I find that when you open the door toward openness and transparency, a lot of people will follow you through. – Kirsten Gillibrand link
*Trigger alert* some content may be graphic/upsetting
[[[ UPDATE: 12/13/14 There are reports that South Carolina will look into the BJU situation to see if laws were broken. LINK ]]]
In 2011, a group of brave, intelligent and awesome (yes, we are biased in this regard) students at Bob Jones University(BJU) called Do Right BJU began to openly discuss a climate of secrecy and repression when it came to dealing with sexual abuse on the campus as well as in affiliated churches. During that time, they also protested that Chuck Phelps was on the Board of Trustees. Remember him? He was the pastor who made a teenage girl confess that she had sex with a church member (read: rape) and became pregnant. The rapist did get sent to jail through no help of Phelps. Phelps resigned due the efforts of the students.
For those who not aware, BJU is a school which is part of a network of Independent Fundamentalist Baptists(IFB). The IFB promotes a strict view of the Scripture and a jaundiced view of anything that appears to be modernist incursions into the church.
It is also relevant to note that we wrote a post called Is The Independent Fundamental Baptist Church Any Different Than the Southern Baptist Convention and Sovereign Grace Ministries? in which we reviewed the book by Jeri Massi called Schizophrenic Christianity. (Yes, this is the Jeri Massi of Dr Who fandom. She is a reader of our blog, and we ate lunch with her which officially makes us cool!) This startling book portrays the rather sordid history of the IFB when it comes to sex abuse and reporting.
In 2012, BJU, in a stunning development, hired Boz Tchvidjian's G.R.A.C.E. to investigate complaints on how BJU handled sex abuse reports. Why stunning? The IFB, along with other groups like the SBC, have been loathe to allow outsiders into their controlled world. An uproar ensued when BJU suddenly fired GRACE. That's when the New York Times took notice. The subsequent pressure led to the resignation of the the President of BJU along with, eventually, the reinstatement of GRACE.
As an aside, it is helpful to note that Boz Tchvidjian is a grandson of Billy Graham. Billy Graham attended BJU for one semester and left over disagreements with university policies. TWW was delighted to have former BJU professor Dr Camille Lewis (quoted in the NYT article), write a history of BJU for our readers. Unfortunately, some pressure was brought to bear on Dr. Lewis, as documented in this post.
BJU Responded ahead of the GRACE report
BJU President responded ahead of the GRACE report. For those of you who are not familiar with the IFB, this statement is truly a departure from business as usual. Please understand that I am NOT saying it is a perfect response. I am saying it is a change. Here are some excerpts.
On behalf of Bob Jones University, I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding, and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault. We did not live up to their expectations. We failed to uphold and honor our own core values. We are deeply saddened to hear that we added to their pain and suffering.
To them I would say—we have carefully listened to your voice. We take your testimony in this report to our hearts. We intend to thoroughly review every aspect and concern outlined in the investigation and respond appropriately.
We are all awakening to the depth and breadth of this societal problem. Colleges and universities across the country are reassessing how they handle cases of sexual abuse and assault. We want to be part of that solution. To do that, we must first address our own failings, and the GRACE report helps in that effort by identifying specific areas of concerns. Some of those concerns include the following:
The report stated that BJU officials were not adequately prepared or trained to counsel victims appropriately.
University staff members were perceived by some to be insensitive to their suffering and sometimes rushed to resolve their negative feelings without adequate concern for their pain.
- Some victims reported that the counseling offered by the University was inadequate, insensitive and counter-productive.
- Some felt a number of staff members at the University tended to blame victims for the abuse or sexual assault they experienced and that this implied blame left them feeling more traumatized.
- The report found that counseling sometimes overlapped with disciplinary actions.
- Victims felt counseling should be separated from BJU’s discipline process and a clear procedure of confidentiality should be established.
…In a final note, we are thankful for GRACE and Boz Tchividjian. They are devoted to the cause of preventing sexual abuse and their contributions are significant.
Here is the link to this remarkable report. It is almost impossible to do justice to the tremendous work that went into this endeavor. For those of you who have followed TWW, we believe you will discover that the comments in this report bear a resemblance to a number of other reports by victims in other churches within evangelicalism. In other words, there is nothing here that has not been alleged in a number of SBC churches and SGM churches. Please see my assessment at the end.
One point made in the report needs to be emphasized. This was not a court proceeding, and those who spoke with GRACE were not cross-examined. They were there to share their stories and concerns. Please put the word *alleged* before all reports (for the lawyers). As readers will note, many of the experiences were remarkably consistent, which lends credence to the reports. Several of the respondents expressed their reservation at sharing such details.TWW congratulates them for their bravery in forging ahead in detailing very painful episodes. One comment:
Please know that these people are extremely scary. You will be dealing with a lot of people who are fearful to speak. Even I am fearful to fill out this survey, but I want my friend to get the justice that she deserves. I cannot bring justice. I can only seek it. Your involvement gives so many peace and hope.
The report included reports from those who attended BJU and those who attended BJU's Christian Academy. Some incidents did not occur on campus. There were allegations made by those who were abused by family members as well. A comment:
I felt swept under the carpet. I felt that I had no right to my feelings, that I should just get over it instead of facing it, that I had to respect the person who abused me because they were my father [sic] and I felt like I was being scolded, that I had to hide my feelings and shut up about it. I felt like I did not matter as a person much less a victim of any abuse and that anything I was feeling or experiencing was chalked up to me being sinful.
Here are some highlights from the report.
Victims felt unsafe in reporting abuse.
The reports seemed to indicate that those with a history of sex abuse did not consider BJU a safe place to discuss their abuse. Here is an example why.
I was abused from the ages of 6-14 by my grandfather. When I went for counseling I was told, “Did you repent for your part of the abuse? Did your body respond favorably? If it did, then you need to repent. You’re bitter and care more about your pain than the salvation of your family. You should have never gone to the police because it tore your family apart and that’s your fault. You love yourself more than you love God and that’s why you’re struggling.” And, on and on it goes.15
I would like to add that the vast majority of those who reported sexual abuse of any kind were immediately disbelieved until it was proven, and many times even then, they were viewed as having suspicious motives for seeking justice.16
BJU allegedly discouraged reporting to authorities.
It appears that that BJU officials may have discouraged some from reporting sexual crimes to the proper authorities.
Victims heard, consistently, from chapel speakers and faculty/staff, that abusers should be forgiven, that they bore the sin of bitterness, and that they should not report abusers.17
Its [sic] best not to make a big deal out of this for the good of the school.19
Some victims believed that they were to blame for their abuse.
A number of individuals indicated that various BJU representatives such as counselors, teachers, and chapel speakers blamed victims for the occurrence of abuse they suffered. Some of these complaints included:
BJU admin definitely held the view that a victim was always at least partially responsible, even if just a tiny part, and had the greatest obligation to deal with that tiny responsible part, as well as repenting of hatred for the perpetrator.3
If a girl is raped she must have done something to provoke it. It was ALWAYS made to be the woman’s fault. We were “stumbling blocks” to the men.9
There seemed to be confusion amongst the students as to whether or not sex abuse was ever addressed publicly.
One of the more intriguing findings in this investigation is the degree to which recollections about BJU teachings on the topic of sexual abuse differ among former students. Students who apparently heard the same sermons and lectures seemed to come away with vastly discrepant perspectives on what was communicated. Some former students reported, for example, that comments on sexual abuse were rare, if they occurred at all:
I don’t remember it ever being discussed. However, all my personal experiences with administration were dealt with lovingly and compassionately.16
The canary example
In more concrete terms, abuse victims may be able to detect toxic victim blaming/perpetrator exonerating attitudes in highly diluted concentrations that non-abused individuals may lack the sensitivity to detect. A canary illustrates this concept well. When miners go to work down in the depths of their mine, they often bring a canary with them. The canary detects and begins choking on toxic fumes before the fumes reach sufficient concentration to be detected by the miners. Like the canary, victims of sexual abuse detect toxic messages of blame before others who have not experienced abuse detect these messages.
Different perspectives are to be expected.
No one should discount the investigation participants who shared positive experiences at BJU (most of whom did not identify themselves as victims of sexual abuse). Without question, many alumni, students, faculty, and staff had wonderful experiences there. Likewise, no one should discount the investigation participants who shared about pain and suffering they experienced at BJU and how those experiences negatively impacted them. (p.47)
Some women believe they were blamed for their attack by the way they dressed.
There appeared to be lots of emphasis by faculty and administration on how a woman dressed. If they dressed in a certain way, it caused their brothers to lust which presumably led to an unwanted sexual encounter with a woman! At BJU there is a strict dress code.
1. Triggering Abuse
A number of individuals, including some current and former faculty and students, expressed concern that BJU administrators and faculty have placed the onus of responsibility for men’s lust upon women.24 These investigation participants reported that these messages shift the responsibility for abuse from a perpetrator to a victim,25 and some investigation participants reported hearing messages about how a woman somehow triggered her abuse.26
A former student explained that she took a class in BJU’s criminal justice department in the mid-2000s and one of the articles the class read was written by a female professor who had traveled to France and “had been severely raped and almost killed…the consensus of the male students in the class was that the woman must have done something to deserve it. Not one student stated otherwise. I tried several times to enter the discussion after this point was made, but was put off from being able to speak several times until the bell finally rang. I
However, administrators claim they did not believe they put the blame of men's lust on women.
Individuals who were sexually abused were shamed into believing they were damaged goods.
Moreover, when an environment exalts virginity as the ideal, the failure to address sexual abuse is a damaging omission for victims. Talk that only exalts purity reminds victims that they are relegated to the status of a second-class citizen by definition. In such an environment, there is no hope for a victim, because the damage is done.79
Counseling revictimized the abused individual.
Many individuals who were counseled at BJU believed they were revictimized by the process. GRACE reviewed the counseling beliefs at BJU. This section is both fascinating and troubling. We would like to look at it as a separate post in the near future.
I know there are people who went to school there that are okay and have healthy lives. But I don’t think anyone that went through their counseling for anything significant are okay and fine or have healthy lives.86
I had nightmares for years. What happened to me was terrible. What the people at Bob Jones did to me was worse. I asked for counseling. It was one of the worst mistakes I ever made.87
Did the abused get pleasure from the abuse?
Yes, you read that right! One particularly troubling aspect of the counseling is that the victims were asked whether they got any pleasure out of the abuse.
Another individual also explained hearing this message in a counseling session with a BJU counselor. She stated that she had been the victim of childhood sexual abuse before coming to BJU in the late 2000s. When she came to BJU, she sought counseling at BJU. The former student related that the issue of “pleasure” came up when discussing her abuse with the counselor. She said that her counselor said, “that if I had ever experienced pleasure, that was sin that I needed to repent of.”156 The victim stated that these comments left her very hurt and confused.157 In an interview with GRACE, the counselor denied asking the counselee about pleasure or telling her to repent of it. She stated, “I have never said that to my class and I haven’t counseled that way.”
Symptoms and effects experienced by those traumatized.
GRACE heard witnesses describe a heartbreaking array of devastating symptoms and effects from the sexual trauma they endured:
- feelings of blame, shame, and worthlessness;
- difficulty with forgiveness, fear, anger, and depression;
- denial, powerlessness;
- memory loss, blackouts, nightmares, sleeplessness, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- nausea, flashbacks, panic attacks, eating disorders;
- substance abuse addictions;
- loss of trust and personal relationships, loss of employment, loss of libido, loss of
- pornography addictions, compulsive masturbation, sexual confusion, sexual
- prostitution, physical abuse;
- cutting, hair pulling, attempted suicide.
Some victims said they were accused of being bitter. (There is a reason that it is a banned word on TWW!)
“Anyone who still struggles with pain or hurt from a past event has not forgiven and is bitter. They see the victim of abuse automatically as bitter and unforgiving. There can be no other explanation for their pain, their confusion, their nightmares, PTSD symptoms, etc. It can only be the fault of the victim.”10
They were allegedly told that their inability to forgive quickly was sinful.
As one such victim reported, a BJU representative told her, “You should call your abuser and tell him you forgive him, witness to him.” Reference 16.
Grieving the abuse was seemingly discouraged.
I was told to forgive, but I was never truly allowed to feel angry, or to allow myself to reflect on the hurt that I should feel. It was as if [the perpetrator] had called me a mean name or lied to me. There seemed to be very little recognition of the fact that child sex abuse leaves feelings of shame and confusion. These types of feelings were never addressed.
Justice for the victims seemed to be downplayed.
The victim stated that she was sexually assaulted by a BJU student in the 1990s. After the assault, the offense was reported to BJU authorities who interviewed the alleged perpetrator. The alleged perpetrator minimized the extent of his actions, but he admitted to touching her inappropriately without her consent while he believed she was sleeping.
The university expelled the alleged perpetrator but readmitted him a year later.70 The victim reported that after being readmitted, the alleged perpetrator harassed her by coming to her home and leaving notes on her car. BJU authorities also reportedly asked the alleged perpetrator to lead the student body in prayer during a chapel service while he was on probation.71 The alleged perpetrator also reapplied for his job at the location where the offense reportedly occurred and where the victim was still working.72
The alleged perpetrator graduated from BJU and now serves overseas as a missionary.73 BJU permitted the alleged perpetrator to return to campus as a mission organization representative in 2011.74 In 2012, the victim reported the offense herself to law enforcement,75 and later received a letter from the alleged perpetrator requesting forgiveness.76
Victims were reportedly told to utilize Matthew 18 and confront their abuser.
Another victim of sexual abuse reported that her Dorm Counselor in the late 1990s advised her to confront her abuser. She explained, “[I]t was treated like a Matthew 18 thing and told that I needed to confront him of his sin.”141 She explained that the Dorm Counselor told her that she “needed to deal with the mandate to offer forgiveness, and because it is sin, he needs a chance to repent.”142
Counseling ethics were questioned.
Apparently, some victims felt unsafe in disclosing their abuse due to fears that they would be discussed with others without their permission.
A childhood victim of physical and sexual abuse stated that she came to BJU as a student in the 2000s. Because her parents had forbidden her to seek counseling after she left home, she explained, “[t]he very first appointment I had with [the counselor] I stressed how absolutely important confidentiality is because in fundamentalism, everyone knows everyone.”48 Despite her expressions of fear, “After the first session, less than a week later, I got a call from the pastor’s wife of [the victim’s former church]. [The BJU counselor] called her to ‘confirm my story.’ That is a big thing with them. I feel like I spent half the time trying to prove to them that this happened.”49 The victim reported that her pastor’s wife was “very upset [that] I was in counseling [because discussing the abuse] was ruining my parents’ ministry and [I] needed to be quiet.”50
Both Deb and I are truly astounded by the scope, depth and thoughtfulness of this GRACE report. We are even more astonished that BJU allowed this investigation to occur and accepted its public distribution. Given the history of BJU and the IFB, this is truly an unexpected occurrence. It is amazing that BJU allowed an outside entity, which is not IFB related, to have unprecedented access to the students, faculty and employees, knowing that these issues would be brought to light.
Of course, there is much work to be done at BJU. But, then again, what happened at BJU occurs over and over again in today's evangelical churches. There are many churches and groups that should hang there heads in shame as they, too, have utilized such tactics in dealing with the horrors of sexual abuse.
The students at BJU should be given a standing ovation because they stood up in the face of negative consequences. DO Right BJU made the difference.
GRACE and Boz Tchvidjian have demonstrated for the entire evangelical population how to look into accusations of child sex abuse. They wrote a report which should become a template for all evangelical churches dealing with sex abuse. Thank you Boz!
The administration at BJU did something that frankly stunned me. I believed they would find a way to squelch this report. They did not. They took it on the chin and have set a precedent for handling such accusations in the future.
There are a number of educators at BJU who supported and loved the students. Dr Lewis, thank you for your testimony.
Finally, the victims…I cried as I read some of this report. You are courageous, strong and godly. I stand in awe of you all. TWW is here for you should you ever want to tell your stories.
This story is just beginning. Please join with us in praying that this report will be the first of many which results in a change in the evangelical church and its sad history of covering up child sex abuse. The hard work of reconciliation, restitution, and change starts now.
Evangelical churches and institutions, take notice. Your responses in the future will be compared to this report. There is a new standard in town.
Lydia's Corner: Genesis 37:1-38:30 Matthew 12:22-45 Psalm 16:1-11 Proverbs 3:27-32