What's at Stake: protecting and preserving the innocence of children

UPDATE 9/22/13: I mentioned in the original post that Eddie Struble is living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area now. He is attending and assisting in a leadership position in the worship ministry at Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, according to the information on their website here. The SBC has a long history of completely ignoring credible allegations of child sex abuse by their own clergy and volunteers, and in this case of credible allegations of abuse by Eddie Struble, there are police reports. The SBC has a long history of protecting and enabling the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against children in their churches by continuing to elevate and place them in public positions of leadership and trust. Predators are master manipulators and use these positions of trust, particularly spiritual trust, to groom kids and gain the trust of parents, preying upon the vulnerable.
5th Sunday Hymn Sing
September 29 at 6:00pm
You are invited to be part of this 
nostalgic and encouraging night of 
worship. Join in singing your favorite 
hymns of praise from our hymnal on 
Sunday evening September 29.
Joining Bro Philip in leading this time 
of worship will be Phil Jones, Phillip 
Smith, Eddie Struble, and Martin Critz
Open Your Eyes
Unfortunately the church is not necessarily known as a safe place for those who have been hurt by this crime. Rather than leading the charge the church is scandalized by reports of abuse within her ranks. Instead of seeking justice and providing safe, healing environments for survivors and their families, the church has become known for its cover ups and lack of competence and compassion when caring for those hurt by sexual abuse.
In a recent article in the Associated Baptist Press, Bob Allen, writes, "A victims’ advocate says autonomous Baptist churches are ill-equipped to deal with the problem of sexual abuse by clergy because they lack the objectivity to respond appropriately to allegations against a trusted minister." This lack of objectivity clouds the better judgement of those in places of authority charged with protecting the most vulnerable in their congregations, children.

When familiarity with a credibly accused minister tragically trumps the *mandate to report the knowledge of abuse or suspicion of abuse to the police, children are placed in danger, particularly when the perpetrator is removed from one place of ministry only to be allowed to move on to unsuspecting churches and communities. I have seen this firsthand in the mishandling of reports of abuse by my former youth music minister (*See Prestonwood Baptist Church John Langworthy).

A few months ago I was made aware of specific concerns about a minister credibly accused of the sexual abuse and stalking of at least one teenage boy of which I am aware. This music minister, Eddie Struble, was formerly on staff at Second Baptist Church, a Baptist megachurch in Houston, with a membership of more than 53,000. He left that position a couple of years ago and sometime after that was hired as the interim music minister at Humble Area First Baptist Church but is no longer on staff there, as of October 2010, and has moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. He also worked as a vocal coach at Hits Theatre in Houston. Prior to working at Second Baptist, he was on staff at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis and Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa.

I have communicated with all of the Houston area organizations involved, as well as the pastor of Idlewild Baptist, regarding my concerns about Eddie Struble. One of the employers confirmed that he was fired for suspicious behavior. Any suspicion of abuse to minors must be reported to law enforcement as mandated by TX reporting laws which were enacted in 1971.

 Under Texas law,ministers and clergy are required to report any suspected child abuse ― sexual or otherwise ― to authorities within 48 hours of being told, otherwise they too are committing a criminal offense. A child is defined as anyone under the age of 18.

Information on mandated reporting laws nationwide is also available here via RAINN. Here is a list of specific behavior signs of a predator from Houston experts and here are some great tips on child sexual abuse prevention in Parenting magazine. Please read and pass it on.

In July 2011 I obtained a copy of a police report from the Spring Valley Police Department, which is public information, from October 12, 2009 detailing a call for service to the former Struble home. In the report, (redacted copy embedded below), there are concerns about stalking of a minor as well as a Houston police department incident number filed with the juvenile investigation unit that handles sexual abuse. The offense listed on the report is "Criminal Solicitation of a Child." On a call to Hits Theatre about these concerns, I was told that they are "aware of the allegations." I advised Hits also to report any knowledge of or suspicion of abuse to the police, and to be aware that kids may be afraid to come forward for fear of not being believed. In my attempts to get more information from Second Baptist on Eddie's departure and the allegations of abuse stemming from his time at Second, David Dixon, executive pastor, responded in a voicemail to me that "we have no information at all." The audio is embedded below. Click the play button to listen:

 A few weeks later,  I received this email from David Dixon:

From: Dixon, David [mailto:ddixon@second.org]
Sent: Monday, July 11, 2011 8:56 AM
To: spacecitysnap@gmail.com

Amy, I am aware of 3 emails that you have sent to various staff members regarding a former employee. All of those email have been sent to me as I am responsible for these issues for Second Baptist Church. If you wish to discuss your emails please contact me directly and not anyone else. In addition please provide me the name and contact information of the [*] police detective and I will be happy to contact them.

David Dixon 

As an advocate for survivors of child sexual abuse, I am concerned that there could be more victims harmed by Eddie Struble, such as detailed in the police report above. It is critical for anyone who has seen, suffered or suspected child sex crimes by Eddie to come forward, report these crimes to law enforcement, get help, start healing and protect others. It is also imperative that the staff at his previous churches and places of employment come forward and report to law enforcement any knowledge or suspicion of abuse to kids.

Christa Brown, in the Associated Baptist Press article cited above, states, “Many clergy abuse survivors say that the experience of having been disbelieved and attacked by their faith community is even more painful than the memory of having been sexually molested by a minister,” she said. “It is the community that often causes even more harm than the molesting minister.” Brown, of Stop Baptist Predators, a survivor of sexual abuse by her Southern Baptist youth minister when she was 16, shared her testimony in a 2009 book titled This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang. Christa's story and a review of her book were featured in the Austin American-Statesman,  Christa Brown's saga resonates more for me now that I'm a mother:
Christa Brown's story will likely make you mad. As a naive 16-year-old growing up in a North Texas Baptist church in the 1960s, she was pressured into having a sexual relationship with her youth minister. The married pastor told Brown it was God's will and justified his marital infidelity by citing Bible verses about concubines — then excoriated her as a satanic temptress when his wife found out.

When Brown reported the abuse to another church leader, the minister, like so many Catholic priests we've since heard about, was transferred to another congregation. No police investigation. No announcement to the congregation.

 What happened to children at the hands of Catholic priests and bishops was so beyond the pale that no policy could ever make it right.
I see that now because I know what it means to want to protect someone so fiercely. I know what innocence is and the importance of preserving it as long as possible. Molesters don't just ruin childhood, they set their victims up for an adulthood fraught with anxiety and anger, failed relationships and self-loathing — nothing any mother would wish for her child.
I always felt sorry for abuse victims. But as I held my baby and imagined all the wonder and joy that awaited her, I began to understand more clearly what Brown and so many others had stolen from them.

Like her Catholic friends who tried to effect institutional change, Brown said she encountered hurdles and denial and indifference among Baptist leaders in the national and state conventions. Her abuser, who finally left the ministry after serving different churches, never faced charges. And Baptist leaders have yet to create a national database of abusers or a central reporting point for victims.

But "This Little Light" should stir Baptist leaders to action. And it should help all of us understand just exactly what's at stake.
*We all have the responsibility to protect  children from harm. If you suspect the abuse or neglect of a child, it is your duty to report it immediately. Call 911. In TX that would apply to any child under the age of 18 when the abuse took place. Per the Office of the Attorney General of Texas Greg Abbott:

Anyone having cause to believe that a child's physical or mental health or welfare has been or may be adversely affected by abuse or neglect MUST report the case immediately to a state or local law enforcement agency or the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).

DFPS has a toll-free, 24-hour Hotline: 1-800-252-5400 or www.txabusehotline.org
If you suspect abuse:

DON'T try to investigate. DON'T confront the abuser. DO report your reasonable suspicions.

It is not up you to determine whether your suspicions are true. A trained investigator will evaluate the child's situation. Even if your report does not bring decisive action, it may help establish a pattern that will eventually be clear enough to help the child.
Please, if you saw, suspected or suffered child sex crimes, please contact the police or local law enforcement agency, no matter how long ago or how recent the abuse occurred. Children's Advocacy Centers are also available across the country to support victims and their families. National Children's Alliance is a professional membership organization dedicated to helping local communities respond to allegations of child abuse in ways that are effective and efficient and put the needs of child victims first. The mission of Children's Advocacy Centers of Texas is to restore the lives of abused children by supporting children's advocacy centers in partnership with local communities and agencies investigating and prosecuting child abuse. To find a local center in TX, go here and you can search by county.

The light of knowledge and truth is our most important tool in protecting kids.

Please contact me at spacecitysnap@gmail.com if I can be of any assistance.

Amy Smith
Houston SNAP 

Update: In light of the events involving Penn State, SNAP urges the new Penn State coach to come clean.
We also call on interim coach Tom Bradley to release a statement to disclose what he knew or suspected and when regarding Sandusky’s crimes. Bradley was also there while this cover up took place, so it is hard to believe that Bradley was completely unaware of the situation. We hope that Bradley comes forward to tell the police and the public exactly what he knew, and when he found out.

May the watchers become warriors in protecting kids.


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