Duval County

‘It hurt so bad’: Former church student says he was abused by pastor arrested for sexual battery

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Pastor Paul Dyal along with Jerome Teschendorf and Vernon Williamson are facing capital sexual battery charges after the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said an investigation into the Jacksonville Assembly of the Body of Christ Church revealed both long-term sexual and physical abuse of minors that went on for decades.

Several people reached out to Action News Jax online to tell us more about the church itself.

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Paul Bennett, a former church member, said Dyal often seemed caring but the church had a toxic environment.

During his time as a church member and student, Bennett said he experienced both mental and physical abuse similar to what JSO said they found in their investigation.

“One day Paul Dyal came in after he heard some of the students were using curse words and things like that, one of which was my sister,” Bennett said.

“He would walk around and make like the girls and some of the boys like open their mouth. He’d say, ‘open your mouth and keep saying wider, wider, wider’ and he would say this is like a filth hole, all kind of derogatory terms.”

And similar to what police described, Bennett said he experienced forms of physical abuse, saying at one point he was beaten with a belt.

“He grabbed me by my hair and threw me on the floor,” Bennett said.

“Then he started beating me as well so I had like bruises all over my arms and legs.”

He also says it happened on more than one occasion.

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“I remember one time I was randomly walking in school and he was like, ‘Let me show you something.’ I was like ‘What?’, and he grabbed my hand and pulled my finger back almost to my wrist, to the point where it hurt so bad it felt like they were going to break and he was like ‘This is what we do when people don’t listen,’ but after that he was very sorry about it,” Bennett said.

Bennett told Action News Jax he attended the school from around seventh grade and he graduated in 1997. He then stayed for another year and a half after that. He said it was extremely controlling.

“They did not encourage you to speak with people that they considered of the world meaning not anybody of the church. They delete you from their lives if you leave the church,” Bennett said.

When asked about his thoughts on the allegations, Bennett said he was shocked to hear them but ultimately not surprised and that he believes they are true.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visit the website: https://rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-online-hotline.