Sexual abuse by the clergy and church personnel has been a well-known problem for decades. Some organizations have successfully rooted out sexual predators from their churches and supported victims. Sadly, others have not taken adequate measures to protect their members.
Unfortunately, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), falls into the latter category. In May 2022, an independent consultant released a report claiming the SBC had engaged in an intentional pattern of victim-blaming and protecting sexual abusers within the church.
If you suffered sexual assault, abuse, or misconduct at the hands of someone affiliated with the SBC, you deserve justice. A Southern Baptist Convention sexual abuse lawyer could fight for your rights to compensation for the church’s intentional failure to protect you. A dedicated personal injury attorney is waiting to serve you.
Civil Sexual Abuse Actions
When someone faces criminal prosecution for a sexual crime, the penalties could include imprisonment, community service, fines, and registration as a sex offender. To get a conviction, a prosecutor needs substantial evidence. They must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the verdict must be unanimous.
In a civil action, the victim is called the plaintiff. If the plaintiff and their attorney can prove their case against the defendant, they win monetary damages. The plaintiff brings a civil action against the person or people who committed the assault (defendant) and must prove that the defendant sexually abused or assaulted them. In a civil case, the attorney must persuade a simple majority of the jurors by the preponderance of evidence.
The plaintiff also could sue others whose actions or inactions allowed the abuse to occur. If the assailant was a pastor, employee, or volunteer associated with the SBC, the plaintiff could seek damages against the hierarchy of the church the defendant worked for, the national leadership of the SBC, and the SBC as an organization.
Proving the Southern Baptist Convention Liable
Anyone who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of someone affiliated with the SBC could hold the organization liable for negligence. Legal negligence means not taking reasonable care to fulfill a duty or protect others.
In response to multiple complaints, the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention hired an independent consultant to investigate the church’s response to sexual abuse. The report, made public in May 2022, found that the church engaged in multiple practices that could constitute a negligent disregard for the welfare of the complainants. Among its findings, the investigators’ report found the following:
- Church officials engaged in a pattern of intimidating victims and their advocates.
- Pastors accused of sexual abuse often were permitted to retain their positions.
- Church leadership did not make required reports to law enforcement in response to credible reports of child sexual abuse.
- SBC resisted reforms to track abuse allegations and education about identifying and responding to sexual abuse.
- SBC’s legal team pursued a policy of covering up abuse and victim-shaming.
Individuals who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of anyone affiliated with the church could use the findings in the report to support their claims that the church was negligent. Depending on the individual circumstances, an attorney could allege that the SBC’s failure to respond to sexual abuse claims was an intentional, harmful act.
Damages in Civil Sexual Abuse Claims
The money a victim could receive in a civil sexual assault or abuse claim is called damages. Damages should compensate the victim for all their objective and subjective losses related to the assault.
Damages could cover medical treatment, including mental health treatment. Damages should cover crisis counseling and any therapy, intervention, or medication necessary to treat the ongoing effects of the trauma.
Damages also could cover lost wages resulting from the incident. If the trauma of the assault has limited the victim’s earning power, their damages could include compensation for their diminished earning capacity. Damages also could cover the victim’s physical and emotional pain and suffering, humiliation, embarrassment, and other impacts of the assault.
In some states, the Southern Baptist Convention could be liable for punitive damages because of its demonstrated refusal to respond appropriately to sexual assault allegations. A local attorney who handles cases related to SBC abuse could explain the damages that might be available in a specific case.
Pursue Your SBC Sexual Abuse Claim with a Dedicated Attorney
Sexual abuse is a traumatic experience that can affect a victim for years. When an institution you trust denies your experience and even blames you for what happened, the situation becomes even more devastating.
If you were the victim of sexual assault or abuse and the SBC failed to prevent it or take appropriate action, you could bring a lawsuit seeking damages. Speak with a local Southern Baptist Convention sexual abuse lawyer about your legal options today.