They were emboldened by the “MeToo” movement to share their stories.
Marybeth Arnold and Amanda Hodson, now in their late 20s, allege they were underage when an older church member, Benjamin Cole, separately pursued and had sexual contact with them in the early 2000s. The girls said the contact began when they were 13.
When leaders of the Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield found out, the women allege, the church’s three pastors chose to handle it in-house. The girls received “spiritual discipline,” they allege, but Cole received nothing.
They decided to go public with their story after learning Cole had been sentenced in Smith County to eight years in prison after pleading guilty in March 2018 to possession of child pornography and online solicitation of a minor.
“I want the pastors to realize that they are culpable for all the abuse that Ben inflicted on people since they knew that he preyed on children,” Arnold, a nurse living in San Antonio, told the Star-Telegram for an article published in April 2018.
“They protected him and they allowed it to continue.”
The church elders at Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, described on its website as a Reformed Baptist church, previously released a statement in which they denied ever receiving allegations of sexual misconducted involving Cole from Arnold and Hodson.
The women, however, filed reports with Mansfield police about the alleged abuse and, on Friday, a Tarrant County grand jury indicted Cole on two counts of indecency with a child.
In an emailed statement to the Star-Telegram Monday, the women said they “are thankful the truth is finally coming out.”
“Stories like ours come out every day and so many women don’t get the justice they deserve. Coming forward is one of the hardest things we’ve done. But we’re doing this for all the women who have been silenced by abusers and corrupt churches,” the statement reads. “We’re doing this for all the girls who could be his future victims. It’s time to speak up and say enough is enough. We’re grateful to the people who believed us and supported us, and to the legal system for pursuing justice.”
Cole remains incarcerated in the LeBlanc prison unit in Beaumont in connection with his Smith County convictions.
In that case, the Texas Department of Public Safety began investigating Cole — then married and living in Tyler with children of his own — after a father reported finding inappropriate exchanges between Cole and his 16-year-old daughter on the girl’s phone. The contact had started when the girl was 15.
DPS conducted an undercover sting in which an investigator posed online as a 15-year-old friend of the teen girl. Cole was arrested after attempting to meet the 15-year-old for a sexual act.
A search of his phone uncovered a nude photograph of the 16-year-old girl, according to court documents.