense and emotional scene.
Stivers silently cried as the judge ordered him to immediately register as a Tier III sex offender — a label he’ll hold for the rest of his life.
He addressed the family in court, saying, “I am sorry to the family and I know words don’t mean much, but that’s all I have…It was my actions and my choices that brought me to this place.”
Before the judge handed down Stiver’s sentence, the victim’s parents told the heart-wrenching story of their family’s pain.
“My daughter is special to me. How would you feel if someone did this to your little girl?” the victim’s mother asked.
While Stivers told the judge he takes full responsibility for his crime, the girl’s family thinks he’s trying to blame the victim.
“I do not believe Mr. Stivers is truly sorry. I base that belief on the fact that he calls what has happened a consensual encounter,” the victim’s father said.
The parents said Stivers engaged in predatory behavior with the victim and their other children for several months before getting caught.
In his statement, Stivers apologized to the victim’s family but told the court that he resented the things being said about him.
“Was it a mistake? Yes. Was it just a mistake? Yes. Am I the label that they want to put? No, Your Honor.”
Judge Anthony D’Apolito scolded him before passing sentence. He emphasized the perverse nature of Stiver’s actions, specifically given his role as a youth pastor.
“I don’t understand. I don’t see what possibly could have motivated you,” D’Apolito said.
Though Stivers is no longer in the lives of the victim and her family, the consequences of his actions will haunt them forever.
“I don’t know if we could ever put our kids into a school again,” the victim’s mother said. “How could we trust someone we don’t know to have our children for eight hours a day when someone we knew did this to our daughter?”
Deputies took Stivers into custody immediately following his sentencing.