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SBC International Mission Board creates position to prevent, respond to sex abuse

SBC International Mission Board creates position to prevent, respond to sex abuse

The office of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board in Richmond, Virginia. | (Photo: The Christian Post)

The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has created a new position aimed at preventing and responding to sexual abuse.

IMB President Paul Chitwood announced at a plenary session of IMB trustee meetings in Riverside, California, on Jan. 30 that the Richmond, Virginia-based missionary body had selected educational consultant and forensic counselor Somer Nowak for the position.

Nowak told The Christian Post on Monday that she first became aware of the Prevention and Abuse Administrator last year and she wanted to help the IMB combat abuse.

“I love the IMB and what it stands for, and when I learned that this was an area IMB was passionate about pursuing excellence in, I knew that I wanted to lend a hand in that effort,” said Nowak.

“I have always been passionate about the safety and well-being of children and families, and this position was not only an opportunity to do just that, but also an opportunity to serve the people of this company.”

Nowak is taking her first weeks as an administrator to meet with staff connected to her work and to review earlier recommendations on how to improve the IMB's handling of sexual abuse allegations. 

“I want to come into this job informed and with a good rapport with all those I will be working closely with to ensure the safety and security of our staff, field workers and their families,” she explained.

Counselor and educational consultant Somer Nowak. In January 2020, Nowak was selected to fill the new position of prevention and response administrator at the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board. | IMB

Nowak previously worked as a counselor with the Cherokee County Board of Education and as an educational consultant for Children’s Advocacy of Cherokee County, both in Centre, Alabama.

In July 2018, then IMB President David Platt announced the launch of two investigations regarding the handling of past sexual abuse allegations within the missions organization.

Platt said in a statement at the time that the investigations were being conducted in response to reports tied to a sexual abuse allegation against Mark Aderholt, a former youth pastor who became an IMB missionary and served in other ministry leadership roles.

“I am presently in conversations with leaders of other churches and ministries, particularly within the SBC, to establish practical ways we can and must prevent situations like this in the future,” Platt said in 2018.

“Any attempts to minimize, ignore, cover up, or overlook child abuse, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment are absolutely intolerable, and we must take action together now to ensure safety and support for every person employed or affected by a church or ministry.”

IMB hired Gray Plant Mooty, an external firm based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to conduct an examination of their standards and give recommendations on areas for improvement.

In an examination update released last May, GPM concluded that despite some improvements they still “identified a number of significant concerns with IMB’s handling of past cases.”

“Even with the improvements that have been made over time, IMB’s current policies and procedures fall short of contemporary best practice standards,” stated GPM.

“With those concerns in mind, GPM has concluded that IMB’s prevention and response efforts will be greatly improved by the regular involvement of individuals with expertise in child safety, preventing and responding to child abuse and sexual harassment (including assault), and a trauma-informed approach to prevention and response.”

When asked by CP what she thought would be one of her biggest challenges, Nowak responded that making sure all the staff at the large missionary body are educated on the issue.

“When you think about the number of workers we have on staff globally, as well as here in Richmond, and the great number of volunteers we have joining in the Great Commission work, the task to make sure everyone is assessed, educated, informed and continues that education can feel overwhelming,” said Nowak.

“I think the biggest challenge is to ensure that everyone who plays a part in our company is well trained and educated on these topics; however, we are committed to this task and find it vital to moving forward in this area of safety and security.”

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