Hannah Kate Williams was raped by her father, a Baptist minister, then endured a forced abortion she says a deacon at her church helped perform. Now, she is asking the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Christian church denomination in the U.S., to hold sexual abusers like her father accountable.
In 2019, she and her siblings came forward about the sexual abuse and neglect by their father, a pastor at an SBC church. When she was a child, she said she disclosed the abuse to an SBC employee, but no action was taken against her father or to protect her and her siblings from further neglect and abuse.
“We (me and other survivors) wish we knew there other survivors who got out when we were getting out of our abusive situations. I want to go back to the SBC and give other survivors like me who suffered abuse a visual of what it’s like to get out,” Williams said.
She and other survivors want the SBC to take steps to protect victims and hire a third party to investigate claims of the SBC’s mishandling of sexual abuse. On Tuesday, she stood beside Grant Gaines, pastor of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., as he presented a motion asking the SBC to create a task force to oversee a third-party review of sexual abuse claims. This task force would handle investigations into claims of sexual abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, patterns of intimidation of victims or advocates and any resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives.
The SBC approved the motion in a Wednesday vote. The vote was done by a “show of hands,” so an exact count is not available, but some described the vote as “nearly unanimous.”
Matthew Manchester, who is also a sexual abuse survivor, traveled to Nashville from his home in Florida to support Williams at the convention. He said he’s encouraged by the response to the motion, which was one of several presented that address investigating the SBC’s handling of sexual abuse claims. The SBC will vote on the motions Wednesday.
“Even if the Southern Baptist Convention votes tomorrow in horrible ways, even if that’s the case, there are survivors who are watching this on Twitter and online. There are survivors roaming these halls, who had never reported and never said anything. And they’re watching people fight for them here or they’re watching online and seeing people stand up and say, ‘This is not right,'” Manchester said.
Williams is studying to be an attorney and advocate for sex offender law reforms that will keep offenders for reoffending.
“We see the pattern for how these people are convicted, sentenced to six to 18 months then they offend again. Justice is not throwing offenders in a hole for six months,” she said.
She plans to advocate for lifelong mental health services and support groups for offenders. Click here to watch her story.