Bob Jones University, an uber-Christian fundamentalist college in South Carolina, has drawn attention for commissioning and then covering up a study on how well the institution handled sexual abuse.
According to The New York Times, the university solicited a consulting group, Godly Response To Abuse In The Christian Environment (Grace) to serve as an ombudsman and investigate how the school handles sexual assaults. Bob Jones hired Grace in the first place after seeing numerous other colleges around the country attract federal investigation for mishandling sexual abuse on campus. According to a blog post for Bob Jones’ public relations, the school wanted “ to evaluate its processes and procedures for responding to reports of sexual abuse and specifically to ensure the University maintained best practices for a legally compliant and loving, scripturally based response to such reports.”
In January of 2013, Grace began soliciting past and present students for interviews. In November 2013, they announced [PDF] they had completed around 80 interviews. Then, last week, Bob Jones suddenly dismissed the consulting firm. The only explanation that Bob Jones’ president, Stephen Jones, gave to students and faculty was that “Grace had begun going beyond the originally outlined intentions.” He did not clarify what that meant.
In firing their ombudsman, however, Bob Jones University has brought much more attention to the problems at the school. Namely, students who report having suffered sexual abuse as children or teenagers (prior to attending the college) appear to be routinely told that outing their abuser would make Jesus unhappy and send the abuser to hell.
Bob Jones University is one of the most extreme fundamentalist Christian schools in the country; listening to popular music, wearing facial hair, and keeping lights on past midnight are all forbidden. The school’s 4,000 students all hail from similarly strict Christian backgrounds. Although insular in its own way, attending college at Bob Jones is likely one of the first times that a student may have been interacting with others outside their close-knit religious community at home. As the Times notes, students who spoke to counselors while at Bob Jones were mostly victims of sexual abuse as kids and were seeking help for the first time.
One former student of Bob Jones named Catherine Harris, who attended the college in the ’80s, told the Times:
The person who supposedly counseled me told me if I reported a person like that to the police, I was damaging the cause of Christ, and I would be responsible for the abuser going to hell. He said all of my problems were as a result of my actions in the abuse, which mostly took place before I was 12, and I should just forgive the abuser.
Another former student, who was sexually assaulted by a faculty member in the ’90s, said that when she sought counseling, she was asked what she had been wearing at the time of the assault and whether it had been too tight. She was also told she had been a “willing participant.”
It’s pretty suspicious to me that the study was almost completed after an entire year and then all of a sudden got dumped. Again, it’s unclear why the ombudsman got fired from their study. Given how the school is being so vague, it seems reasonable to assume that through Grace’s research, it became privy to information that Bob Jones University did not want them to know.
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