WOMEN

Woman Claims Evangelical Seminary Leader Shamed Her When She Reported Campus Rape

Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson accused her of lying, asked her humiliating personal questions and threatened her mom, a lawsuit contends.

Paige Patterson, a prominent Southern Baptist who was fired from a Texas seminary last year for mishandling sex abuse allegations, is now being sued by a former student who claims he failed her when she sought help after multiple campus rapes. 

The former student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), identified in court documents as “Jane Roe,” claims Patterson threatened and humiliated her when she reported being stalked and raped on multiple occasions by a fellow student.

The lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of Texas in March but was unsealed on Thursday, according to the Houston Chronicle. 

Patterson was once a towering figure in the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination. A former convention president, he’s credited with steering the denomination toward greater conservatism. 

Paige Patterson speaks at a meeting on Dec. 1, 2011. A woman who said Patterson threatened and humiliated her after she repor
Paige Patterson speaks at a meeting on Dec. 1, 2011. A woman who said Patterson threatened and humiliated her after she reported multiple rapes to him has filed a lawsuit against the former Southern Baptist Convention president.

Patterson’s fall from grace began last year, when disturbing statements he made about abuse elicited criticism from hundreds of evangelical women. In May, he was fired from his job as president of the SWBTS for mishandling a sexual abuse allegation he received in 2003, while he was president of another Southern Baptist seminary. 

The lawsuit unsealed in court this week centers around another abuse allegation that Patterson allegedly mishandled, which arose in 2015 at SWBTS.

HuffPost has reached out to Patterson’s lawyer, Shelby Sharpe, and to SWBTS for comment.

In the past, Sharpe has claimed that Patterson was a victim of “wide-spread misrepresentation and misinformation.” In June 2018, the lawyer released a statement alleging that after the 2015 rape allegation arose, “The [accused man] was immediately expelled from school and it’s reported to law enforcement. A week later, [the accuser] sends an email to Dr. Patterson thanking him for the way he handled the delicate matter.”

But the lawsuit paints a different picture of what happened. According to the complaint, soon after Roe arrived at SWBTS in 2014, she caught the attention of a man identified in court documents as “John Doe,” a plumber who was both an employee and student of the seminary. The lawsuit alleges that Doe had a criminal history but that the school did not perform a background check on the man before hiring him as an employee.

Despite Roe’s repeated rejections of him, the man apparently pursued her relentlessly ― stalking her, leaving notes on her car, claiming he would harm himself unless she dated him. The man’s “campaign of stalking, terror, manipulation and violence” eventually culminated in rape at gunpoint in October 2014, according to the complaint. Over the next few weeks, he allegedly repeated the sexual assaults, all the while threatening murder and suicide if she reported what was happening. 

Doe lost interest in Roe for a few months, the complaint states. Then, in April 2015, using the building access he had as an employee, he raped her two more times.

After months of trying to handle the situation alone, Roe eventually told her mother about the assaults. Roe’s family alerted Patterson in August 2015, the complaint states.

Roe allegedly met with Patterson and several other SWBTS personnel, all of whom were men. According to the complaint, Patterson asked her humiliating questions about the assaults during that meeting, including whether Doe had “ejaculated” and if Roe was had had her monthly period. When Roe confided that she felt like “damaged goods” because of the assaults, Patterson allegedly replied that it was a “good thing” she had been raped because the right man wouldn’t care if she was a virgin or not.

“Roe was shaken, shocked and embarrassed to be prodded for lurid and graphic details by a 73-year-old man in a room full of other men,” the complaint states.

An archival photo shows Paige Patterson at First Baptist Church in Dallas.
An archival photo shows Paige Patterson at First Baptist Church in Dallas.

The complaint says Patterson did report the assaults to law enforcement in August. Police found multiple firearms in Doe’s dorm, which led to his expulsion from the school that month on the basis of possessing prohibited weapons.

Fearful of Doe’s threats against her and her family, Roe was too scared to pursue charges against the man, the complaint states.

In September 2015, Patterson allegedly sent an email to a seminary staff member stating that “I have to break her down,” referring to a scheduled meeting with Roe. During that meeting, Patterson allegedly accused Roe of lying about the assaults and firearms despite knowing police had recovered them.

When Roe’s mother asked Patterson why SWBTS hadn’t apologized about what happened to her daughter, Patterson “lunged across the table, firmly pointed his finger in her face and threatened to ‘unleash’ lawyers on her if she dared question his leadership at SWBTS,” the complaint states.

Devastated by the meeting, Roe withdrew from SWBTS a week later.

Paige Patterson and his wife, Dorothy, take part in a meeting after he was elected as Southern Baptist Convention president o
Paige Patterson and his wife, Dorothy, take part in a meeting after he was elected as Southern Baptist Convention president on Tuesday, June 9, 1998, in Salt Lake City. 

SWBTS has also been named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The complaint states that the seminary’s failure to educate students about stalking, dating violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault contributed to a “culture of hostility toward women and created condition[s] that substantially increased Roe’s chances of being assaulted.”

“Void of even the most basic standards of support for victims required by state and federal law, SWBTS had put in place a construct in which sexual harassment and violence were ignored — or at times — even celebrated by its leaders,” the complaint reads. “Through intimidation and victim-blaming, any young woman who dared speak up was shamed into silence.”

The lawsuit accuses Patterson of negligence, public disclosure of private facts and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Roe is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.  

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