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‘Nightcrawling’ follows a woman who turns to sex work to support her family : NPR

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Ayesha Rascoe speaks with author Leila Mottley about her new novel, Nightcrawling, about a young Black woman in Oakland, Calif., who turns to prostitution to support herself and her family.



AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

High-school dropout Kiara Johnson has a lot on her plate. She has rent and bills to pay while caring for her brother and her young neighbor that lives next door. So she turns to something she never expected she would do to make ends meet – nightcrawling, or in other terms, sex work. Through her work, she sees her city from new perspectives – one that holds the joy, pain and resilience of its people despite failing infrastructure and a corrupt police department. Leila Mottley is author of “Nightcrawling” and joins us now from Oakland, Calif.

Welcome.

LEILA MOTTLEY: Thank you for having me.

RASCOE: Can you tell us a little bit more about the main character of this book, Kiara?

MOTTLEY: So Kiara is 17 at the beginning of the novel, and she’s a Black girl from Oakland, Calif. She finds herself involved with a network of police officers who sexually abuse her. And the book kind of follows her and her family and her attempts to survive and thrive as she is trying to navigate so much with very little protection.

RASCOE: You know, I was really fascinated by Kiara. In the book, it’s interesting because she doesn’t have, like, a whole lot of dialogue, right? But she has this very rich internal life. Was that because Kiara felt like she didn’t really have a voice?

MOTTLEY: Yeah. I think that often the world doesn’t expect Black women or Black girls to have such rich interior lives. And I think that the constraints on Black women mean that we are expected to serve and to care, but not to speak. And so I wanted to create this really rich internal world for Kiara, where she, you know, has strong beliefs, and yet she doesn’t feel as though she has permission to share any of that.

RASCOE: Speaking of taking care of people, Kiara is taking care of her older brother, Marcus, who is trying to become a rapper – a successful rapper. Can you just tell us more about that relationship? – because it seems pretty frustrating at times.

MOTTLEY: Yeah. I wanted to show the ways that, like, gender dynamics within a family and within, like, even the conditioning and way we raise girls and boys in the same family can shift the dynamic of the sibling relationship. So Marcus, her brother, is given just an entire different way of being able to navigate it, and he is kind of sucked into his own dreams because he’s allowed that luxury – you know, chasing these rap dreams and leaving his sister to do it all, to fend for both of them.

RASCOE: Obviously, society doesn’t seem to give Kiara permission to dream. But what do you think Kiara’s dream is? What would be her following her dreams?

MOTTLEY: I think, in many ways, Kiara isn’t allowed enough space to even begin to think about desire or dreaming for herself. I think that she wants to be able to break down sometimes, to grieve and to experience moments of joy and delight. And I think, like all of us, she just wants the space to be able to even consider what dreaming looks like, you know, because in order to dream, we have to have enough room and enough space to think about what we would even want in the first place.

RASCOE: The story is, you know, about a Black girl who doesn’t have a lot of resources. She’s in the city. She’s trying to make something of her life. You often see online and in other places the discussion about how certain types of stories about poor Black people are embraced by white people. Was there ever a concern for you in writing this about falling into tropes or things that have been kind of seen in movies time and again?

MOTTLEY: For me, I kind of like to lean into tropes and examine, you know, where’s the truth and where’s the falsehood? And, I mean, even with Marcus, like this idea of Black rappers – it comes from what, you know, Black boys are taught about how the only way to achieve success or, you know, get out of a bad situation is to achieve some kind of fame through, you know, athletic success or music success or, you know, a fame of some sort. And I wanted to examine what that means for a person to think that they are only valuable because of what they produce. So I think that I try to examine them for all of their nuances and give characters a more rich life and more dimensions than I think we often see when we see stories of poverty.

RASCOE: This story is inspired by true events involving the Oakland Police Department. In 2017, a court ordered that the police department pay a Black woman almost a million dollars in damages after she claimed that multiple police officers sexually abused her. When you heard of this story, I do imagine you were very young. What was going through your head, ’cause you started writing this book when you were 17 yourself?

MOTTLEY: Yeah, I did. I remember paying a lot of attention to this case and, like, looking at the way the media spoke about this case because there was this disproportionate focus on what does it mean for the relationship between the police department and the community; what does it mean for the police officers; and not a lot of focus at all on what does it mean for this young girl; what does it mean for the harm to her and the thousands of other girls and women who experience this kind of thing regularly? And, you know, their stories never make it to the media or to a courtroom. And so I started thinking about it and researching other cases of police sexual violence. And then Kiara kind of came to me.

RASCOE: I wonder, for you, when people are reading this book who have not lived the life that Kiara led, how do you expect them to take this, and are you concerned about them being able to understand Kiara?

MOTTLEY: I think that a lot of what I want to do with an audience, whether they are, you know, of the experiences of the people in this book or not, I think is, like, expanding our common narrative of this world and who we are and what we owe to each other. And so I hope that, you know, the characters in this book who are often sidelined and forgotten in our common narrative become a fabric of how we think of this country.

RASCOE: Leila Mottley’s debut novel is “Nightcrawling.” Thank you for being with us.

MOTTLEY: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF JUSTICE DER’S “NIKES”)

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https://www.npr.org/2022/06/05/1103145068/nightcrawling-follows-a-woman-who-turns-to-sex-work-to-support-her-family

How the Southern Baptist Convention covered up its widespread sexual abuse scandal : NPR

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. A sexual abuse scandal has shaken up the Southern Baptist Church. A report issued just over a week ago confirmed that survivors who came forward alleging they were sexually abused by church leaders, ministers, workers and volunteers were ignored or silenced by church leadership and often disparaged. Meanwhile, the church kept a secret list of over 700 offenders. The list was even kept secret from most of the church’s leaders. This new report was commissioned by the Southern Baptist Convention in response to a series of articles investigating widespread sexual abuse in the church.

The series titled “Abuse Of Faith” was published in 2019 after a six-month investigation by a team of reporters from the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, a team headed by John Tedesco and my guest Robert Downen, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. The reporters found that hundreds of Southern Baptist Convention church leaders and volunteers had been criminally charged with sex crimes since 2000. The series also detailed numerous incidents in which denominational leaders mishandled, ignored or concealed warnings that Southern Baptist churches were being targeted by predators.

Robert Downen, welcome to FRESH AIR. And congratulations on your reporting. Let’s start with the finding of the independent report commissioned by the Southern Baptist Convention, the report that was the result of your investigative series, along with a team of reporters. So there was a secret list that was compiled for the church dating back to 2007. Would you describe this secret list of abusers that was kept by the church?

ROBERT DOWNEN: So this was a list that was commissioned at the behest of a top SBC leader and one of their longtime lawyers. And basically, what it did is it compiled Google Alerts and other news stories about criminal charges. And since 2007, that list had grown to more than 700 names. Most of them were confirmed as Southern Baptist affiliated. And a handful of them at the time of the report last week were still working in churches, including in other denominations.

GROSS: Well, what was the point of the list if suddenly people on it were still working in churches?

DOWNEN: We still don’t have exact rationale for why it was being kept, other than that it was being kept by the same people who were pushing back on those exact reforms publicly.

GROSS: So what kind of people were on this list – ministers, church leaders?

DOWNEN: It includes everyone from church volunteers to ministers to pastors, anyone who was credibly accused of sex offenses. And that includes mostly criminal charges, but a handful of, you know, confessions or civil suits with credible settlements attached to them. And we found in our analysis at least 75 of those 700 had worked in Texas, which was twice as many as the next biggest state, which was Florida, and that, you know, dozens of those names had repeat offenses in numerous states, which, again, kind of speaks to the broader issue at hand with the database.

GROSS: This list was compiled at the request of Augie Boto, who is the former Southern Baptist Convention general counsel. Why was their general counsel requesting this list, do you know?

DOWNEN: From what we know from last week’s reports, there were internal deliberations between the top SBC lawyers about the – both practicality of that list in preventing the abuse, but also what it would or would not do to the SBC’s liability in lawsuits. And from what we know from that report, lawsuit liability was for decades a central focus amongst this small group of SBC leaders who were really dictating what the SBC could or could not do. The reason that lawyers factored so heavily into that report is because the SBC’s executive committee has kind of just deferred to this small group of leaders for decades now. I mean, one of the lawyers named in the report had been serving the SBC since, I believe, the mid-1960s. And so – for so long, the better their legal advice was, I think, in many ways kind of treated as gospel truth and went unchallenged, despite years of warnings from survivors saying that such mechanisms were desperately needed.

GROSS: Survivors of sexual abuse who came forward, you know, alleging abuse or were silenced, they were told to just forgive or that they were doing the devil’s work. They were disparaged. Can you talk a little bit about their reaction that people who came forward got from the church?

DOWNEN: Sure. So many of the survivors that we have spoken to over the years have routinely told us that while the physical assault that they endured was traumatizing, the far more damaging part was when they came forward to people that they assumed would be on their side and would be proactive in trying to get their abusers out of ministry. And they were, you know, accused of a whole host of things, I mean, from being called an evil doer to a satanic distraction from evangelism to, in 2008, Christa Brown, a very prominent survivor who had been arguably among the most outspoken advocates for reforms, I mean, she was literally called as reprehensible as a sex criminal by a top leader of the Southern Baptist Convention. And that was sent to another survivor in 2008. And those comments were publicized, and they went unchallenged.

And what we see in this report really corroborates what survivors have been saying for years, which was that Southern Baptist leaders were, at best, not taking the crisis seriously, at worst, actively misleading their own churches about it as a means of protecting the SBC from lawsuits. So as far as reactions go, you know, it really does run the gamut. But the reactions detailed in that report really do speak to the broader culture of, I guess, opposition to outside voices and those who are seeking help.

GROSS: This secret list of abusers within the Southern Baptist Church existed at the same time church leaders were saying it’s impossible to keep track of accusations and offenders because of the structure of the Southern Baptist Convention. What is it about the structure of the Southern Baptist Church that was used as an excuse?

DOWNEN: I think there are a lot of people who want to draw parallels between this report and the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal. And while obviously there are similarities, there are real structural differences between those denominations. And really, the Catholic Church is kind of an outlier in American Christianity. It’s hierarchical. It’s, you know, it has popes that – their decrees matriculate to cardinals, to bishops, et cetera, whereas the Southern Baptist Convention really is a cooperative of 47,000 churches. They have, you know, overlapping theologies and other things that they they cooperate on, including pooling money for missions and to fund seminaries. But by and large, they really don’t have any kind of ordination standards. There’s no recordkeeping. There’s really no way of tracking who has been ordained where or where that person has taken that ordination to. I mean, we had one longtime Christian scholar describe it to us as kind of the wild, wild west system. And that is precisely why survivors have been asking for so many of the reforms that we are just now finding out Baptist leaders were publicly pushing against but privately said could actually help in ousting predators.

GROSS: One of the activists who was arguing for reform within the church said being a preacher in the church was a perfect profession for a con artist. All he has to do is talk a good talk and convince people he’d been called by God and he gets to become a Southern Baptist minister. Then he can infiltrate the entirety of Southern Baptist Convention, moved from church to church, from state to state, go to bigger churches and more prominent churches where he has more influence and power. Do you think that’s an accurate description? Is that what has happened? Did the system make it possible for abusers to keep their positions and even advance?

DOWNEN: I mean, I think that there’s really no doubt that that is a true statement. Christa Brown, the survivor that you’re quoting, I believe later in that quote described it as a poor sieve of the denomination, and, I mean, I think this week’s report really does speak to that, as well as our reporting previously, now – in 2019, as part of our first round of stories, we focused in part on people who had been accused of sex crimes or offenses at churches and were able to find other jobs at other churches, and we found 35 of them. And, I mean, if that’s what we were able to find, just a handful of reporters pursuing that story in addition to the dozens of others that we were pursuing, I mean, it really does speak to the broader issue and how the SBC structure really has allowed a lot of these predators to flourish.

And I think there’s another important part of that, too. While the SBC structure’s obviously very, very central to this story, you know, sometimes we do have people who have accused us, you know, like, you’re attacking the church with your reporting, and my response to that is always that, no, you are being targeted by these predators. I mean, sexual predators understand that churches – they call them soft targets for a reason because they understand that there’s a lot of focus on repentance and forgiveness, and that, coupled with this loose structure that is kind of at the core of the SBC, has really allowed a lot of these guys to abuse, repent and then abuse again, even just down the street.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you. If you’re just joining us, my guest is Robert Downen, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. We’ll talk more about the Southern Baptist sexual abuse scandal and Downen’s own reporting that helped uncover the abuse after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get back to my interview with Robert Downen of the Houston Chronicle. He was one of the lead reporters on a series of articles published in 2019 titled “Abuse Of Faith” investigating allegations of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Church. That series led the Southern Baptist Convention to commission an independent investigation. That investigation led to a report released just over a week ago that confirmed widespread sexual abuse and attempts to cover it up and discredit survivors who came forward.

Can you say a little bit more about the Southern Baptist Convention’s own justification for the lack of oversight within the church and, you know, the lack of a larger structure, the lack of, you know, bookkeeping of how ministers were ordained or where they were ordained, you know, what is described by the church as, you know, church autonomy?

DOWNEN: Right. And I think that that does, you know, again, speak to this idea of the Southern Baptist Convention as exactly that, a convention of churches that convene for a few days a year and make – and pool together resources and what have you for the things that they finance. But this broader idea of autonomy has been used as a shield from a lot of reforms. You know, Southern Baptist leaders, namely the ones named often in last week’s report, they routinely held out this idea of local church autonomy as a reason that they couldn’t implement reforms.

You know, they would tell us, and they told us in 2019, we can’t – we don’t have the power to force churches to report abuses to a central registry, to consult a registry when doing hiring decisions. But at the same time, they did have the power to oust churches that had female pastors or were affirming of homosexuality. Up until our report in 2019, those were two of among the few things that could get you booted from the SBC. Having a convicted sex offender on staff was not one of them.

And so, you know, we’ve been pressing SBC leaders on this for years now, and routinely they’ve held out this idea of local church autonomy as a huge hurdle to any abuse reforms. Now, what we found out in this report last week was, at the same time that they were holding out that idea, they were actually saying behind the scenes that a lot of the reforms being requested were actually compatible and practical and, you know, could help track predators in their denomination. But that’s not what they were saying publicly.

GROSS: Let’s talk about some of the survivors of the sexual abuse. What was the age range and the gender that you’ve learned about through the report that was issued by the independent group commissioned to do this investigation and through your own reporting?

DOWNEN: So I – we haven’t had time to analyze the full, you know, 200-page “database,” quote-unquote, that was made public last week. You know, we haven’t had time to analyze it with that specificity. But in our own reporting, I mean, we found 700 victims, and nearly all of them were children. I believe the youngest were 3. And, you know, there were a handful of people who filed lawsuits about, you know, pastoral abuse and counseling abuse. But overwhelmingly, it was children. And it was a lot – you know, it was really mixed as far as boys versus girls. But there were a few things that we really did hone in on in that first series, and one of those was that of the 400, you know, credibly accused people we had found, at least a hundred of them were in some sort of youth role, whether as a youth minister or youth pastor, what have you.

And what we found is that the lack of training and oversights that often is required in those positions, combined with the ability to use social media and cellphones and all of these other things to kind of start grooming, you know, congregants at an early age, I mean – the fact that, you know, 25% of the cases we were able to find were youth pastors committing abuses of people in their youth groups really does speak to this broader issue within the SBC.

GROSS: You interviewed a lot of the survivors for – the ones who were sexually abused when they were children. What were some of the lasting effects they told you about some of the trauma that they were still dealing with?

DOWNEN: I mean, it really was across the board. You know, we had people who spoke openly and had clearly – you know, I don’t want to say moved past their attack but were very able to talk about it and had, clearly, through help, gotten past it, as far as one can. But more than often, what we found is that the people who were the most traumatized, the people who had the most profoundly devastating effects on their lives, were not the ones who were just physically abused; it was the ones who, like I said, came forward and were blamed for their abuse, were questioned, were disbelieved. And, you know, we have decades of research that shows the ways in which childhood sexual trauma can absolutely just rewire and remap someone’s brain. I mean, it is a neurological physical injury.

And when you couple that with these ideas of divinity, this existential idea, when you’re 7 years old and still trying to come to terms with being abused by the man who told you he was a representative of God, I mean, the trauma from that alone is just hard to fathom, unless you have not actually, you know, walked with someone going through it or experienced it yourself. And then to come forward to others that you thought would be, you know, your shepherd and find out that they don’t believe you or that they just don’t care – I mean, those were the cases, time and time again and, you know, as recently as this week, that we continue to report on because the devastation of that is just – it’s hard to overstate.

I mean, Christa Brown, who we’ve mentioned before, is 68 this year, and it has been 50-plus years since she was first abused. And that trauma, the idea that she trusted people who ended up not caring, who called her as reprehensible as a sex criminal, I mean, that’s the type of damage that you really can’t ever undo. And, you know, there’s a reason why the people who were ignored or who were vilified for coming forward routinely are the ones that are the most vocal and adamant advocates because they understand the truly devastating and nuanced effects of not having someone to talk to or living with the deeply conflicting and profound guilt that, you know, maybe I should have done something more to stop my predator, and now I have to live with the idea every day that he’s abusing others.

GROSS: Did you speak to any of the parents of the children who were abused? I’m wondering if the church tried to discredit the children to their own parents.

DOWNEN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it was not a common theme, but, you know, we definitely spoke to many people who quickly found out that the community that they had considered a family on Sunday, by Tuesday was actively rallying against them. I mean, in 2019, the SBC’s public policy arm had a three-day conference in Dallas in response to our series. It was called the Caring Well conference.

And I remember sitting there on that Friday with the family of a girl who had been abused recently at a Dallas megachurch. And one of the things that just is one of those things that always just kind of sticks with me is that I looked over and she was just crying because in this crowd of 3,000 people were some of her church family, and they were sitting there singing hymns and praying for abuse victims while actively just giving her the cold shoulder. And, you know, one of the things she said to me – she’s like, you know, you think that they’re family, but no one sends lasagnas. No one offers the helping hand that you need because so many people are either afraid to be proactive in their help or are just not informed enough about the contours and complexities of trauma that they mistake inconsistent stories or, quote-unquote, “erratic” behavior for not signs of trauma but signs of – reasons to be – to disbelieve that person.

And to get back to your question, though, we definitely talked to a lot of parents who have had to come to terms with the fact that not only was their child abused, but their child was abused in a setting in which they put them. And then when they tried to get whatever resembles justice for their child, they quickly found out that the very same people that they had allowed to, you know, care for their child didn’t actually care about them. And we don’t speak about that enough as far as the toll of that. But if – I mean, if you’re a parent, you can only, I guess, fathom how deeply painful that is and how just earth-shattering that is to your relationship with your child, with your spouse and with your faith.

GROSS: Well, let’s take another break here. If you’re just joining us, my guest is Robert Downen, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. We’ll talk more about the sexual abuse scandal in the Southern Baptist Church after we take a short break. I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROJECT TRIO’S “BRB”)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. Let’s get back to my interview with Robert Downen, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. He was one of the lead reporters on a series of articles published in 2019, titled “Abuse Of Faith,” investigating allegations of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Church. That series led the Southern Baptist Convention to commission an independent investigation. That investigation led to a report released just over a week ago that confirmed widespread sexual abuse and attempts to cover it up and discredit survivors who came forward.

Now that this abuse has been documented not only in the investigative articles that you were part of, but also in this independent investigation that was just released, what reforms are these revelations leading to?

DOWNEN: So the Guidepost report included a bunch of reforms, among them and, I think, probably the most importance is this idea of the database, this essential mechanism through which churches can track people and can, you know, privately say, this person, you know, was accused of misconduct that may not have risen to the level of criminality, but we feel that it should be documented somewhere in case there is a pattern of this. And I think that’s been – you know, that’s something that survivors have been fighting for for almost two decades now. The SBC declined to implement that in 2008 because of local church autonomy. But as we’ve seen through this Guidepost report, this report from last week, even the people who were behind the decision to kill that reform in 2008 were privately saying that it could be, actually, very practical for stopping predators. And so I think that’s going to be a big focal point, you know? There are other conversations about a fund to help survivors with therapy, with all of the costs that come with that type of trauma that I think a lot of people really don’t understand. And I think those are going to be the two reforms that are really at the center of the SBC’s meeting two weeks from now.

GROSS: Do you know if the SBC is worried about what this will mean for the SBC’s reputation, if it will alienate members of Southern Baptist churches and if it will decrease their fundraising efforts?

DOWNEN: You know, in just the last few years, we’ve seen – including in the Guidepost report from last week, we’ve seen SBC leaders saying, you know, this – abuse is a distraction from evangelism. And we need to, quote, “preserve the base” even if it’s – if it means, you know, stepping away from initiatives on abuse or elevating survivors’ voices. And time and time again, that was something that was cited by SBC leaders. They didn’t want to expose the SBC to liability and lawsuits. They didn’t want to damage the reputation of the SBC. They – you know, anything and everything became a distraction from evangelism. And I think it does kind of speak to this broader issue at the core of this report, which is that this denomination had spent so many years – I mean, decades – at war with a whole host of perceived enemies, to the point that it was very easy, actually, for a handful of SBC leaders to just say, you know, this person doesn’t understand our convention, or they just want money. And this is going to hurt our bottom line. And therefore, trust our legal advice when we tell you that this is not feasible. And that’s, you know, a key finding in that report and one that I think does, again, speak to this broader failure of accountability that is supposed to be baked into the SBC system.

GROSS: Robert, let’s talk about your own reporting with a team of reporters from the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. One of the things your team did was set up a confidential tip line where survivors of abuse could report their story. And it was your call to try to track them down or not and their call, I suppose, to decide whether to talk with you. So when you were first getting those calls, how did you separate the kind of crank calls from the real survivors? How did you fact-check the stories?

DOWNEN: I don’t think we really got that many crank calls. I think, within the first few weeks, we had 500+ people just reaching out to us alone. You know, we reached out to the National Sexual Assault Hotline. And I think they said something – there was, like, a 10% jump in calls, you know, in the immediate aftermath of our report. Again, we can’t say directly that’s because of that report. But, you know, the number of people who reached out to us and said, you know, I – this happened to me, and I had always just assumed that I was a misnomer, that this was a Catholic problem and that I was an anomaly. And now I feel empowered to come forward. I mean, that was – I mean, even until, you know, this morning, I’m still getting people reaching out to me, saying that. And that’s been a constant refrain for years now.

Now, as far as the fact-checking thing, you know, we did, obviously, look at all of the reports that we got and tried our best to get in touch with as many people as we could. But unfortunately, at a certain point, we kind of just had to make the decision as a team to not just – not stop responding, but, you know, we – it would have turned into a full-time job for us to just respond to people who were reaching out, which, again, I think, does speak to this, the magnitude of this problem that has been, for so long, kind of just ignored or downplayed because of these structural issues at hand.

GROSS: So in this new independent report that was released, Johnny Hunt, a former Southern Baptist Convention president, was accused of sexually assaulting a woman from his church in 2010, one month after his presidency ended because of term limits. Tell us something about him and the charge against him.

DOWNEN: So I think that that finding really, you know, as far as the bombshells findings of that report, that had, you know – clearly was among them. Johnny Hunt was kind of this guy who straddled the old versus new guard of the SBC and kind of was seen by many as a pastoral mentor and this person who could kind of reinvigorate the SBC more broadly on missions. And what is alleged in the report is that in 2010, a month after his presidency, he basically had invited a woman and her husband and their family on vacation to Panama City Beach. And while the husband was gone, he basically, you know, invited himself into this woman’s condo next door and sexually assaulted her.

Guidepost, the investigation behind last week’s report, talked to four other people who were aware of the incident, including the counselor that Johnny Hunt pushed them towards, who later turned out to be unlicensed. But they found her story to be credible. And in interviews with Johnny Hunt, they found his story to not be credible. And he has since resigned from the SBC’s Domestic Mission Board, but is still, you know, pleading his case, whether in Atlanta area media or to his own congregation in the Atlanta area. And there are actually a lot of people, you know, just online that have rallied behind him and his version of the story, which is that it was a consensual – you know, a moral failing – you know, that type of coded language.

But, you know, I’ve talked to that woman numerous times. I’ve talked to her husband, as have trained investigators, and they’ve said that the allegations against Hunt certainly seem credible. So for that woman to see him continuing to hold himself out as being, in some form, a victim of, you know, sin, of a moral failing, while also failing to, you know, reach out to them or do other things to care for her – I mean, I – you know, she has said repeatedly that’s been particularly retraumatizing, to just have to relive this over and over and over again via his denials in public.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you again. If you’re just joining us, my guest is Robert Downen, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. We’ll talk more about the Southern Baptist sexual abuse scandal and Downen’s own reporting that uncovered the abuse after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED HEART THE TICKER SONG, “SLIGHTLY UNDER WATER”)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get back to my interview with Robert Downen of the Houston Chronicle. He was one of the lead reporters on a series of articles published in 2019, titled “Abuse of Faith,” investigating allegations of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Church. That series led the Southern Baptist Convention to commission an independent investigation. That investigation led to a report released just over a week ago that confirmed widespread sexual abuse and attempts to cover it up and discredit survivors who came forward.

You found that some sexual abuse victims within the church were asked to forgive their abusers or get abortions. Now, the church opposes abortion, right?

DOWNEN: Yes.

GROSS: What was your reaction to that? And I’m wondering if any of the survivors actually did get an abortion. I know, like, some of them were too young to even get pregnant, but some of them weren’t. Did you meet anybody who actually followed the advice and got an abortion?

DOWNEN: I can’t say that I personally did. But, you know, the first person we featured in our very first story was a woman named Debbie Vasquez, who, you know, says she was repeatedly abused by her pastor, starting at 14, until she became pregnant. And after she became pregnant, she said – and this is documented in a lawsuit – you know, the church leadership, knowing that it was her pastor’s child, forced her to stand in front of the congregation and apologize for having sex out of wedlock, for becoming pregnant – and then behind the scenes were pressuring her to have an abortion. And she ended up actually moving abroad for, you know, a decent part of her adult life just because she was that afraid of being retaliated against by those leaders.

GROSS: What a really horrible mixed message to get from your own church after a trauma.

DOWNEN: Yeah. And, I mean, time and time again, we hear from survivors that the abuse was awful but paled in comparison to the retraumatization from church leaders who they thought they could trust. And, you know, Debbie Vasquez is very emblematic of that. I mean, I – she spent 2019, a week before she was about to go into surgery that she thought she would likely die during because of chronic health issues – I mean, she spent two of the last few days that she thought she had on this earth driving a motor scooter through the SBC’s conference on abuse and just pleading people for reforms.

And so when we talk about the profound devastation that this type of abuse, not just sexual but institutional – the type of damage that has on people long-term, I think it’s evident, if you even just spend a little bit of time talking to so many of these survivors – I mean, there’s a reason that Christa Brown is 68 and is just now this week finally being believed. There’s a reason why Debbie Vasquez spent what she thought would be her last few days on earth trying to get someone to get her pastor out of ministry. I mean, these are wounds that never heal. They run deeper than I think very few can imagine. And unfortunately, those wounds have just been picked at and ripped apart so many times, both by their abusers and the institutions that protected them.

GROSS: So for Debbie Vasquez, who was allegedly raped by her pastor and got pregnant, did she carry the child to term? Is – has she parented that child?

DOWNEN: Yes, she did. She refused church leaders’ demands that she have an abortion and later uprooted her life and moved abroad out of fear for her daughter’s safety. And it wasn’t until, I think, around 2008 that she decided to appear publicly in any kind of SBC setting. And the only reason she did that was to pressure SBC leaders on the reforms that they ended up just outright denying in 2008. And again, you know, in 2019, at that conference, she again made a public appearance, all just to get someone to say, this happened to you and we believe you and we’re going to do something about it. And it’s a weight that – it’s hard to fathom.

GROSS: Why was she concerned about her child’s safety? What were the threats that she was afraid of?

DOWNEN: Well, she says that, you know, during the alleged assaults over years, at one point, you know, she’s still half deaf from what she says was her pastor firing a gun next to her head during one assault. I mean, the intimidation, both spiritual and physical, that these pastors can exert over their victims is profoundly damaging and results in exactly the type of long-term trauma that unfortunately has prompted Debbie to continue fighting this fight.

GROSS: When you were doing the 2019 investigation into sexual abuse in the church, how did survivors react knowing that you were taking their allegations seriously, and in some cases, like, you were proving those allegations were actually accurate, that these people needed to be believed?

DOWNEN: You know – sorry. I’m getting emotional here. It’s actually really sad. One of the things that’s really been heavy this week is that for the first time, you know, we featured in our stories this week two of those survivors, Christa Brown and another man named David Pittman, who have been fighting for years, years, I mean, just to get the SBC to note that their abusers, who they had meticulously documented, were still in ministry and still had access to others. And they lived with that trauma daily that they had not done enough to stop the man who abused them from abusing others.

And when we first approached some of them, there was a real hesitancy on a lot of their parts and justifiably because they had been told, you know, they had spoken to media before. They had heard time and time again from all sorts of people, whether in the church or in law enforcement, in media, that, you know, that their abuser would be publicized and that they could finally move past this this deep guilt and complex trauma that they hadn’t done enough. And so this week, we got to name some of those abusers only because they were named in the Guidepost report. And again, I keep coming back to Christa Brown, but, you know, her and I were talking yesterday. And 50-plus years after her abuse and after 20 years of being absolutely dragged through the mud and vilified by SBC leaders, finally a local media outlet reported the name of the man she’s said for decades abused her. And that’s all she wanted when she came forward in 2004. I mean, that’s it. Like, if you talk to so many of these survivors, all they want to do is feel that they have done enough to stop others from experiencing what they have.

And the fact that after 20 years of being retraumatized, we’re just now getting to that point is – it’s an indictment of so many things. And I think it’s just, you know, there are a lot of people, I think, who are reading this report and seeing the response from SBC leaders and, you know, thinking that this is a sign of, you know, new times. And I agree. Of course, like, SBC leadership today is definitely more receptive on this. But I – it’s – I think it’s really worth people sitting and seeking out the stories of some of these survivors because when you understand what they’ve gone through, just to get their abusers name put in print, and then to find out that that abuser was actually on an internal list the whole time, I mean, again, it’s really hard.

I can’t personally put into words how devastating that is and how complex the trauma it is to reconcile the fact that it took 20 years to stop or just name the person who ruined their lives. I mean, I talked to Christa Brown for a while about this. And one of the things that, you know, she said that just keeps sticking out with me is that we feel validated, but there’s absolutely no joy in that because we understand the human toll. We understand the cost that it took just to get to this first step.

GROSS: Robert Downen, thank you so much for talking with us. And thank you for your reporting.

DOWNEN: Thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: Robert Downey in as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle and was a lead reporter on the 2019 series “Abuse Of Faith” about sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Church. After we take a short break, John Powers will review the new British TV series “This Is Going To Hurt” starring Ben Whishaw. This is FRESH AIR.

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https://www.npr.org/2022/06/02/1102621352/how-the-southern-baptist-convention-covered-up-its-widespread-sexual-abuse-scand

Actvists say abortion rights are linked to same-sex marriage rights. : NPR

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Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case, stands on the step of the Texas Capitol during a rally Monday, June 29, 2015.

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Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case, stands on the step of the Texas Capitol during a rally Monday, June 29, 2015.

Eric Gay/AP

On June 26th, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage. It was a historic ruling that signified a turning point for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States.

Fast-forward seven years, and a lot has changed. The Supreme Court is vastly different, and another landmark decision is pending, this time pertaining to the federal right to an abortion.

A leaked draft opinion suggests the court is ready to overturn Roe v. Wade, which could have implications for other rights, including the right to same-sex marriage.

Civil rights activist Jim Obergefell was the lead plaintiff in the 2015 case, and he joined All Things Considered to share his perspective on the uncertain future, and how his case is more closely tied to Roe v. Wade than you might think.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

On the story behind his original lawsuit

“On June 26 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in their decision in The United States v. Windsor. I proposed to my partner John, and he was dying of ALS. We were in our twentieth year together as a couple. We ended up marrying inside a medical jet in Maryland, and we lived in Ohio. When we learned that John’s death certificate would be filled out incorrectly when he died, saying he was single, we decided to sue the state of Ohio and the city of Cincinnati to demand recognition of our lawful out-of-state marriage on John’s death certificate at the time he died. That’s the case that took me all the way to the Supreme Court.

His initial reaction to the leaked draft opinion on Roe v. Wade

“Well, my immediate reaction was, what a dark day for people in our nation and their privacy, and the right to control their body and to make their medical decisions in the absence of government influence or interference. So that was my first reaction. But then, reading the draft, in more detail, to see some of the justification, some of the rationale in that decision that Justice Alito is using, just honestly scares me for marriage equality. It scares me for same-sex intimacy; will we lose the ability for that not to be criminalized? There are things in this leaked decision that concern me about so many things that relate to the LGBTQ+ community, as well as interracial marriage and more.”

On the link between the ruling on abortion and the future of same-sex marriage

“My concern in this leaked decision, and why I’m worried about marriage equality is the language in this decision, which says ‘unenumerated rights’. [These are] the rights that we enjoy as Americans that are not specifically written out word for word in the Constitution, the right to privacy, the right to marry. This leaked decision says, ‘well, if those unenumerated rights will continue as what we consider fundamental rights, then they have to be based in our nation’s history and tradition.’ That’s a very dangerous thing, because marriage equality is only seven years old, not even seven years old. That is not a long history. It’s certainly not the tradition of our nation. So, that language, talking about unenumerated rights being based in history and tradition, that concerns me.”

On the reaction within the LGBTQ+ community

“There is definitely widespread fear. But it’s also one of those things where I consider my job right now to help educate people, to help them understand why they should be concerned, why they should be afraid, and why they shouldn’t just think, ‘well, that that really isn’t going to happen.’ It could happen, and people need to believe that it could happen. So, there’s fear, but people are also thinking, ‘Well, what can we do?’ And what we can do is get involved at the state level. We’re really going to have to rely on states to confirm and to protect, to affirm some of these rights that are at risk with the Supreme Court. I think most of us, a lot of us in the community, we’re looking at this from the state level, realizing just how important that it always has been, and how important that will be, or could be going forward.”

This story was reported by Mary Louise Kelly, produced by Michael Levitt, and edited by Courtney Dorning. It was adapted for the web by Manuela Lopez Restrepo.

https://www.npr.org/2022/06/02/1102491352/abortion-rights-roe-wade-same-sex-marriage-obergefell-leaked-supreme-court

What ‘Queer Ducks’ can teach teenagers about sexuality in the animal kingdom : NPR

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Eliot Schrefer’s book, Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality, is designed to be teenager friendly. It’s filled with comics and humor and accessible science on the diversity of sexual behavior in the animal world.

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Eliot Schrefer’s book, Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality, is designed to be teenager friendly. It’s filled with comics and humor and accessible science on the diversity of sexual behavior in the animal world.

Jules Zuckerberg

A non-fiction science book about animal sexuality could read like a dry textbook, but that’s not the kind of thing that Eliot Schrefer wrote.

Schrefer’s book, Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality, is designed to be teenager friendly. It’s filled with comics and humor and accessible science on the diversity of sexual behavior in the animal world.

Each chapter is structured around a different animal accompanied by one-page comics by Jules Zuckerberg. Schrefer said he wanted to change the narrative that scientific writing was only for academic purposes.

“There’s this feeling of seriousness that comes with a textbook, and for a lot of young readers that’s their only exposure to scientific writing,” Schrefer said. “I wanted to sort of imagine like we’re sitting in the science classroom passing notes back and forth, and it even comes down to the doodles.”

The comics depict a Gender Sexuality Alliance meeting where all the animals take a turn introducing themselves.

Eliot Schrefer’s new book Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality.

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HarperCollins Publishers

In the book, Schrefer writes that he is “well aware that this book is bound to be controversial,” but at the same time he wants to assure young people that this is quite common in the animal world.

“Some people will say, ‘Well, there’s all sorts of things that animals do that humans oughtn’t to be doing,’ right? That we shouldn’t cannibalize our partners after we have sex with them. That we shouldn’t be living on webs out in the wild. And that we can’t just cherry-pick which animal examples we choose to use. But that’s really getting the argument of the book backwards.”

“I’m not trying to argue for human behaviors from certain ways that animals can behave. Instead, I’m trying to say that we can no longer argue that humans are alone in their queerness or in their LGBTQ identities. Instead, we are part of a millions-of-years tradition within the animal world of a variety of approaches to sex and a ton of advantages that come around from it.”

Each chapter in Schrefer’s book is structured around a different animal, accompanied by one-page comics by Jules Zuckerberg. Schrefer said he wanted to change the narrative that scientific writing was only for academic purposes.

Jules Zuckerberg


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Jules Zuckerberg

Each chapter in Schrefer’s book is structured around a different animal, accompanied by one-page comics by Jules Zuckerberg. Schrefer said he wanted to change the narrative that scientific writing was only for academic purposes.

Jules Zuckerberg

Schrefer said he wished a book like this existed when he was younger when he felt alone in his identity.

“I think there’s a loneliness to human queerness. That there is this idea that it is something that happened recently to the species and that we are alone in it,” he said. “That queer people can find each other and find community with each other and that that is the goal that they should hope for, when we are heavily integrated into the natural world. And that is the part of the message that I think is lost and that LGBTQ behaviors and identities are absolutely natural.”

Schrefer spoke with NPR’s All Things Considered about some of his favorite animals featured in the book, challenging the idea of what a scientist looks like, and what he took away from some of the interviews he did for the book.

This interview had been edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

Do you have a favorite animal or one of your favorites that you could tell us about?

Well, the hard part starting to write this book was figuring out which animals to focus on. The bonobos are famously promiscuous and the majority of their sexual activity is between females, so I knew they had to be in there as an early chapter.

What’s interesting about these animals, as you said, is they’re very promiscuous. I mean there’s almost this orgy-like way about how they behave sometimes.

They’re really fairly new to science. We used to call them pygmy chimpanzees and just thought they were small chimps and that was it. And it wasn’t until the ’90s and the 2000s that we started really studying them and sex, and in particular same-sex sexual activity in Bonobos is a way to avoid conflict and to smooth over feelings after a conflict.

There’s also a chapter that I found interesting about bulls. A lot of bulls are used for breeding. They’re used to inseminate females, and sometimes the bulls have to kind of get in the mood. The handlers help them get in the mood, and what’s interesting is they often bring in other males to do that and it’s effective. Tell us why you chose that example.

I mean, bulls aren’t just any animal in American culture, so many sports teams are named after bulls and rams, but bovids have one of the largest percentages of same-sex sexual behavior within their populations. It’s long been the ace card in the hand of cattle breeders to bring out a steer to get a bull excited in order to perform sexually.

In fact, there was one of the foremost sheep researchers Valerius Geist, who studied bighorn sheep. In the 1960s, he was in the wild observing these big horns and saw that they basically live in an entirely homosexual society until the age of six or seven. The males are off by themselves having frequent intercourse, and he didn’t publish on it. He wrote about this in his memoir years later because he couldn’t tolerate the idea that these, what he’d quote “magnificent beasts,” were queers, and so he resisted publishing on that.

The book includes interviews you’ve done with scientists, these little question and answer exchanges, I really like those. They not only added to the science of the book but it was interesting that these types of professionals exist. Could you tell us about one that you think is most noteworthy?

I wanted to expand kids’ impression of who “gets” to do science – that it’s not just old guys in white coats. There’s an upswell of young scientists who are doing some wonderful work around queer behavior and queer identities and animals. One person I spoke to was an ecologist who has transitioned genders and is still actively figuring out their place within the broader world and looked forward so much to the days when they could be just with their binoculars in the field, mud up to their ankles, just staring at moose.

Because at that moment the complicated navigation of all of these identities just dropped away and they were just part of nature. They didn’t have to explain themselves to the animals, and the animals had no concept of judging or shaming anyone for the choices that they were making around their gender identity. I found that so moving that there’s a peace to be found and a simplicity and a radical acceptance within nature.

https://www.npr.org/2022/05/29/1101224759/what-queer-ducks-can-teach-teenagers-about-sexuality-in-the-animal-kingdom

Southern Baptist leaders release a list of accused sexual abusers : NPR

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A cross and Bible sculpture stand outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday. Southern Baptist leaders have released a list of hundreds of pastors and other church-affiliated personnel accused of sexual abuse.

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A cross and Bible sculpture stand outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday. Southern Baptist leaders have released a list of hundreds of pastors and other church-affiliated personnel accused of sexual abuse.

Holly Meyer/AP

In response to an explosive investigation, top Southern Baptists have released a previously secret list of hundreds of pastors and other church-affiliated personnel accused of sexual abuse.

The 205-page database was made public late Thursday. It includes more than 700 entries from cases that largely span from 2000 to 2019.

Its existence became widely known Sunday when the independent firm, Guidepost Solutions, included it in its bombshell report detailing how the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee mishandled allegations of sex abuse, stonewalled numerous survivors and prioritized protecting the SBC from liability.

Executive Committee leaders Rolland Slade and Willie McLaurin, in a joint statement, called publishing the list “an initial, but important, step towards addressing the scourge of sexual abuse and implementing reform in the Convention.”

“Each entry in this list reminds us of the devastation and destruction brought about by sexual abuse,” they said. “Our prayer is that the survivors of these heinous acts find hope and healing, and that churches will utilize this list proactively to protect and care for the most vulnerable among us.”

Church officials kept a private list of abusers, an investigation found

The Guidepost report, released after a seven-month investigation, contained several explosive revelations. Among them: D. August Boto, the committee’s former vice president and general counsel, and former SBC spokesman Roger Oldham kept their own private list of abusive ministers. Both retired in 2019. The existence of the list was not widely known within the committee and its staff.

“Despite collecting these reports for more than 10 years, there is no indication that (Oldham and Boto) or anyone else, took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches,” the report said.

The Executive Committee did not make additions to the published list, but their attorneys did redact several entries as well as the names and identifying information of survivors and others unrelated to the accused, Thursday’s joint statement said.

They made public “entries that reference an admission, confession, guilty plea, conviction, judgment, sentencing, or inclusion on a sex offender registry,” and expect some of the redacted entries on the list to be made public once more research is done. The list also includes Baptist ministers that are not affiliated with the SBC.

Survivors and advocates have long called for a public database of abusers. The creation of an “offender information system” was one of the key recommendations in the report by Guidepost, which was contracted by the Executive Committee after delegates to last year’s national meeting pressed for an outside investigation.

Also in the report was a shocking allegation that Johnny Hunt, a Georgia-based pastor and former SBC president, sexually assaulted another pastor’s wife during a beach vacation in 2010. Hunt has disputed the allegation, saying in a statement that he has “never abused anybody.”

He resigned May 13 as senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the North American Mission Board, the SBC’s domestic missions agency. On Wednesday, NAMB leaders announced changes to address the issue including committing to investigate abuse accusations and creating an Abuse Prevention and Response Committee to assess and strengthen existing policies and procedures.

A hotline has been set up for survivors to report abuse allegations

Also in the wake of the report’s release, survivors have been calling in information about abuse allegations to the Executive Committee, Guidepost and members of a task force set up to oversee the firm’s investigation, according to a joint statement from the three entities.

A hotline is now open for survivors, or someone on their behalf, to report abuse allegations: 202-864-5578 or [email protected] Callers will be provided with care options and connected with an advocate, the statement said.

Guidepost will maintain the hotline and keep the information confidential, but will not be looking into the allegations. The joint statement described the hotline as a “stopgap measure for survivors” until delegates can pass reforms during this year’s national meeting scheduled for June 14-15 in Anaheim, California.

The task force expects to make its formal motions based on the Guidepost report public next week. Those recommendations will then be presented for a vote in Anaheim.

https://www.npr.org/2022/05/27/1101734793/southern-baptist-sexual-abuse-list-released

Pastor quits over ‘adultery,’ but woman says she was 16 when he abused her : NPR

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In this screenshot from a Facebook Live video of the church service by Maisey Cook, a woman takes the stage at New Life Christian Church and World Outreach in Warsaw, Ind. with her husband to tell her story of how Pastor John Lowe II had sex with her she was 16 years old.

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Pastor John Lowe II admitted a grave sin in an address to his church on Sunday, saying he committed adultery and asking for their forgiveness. But then things took a sudden and dramatic turn: A woman stepped forward to say Lowe had sex with her when she was only 16.

Lowe’s initial remarks at New Life Christian Church and World Outreach in Warsaw, Ind., had seemed to satisfy the congregation. He received a standing ovation after he confessed, calling for privacy and healing and saying he was stepping down.

But as Lowe set the microphone down, a woman and her husband approached the stage and picked the mic back up.

‘You are not the victim here,’ woman tells pastor

The woman told her own story, of a teenager whom the pastor repeatedly sexually victimized, and of a sexual relationship that extended into her 20s.

“I lived in a prison of lies and shame” for 27 years, she said.

“I was just 16 when you took my virginity on your office floor,” the woman told Lowe, who stood at the front of the pews.

“You are not the victim here,” she said, saying he had not admitted the full truth of what he had done.

She added: “You did things to my teenage body that had never and should have never been done.”

For years, the woman said, she had wanted to speak about the issue, but people were either too afraid or wanted to cover up the incident.

“This church has been built on lies, but no more,” the woman said. “The lies need to stop.”

Video of the interaction quickly went viral

The interaction was captured on video and shared to Facebook by a churchgoer who said, “This is the truth.” She added, “This is what the church stopped streaming for their live video.”

Lowe had depicted his actions as an isolated incident, and one that he repented 20 years ago. “It was nearly 20 years ago. It continued far too long,” he said.

But the woman and her husband cast it in a different light.

“My wife — it’s not just adultery,” her husband told the congregation. “It’s another level when it’s a teenager. And I will not let this man talk about my wife like that. It happened for nine years. When she was 15, 16, the sexual grooming started. It lasted until she met me and we started dating. This is the truth.”

She recently decided to come forward, the woman said, after her brother asked her about something he had seen as a teenager that long bothered him: the sight of “his pastor in bed with his younger sister, a T-shirt and underwear on.”

Lowe and the church responded to the allegations

Church members immediately asked Lowe to come back to the microphone to answer the accusations. He reiterated, “I told you I committed adultery.”

“Did you do it?” a man asked.

“Yes,” Lowe said.

“You didn’t tell them she was 14 years old!” a woman yelled.

Lowe responded by clarifying that the woman had been 16 at the time.

The New Life church says Lowe officially resigned on Monday. In a statement, it added, “In the wake of what has now been revealed, we are hurting and broken for a woman who has lovingly attended and served in the church for many years, as well as for her husband and family.”

The revelations have drawn the notice of prosecutors. The Kosciusko County prosecutor’s office has “confirmed it was investigating the claims,” local TV news WANE reports.

When contacted by NPR, a representative said on Tuesday that the prosecuting attorney, Daniel Hampton, “is not permitted to disseminate any information regarding alleged misconduct,” citing Indiana’s rules of court.

https://www.npr.org/2022/05/24/1100958437/pastor-quits-adultery-woman-says-age-16-abuse

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Southern Baptist leaders plan to release a secret list of accused sex abusers : NPR

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A cross and Bible sculpture stand outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday. Top administrative leaders for the SBC said that they will release a secret list of hundreds of pastors and other church-affiliated personnel accused of sexual abuse.

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A cross and Bible sculpture stand outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday. Top administrative leaders for the SBC said that they will release a secret list of hundreds of pastors and other church-affiliated personnel accused of sexual abuse.

Holly Meyer/AP

Top administrative leaders for the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in America, said Tuesday that they will release a secret list of hundreds of pastors and other church-affiliated personnel accused of sexual abuse.

An attorney for the SBC’s Executive Committee announced the decision during a virtual meeting called in response to a scathing investigative report detailing how the committee mishandled allegations of sex abuse and stonewalled numerous survivors.

During the meeting, top leaders and several committee members vowed to work toward changing the culture of the denomination and to listen more attentively to survivors’ voices and stories.

The 288-page report by Guidepost Solutions, which was released Sunday after a seven-month investigation, contained several explosive revelations. Among those were details of how D. August Boto, the Executive Committee’s former vice president and general counsel, and former SBC spokesman Roger Oldham kept their own private list of abusive pastors. Both retired in 2019. The existence of the list was not widely known within the committee and its staff.

“Despite collecting these reports for more than 10 years, there is no indication that (Oldham and Boto) or anyone else, took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches,” the report said.

Boto joined the Executive Committee in 1995 and became executive vice president and general counsel in 2007.

On Tuesday, the committee released a statement singling out and denouncing Boto’s words written in a communication to survivors and their advocates on Sept. 29, 2006 that “continued discourse between us (the Executive Committee and survivors’ advocates) will not be positive or fruitful.”

The committee, in its new statement, said it “rejects the sentiment (of Boto’s words) in its entirety and seeks to publicly repent for its failure to rectify this position and wholeheartedly listen to survivors.”

Gene Besen, the committee’s interim counsel, said during Tuesday’s virtual meeting that releasing the list is an important step toward transparency. The names of survivors, confidential witnesses and any uncorroborated allegations of sexual abuse will be redacted from the list that will be made public, he said.

Besen said the committee’s leaders will also look into revoking retirement benefits for Boto and others who were involved in the cover-up. He urged committee members to set aside past divisions and stay united in a collective commitment to end sexual abuse in the SBC.

Willie McLaurin, the Executive Committee’s interim president and CEO, issued a formal public apology to all those who suffered sexual abuse within the SBC, which has a membership of over 47,000 churches.

“We are sorry to the survivors for all we have done to cause pain and frustration,” he said. “Now is the time to change the culture. We have to be proactive in our openness and transparency from now.”

Executive Committee Chair Wally Slade began the virtual meeting by acknowledging the survivors.

“Our commitment is to be different and do different,” he said. “We can’t come up with half-baked solutions.”

After the report’s release, more sexual abuse survivors have been contacting the Executive Committee to tell their stories, Besen said. He said he has asked Guidepost to open up a hotline so survivors who reach out “are directed to the proper place and receive the proper care.”

The Sexual Abuse Task Force, appointed at the demand of SBC delegates during last year’s meeting in Nashville, expects to make its formal motions based on the Guidepost report public next week. Those recommendations will then be presented to the delegates for a vote during this year’s national meeting scheduled for June 14-15 in Anaheim, California, according to Pastor Bruce Frank who led the task force.

Frank, lead pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden, North Carolina, said the crux of the task force’s recommendations based on Guidepost’s report would be to prevent sexual abuse, to better care for survivors when such abuse does occur and to make sure abusers are not allowed to continue in ministry.

Survivors and advocates have long called for a public database of abusers. The creation of an “Offender Information System” was one of the key recommendations in the report by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm contracted by the SBC’s Executive Committee after delegates to last year’s national meeting pressed for an investigation by outsiders.

The proposed database is expected to be one of several recommendations that resulted from Guidepost’s seven-month investigation presented to thousands of delegates attending this year’s national meeting.

https://www.npr.org/2022/05/24/1101012028/southern-baptist-sex-abuse-list

Elif Batuman’s sequel ‘Either/Or’ follows a young woman’s sexual awakening | KPCC – NPR News for Southern California

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Elif Batuman has turned her years in college into another book. Her highly anticipated sequel to the 2017 Pulitzer finalist The Idiot is out on Tuesday – and the lively, witty, inquisitive protagonist Selin is just as curious about “the human condition” as she was in the first novel.

Either/Or picks up where The Idiot left off. Selin is now a sophomore, after having spent the summer trying to understand her obsession with a boy she followed to Hungary. In Either/Or, Selin continues to muse about every choice she makes, comparing herself to literary characters and thinking deeply about her identity as a writer.

Selin is also more in touch with her feelings this year, and as Batuman told NPR’s Morning Edition, she’s learning more about her sexual preferences and trying to better understand the way people live, and the decisions they make.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

On seeing herself in the protagonist

I was a seeker, I was looking for the meaning of life and how to live. I was the first person in my family to be born in the United States. My whole family is from Turkey and I did go to Harvard like Selin. I was aware that I had this incredible opportunity and I had to make the most of it. And, that if I didn’t, it was going to be this giant dishonor. I also knew that I wanted meaning to come from books and from literature. And even though my parents are doctors, they didn’t really pressure me to go into science. So I was really just looking for literature to show me the answers, how to live, and how to create a successful life. And that’s also the case for Selin in these books.

On the influence of Russian literature

I fell in love with Russian literature when I was a teenager. When I look back at what really attracted me to books like [Tolstoy’s] Anna Karenina and Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin – which were two of my big favorites early on – [it was that] Tolstoy and Pushkin really saw what was unfair in life for women and children in a way that no other part of serious discourse that I could see was talking about. And what I really got from those Russian novels is a potential way that I could take this threatening and menacing chaos of stories, and at least theoretically, reconcile them all into one single story.

Either/Or

On the aesthetic versus the ethical way of life

The Kierkegaard book Either/Or is one that I actually read at that stage of life – in my second year of college. And Kierkegaard is talking about how you can either live your life as a work of art or you can live your life and try to be a good person. And for Kierkegaard, there’s a huge conflict between these two things. And his example is that if you want your life to be a work of art, you should go out and seduce lots of women and seduce young girls, and some of them might kill themselves or go crazy. But like, you’re living a really aesthetic life. And an ethical life means getting married and being really bored because like a boring marriage in this sophisticated way is actually more interesting than a series of interesting love experiences.

On the protagonist’s sexual awakening

When Selin researches how to live an aesthetic life, she’s really reading a lot of books that are written by men, and she’s learning that the person who lives an aesthetic life is a man, and the way that they do it is by seducing and abandoning young girls. And when I set out to write Either/Or it was in 2017 during the Me Too [movement], when a lot of women were revisiting their own sexual histories. I was, at that point, one year into a lesbian relationship for the first time in my life after only [ever] dating guys. One text that I read at that time was Compulsory Heterosexuality by Adrienne Rich, which blew my mind. It’s about the existence of a force that is sometimes secret, and sometimes not secret, that is always working in society to wrench women’s energies away from themselves and each other and towards men.

When I thought back about my college experience, part of the question I had was, ‘I feel so wonderful in this relationship now with the woman with whom I hope to spend the rest of my life. Why didn’t I do this sooner?’ And that was part of the motivation for me to write Either/Or, to go back to that period and revisit why that didn’t seem like it was an option, and why it seemed so important to have these relationships with guys.

On what the next book might be

I feel like I’m going to run out of time. If I write another book for [Selin’s] next year of college, she’s [just] going to be a few years out of college by the time I die of old age. So, I think I’m probably going to skip forward to her thirties because I have some ideas about where she’s going to end up with that.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


https://www.kpcc.org/2022-05-24/elif-batumans-sequel-either-or-follows-a-young-womans-sexual-awakening

Top Southern Baptists stonewalled and denigrated sex abuse victims, report says : NPR

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Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention stonewalled and denigrated survivors of clergy sex abuse over almost two decades, according to a scathing 288-page investigative report issued Sunday.

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Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention stonewalled and denigrated survivors of clergy sex abuse over almost two decades, according to a scathing 288-page investigative report issued Sunday.

Mark Humphrey/AP

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, stonewalled and denigrated survivors of clergy sex abuse over almost two decades while seeking to protect their own reputations, according to a scathing 288-page investigative report issued Sunday.

These survivors, and other concerned Southern Baptists, repeatedly shared allegations with the SBC’s Executive Committee, “only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC,” said the report.

The seven-month investigation was conducted by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm contracted by the Executive Committee after delegates to last year’s national meeting pressed for an independent probe.

“Our investigation revealed that, for many years, a few senior EC leaders, along with outside counsel, largely controlled the EC’s response to these reports of abuse … and were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC,” the report said.

“In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy – even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation,” the report added.

SBC President Ed Litton, in a statement Sunday, said he is “grieved to my core” for the victims and thanked God for their work propelling the SBC to this moment. He called on Southern Baptists to lament and prepare to change the denomination’s culture and implement reforms.

“I pray Southern Baptists will begin preparing today to take deliberate action to address these failures and chart a new course when we meet together in Anaheim,” Litton said.

Among the key recommendations in the report:

— Form an independent commission and later establish a permanent administrative entity to oversee comprehensive long-term reforms concerning sexual abuse and related misconduct within the SBC.

—Create and maintain an Offender Information System to alert the community to known offenders.

— Provide a comprehensive Resource Toolbox including protocols, training, education, and practical information.

—Restrict the use of nondisclosure agreements and civil settlements which bind survivors to confidentiality in sexual abuse matters, unless requested by the survivor.

The sex abuse scandal was thrust into the spotlight in 2019 by a landmark report from the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News documenting hundreds of cases in Southern Baptist churches, including several in which alleged perpetrators remained in ministry.

Last year, thousands of delegates at the national SBC gathering sent the message that they did not want the Executive Committee to oversee an investigation of its own actions. Instead they voted overwhelmingly to create the task force charged with providing oversight of the third-party review. SBC President Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, appointed the panel.

Executive Committee members have had a week to review the report before it was publicly released Sunday afternoon. The task force’s recommendations based on Guidepost’s findings will be presented at the SBC’s annual meeting in Anaheim on June 14-15.

In February, the Executive Committee offered a public apology and a confidential monetary settlement to sexual abuse survivor Jennifer Lyell, who was mischaracterized by the denomination’s in-house news service when she decided to go public with her story in March 2019.

Lyell publicly disclosed that she was a sexual abuse survivor after learning the man she accused of abuse, a former Southern Baptist seminary professor, had recently returned to ministry. She said she came forward with her story to prevent the man from engaging in further abusive acts.

https://www.npr.org/2022/05/22/1100616952/southern-baptists-sex-abuse

A young woman’s matter-of-fact pursuit of porn stardom : NPR

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Sofia Kappel is Bella Cherry in Pleasure.

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Sofia Kappel is Bella Cherry in Pleasure.

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While the screen is still black and as the opening credits begin rolling, the unmistakable sound of sex fills the space for several seconds: men grunting and panting, a woman gagging and panting, slaps, expletives, groans of implied ecstasy.

This is how Pleasure begins, and if you, the viewer, weren’t already aware of the basic premise of the film, this jolt to the senses serves as a vivid warning of what to expect. There will be explicit depictions of sex, and a not small amount of it.

Pleasure is out in select theaters on Friday, May 13.

This is not, however, by any means an “erotic” Hollywood movie, the sort audiences have been mourning the loss of as of late. Instead, Pleasure, the feature debut of Swedish writer/director Ninja Thyberg, is an arresting workplace drama-meets-bildungsroman that demystifies the adult film industry without flat-out demonizing it – a delicate balance to strike.

Upon arrival at the airport in Los Angeles, a young Swedish woman named Bella Cherry (newcomer Sofia Kappel) is asked by the customs agent why she’s here: Business or pleasure? Her answer is hinted at in the title, though the divide between the two is blurred and challenged almost immediately. In a subversive twist on the fantasy of the American Dream, Bella has a single-minded aspiration toward porn stardom; this isn’t the tale of a fresh-faced innocent who unwittingly stumbles into porn while pursuing Hollywood dreams of becoming a professional actress or model; nor is this the story of a damaged drifter who goes down the “wrong” path because she sees no other options for survival. As she tells it anytime someone in the business asks, Why come all the way out here to do … *this*?: She’s a natural exhibitionist who finds joy in performing sex work. “I love being in front of the camera, I love having people watching me.”

Still, as Bella is soon to learn, the adult film industry is a business. And in matters of mixing business with pleasure, the business often takes priority.

Thyberg’s first iteration of Pleasure was a short film of the same name that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. To make the feature, the filmmaker spent several years observing the contours of the industry first-hand, visiting porn sets and living for a time in a house shared by adult film performers, just as Bella does in the movie.

This immersion is evident in the casting, where the ensemble is made up almost entirely of people who actually work in porn, like Revika Reustle as Bella’s housemate and friend Joy, and Chris Cock (so named because, yes, he kind of looks and sounds like Chris Rock) as Bear, an older performer who acts as a sort of informal big brother/mentor type to Bella. (Kappel is an exception – this is her first film ever.) It would be a stretch to call their performances a revelation, but there’s a naturalistic and unstudied ease with which they carry the scenes that’s reminiscent of any number of performers in a Sean Baker movie, and it works.

During scenes of porn shoots, Pleasure alternates between Bella's point of view, and the perspective of the film's director. In this shot, Bella sits on a couch in front of a camera.
During scenes of porn shoots, Pleasure alternates between Bella's point of view, and the perspective of the film's director. In this shot, Bella sits on a couch in front of a camera.

Thyberg’s commitment to achieving a certain level of authenticity also shines through her lens, which reveals an intense curiosity for examining the details of what goes into creating professional porn. During depictions of porn shoots, the filmmaker alternates between Bella’s point of view, staring down the probing eye of the camera, and that of the director’s camera itself, putting the audience in the visceral position of both voyeur and performer. Thyberg also taps into the mundanity of it all – the pre-interviews and paper work required before a shoot; the production set-ups, staging, and choreography of the scenes; the networking, schmoozing, and fraternizing that goes on away from the set.

The film captures the fickle nature of freelance life, where each gig comes with its own unique perks, challenges, and drawbacks, all set and enforced (or not) by whichever person happens to be your boss that day. The stakes of this arrangement are heightened in the world of adult film, where consent is ostensibly regulated but not always practiced on set. As Bella works gigs, Pleasure shows versions of the good, bad, and everything in between – including a director who takes every precaution to ensure everyone feels safe on set, and directors whose “benevolent” approaches to coercion raise so many red flags they could easily stand in as examples in a workplace training video of how not to behave.

A fair warning: One scene in particular depicts a worst-case scenario that might be triggering for some viewers. But Thyberg isn’t all that interested in dwelling on this upsetting experience anymore than she does the others. The show must go on, and Bella remains committed to her pursuits, which boil down to becoming a Spiegler Girl, the crème de la crème of the business who are revered for having essentially zero limits as to what they’re willing to do on camera. (Talent agent Mark Spiegler plays a version of himself here.)

For all its audacity, Bella remains largely a mystery. Virtually nothing is revealed of her origins aside from the fact her mom believes she’s come to America for an internship, and there’s no sense of what she’s into or what she’s like when she’s not trying to be “the next big porn star.”

But Kappel’s performance manages to side-step most of those criticisms – husky-voiced and convincingly driven, she plays Bella as at once inexperienced and exceptionally eager to get what she wants by any means necessary, a potent combination. (There are elements of an Eve Harrington-meets-Showgirls situation, though that’s hardly the main focus and the movie never veers too sharply into melodrama or camp.) Perhaps most importantly, Kappel doesn’t seem to judge the character, who at times makes puzzling, worrisome, or just plain awful choices in her ascension within the industry.

Pleasure, then, is not easily categorized as a cautionary tale; matter-of-fact feels more apt. And that’s largely its greatest strength, especially at a time when many performers and advocates are pushing to reframe the conversations around sex work and women’s agency to be less about moralizing and more about treating it like any other job that should have protections and support in place for employees. The film is firmly in conversation with those debates, and it’s brazen, but thoughtful, in how it goes about it.

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https://www.npr.org/2022/05/13/1098419158/pleasure-movie-review-porn-star-ninja-thyberg-director