Georgia Baptists moving forward with sexual abuse hotline, other initiatives


AUGUSTA, Ga. – The Georgia Baptist Mission Board will set up a telephone hotline by early next year for people to report cases of sexual abuse.

That was one of several steps develooped by a Special Committee on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse, a six-member panel that has been meeting for the past year to find ways to stop sexual abuse.

Chairman Micah Hamrick, administrative pastor at First Baptist Church in Villa Rica and retired deputy director of the Georgia Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, outlined a series of steps being taken in a presentation to messengers at the Georgia Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Augusta on Tuesday.

The Georgia Baptist Executive Committee approved the steps on Monday, and the Mission Board has already begun implementing them.

“It became clear to the committee that the initial work to be done should concentrate on education and training,” Hamrick said. “It was determined that the main goal and objective was to provide resources to reduce opportunities for sexual abuse in our churches and to support survivors of such abuse.”

Hamrick said the Mission Board’s first steps should be aimed at preventing sexual abuse, responding to sexual abuse, and ministering to sexual abuse victims.

“Although it’s a monumental task, if sexual abuse can be prevented, there will be no need to respond to sexual abuse cases or to minster to sexual abuse victims,” he said. “The committee believes that preventing sexual abuse is the first step in our process to make our churches as safe as possible and that most, if not all congregants, can take an active role in helping achieve this goal by being made more aware of and better trained in sexual abuse behavior. Should sexual abuse occur on any of our church contexts, the next step is to make sure all those involved understand the importance of a proper response to the sexual abuse and to make sure they have the proper resources to effectively respond in the proper manner. When a response has been initiated, it is critically important that the sexual abuse victim be ministered to and cared for to ensure they are prioritized, remembered, and accepted.”

Hamrick said committee members found that the Mission Board has great resources available to educate and train Georgia Baptists on sexual abuse.

“The issue was that these resources and training aids resided in many locations,” he said. “As we talked through the process of being able to make resources available, it was determined that the committee spend time vetting the most appropriate resources available. Once identified, we could then capture and maintain those resources on a webpage dedicated to sexual abuse on the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s website. The intent of this webpage is to provide Georgia Baptists a platform to make them more aware of the problem of sexual abuse, a platform to receive training aids, and a platform to provide options for consideration as they work to develop policies and procedures that fit the need of each local church.”

Hamrick said the webpage is already under construction and will be completed early next year.

The task force also recommended setting up the sexual abuse hotline.

“The Georgia Baptist Mission Board is securing a dedicated phone number for those to call who are seeking assistance or needing to report an incident of non-emergency sexual abuse,” Hamrick said. “This number will be monitored by trained professionals who will be able to give counsel, advice, or refer them to the appropriate assistance. This number will be going live with the webpage release in early 2023.”

Hamrick pointed out that the state Mission Board has been a leader among Southern Baptists in providing training to prevent sexual abuse for many years through a partnership with MinistrySafe, a national organization that specialized in prevention of sexual abuse.

The organization’s executive director, Gregory Love, has praised the state Mission Board for pro-actively training church leaders in recognizing and dealing with sexual abuse.

“I work with religious organizations all over the country and world and there has not been one more active religious organization that has tried to communicate to its stakeholders more than the Georgia Baptist Mission Board,” Love said. “Since 2012, we have done countless events, live, online, and in writing. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has been a champion for child sexual abuse prevention and healing and the redemption part as well.”

Since 2015, MinistrySafe has helped train 6,947 Georgia Baptists regarding sexual abuse.

“Although these numbers are a great start, we are in no way saying that enough has been done,” Hamrick said. “This is only to point out that while great work has been done on sexual abuse among Georgia Baptists, we must build on, fine tune, and continue to look for every means possible to address the issue of sexual abuse.”

Hamrick said Georgia Baptists should continually work to improve their vigilance and respond to sexual abuse in coming years, and work with state lawmakers to further strengthen Georgia’s sexual abuse laws.

“Although essential baseline work has commenced, the committee feels it is vitally important that time and resources be allocated to continue to build on the existing deliverables as well as tackle other areas of opportunity in coming years with one goal in mind, and that is to keep all Georgia Baptists safe on Georgia Baptist church campuses,” he said.