A shocking investigative report issued by an independent Christian research company (GRACE) into Bob Jones University’s handling of sexual abuse allegations and treatment of self-reported victims was recently released. The stunning 300-page report, which can be read here in its entirety, found that for many years the fundamentalist university actively discouraged students who reported being sexual abuse victims from filing police reports and instead urged the student-victims to repent for their own sins.
Bob Jones University is a private Protestant university with approximately 3,000 students. The university and its various ministries are located in Greenville, South Carolina. According to university rules, student life is largely governed by the university’s interpretation of the bible. GRACE writes in the Report that it interviewed over 116 former university students. According to some students, the university swept sex abuse allegations "under the carpet" and encouraged the victims to repent and move beyond the trauma by hiding their feelings, demonstrating respect to their perpetrator, and not discussing the matter any further. 52.7 percent of the survey respondents who identified themselves as sexual abuse victims claimed that their disclosure to the university resulted in a "very hurtful" or "somewhat hurtful response" by the university. Following the publication of the 300-page report, Bob Jones University President Steve Pettit issued an apology for the school’s "inadequate, insensitive, and counterproductive" counseling methods. The GRACE Report concludes by finding that Bob Jones University acted with an utter lack of training in psychology and trauma counseling best practices and that the university culture blamed females for any abuse they suffered. GRACE also found that the university culture considered rape and consensual sex as equivalent sins.
Victim and advocacy groups are calling the university’s apology "too little, too late" and calling on the university to compensate victims for the harsh treatment they experienced. The Report cites examples in which persons who came to university counselors with emotional problems were led to believe that their emotional problems were the result of their own spiritual weaknesses. Indeed, abuse-related conditions such as flashbacks, eating disorders, and depression were mislabeled as "sins" and victims were never referred to actual medical treatment. Four names repeatedly surface in the report as having significant influence on this dubious "counseling" philosophy": Dr. Walter Fremont, Dr. Bob Wood, Dr. Jim Berg, and Dr. Gregory Mazak. Notably, although Dr. Berg served as Dean of Students and admits to counseling "200-300 victims of sexual abuse", he himself had no formal academic training in counseling.
Needless to say, sexual abuse victims of any age or gender should never be discouraged from reporting their claims to law enforcement, who are far better trained to investigate these incidents than private universities. When a perpetrator is not held accountable or even exposed, it only emboldens the perpetrator to commit further misconduct and it inhibits the victim from getting any genuine healing because there was never any accountability. Sexual abuse victims should never be blamed or shamed by the persons who received their report. They should never be urged to "move on" before receiving proper therapy. In so doing, Bob Jones University was actually re-victimizing these women and causing them further trauma.
The GRACE report is issued at a time when the Department of Justice is scrutinizing countless secular universities to determine whether their policies and action violate a federal law known as Title IX. Under Title IX, federally funded schools must ensure that students of all ages are not denied or limited in their ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s educational programs or activities on the basis of sex. A school violates a student’s rights under Title IX regarding student-on-student sexual violence when the following conditions are met: (1) the alleged conduct is sufficiently serious to limit or deny a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s educational program, i.e. creates a hostile environment; and (2) the school, upon notice, fails to take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the sexual violence, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.
When a school knows or reasonably should know of possible sexual violence, it must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. If an investigation reveals that sexual violence created a hostile environment, the school must then take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the sexual violence, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects. But a school should not wait to take steps to protect its students until students have already been deprived of educational opportunities. Title IX requires a school to protect the complainant and ensure his or her safety as necessary, including taking interim steps before the final outcome of any investigation. The school should take these steps promptly once it has notice of a sexual violence allegation and should provide the complainant with periodic updates on the status of the investigation. If the school determines that the sexual violence occurred, the school must continue to take these steps to protect the complainant and ensure his or her safety, as necessary. The school should also ensure that the complainant is aware of any available resources, such as victim advocacy, housing assistance, academic support, counseling, disability services, health and mental health services, and legal assistance, and the right to report a crime to campus or local law enforcement.
Our attorneys are experienced in handling lawsuits involving sexual abuse within fundamentalist religious organizations and Title IX cases against public universities. If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual abuse, please contact our law firm at 855-700-PATH or send an e-mail to sexual abuse attorney Adam Horowitz at [email protected]. Farmer Jaffe Weissing handles sexual battery cases nationwide.