Rape survivor and abuse victim advocate Mary DeMuth speaks during a rally protesting the Southern Baptist Convention's treatment of women on June 12 in Dallas. (Jeffrey McWhorter/AP)

While it’s too early to call the Southern Baptist Convention’s proposed study group on sexual abuse and harassment “reform,” the July 28 Religion article about the organization’s early efforts, “Southern Baptist Convention takes steps toward action on sexual abuse ,” should cheer anyone who has seen the effects of sexual abuse firsthand. However, we worry that the public discourse around high-profile cases of sexual abuse by powerful people — and their protection by powerful institutions — misses a key point.

We tend to search around the margins for evidence of institutional misogyny or hypocrisy, as if these ugly flaws alone give rise to abusers. Yet we see in the cases at Michigan State University and Ohio State University, as we saw at Penn State University, that what allows abusers to prey unchecked for years is a seemingly reflexive instinct among leaders to protect the institution instead of the vulnerable.

National Children’s Alliance hopes the Southern Baptist Convention’s study group guides it to the realization that the real damage to an institution’s mission and reputation is caused not by the truth uttered by victims but by believing the lies of abusers.

Teresa Huizar, Washington

The writer is executive director
of National Children’s Alliance.