January 23, 2013
Bob Jones University Investigates Sex Abuse Allegations and Its Own Response
(Updated) University partners with GRACE to identify if it 'failed to adequately respond to sexual abuse disclosures.'
Updated (January 23): According to the Clery reports for Bob Jones University (BJU), nine cases of sexual assault occurred on campus in 2011. WSPA Spartanburg, a local South Carolina television station, reported in September that it was "the highest number of forcible sex offenses reported (and) significantly higher than any other institution in the area."
According to iReport CNN, BJU told police the crimes were all perpetrated by a single individual.
But allegations of sexual abuse related to BJU and the school's response have been ongoing at least since 2010, when former board member and former Trinity Baptist Church pastor Chuck Phelps was accused of helping to "cover up repeated instances of sexual abuse committed more than a decade earlier by an older male parishioner against his step-daughter."
The move to retain GRACE for its investigation also comes after Do Right BJU, a group of students, alumni, and staff who aim to support victims of sexual abuse on campus, held a silent protest at BJU in December 2011; following an alumni petition, Phelps resigned.
WSPA reports, "Soon after the protest, Bob Jones tapped a five-member committee to review the school's policy on sexual abuse. After months of meeting, the committee recommended the school appoint an independent review group, like GRACE, to look at all allegations."
BJU first named GRACE to complete the investigation in November 2012.
Bob Jones University (BJU) has launched an independent third-party investigation to identify whether or not the school has ever failed to adequately address any allegations of sexual abuse.
According to an announcement by the university's president, the investigation will attempt to "identify any past instances in which former students or others felt under-served by the university’s response" to claims of sexual abuse.
"The Board of Trustees and administration of Bob Jones University (already has) reviewed the University’s counseling practices and current policies that govern our responses to sexual abuse as we learn of it from the students and the constituency we serve," stated president Stephen Jones. He went on to state, "It is our prayer that this [investigation] will create an atmosphere of trust and complete honesty, allowing Bob Jones University to identify any cases in which we need to exercise authentic repentance and demonstrate biblical love to those we have always desired to serve to the best of our ability for the Lord’s sake." (Full statement is below.)
In order to complete the investigation, BJU has partnered with Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), which will investigate any complaints submitted via an online survey between January 10 and April 30.
The organization stated (full statement at bottom of this post):
A few months ago, GRACE was asked by Bob Jones University to investigate any and all complaints made to representatives of Bob Jones University or Bob Jones Academy related to sexual abuse. Bob Jones University/Academy indicated that the purpose of such an investigation is to identify any areas where either institution may have failed to adequately respond to sexual abuse disclosures, or may have conveyed inappropriate information regarding sexual abuse. The Bob Jones University/Academy leadership has communicated to GRACE that acknowledging and understanding any recognized failures will better equip both Bob Jones University and Bob Jones Academy to demonstrate authentic repentance to those who have been harmed, while also making the necessary institutional changes to insure that such is never repeated. In order for this process to achieve its purpose and maintain credibility, it is fundamental that GRACE work wholly independent from Bob Jones University/Academy and that the GRACE Final Report be published to the public in its entirety. GRACE agreed to conduct this investigation upon the assurances of the Bob Jones University/Academy leadership of its commitment to such independence and its promise to fully cooperate with the GRACE investigative team.
CT previously reported that GRACE was retained to complete an investigation of 1980s sex abuse charges against New Tribes Missions. (The Association of Baptists for World Mission (ABWE) recently faced similar allegations.) CT also ran a cover story on Compassion International president Wes Stafford’s experience of abuse as a missionary child, as well as reported how abused missionary children are demanding more accountability and whether or not missionary abuse has resulted in lower attendance at schools for missionary kids.
Statement from Bob Jones University:
Given the current climate in our world and the steady stream of heart-breaking revelations of sexual abuse that have taken place in secular and Christian spheres, the Board of Trustees and administration of Bob Jones University have reviewed the University’s counseling practices and current policies that govern our responses to sexual abuse as we learn of it from the students and the constituency we serve.
In addition, we sought out a third-party Christian organization with which we could partner in an effort to identify any past instances in which former students or others felt under-served by the University’s response. We are grateful to have found GRACE, a credible, compassionate, and experienced Christian organization which conducts independent investigations and solicits unfiltered input from those who have experienced sexual abuse within Christian organizations or who have otherwise felt underserved by the Christian organizations they trusted to help them deal with the wrongs they suffered previously.
It is our prayer that this partnership with GRACE—operated with complete autonomy from Bob Jones University—will create an atmosphere of trust and complete honesty, allowing Bob Jones University to identify any cases in which we need to exercise authentic repentance and demonstrate biblical love to those we have always desired to serve to the best of our ability for the Lord’s sake.
The below summary from GRACE, supplemented by a more complete statement on their website, explains their approach as we turn over this important role to them. We pray it also demonstrates the heart of Christ on the part of the University’s administration—past and present.
Complete statement from GRACE:
GRACE Independent Investigation Announcement Summary On January 10th, 2013, GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) begins a comprehensive, independent investigation of any complaints concerning the response of Bob Jones University and Bob Jones Academy to victims of adult and child sexual abuse. The purpose of this investigation is to identify areas in which authentic repentance may be required to redress past harm and to provide recommendations for possible institutional change. This investigation seeks to document any and all cases in which Bob Jones University/Academy representatives may have failed to respond appropriately to known reports, disclosures, or allegations of sexual abuse or assault that involved members of the Bob Jones University/Academy community. The scope of this investigation also includes any disparaging statements relating to sexual abuse victims that may have been communicated by Bob Jones University/Academy representatives, as well as the occurrence of physical, psychological, or spiritual abuse associated with the disclosed sexual abuse.
In retaining GRACE to conduct this third party investigation, the leadership of Bob Jones University/Academy has pledged to honor the integrity and independence of the investigative process and to cooperate fully with the GRACE Investigative Team. Bob Jones University/Academy has also agreed that GRACE will publish its Final Report to the public on the GRACE website and the Bob Jones University website.
The GRACE Investigative Team, led by former prosecutor Charissa Sloan Dvorak, is seeking input from any individual with knowledge relevant to this investigation. A brief, confidential online survey is available as an easy method of initial contact with the Team. The survey will remain posted until April 30, 2013. Survey responses will be used to identify individuals for more in-depth, in-person interviews with the GRACE Investigative Team. These interviews will be scheduled in Greenville, South Carolina as well as other US cities, as needed.
Please share this announcement with others who have information relevant to the investigation. We look forward to hearing from you.
The confidential online survey and the full GRACE Independent Investigation Announcement are both available on the GRACE website at Bob Jones University Investigation.
Boz Tchividjian, J.D.
Executive Director, GRACE