From Research to Legislative Action

February 19, 2024
Dark church stage with a spotlight on a cross with a wooden artistic patterned wall behind it

Before she came to know Baylor as a student, Lucy Huh, a doctoral candidate in Baylor’s Garland School of Social Work, was first introduced to Baylor through the late Diana R. Garland – the namesake and inaugural dean of Baylor’s School of Social Work – and her pioneering research on clergy sexual abuse of adults.

Clergy sexual abuse occurs when a person with religious authority intentionally uses their role, position and power to sexually exploit a congregant.

As a survivor-advocate of clergy sexual abuse, Huh found a home to pursue her own research at Baylor.

“Eight years ago, there was still relatively little discourse validating the experiences of adult congregants who were sexually exploited by clergy,” Huh said. “I stumbled upon Dr. Garland's research article, “When Wolves Wear Shepherd's Clothing - Helping Women Survive Sexual Abuse." That was groundbreaking for me in my own personal journey.”

“I never thought that I would one day be led to Baylor, much less continue Dr. Garland’s research. But I felt a responsibility to help prevent this from happening to other people because of the pain and suffering I have experienced firsthand.”

David Pooler, Ph.D., professor of social work at Baylor, is a nationally respected expert on clergy perpetrated sexual abuse of adults and has worked alongside Huh as the chair of her dissertation committee. Once the duo began looking at the breadth of Pooler’s research and where Huh could carve out her own pursuits, one glaring issue came to light.

“One of the things that came up early on in our conversation is that there are only 13 states and the District of Columbia that actually criminalize adult clergy sexual abuse as a felony or misdemeanor statute,” Pooler said. “You could immediately see her wheels spinning.”

California, Huh’s home state, is not one of those 13. 

Working alongside her own network of advocates, allies and survivors, Huh found an ally in her local legislator, California state senator Dave Min.

After discussing the severity and reality of the situation – the imbalance of power between a clergy and a congregant, similar to a doctor or therapist, and the lifelong wounds that this type of abuse brings upon a victims’ life – Min was moved to action, drafting legislation – SB 894 – that was introduced on January 3, 2024, to the California state legislature. As of this writing, the bill was referred to the Committee on Public Safety and the Committee on Judiciary.

“Exposing the darkness and evil of clergy sexual abuse is not only for the good of the Church but for all of society” Huh said. “There are a lot of people out there suffering in silence due to this pervasive problem that causes serious wounds. Change and healing can only happen when the darkness is exposed.”