IFB pastor to open Florida college, calls sexual assault claims lies; woman speaks out

An independent fundamental Baptist church leader accused of sexually assaulting a woman when she was 16 has announced plans to open a college in north Florida, prompting the alleged victim to speak out against him.

Cameron Giovanelli will be the president of the school when it opens in 2020. After his announcement on May 19, Sarah Jackson, who has accused Giovanelli of sexually abusing her, spoke about the abuse Saturday on a podcast. On Thursday, Giovanelli denied Jackson’s accusations in a public statement.

Giovanelli was one of the pastors investigated in the Star-Telegram’s December 2018 series “Spirit of Fear,” which found hundreds of allegations of sexual misconduct in independent fundamental Baptist churches and their affiliated institutions.

He is accused of having a sexual relationship with Jackson when he was pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, Maryland. A police report has been filed, but he has not been charged with a crime.

Giovanelli, now an associate pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Florida, said Jackson fabricated stories about him sexually abusing her in 2006 and 2007. He released the 2,400-word statement six days after Jackson was a guest on “Not Your Mother’s Podcast.”

Giovanelli did not respond to requests for comment.

Jackson said on her Twitter she saw Giovanelli’s statement and is talking with her attorney.

“He is grasping for anything to deflect from the actual situation but unfortunately resorting to slander was a poor choice,” she said.

She did not respond to requests for further comment.

Giovanelli announced that he plans to open the North Florida Baptist College in the fall of 2020 with his pastor, Greg Neal. Police investigated Neal in 2011 over allegations that he videotaped unsuspecting women as they changed their clothes in his church office a decade earlier. By then, the one-year statute of limitations on the allegations had run out.

“It makes me cringe. It grosses me out. It’s terrifying to think that there could be parents that are going to send their kids there in good faith,” Jackson said about Giovanelli’s plans on the podcast. “You have two people who have been accused of sexual things and you’re creating this environment where people should be safe.”

In his statement, Giovanelli said Jackson “is a liar and her day of dragging my name through the mud is done! For over one year I have allowed her to smear my name, seek to destroy my reputation, and harass my family through social media.”

In its investigation, the Star-Telegram discovered at least 412 allegations of sexual misconduct in 187 independent fundamental Baptist churches and their affiliated institutions, spanning 40 states and Canada.

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Kaley Johnson is a breaking news and enterprise reporter. She majored in investigative reporting at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has a passion for bringing readers in-depth, complex stories that will impact their lives. Send your tips via email or Twitter.