Victims say church leaders ignored reports of sexual assault

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An independent investigation has found that Southern Baptist Convention leaders failed to respond properly to allegations of sexual abuse for two decades.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — A disturbing report was released Sunday that accuses Southern Baptist leaders of ignoring and intimidating survivors of sexual abuse.

The GuidePost Solutions report alleges the behavior spanned nearly two decades and involved some of the largest congregations in the Memphis area.

The report also accuses the denomination of protecting its network of more than 47,000 churches while harboring attackers.

The Independent Third Party said 22 survivors spoke to an investigative team about not only their trauma, but also the debilitating effects of being ignored.

A 7-month investigation of the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee found that a few committee leaders and outside attorneys controlled the response to reports of abuse for many years.

The report found that victims of abuse were repeatedly told that the SBC could not take any action due to the convention’s decentralized structure.

He alleges that the convicted attackers continued their ministry without warning other potential victims in the church or current congregation.

However, the report’s investigation found that a committee staff member began compiling a list in 2007 of 703 abusers, 409 of whom were believed to be affiliated with SBC.

Nine of these people remain or are linked to a ministry.

Two seem to be associated with an SBC church, while the other 7 are associated with other churches.

RELATED: Report: Top Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse Victims

Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis is one of the main churches in the SBC and one of the largest in the city.

His current pastor, Steve Gaines, did not immediately fire an offender according to a 2019 Houston Chronicle report.

Former Memphis youth minister Luke Cooke pleaded guilty to raping one boy and sexually assaulting another over a three-year period and was sentenced to 138 months in federal prison.

Additionally, former Walnut Grove Baptist Church pastor Steven Carl Haney was convicted in a 2003 sexual assault and in state court of a 2001 rape, reported by Baptist News Global.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s news service, Baptist Press, posted on its website Monday that it admitted Pastor Gaines had delayed his response, and quoted the pastor as saying, “I know now that I haven’t handled the situation properly. A thorough investigation was conducted at the time and there were no further incidents of abuse reported.”

RELATED: Report Alleges ‘Patterns and Practices’ of Physical and Sexual Abuse at Wilder Youth Development Center

All of those survivors who came forward agreed that what they needed was a safe space to share their abuse instead, their testimonies were swept under the rug.

Some recommendations from the investigative team include a new task force to set up sexual abuse initiatives. Also, a permanent administrative entity to manage the new reform structure.

In addition, a ban on non-disclosure agreements and civil settlements unless the survivor requests it, as well as mandatory centralized child abuse reporting.

If you or someone you know is being abused, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).

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