Leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) turned a blind eye to reports of sexual abuse in their churches for more than two decades, according to a 288-page report released last month after an independent investigation.

SBC is the largest Protestant organization in the U.S., with an estimated 14 million members in some 47,000 churches across the country. The report revealed that hundreds of sexual assault victims who reported sexual misconduct were stonewalled and intimidated by church leadership. Survivors finally have a chance to tell their stories and get the justice they deserve, but the road to recovery will not be easy.

SBC Protected Abusers By Keeping Names Secret

In response to the bombshell report released in late May 2022, the SBC released a list of alleged abusers kept secret by members of the SBC’s Executive Committee (“EC”) for at least a decade.

The EC had collected the names of the alleged perpetrators when complaints of sexual abuse were lodged. Instead of investigating the allegations, the EC rejected the victims’ calls for help and sought to protect more than 700 accused abusers from potential civil liability and criminal charges by keeping the reports hidden.

SBC leaders were quick to distinguish the organization from the Catholic Church, highlighting that SBC churches operate autonomously rather than in a hierarchical structure. As such, they indicated the SBC could not mandate how its churches respond to sexual assault.

Too Little, Too Late: SBC Approves Sexual Abuse Reform After Years of Silencing Victims

During its annual meeting on June 14, 2022, SBC leaders approved two measures recommended by its Sexual Abuse Task Force to remedy the organization’s failure to address years of sexual abuse inflicted on countless congregation members by pastors and other church staff.

First, the SBC created an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) to review the independent report compiled by Guidepost Solutions, LLC, and work to prevent further abuse in SBC’s churches. The ARITF is also charged with monitoring the process for reporting abuse and protecting survivors from intimidation and harassment.

Next, SBC will engage an independent third party to create and maintain a “Ministry Check” website, which will include a public list of pastors, denominational workers, or ministry volunteers or employees credibly accused of sexual abuse. Victims abused by church members have long requested such a list.

An individual will be added to the website as an accused sexual abuser when they:

  • Admit to or confess to sexual abuse.
  • Are convicted of criminal sexual abuse charges.
  • Are found liable for sexual abuse claims in a civil lawsuit.
  • Are determined by an independent third party, by a preponderance of the evidence, to have committed sexual abuse.

Liability in Sexual Abuse Cases

Even when abusers are convicted of criminal sexual assault, victims are left with emotional and physical scars for years to come. They may seek compensation from their abusers in personal injury lawsuits, often seeking compensation for:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Anxiety or depression.
  • Psychological counseling or therapy.
  • Cost of medical treatment for physical injuries.
  • Embarrassment, social stigma, or ridicule.
  • Loss of social connections.
  • Difficulty maintaining focus.

Time is limited to file claims for sexual assault and abuse. The statute of limitations for survivors of sexual abuse to bring claims varies widely by state, so it is critical to contact a lawyer immediately to make sure your claim is timely filed.

Fighting for Rights of Sexual Abuse Survivors

The attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Personal Injury Litigation Group are champions for survivors of sexual abuse. We fight to hold clergy, school staff and administrators, coaches, and medical providers accountable when they commit sexual abuse against vulnerable victims who look to them for care, mentoring, and guidance.

It can be incredibly difficult to come forward after suffering sexual assault or harassment of any kind. Our lawyers are patient and compassionate, and we treat survivors with the utmost dignity and respect. We will listen to your story at your pace and help you face the difficult but important steps to hold your abuser accountable.

If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual abuse, contact us for a free and confidential consultation.