On Friday (May 20), abuse survivor and advocate Hannah-Kate Williams filed a lawsuit against the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), many of its entities, and her father. Williams’ father, James Williams, is a former seminary student of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), a former Lifeway employee, and a former pastor.
Williams’ lawsuit came mere days before the SBC’s Sexual Abuse Task Force released a 288-page report from Guidepost Solutions titled “The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s Response to Sexual Abuse Allegations and an Audit of the Procedures and Actions of the Credentials Committee.”
The report shocked many SBC leaders, as it claimed longtime SBC leader and former SBC president, Dr. Johnny Hunt, sexually abused an SBC pastor’s wife in 2010.
Williams is suing the SBC for negligently failing to protect her and other children from her father after they learned of his abuse. Listed in Williams’ lawsuit along with her father are the SBC-affiliated Lifeway Christian Resources, SBC’s Executive Committee (EC), and SBTS.
Williams, who is now 27 years old, states that her father “engaged in unlawful, harmful, and offensive sexual conduct and physical abuse against her. The physical abuse started when she was four years old, and sexual abuse began when she turned eight.
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Williams’ attorney, Vanessa B. Cantley, stated that James “had access to countless children in his multiple positions working for SBTS. After all the harm he caused, the Defendants’ collective failure to act to protect Hannah-Kate, her siblings, and other children is grossly negligent.”
Brian Kent, Williams’ other attorney who is a survivor of clergy abuse himself and has represented some of the survivors of Jerry Sandusky, stated, “The church must be held accountable for its negligence and the harm it has caused Hannah-Kate, and we believe, many others.”
The suit claims that “the church defendants engaged in a concerted effort to discredit, malign, and threaten” their client while “she attempted to seek redress for her abuse, causing her extreme emotional distress.”
Williams has said that her father used to hold her underwater in the bathtub “for extended periods of time,” telling the 4-year-old Williams he was “baptizing” her for “sins.” James also used this type of physically and psychologically abusive punishment on his other children, Williams claims.
Williams states in the lawsuit that she first reported the abuse to her father’s employer at a SBTS-run day camp. She reported the abuse after she was traumatized during a camp pool incident that reminded her of being “baptized” in the bathtub.
The suit explains that after Williams reported her father sexual abuse to SBTS, the seminary took no action to confront the 8-year-old’s father. The suit notes that Williams’ father was also around other children, including Hannah-Kate’s younger siblings. Yet SBTS dismissed her claims.
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Three years ago, Williams attempted to report her father’s sexual abuse a second time to an SBTS elder, but still no action was taken to investigate the alleged abuse.