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GRACE: Bob Jones University Didn't Help Abuse Victims Heal

Jamie Dean | WORLD News Service | Tuesday, December 16, 2014
GRACE: Bob Jones University Didn't Help Abuse Victims Heal

GRACE: Bob Jones University Didn't Help Abuse Victims Heal

The organization GRACE released its report on how Bob Jones University has responded to reports of sexual abuse or assault in the past. The report said some victims of sexual abuse reported BJU counselors made them feel responsible for their suffering, and didn’t help them grieve before urging them to forgive their abusers.


The 300-page document released by GRACE (an acronym for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) doesn’t allege BJU faculty or staff members sexually abused students or others. Instead, the report examines how BJU officials responded when students revealed they had been abused, either before they became students or while they were attending the Christian university in Greenville, S.C.


Officials at BJU initiated the GRACE investigation in 2012 to examine the school’s response to abuse victims and to identify areas where the university could improve. GRACE, based in Lynchburg, Va., began its investigation in January 2013 and posted its final report on its website this week.


The investigation identifies several areas of concern, including the counseling some victims received at BJU. It also says school officials didn’t always report abuse allegations to the police or that they sometimes interviewed victims or perpetrators before contacting the authorities.


In the report’s section on counseling, GRACE notes some victims said the counseling they received from BJU faculty made them feel like they were to blame for their abuse or for their responses of depression or anxiety. Other victims said counselors emphasized forgiving their perpetrators, but didn’t offer help with the trauma associated with abuse.


At least one counselor quoted in the report said he realizes he should have allowed students more time to “lament” or grieve their abuse before suggesting ways to move forward.


Some students said chapel speakers emphasizing quick forgiveness also confused their attempts to process abuse. “Over the years I have heard countless chapel sermons where we are told we need to forgive those who wrong us,” one current BJU employee told the report’s authors. “Of course the Bible teaches that as an overarching principle. But where is the cry for evil men to stop abusing women and children?”


Later sections of the document say BJU officials didn’t always report abuse to police. One university official said he was unaware mandatory reporting laws applied to victims abused away from campus.


The lengthy report includes a section on GRACE’s methodology and the number of interviews it conducted. After 342 people completed an online survey, GRACE invited 73 participants for in-person interviews. Fifty-four accepted, and GRACE met with 43 self-identified abuse victims in person. It also received 22 written statements.


The report includes a list of 26 recommendations for improvements at BJU in serving abuse victims.


In an email interview, BJU spokesman Randy Page said the school had begun making changes to its counseling program before it engaged GRACE in 2012. Those changes include hiring a full-time counselor for abuse victims and sharing off-campus counseling options with students.


Page said the school has also physically separated its counseling office from its disciplinary office because the close proximity “may have contributed to an atmosphere of fear for abuse/assault victims and other students who were struggling with similar issues.”


When asked if the school refutes any parts of the GRACE report, Page said the university is still reviewing the document, and the president will appoint a committee to review the findings and recommendations. They expect to complete the review in 90 days.


In a chapel address to students and faculty on Wednesday morning, BJU President Steve Pettit apologized “to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding, and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault.”


I asked Page about criticisms that Pettit’s apology to those who “felt” the school failed them could sound like the school wasn’t fully admitting errors. Page noted the president’s statement identified five major concerns from the GRACE report. “As [Pettit] stated, we failed to live up and honor our core values and in doing so, we added to their pain and suffering,” Page said.


The GRACE report commended BJU for requesting and participating in the independent investigation and urged the school to respond to the suffering expressed in the report: “If Bob Jones University responds to these expressions of pain and loss with repentance and a genuine commitment for substantive change, it will begin to comfort the afflicted while reflecting a love for the One who is able to heal and transform both individuals and institutions.”



Courtesy: WORLD News Service


Photo: Bob Jones University


Photo courtesy: Wikimedia


Publication date: December 16, 2014