Woman who was told her rape was a ‘good thing’ by Southern Baptist leader files lawsuit

A woman who said she was threatened and humiliated after reporting multiple rapes to former Southern Baptist Convention president Paige Patterson has filed a lawsuit against him.

The lawsuit, which was filed by a former student of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, was unsealed this week.

It says the woman was the victim of multiple violent sexual assaults on the school’s campus by a fellow student, who also was employed at the seminary, in 2014 and 2015. But even before she became a student, the lawsuit says, the seminary “was not a safe place for young women.”

“Void of even the most basic standards of support for victims required by state and federal law, SWBTS had put in place a construct in which sexual harassment and violence were ignored — or at times — even celebrated by its leaders,” the lawsuit says. “Through intimidation and victim-blaming, any young woman who dared speak up was shamed into silence.”

Patterson was removed as the SBC president last year because of how he handled sex abuse claims, including an email in which he reportedly asked to meet with a student to “break her down” after she said she was raped.

That woman is referred to in the lawsuit by the pseudonym Jane Roe.

Patterson threatened Roe’s family and asked if her attacker had ejaculated during the reported rapes, the lawsuit says. He also told her that it was a “good thing” the rape happened because the right man won’t care if she’s a virgin or not. The suit claims Patterson seemed to get joy out of asking Roe uncomfortable questions.

An attorney for the woman told the Star-Telegram in 2018 that Patterson sent around an email calling the woman’s mother “nuts.”

Patterson’s lawyer, who didn’t immediately return a call for comment on Friday, has previously said he has “not found one credible” allegation against his client, including accusations that he told one alleged rape victim it was “good” she was raped and that he told another not to report what happened to police.

Adam W. Greenway, president of Southwestern Seminary, said in statement: “While we cannot address issues in ongoing litigation, it is important that the Southwestern Seminary community know that we take these matters seriously and are committed to our campus being a safe place for the vulnerable and for survivors of abuse.”

Allegations against SWBTS

The lawsuit says that Roe met the student who would later rape her in September 2014. He was employed as a plumber on the campus and is identified as John Doe in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit describes how Doe took an “immediate interest” in Roe and would “pursue her relentlessly,” even leaving notes on her car. She on multiple occasions turned down invitations to go on a date with the man, the lawsuit says.

“The more Roe resisted, the more Doe persisted,” it says.

He told Roe that he had an extensive criminal history but that Patterson encouraged him to “fish” the pool of unmarried students to find a suitable wife. He was not background checked because even though he was employed by the school, he was also a student, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says that Roe was first raped when she fell asleep on a lawn chair at an October 2014 campus barbecue. She awoke to Doe assaulting her. He had a gun, the lawsuit says.

He later would threaten murder or suicide if she reported what he did or if she didn’t “stay” with him. The stalking persisted and eventually ended.

But in April 2015, the lawsuit says that Doe sexually assaulted Roe again after he pushed his way into her home.

She reported the rapes to Patterson in August 2015. Patterson sent a message to his office two days later that warned employees not to let Roe’s mother “push you around,” according to the suit.

Patterson, according to the lawsuit, told the woman he was “too busy” to deal with her report. Patterson reported the rape to the Fort Worth Police Department.

Following the report, officials went to Doe’s campus residence and found nine weapons, including firearms and a rifle that was in his vehicle. Doe was expelled because he violated the school’s policy regarding weapons, the lawsuit says.

In a later meeting with Roe’s family, Patterson accused her of lying about the assaults and firearms, even after finding the stash in Doe’s room, the lawsuit says.

When Roe’s mother asked Patterson why they hadn’t received an apology from the school about what happened, Patterson allegedly “lunged across the table, firmly pointed his finger in her face and threatened to ‘unleash’ lawyers on her if she dared question his leadership at SWBTS.”

At the end of the meeting, the lawsuit says, Patterson seemed disappointed that he hadn’t found a reason to expel Roe.

“So far, it’s just your words against his,” he allegedly told her.

She ended up withdrawing from the school. Then, she received an email from Patterson’s wife, Dorothy.

“You are certainly doing the right thing to move away from Southwestern,” Dorothy Patterson wrote. “Just be careful of suggesting that I or my mother or my mother-in-love would have spoken to anyone as your mother did to Dr. Finch or the president ... Make your decision based on your own actions and reactions rather than casting blame on someone else.”

Roe was afraid to pursue charges against the attacker, the lawsuit says.

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Nichole Manna is an investigative reporter for the Star-Telegram. Before moving to Fort Worth in July 2018, she covered crime and breaking news in Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska and Kansas. She is a 2012 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and grew up in Florida.