Sexual abuse survivor Anne Miller talks to ChurchLeaders as her abuser, Mark Aderholt, is released from his sentencing and his criminal record is expunged.
ChurchLeaders note: A 2019 case that sparked soul-searching and studies into how the Southern Baptist Convention—and specifically its International Missions Board—handles sexual abuse claims concluded in a Texas courtroom with former IMB missionary Mark Aderholt, then 47, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, fined $4,000, and given 24 months deferred adjudication, a type of probation that allows for his record to be cleared if he complies with terms. Today, July 2, 2021, Aderholt will be released from his sentencing and his record expunged. His victim, Anne Miller, responds.
Anne Miller Reflects on Her Journey
ChurchLeaders: What are your thoughts and feelings today, knowing that your abuser is being released from his sentencing and having his record expunged?
Miller: Throughout the criminal investigation, I learned just how complex our justice system is. There are many people who say Aderholt’s punishment doesn’t fit the crime, and I know that’s discouraging and I agree with them.
After Aderholt’s arrest until his sentencing (about a year) the assistant DA I worked with and I always planned on the case going to an open trial (by judge) or a jury trial. At the very last minute, Aderholt’s defense attorney asked the prosecutors for a plea deal. The DA’s office took my input seriously as they determined what to do. We knew we had a strong case—the evidence was so compelling that the Grand Jury who indicted him actually added a fourth felony charge in addition to the three he was arrested for—but the trial process would be lengthy and emotionally re-traumatizing. I had to consider my own health, how the trial would affect my daughter (who was three at the time), what it would be like to have every recollection of my abuse on public record where anybody could read about what happened in detail, the financial cost from spending time away from work and nursing school. It seemed as if the wisest choice for me would be to support the plea deal. I knew he would be pleading guilty to an assault charge (albeit a misdemeanor) and serving a maximum sentence for that, and I knew at the end of it, as long as he followed the terms of his probation, his criminal record would be clear. A trial could not guarantee a guilty outcome, and would never allow me to hear him admit guilt, regardless of how strong the evidence is. Hearing him say, “Guilty” and facing some criminal consequence was worth the trade-off to me.
I feel fortunate that my case was able to make it through to the point of a hearing/sentencing. So many cases don’t get reported, and if they do, they don’t make it past reporting, much less an investigation, an arrest, an indictment, and going back and forth with defense attorneys and prosecutors. Even though I sometimes wish I would have gone through with the trial, I still fully support the DA’s office for making the choice they did with my wellbeing in mind. At the end of the day, if the “justice” of a trial cost me my health, my ability to be present with my daughter, and my livelihood, would that really be justice for me at all?
ChurchLeaders: Has this experience affected your faith in the system or in God?
Miller: Since the abuse happened when I was 16, my faith journey has been all over the place. I grew up in the church as an SBC preacher’s kid and saw my family get hurt by church politics. With the abuse, I began to see God as removed from our lives on Earth—the existential, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” ideology. During the time around the criminal trial, seeing both evangelical and Catholic sex abuse scandals fly out from the dark and hearing so many harrowing stories, my faith in the church suffered. It was requiring mainstream media to put our stories in the spotlight for any action to be taken when it should be the church proactively protecting us from the beginning and helping us heal through the rest. I shared some of my thoughts with Rachel Martin on NPR’s Morning Edition, and listening to it now in hindsight, I can viscerally feel the grief I hear in my voice when I talk about how broken my faith seemed to be.
After the criminal investigation, reading Aderholt my victim statement, and seeing him in person for the first time in 22 years, I began healing in ways I didn’t know were possible. Over the last two years, my faith in God has changed and grown into something beautiful that I never expected. I’ve tempered my realism with more optimism. While his sentencing ends today and it brings up memories and emotions I’ve not felt in a while, I know God is always fighting for his children, those who are vulnerable. I’ve seen good people do good things, and that has restored a lot of my hope.