The Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) is an international conservative Christian organization based in Oak Brook, Illinois with millions of followers. IBLP was established by Bill Gothard. A recent controversy involving its founder Bill Gothard demonstrates why no organization should rely solely on an internal investigation when dealing with matters such as a child sexual abuse and sexual harassment.
According to its mission statement, IBLP “is dedicated to giving individuals, families, churches, schools, communities, governments, and businesses clear instruction and training on how to find success by following God’s principles found in Scripture.” IBLP’s conferences and seminars have been attended by millions of people around the world. Youth conflict resolution is an integral part of IBLP’s ministry, including community outreach, troubled youth mentoring, and ministry training.
Recently IBLP and its 79-year old founder Bill Gothard has been at the center of a sexual harassment controversy. In February 2014, IBLP’s board announced that Bill Gothard has been placed on administrative leave by the board members of his nonprofit organization amid an investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed several women and young girls.
A Christian-run online organization named Recovering Grace has been collecting and publishing victim accounts of sexual abuse by Gothard. According to Recovering Grace, at least 34 different women (including minors) allege they were victims of sexual abuse, “sexual harassment” and emotional abuse by Bill Gothard. The abuse allegedly endured for decades. Religion News Service also reported Gothard was also accused of failing to report allegations of child abuse.
In response to these widespread complaints, IBLP’s board (of which Gothard was a member until February 2014) purported to launch an internal investigation. IBLP recently announced their findings. The results of their internal investigation was that although Gothard acted inappropriate, he did not engage in criminal behavior.
The results of this so-called investigation should surprise no one and it raises more questions than it answers. This was an internal investigation by a board who was responsible for the safety of the women and children whom Bill Gothard allegedly violated. Did anyone really believe the board would blame themselves for causing criminal activity? This announcement begs the question — did the IBLP actually refer this matter to state criminal authorities to let them decide whether Gorthard engaged in criminal activity? If not, who on the board is qualified to decide for every state where these events allegedly occurred what consitutes criminal behavior and what definition of criminal activity were they actually applying?
The problem with “internal investigations” is self-evident. No organization, small or large, can adequately and objectively evaluate itself in the face of charges of grave sexual misconduct. It is an inherent conflict of interest. Investigations of sexual misconduct are best left to law enforcement and judges with full cooperation of the organization. Here, Bill Gothard founded IBLP ago and remained its public face while fully involved with the organization for decades. Is there anyone on the board who is not closely connected to Gothard?
It is especially irresponsible for an organization to conduct this internal investigation when the abuse is alleged to be so widespread. Why should an organization that allegedly allowed such horrific abuse to occur and fester in the first place without intervention suddenly be trusted to conduct an objective and thorough audit of the situation? Even worse, consider the remarkable imbalance of power and factors which would cause Gothard’s victims to decline to fully cooperate with IBLP. Perhaps they feared retaliation or worried they would not be believed. Gothard wields extraordinary influence over the countless Christians families who attended his seminars and bought into his programs and conservative views. That trust was allegedly betrayed. Why then would these victims again trust Gothard’s fellow board members by sharing the intimate details of their private abuse?
Perhaps the most troubling part of this story is Bill Gothard’s remarks at the conclusion of his investigation upon learning that he has been “criminally cleared.” Gothard stated as follows: “I just have a desire to work with and encourage the young people that I have served in the past and I want to continue that on a personal basis.” This man accused of using his position and authority to assault and harass dozens of females (including some minors) now wants to work with young people on a “personal basis.” Remarkable that a man accused of sexual abuse now pledges to work with “young people” on a personal basis in the next chapter of his life. But it is no wonder Gotthard would say this. He has, after all, been “criminally cleared” in an internal investigation and is suddenly empowered by the findings of this board. We hope that all women and children who were violated by Bill Gothard will speak up and report their experiences to civil authorities and allow law enforcement to decide whether Bill Gothard engaged in criminal behavior.
As IBLP’s long-time followers know, IBLP is no stranger to controversy. Bill Gothard’s brother Steve Gothard was accused of having affairs with several secretaries of the institute in the 1980’s, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Bill Gothard was accused of knowing about the improprieties and failing to take action. At the time of the scandal, he resigned as president for three weeks then returned to the helm of IBLP.
Our attorneys are experienced in representing victims of sexual abuse and sexual harassment in civil lawsuits against religious organizations. If you or someone you know was a victim of child sexual abuse or sexual harassment, please contact our law firm at (954) 524-2820 or send an email to sexual abuse attorney Adam Horowitz at [email protected].