Lawsuit, filed under new Georgia law, accuses lobbyist of sex abuse

What may be the first lawsuit filed under Georgia’s new child predator law claims that a statehouse lobbyist abused a boy he worked with as a youth leader at a Toombs County church.

Matthew Stanley claims that Jim E. Collins abused him hundreds of time over the course of several years, as recently as 2002. Collins was a youth pastor at First Baptist Church of Vidalia.

“Jim used his position of authority in my local church to perpetrate his abuse for most of my adolescent years,” Stanley said at a news conference Monday at his lawyer’s Atlanta office.

The advocacy group Voice Today, which works to end child sexual abuse, said Stanley’s lawsuit is believed to be the first since the passage this year of House Bill 17, the Hidden Predator Act. The bill created a two-year window during which victims of past abuse can file civil claims against their alleged abuser, even if the statute of limitations has expired.

Stanley, 31, said in the suit that he first met Collins while in the seventh grade. Stanley joined the church’s youth group. Collins was a volunteer and later became youth pastor. Collins invited Stanley and other boys from the group to his home, the suit says, and hosted sleepovers.

Collins showed the boys pornography and encouraged them to engage in sexual acts, according to the suit, and abused Stanley and other boys on church-sponsored out-of-town trips. Stanley claims Collins abused him more than 100 times while Stanley was between the ages of 11 and 18.

Collins did not return repeated telephone and email requests for comment.

State records show Collins has eight lobbying clients, including Greenlaw and the Georgia Small Business Council.

Stanley said he has forgiven Collins.

“There must be consequences, however, even for forgiven actions,” Stanley said. “Mr. Collins must provide an accounting for his actions.”

Barbara Marschalk, an attorney for First Baptist of Vidalia, issued a statement from the church that said Stanley never told anyone at the church about the abuse, but once the church learned of the accusations, it forced Collins to resign from his position and later barred him from church property.

“First Baptist Church, Vidalia believes that the abuse of anyone is deplorable and is absolutely counter to everything for which First Baptist Church, Vidalia stands,” the statement said. “The church takes the protection of youth very seriously, which is why it has continuously enhanced its multi-tiered policies and procedures in the youth protection arena.”

Stanley’s lawyer, Jameson Carroll, said he believes other alleged victims could come forward.