CORDOVA — Parents of a teenage girl who was sexually abused by a former part-time employee of Bellevue Baptist Church are suing the church. The suit alleges negligence in allowing James Hook “complete discretion and freedom to have personal and private encounters with volunteers and minors.”
Hook, who was employed on Sunday mornings as the church’s preschool wing coordinator from January 2017-March 2019, pleaded guilty in January to sexual assault by an authority figure. He had been arrested in May 2019 after police found him and the girl, 16, underneath a blanket in the back of his car in a local park. He was sentenced to six months in jail and four-and-a-half years probation.
The teenager’s parents allege “Hook groomed Janet Doe and fomented his incredibly inappropriate relationship with her at Bellevue Baptist Church,” and also allege some of the “extended horrific acts of sexual abuse” took place on the Bellevue campus.
Bellevue, which has denied all of the allegations and filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, confirmed in a statement to Baptist Press that Hook resigned his position at the church two months before the arrest. “Moreover, during his tenure, no allegations of illegal conduct were brought to our attention,” the church said in the statement, which was released July 13.
The church said it has conducted mandatory annual training for childcare employees since 2007, and conducts multiple strategic trainings throughout the year for all childcare employees. Bellevue volunteers also attend annual child abuse prevention training.
“It pains us greatly that anyone anywhere is the victim of abuse,” the church said in a statement. “It is our desire to put an end to abuse and to care for the victims in any manner they need. We are greatly concerned by the abuse that occurs in churches throughout the world and are working here at home to provide education/training and to ensure all immoral and/or illegal behavior is brought forward.”
In the statement, the church also acknowledged, “training and procedures alone are not enough to deal with this issue. We endeavor to support the victims first and encourage people with any knowledge of abuse to come forward. … We desire to build a culture that deals with abuse directly and honestly.”
The victim’s parents base their lawsuit on actions they say occurred before Hook’s arrest. Hook has not been charged for any other alleged actions.
In a court response June 3, Bellevue denied all of the allegations. The church filed a motion to dismiss June 5.