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Southern Baptist leader encouraged a woman not to report alleged rape to police and told her to forgive assailant, she says

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke at the AWAKEN Conference in Las Vegas on Jan. 2014. (Video: Hope Church)

A prominent Southern Baptist leader at the center of controversy this spring over comments he has made about abused women allegedly encouraged a woman who said she had been raped not to report it to the police and told her to forgive her alleged assailant, the woman has told The Washington Post.

The woman said that she was raped in 2003 when she was pursuing a master of divinity degree in women’s studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., where Paige Patterson was president at the time.

“I had bottled it up,” said the woman, who works in public relations in North Carolina. “My husband didn’t know about it until last week. … I told him ‘I need to do something.’ ”

A man who a seminary official confirmed was the alleged assailant’s roommate at the time of the incident said that the woman told him about the assault shortly after it allegedly happened. The woman also provided an email to The Washington Post from the seminary’s dean of students at the time referencing the alleged incident.

The Post has a policy of not identifying victims of sexual assault. The former roommate is not being named so as not to reveal the identity of the alleged assailant, who was not charged with a crime and did not respond to several calls requesting comment.

The seminary’s board of trustees meets Tuesday and will discuss Patterson’s fate after thousands of evangelical women signed a petition this month calling for his ouster as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. In recordings of Patterson’s comments that recently surfaced on a blog, Patterson encouraged an abused woman to pray for her husband and counseled against divorce, and he commented on a teenage girl’s body and women’s physical appearances.

Patterson did not respond to several phone calls and emails requesting comment on Monday. Southwestern seminary spokesman Charles Patrick also did not respond to several calls requesting comment. An attorney for Southeastern, George H. Harvey, said the seminary is conducting an internal review of the 2003 incident.

The woman cited the recent concerns raised by evangelical women about Patterson in her decision to reach out to a reporter with her story.

She said she had been dating the man she alleges raped her and had allowed him into her apartment the night she said he assaulted her. The two were kissing when he forced himself on her, she said. She said she reported it the next morning to the administrator who handled student discipline. That administrator then reported the incident to Patterson, she said, and she was required to meet with Patterson and three or four male seminarians she said were proteges of Patterson’s. She said she doesn’t remember the specific words Patterson used but that he wanted to know every detail of the rape.

Patterson and other administrators did not report the incident to the police, and she claims that Patterson encouraged her not to, as well, she said. The Post confirmed that a report was never filed with the Wake Forest Police Department.

The woman said she was put on probation for two years, but she doesn’t know why, saying it was perhaps because she was with another man alone in her apartment, which was against seminary policy.

“They shamed the crap out of me, asking me question after question,” said the woman, who attended the seminary until 2005 before dropping out for reasons she said were unrelated to the alleged incident. “He didn’t necessarily say it was my fault, but [the sense from him was] I let him into my home.”

The woman said she recalls Patterson telling her to forgive the man who allegedly raped her. The former roommate said the woman described the alleged assault to him shortly after it happened and later complained to him about her treatment by Patterson and seminary officials.

He was not present for her conversations with seminary officials.

“She wants people to know that this happened to her,” said the former roommate, who now works as an emergency room technician in Raleigh, N.C. “She wants people to know how Patterson is and how he thinks about women and abuse. For him to still be in power eats at her soul.”

The woman shared a letter written to her by Southeastern’s dean of students at the time. In the letter, dated April 9, 2003, Allan Moseley told the woman that she would be put on probation after the incident, with suspension or expulsion as possible next steps if there were subsequent behavior the school deemed inappropriate. “It is evident that your memories of moral lapses with [the alleged assailant’s name] cause you sadness and humiliation,” Moseley said in the letter.

Responding to a request for comment, Harvey, Southeastern’s attorney, said, “As part of our internal investigation … it is my opinion that Dr. Moseley handled the matter in an appropriate manner.”

Later in 2003, Patterson became president of Southwestern in Texas.

Three years ago, the man she alleges raped her reached out to the woman in a Facebook message and asked for her forgiveness, which she granted, the woman said. It was the first time they had spoken since the alleged incident, she said.

“I forgave him because that’s what the Bible tells me,” the woman said. “Forgiveness also comes with the fact that I don’t ever want to see him or talk to him. I’ve not forgiven Paige Patterson. He’s also never apologized to me.”

The woman said she requested her assailant’s student file from Southeastern last week but that the seminary’s current president, Danny Akin, declined to give it to her, citing federal law that prohibits the release of student personnel files under most circumstances. Instead she said he read information from it to her over the phone.

Akin said in a statement later that he did not read directly from another student file or disclose personally identifiable information from education records. “I was asked to confirm if particular information was in the file, and I communicated my personal knowledge based on what I observed,” he said.

The woman said she requested a statement from Akin stating that seminary records showed the rape took place so she could send it to the trustees of Patterson’s current seminary, but she said Akin declined, telling her that he was not president in 2003.  He was vice president at another Southern Baptist seminary at that time.

Akin told The Post he was out of the country celebrating his 40th wedding anniversary and declined to comment further. On Monday, Akin wrote the woman an email, which she shared with The Post.

“You had asked me to keep this confidential,” the email said. “I want to honor your wishes and so I have refused to talk with [The Post]. As I said on the phone, if you wish to press charges and go public we will fully support you. I simply want to do what you want in all of this.”

Akin referred The Post to Harvey for comment.

“Dr. Akin was recently contacted by a former student about an incident that occurred in 2003. Dr. Akin communicated the institution’s willingness to assist the individual in any way,” Harvey said in a statement. “The institution is also doing an internal review of this matter. This incident took place under a previous administration, and by federal law we cannot publicly comment on what is or is not contained in a student file.”

The seminary posted a sexual conduct policy on its website in 2015, Harvey said, as part of federal reporting requirements. In the policy, victims are encouraged to report any violent crime to law enforcement.

Patterson’s story has come amid the #MeToo movement, in which women across the country have been increasingly willing to speak out about their experiences of being assaulted, abused and harassed. However, the woman said she isn’t seeking to be an activist in the #MeToo movement and that she is only concerned that Patterson be removed from his position.

The woman said she did not consider going to police or sharing her story before now because Patterson is considered a giant among Southern Baptists for the role he played in helping to lead the convention in a more conservative direction, one in which women are told to be submissive to their husbands and are barred from becoming pastors.

“The woman I am now would’ve gone to authorities before the school,” she said. “There’s nothing I can do about it now. When you’re counseled by someone who you admire and respect, you just don’t.”

Patterson’s remarks about women have highlighted divisions over Southern Baptist teachings. In a 2000 audio recording from a conference, Patterson said that an abused woman should stay with her husband, praying alongside her bed at night and being “submissive in every way that you can.” Another tape included a comment about the figure of a teenage girl and another criticized female seminarians who don’t work hard enough to look good.

He later apologized for comments he made about the teenage girl but did not apologize for encouraging the woman to return to her abusive husband.

Questions before Southwestern’s board of trustees this week include whether Patterson should be removed from his position and whether he should be allowed to retire in the living quarters of a $2.5 million Baptist Heritage Library scheduled to open this summer that would house Patterson’s collections. His critics also argue that he should not be able to give a key sermon at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention next month because it would send the wrong signal about how women are valued within the denomination.

Kevin Ueckert, chairman of the Southwestern board of trustees, said Monday that he was unavailable to comment on the alleged rape victim’s allegations against Patterson.

In a sermon he delivered in 2013, Patterson suggested women who have had “a problem in your home” should not bring their case to a judge because it could get in the way of that judge’s faith.

“Settle it within the church of God,” he said. “And if you suffer for it, and if you were misused, and if you were abused, and if you’re not represented properly, it’s okay. You can trust it to the God who judges justly.”

He prayed, “Lord, may we make up our minds that we won’t take our troubles to the press, we won’t take our troubles to the government, we won’t take our troubles anywhere except to the people of God and beyond that to the Lord Jesus.”

This story has been updated to include a statement from Danny Akin sent to The Post after the story was published.

The Washington Post’s recent coverage of Paige Patterson:

Southern Baptist leader pushes back after comments leak urging abused women to pray and avoid divorce

Southern Baptist leader’s advice to abused women sends leaders scrambling to respond

Southern Baptist leader who advised abused women not to divorce doubles down, says he has nothing to apologize for

‘We are shocked’: Thousands of Southern Baptist women denounce leader’s ‘objectifying’ comments, advice to abused women

Southern Baptist leader apologizes for sermon example about teenage girl’s physical appearance