September 2, 2010
New Tribes Mission Confronts '80s Sex-abuse Allegations
A report says that children whose parents were missionaries in Africa were abused at a boarding school.
At least 50 children were sexually and physically abused at a boarding school in Senegal, Africa, in the 1980s, according to a new report.
The report estimates that 22 to 27 children whose parents were missionaries for Florida-based New Tribes Mission were sexually abused while 35 were physically and emotionally abused.
New Tribes had retained Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to conduct the study and acknowledged that there was abuse. The report says children were not allowed to complain about the school's conditions.
"They were repeatedly told by those in authority at Fanda that such complaints would hinder their parents' work and result in Africans going to hell," the report said. "In some cases, their letters were censored of all bad news in the name of the Lord's work. The authority of Fanda dorm parents over the children was allowed to trump that even of the parents in their children's lives."
The GRACE report said "no documented efforts were taken to notify local or US authorities regarding criminal actions found in the study."
New Tribes spokeswoman Nita Zelenak said that no one was charged criminally for the allegations. “Because these abuses happened overseas, when we reported them in the United States, we were told that they couldn’t be prosecuted in the U.S.,” she told CT.
She said that New Tribes employees would report the names of offenders and would describe what happened. “In each case, it was explained that because it happened overseas, they could not act on it,” she said.
Some of the alleged abusers named in the GRACE report are still with New Tribes, Zelenak said, noting that the report mentioned new names the organization was not aware of.
New Tribes issued a statement on its website, stating it began implementing recommendations made by GRACE in its report.
GRACE recommended that New Tribes establish a standing fund of $1 million for victims.
It recommends that the organization terminate membership for those still affiliated with New Tribes.
Zelenak said that New Tribes has not paid damages to any children related to the abuse allegations but she said the organization has paid for counseling and other expenses.
"We are deeply saddened by the extent of the abuse reported by GRACE," New Tribes said in a statement. "Individuals in our organization abused children. People in leadership at the time were culpable through inadequate screening and training, creating an atmosphere of legalism and autocracy, and not addressing the abuse properly. This means that we as an organization are responsible and have sinned against these students."
Scott Moreau, professor of missions at Wheaton College, says that on one hand, when this comes up in missions, "it makes a huge splash."
"On the other, it feels to me like it comes up roughly once a decade or so, so it's not 'common' considering how many agencies and missionaries there are around the world," he said. "As expected, it is devastating to the individuals, the organizations, and even the accused."
The Orlando Sentinel first reported the story today.