Bob Jones University Blamed Victims of Sexual Assaults, Not Abusers, Report Says
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
|Chris Keane, NY Times|
DEC. 11, 2014
A survey done at Bob Jones University found that for years, the evangelical Christian school in Greenville, S.C., discouraged students from reporting sexual assaults. \
For decades, officials at Bob Jones University told sexual assault victims that they were to blame for their abuse, and to not report it to the police because doing so would damage their families, churches and the university, according to a long-awaited independent report released Thursday.
Bob Jones, an evangelical Christian institution in Greenville, S.C., displayed a “blaming and disparaging” attitude toward abuse victims, according to 56 percent of the 381 current and former students and employees who replied to a confidential survey and said they had knowledge of how the university handled abuse cases. About half the 166 people surveyed who identified themselves as abuse victims said the university actively discouraged them from going to the police.
In interviews with investigators and in written comments, some respondents detailed hurtful, often startling treatment.
“I was abused from the ages of 6 to 14 by my grandfather,” one respondent said. “When I went for counseling I was told: ‘Did you repent for your part of the abuse? Did your body respond favorably?’ ” The person reported being told by a university official that going to the police “tore your family apart, and that’s your fault,” and “you love yourself more than you love God.”
Another person said that at Bob Jones, “abuse victims are considered ‘second-rate Christians.’ ” And another said that university staff consistently told victims “that they bore the sin of bitterness and that they should not report abusers.”
Some people quoted in the report said Bob Jones University had shattered their faith, along with their psyches. The university made God out to be “someone who turns his back when children are harmed and then mocks and shames the child further,” one said, while another said, “by the time I left B.J.U., I didn’t think God loved me at all.”
The investigators’ recommendations included taking unspecified action against the university’s chancellor, Bob Jones III, who was president from 1971 to 2005, a potentially explosive idea at an institution where the founding family’s authority has gone unquestioned.
The criticism of Bob Jones differs from that prompted by the sexual-assault scandals that have erupted at colleges across the country, in that it is not primarily about assaults on or near campus, committed by students or staff members. Rather, the university has been criticized for penalizing victims who reported incidents or sought treatment, and were told not to go to the police, even when the university had a legal obligation to do so.
In the survey, abuse victims were about evenly split between those who said the offense occurred before they arrived at Bob Jones, and those who said it took place while they were there; only 37 percent said the assailant was a student or employee of the university or its primary and secondary school. But in many cases, victims said they were assaulted as children by people within their churches, and were told by university officials that speaking out would hurt the Christian cause.
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Two years ago, Bob Jones commissioned the investigation by Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, an evangelical group known as GRACE that is devoted to addressing sexual abuse in churches and related groups. But the university, unhappy with the investigation’s direction, fired GRACE early this year, drawing heavy outside attention to some university practices for the first time. After a few weeks of intense criticism, the university rehired GRACE.
“We failed to uphold and honor our own core values,” Steve Pettit, the university president, told Bob Jones students and staff members Wednesday. “We are deeply saddened to hear that we added to their pain and suffering.”
Mr. Pettit, the first person outside the Jones family to head the university, took office amid the turmoil this year.
In questions and answers posted on its website, the university said it needed time to review the 300-page report before deciding whether to accept its findings and recommendations.
“I am really impressed by the job GRACE did, and I’m raw from reading it,” said Camille Lewis, a former Bob Jones student and faculty member who is one of the university’s most prominent critics. But university officials are already playing down the findings, she said, and she is not optimistic about the prospects for change.
GRACE recommended overhauling the university’s policies on sexual assault, outsourcing victim counseling, offering assistance to past victims, reviewing old complaints to find those that should have been reported to law enforcement, and halting the use of counseling booklets and videos developed by some university officials.
The investigators requested a meeting with Bob Jones administrators “to review a list of employees identified during the investigation as individuals who have caused hurt to sexual abuse survivors through their teachings, conduct, or overall disposition,” and decide what action to take. It does not say how many names are on that list, but in frank language, it singles out the roles of Bob Jones III and James Berg, an administrator who has headed counseling programs.
“Due to the central role Dr. Jones III played in the many issues outlined within this report, it is recommended that the university impose personnel action” against him, the report says. It notes that he “has repeatedly demonstrated a significant lack of understanding regarding the many painful dynamics associated with sexual abuse.”
Dr. Berg, the report says, should “no longer be authorized to teach on any issue related to sexual abuse or victimization,” or even to provide counseling or speak out on the issue, on or off campus.
GRACE reported that 601 people affiliated with Bob Jones took part in its online survey, and their identities are known to investigators. The findings were based primarily on 381 people who said either that they had firsthand knowledge of Bob Jones’s handling of sexual abuse — including 166 who identified themselves as victims — or that they knew a survivor with ties to the university.