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Southern Baptist Sex Abuse

An independent investigation by Guidepost Solutions, LLC has revealed rampant sexual abuse by Southern Baptist Church leaders, followed by a longstanding pattern of deliberate concealment by the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

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The SBC is a massive organization boasting 47,592 cooperating churches and more than 14 million members. In the last 20 years alone, more than 400 church leaders in the United States have pled guilty to or been convicted of sexual abuse. More than 700 victims have been identified.

The sexual abuse attorneys at Meirowitz & Wasserberg, LLP can help sexual abuse survivors hold abusive church leaders accountable so survivors can restore their lives to the fullest extent possible.

What is clergy sexual abuse?

Church leaders and members of the clergy are in a position of enormous trust. Parishioners entrust members of the clergy with sensitive information and rely on them for guidance, often as a substitute for professional therapy.

Consensual Sexual Relations

Much like client/counselor relationships, pastor/congregant relationships create uneven power dynamics. Clergy sexual abuse occurs any time a pastor or church leader misuses his or her position as a means to engage in sexual conduct with a church member.

The uneven power dynamic renders the victim easy to manipulate. Sexual advances are confusing and difficult for the victim to refuse.

Even if the parishioner seduces the pastor, as the person with the higher level of power, the pastor has a duty to establish a professional boundary. Several states specifically prohibit sexual relations between pastors and those they are counseling. Even if the parishioner is an adult, consent is not possible in relationships with uneven power differentials.

Unwelcome Sexual Conduct

Members of the clergy may engage in inappropriate sexual conduct similar to that observed in other places, such as in job situations.

  • Sexual harassment
    • Unwelcome sexual comments
    • Unwelcome touching
    • Requests for sexual favors in exchange for services or employment, or in exchange for avoiding something negative
  • Sexual assault – Unwanted sexual contact
  • Rape – Unwanted sexual contact that includes penetration

Sexual Abuse Against Children

Children are often the victims of clergy sexual abuse. Children are not legally capable of consent. Any sexual contact with a child is sexual abuse, including the following:

  • Fondling
  • Sexual intercourse or penetration
  • Masturbation in front of the minor or forcing the minor to masturbate
  • Non-touching forms of abuse
    • Obscene conversations
    • Exhibitionism
    • Text messages
    • Sharing of pornography or other explicit images

What qualifies as a church leader?

Church leaders include but are not limited to the following:

  • Pastors
  • Associate pastors
  • Youth pastors
  • Worship leaders
  • Deacons
  • Elders
  • Sunday school teachers
  • Convention presidents or other officers
  • Church staff
  • Church volunteers serving in leadership, counseling or teaching positions

Sexual Abuse in Southern Baptist Churches and the Subsequent Cover-Up

The Guidepost investigation covered the period from January 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021. During this time, investigators discovered numerous credible allegations of sexual abuse and assault against leaders in Southern Baptist churches, including the following examples:

  • The sexual assault of a pastor’s wife by then-president of the SBC Johnny Hunt
  • The rape and molestation of several young boys, at least one of whom was 12 to 15 years old, by a youth minister serving at several Georgia Southern Baptist churches
  • Years-long grooming of a young woman by her music minister
  • Long-term sexual abuse of a young teenage girl by her youth and education minister, followed by more than 30 sexual assaults after she turned 16.
  • The rape and impregnation of a 14-year-old girl by a pastor who then forced her to confess her sin in front of the congregation without naming him
  • Long-term sexual abuse of a young college student by her seminary professor

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. Boys, girls and adult women experienced abuse. In every case, the victims reported the abuse to their local churches, the Southern Baptist Convention or both. Many of the victims reported the abuse to multiple parties within the Southern Baptist organization, only to be ignored, dismissed or vilified. The organization:

  • Failed to respond to abuse allegations
  • Convinced survivors that coming forward would harm the church
  • Allowed abusers to continue serving in church leadership positions
  • Kept a secret list of abusers but took no action
  • Failed to report the abuse to authorities
  • Characterized abuse victims in negative terms
    • Agents of the devil
    • Detractors
    • Professional victims
    • Potiphar’s wife (a Biblical character who falsely accused someone of rape)
    • Crazy
    • Worse than the perpetrators
  • Intentionally mischaracterized abuse as a victim’s sin
  • Destroyed the reputation of abuse victims
  • Subjected victims to harassment and threats
  • Caused at least one victim to lose her career by falsely characterizing her abuse publicly

The investigation found that individuals at the highest levels of leadership conspired with their attorneys to keep sexual abuse matters quiet after being advised by their attorneys that avoiding litigation was the top priority.

The Southern Baptist Convention justified its inaction by claiming that since the individual churches operate autonomously, they could not get involved. However, the SBC has been well-known to interfere with individual church matters that pertain to churches allowing women to be ordained as pastors and gay couples to become church members.

What are the effects of clergy sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse is a traumatic experience with numerous lingering psychological and sometimes physical effects, including but not limited to the following:

  • Depression
  • Flashbacks
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Self-harm and suicide
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Dissociation
  • Panic attacks
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Guilt
  • Intimacy issues
  • Low self-esteem

Abuse by spiritual leaders brings about a heightened sense of betrayal and trauma because it was perpetrated by someone who the victim trusted and respected. It also causes spiritual damage, leading to a crisis of faith as survivors’ religious experiences become inextricably intertwined with the abuse. Furthermore, dismissive and negative responses by the church and the SBC when victims report the abuse add significantly to the trauma.

These effects can last a lifetime and interfere with everyday functioning, including the ability to pursue goals, obtain an education and maintain gainful employment.

Who is liable for sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches?

First and foremost, victims are never responsible for sexual abuse. The perpetrator is fully responsible. However, the perpetrator is not the only responsible party: The Southern Baptist Convention and the churches that dismissed allegations, mistreated victims and supported perpetrators are also culpable.

Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse Survivors May Be Entitled to Recover Substantial Compensation

The conduct of the Southern Baptist Church as well as the SBC is grievous and inexcusable. The churches knowingly placed their parishioners at risk by allowing known sexual predators to work in trusted positions. The Southern Baptist Convention ignored abuse allegations, took active measures to further harm survivors who dared to come forward and supported the abusers.

If you have survived this maltreatment, you deserve to be compensated for the losses you have suffered as a result, including but not limited to the following:

  • Economic Damages – Verifiable, monetary losses
    • Medical expenses
    • The cost of mental health treatment
    • Lost wages
    • Loss of employment
    • Lost business opportunities
    • Loss of scholarships
    • Loss of educational opportunities
  • Non-Economic Damages – Subjective, non-monetary losses
    • Pain and suffering
    • Emotional distress
    • Mental anguish
    • Humiliation
    • Loss of society
    • Loss of reputation
    • Disability
    • Loss of capacity to enjoy life
  • Punitive Damages – Non-compensatory damages awarded as a punishment against the defendant

How long do I have to file a sex abuse lawsuit?

The statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases varies from state to state, and it also varies based on the age of the victim when the abuse occurred. Many states have extended their statutes of limitations, especially for sexual abuse that occurred during childhood, to allow victims more time to reach a point in their healing when they can come forward.

We take cases from our office locations in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas. The statutes of limitations in those states are as follows:

New York

The Child Victim’s Act extends the statute of limitations for survivors of sexual abuse who were abused prior to the age of 18. For criminal prosecutions, the statute of limitations was extended to the date the survivor turns 28. Civil actions can be brought until the survivor turns 55.

Adults who are sexually assaulted have 20 years to file a civil lawsuit against perpetrators. The 20-year statute of limitations was enacted in 2019, but it is not retroactive. For abuse cases that occurred prior to its enactment, adults have just three years to file an action.

However, under the Adult Survivors Act, a one-year lookback window has been established, during which time previously time-barred survivors can file civil actions. This window ends in November 2023.

New Jersey

Survivors of sexual assault who were abused as minors in New Jersey have until the age of 55 to file a civil lawsuit or seven years after the date of discovery that the abuse has caused financial harm. Survivors who were assaulted as adults have up to seven years from the date of the assault or the date of discovery to file a civil action.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania survivors who were abused as minors have until their 55th birthday to file a civil action. Survivors abused between the ages of 18 and 24 have until their 30th birthday. Survivors ages 25 and over have two years from the date of the abuse.

Florida

An action for childhood sexual abuse can be brought within four years after leaving the dependency of the abuser or within four years of discovery that the abuse occurred or that an injury occurred as a result of the abuse. Under Donna’s Law, which was passed in 2020, the statute of limitations for the criminal prosecution of sexual abuse has been eliminated.

Texas

The statute of limitations for sexual abuse and assault, regardless of the age of the victim at the time the abuse occurs, is 30 years.

How can a personal injury attorney help me with my Southern Baptist sex abuse case?

While no amount of financial compensation could make up for the lifelong impact of abuse, filing an action against an abuser affords survivors the following benefits:

  • Empowerment
  • Justice
  • Financial relief
  • Access to ongoing therapy and support

When you retain a personal injury attorney, you have an advocate who will file a strong case on your behalf and protect your reputation. As a victim, your abuser had all the advantages at a time when you were alone and vulnerable. When you secure the vigorous advocacy of the legal team at Meirowitz and Wasserberg, LLP, you are a strong survivor with an upper hand.

Our experienced sexual abuse attorneys can ensure that your case is filed ahead of state deadlines to ensure your abuser is held accountable.

Why is Meirowitz & Wasserberg, LLP the best choice?

The attorneys at Meirowitz & Wasserberg, LLP are compassionate and devoted lawyers who strive to offer caring, personalized service to each client. We understand how important it is to our sexual abuse clients to be believed and validated. Our dedicated attorneys will work fervently and tirelessly to expose the truth on your behalf and achieve the justice you have long deserved.

The Southern Baptist Convention is a substantial organization, but we have a long track record of success going against large corporations on behalf of individuals. Our mantra is that we represent people, not corporations. We derive great satisfaction from making a difference in the lives of individuals in their time of need.

Our attorneys are nationally recognized and have received prestigious recognitions from our peers including Super Lawyers and Top 100 Trial Lawyers. We have recovered millions of dollars in compensation for our clients, such as:

  • $4 million mesothelioma settlement for a Puerto Rican Sugar Mill Mechanic and Laboratory Equipment Engineer in a case initially declined by another firm
  • $1 million in an asbestos lung cancer case involving an 89-year-old millwright, which was initially declined by another firm
  • $675,000 for a woman who was critically injured when her vehicle ignition failed and her airbag did not deploy

If you or your child has suffered abuse by a Southern Baptist leader, we believe you, we care and we have the resources necessary to hold the individual, the church and the Southern Baptist Convention accountable. We operate on a contingency fee basis, which means we do not charge upfront legal fees.

The Southern Baptist Convention has been exposed. There has never been a better opportunity for victims of abuse to get justice. In New York, an important window is closing November 2023, so it is important to contact us before time runs out. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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