FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — After more than 30 years, a woman shared her story with WFXR News about being sexually abused by her father, who used to be a pastor at a church in Franklin County.
“I just didn’t know,” she said. “It had been kept so quiet, I didn’t know.”
Elizabeth Griffith — the daughter of Mark Griffith, a former pastor at Franklin Heights Church — says her father began sexually abusing her when she was around four years old.
She told WFXR News in an exclusive interview that she spent a long time trying to forget the abuse. It took her nearly 20 years to confront him and another six before reporting him to Franklin Heights Church.
“They kept him on staff for a period of years under church discipline,” she said.
After two and a half years, Elizabeth says her father resigned, adding that it’s still painful to her that he was allowed to continue there without the congregation knowing or police being notified.
“It felt very light in comparison to all that I had suffered,” she said.
In 2020, Elizabeth decided to report her father to Virginia State Police because she didn’t want the same abuse to happen to anyone else.
According to court records, Mark was indicted on Dec. 6, 2021 for felony sexual battery of a minor under the age of 13 in connection with an incident from Sept. 15, 1990. However, Mark was not arrested until three weeks after the grand jury indictment.
Then, on June 30, he pleaded guilty to the sexual battery charge and was sentenced to three years in prison, with two years and 11 months suspended, officials say. Following his month-long sentence, Mark is set to spend one year under supervised probation.
“To finally hear him say… and plead guilty to sexual battery of a minor, which is what he did, there was just this relief,” said Elizabeth. “I didn’t know that my head could have that much extra space in it to just relax.”
According to Elizabeth, she hopes coming out with her story will help other survivors realize they deserve justice and for their abusers to be held accountable.
“The original drive to go to the church and ultimately to the police was for other people,” she told WFXR News. “I think by the end…I have a picture of me at four on my desk during this interview to remind myself that no matter how hard this is, she carried the guilt and shame of what had happened privately for far too long and it was very important that the guilt was placed properly on my father, and that was a hard place to get to. Obviously it took me a long time.”
Elizabeth says it’s been about three years since she spoke to her father, but she believes that one day, reconnecting with him will put on the path towards healing.
WFXR News called the Franklin Heights Church’s Rocky Mount campus for comment and was told the pastor was away. WFXR News also emailed Franklin Heights’ communications director and senior pastor, but they have yet to respond.