Campus 'spiritual leader' used 'nudity is unity' to normalize offenses, victim's attorney claims

Shannon Ryan Image
Friday, March 15, 2024
Texas campus 'spiritual leader' accused of decades of sex offenses
A Sam Houston State survivor's attorney said spiritual leader Daniel Savala registered as a sex offender and still worked with children.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- A man regarded as a spiritual leader across the state is now accused of weaponizing religion, using it to groom and manipulate boys and young men.

Daniel Savala is accused of sexual assault and abuse dating back decades.

Savala has been a registered sex offender since 2013. However, a lawsuit filed in Harris County on Wednesday alleges college campus ministry leaders still encouraged him to work with children and young adults.

Court documents state some ministry leaders witnessed assaults. Yet they brought youth from religious groups across the state to Savala's house for "mission work."

Savala was part of Chi Alpha Campus Ministries. The group's website says it is a co-ed Pentecostal ministry group operating on nearly 300 college campuses.

The victim in the new lawsuit is legally blind and was part of the ministry group at Sam Houston State University. He said the abuse began in 2017 when he was first driven to Savala's house.

Savala was first accused of sexually abusing minors in 2012. He was indicted on 11 charges for allegedly assaulting several children in a youth group he led in Alaska in the 1990s.

He pleaded guilty to just one charge, spent 90 days in prison, and registered as a sex offender.

"So they fully were aware in 2013 that this was an issue with Mr. Savala, and yet still they continued to send college students to do mission work at Daniel Savala's home here in Houston," attorney Anjali Nigam, representing the SHSU survivor, said.

Nigam added that one campus ministry leader mobilized a letter-writing campaign in support of Savala after he was charged in 2012.

Last year, Savala was accused of sexually abusing two teenage boys with a then-Baylor University campus minister. The two were sent to the McLennan County Jail.

Eventually, Savala was brought to Harris County as more alleged victims started coming forward. In August, one young man reported that Savala had begun assaulting him back in 2005 when he was in high school. Savala was also charged this February for allegedly exposing himself to another teen back in 2021.

"He used (religion) as part of his grooming process to normalize the sexual abuse, and he used religious text in order to make it seem normal and would say things like, 'Nudity is unity,'" Nigam said.

The impacted universities have not responded to ABC13's request for comment.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous report incorrectly identified the organization as Chi Omega Campus Ministries.

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