A recent investigative report by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News has revealed that over the past two decades, at least 700 people have reported sexual abuse by leaders and volunteers in Southern Baptist churches across the country. Since 1998, over 380 church leaders and volunteers at Southern Baptist churches have been accused of sexual misconduct - this number includes those who were convicted, successfully sued, or confessed and resigned.
Approximately 220 of those accused have been convicted or agreed to plea deals. Many other cases are still in litigation. Offenders include virtually all types of church workers and volunteers - ministers, youth pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, etc.
According to investigation findings, church leadership at the highest levels was complicit for failing to adequately address reports of sexual misconduct. Here is a summary of what reporters found:
Sadly, the true number of victims is likely much higher than the 700 reported, as sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes. This is especially true in cases involving religious organizations that consider themselves independent and self-governing, such as Southern Baptist churches. In cases of abuse in some religious organizations, victims and their families are often pressured to let the church handle the punishment internally instead of contacting law enforcement.
Attorney contributor Marc Lenahan is a former prosecutor who now represents survivors of sexual violence in civil lawsuits. Here are some of Marc's thoughts on the legal options available to survivors of sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches and other religious organizations:
Sexual predators often seek out positions of trust so that they can later exploit this trust and commit horrible crimes. This is often seen in religious organizations like Southern Baptist churches. Moreover, these organizations often exacerbate the problem by refusing to turn allegations over to law enforcement, instead opting to handle the case internally. In some cases, predators are even allowed to continue acting in leadership roles within the church.
In cases of institutional sexual abuse, it's crucial both to make sure the abuser is prosecuted and to hold the organization accountable if they were negligent by enabling the abuse, attempting to cover it up, or failing to prevent it.
Many victims of church sexual abuse feel they have nowhere to turn to. But taking legal action against these organizations can help demand accountability and potentially lead to reforms within these organizations that could prevent others from suffering abuse in the future.
Are you or a loved one a survivor of sexual abuse within a Southern Baptist church? We understand your pain and we want to help you find justice. Get in touch with one of our experienced sexual abuse survivors attorneys to learn more about your legal options.