Jane was a student at The Master’s College (now The Master’s University, TMU) in 2006 when she was drugged, forced to drink alcohol, and raped. The school’s response was to expel her for breaking their honor code. This brave survivor of sexual assault shared her story publicly on September 18.
Jane (the survivor’s pseudonym) has talked with spiritual abuse reporter Julie Anne Smith. Julie Ann wrote about the story and the school’s response to Jane’s allegations and said this: “Jane told me she would like the focus to be on how churches/Christian leaders respond to claims of sexual assault and abuse, not focus on her.”
To honor Jane’s request about how she would like her story to help others, here is a look at how wrongly Christian leaders responded to her abuse disclosure and what they should have done instead. I hope other church and ministry leaders will learn from Jane’s story how to speak and act when someone trusts them with a report of abuse.
You can read Jane’s full story here: http://www.marcipreheim.com/2017/09/18/do-you-see-me/
Wartburg Watch reports their findings after reading the police report.
I will summarize it and quote from her, but please start by reading her whole story. It will make you uncomfortable, and it should.
This is Jane’s own account of what happened: Jane is a straight-A student in the “Biblical counseling” program at TMU. One day before a school break, she hits her head and gets a concussion, so she decides to stay on campus and rest instead of traveling home. She goes out with seminary students for dinner, where one of them — and it is not clear if he was a seminary student or not but she thought he was — drugs her drink, carries her to his home, and continues to keep her drugged and drunk over the course of several days while he rapes her. He dresses her up in clothes and shoes he buys for her and takes her out to a bar. He withholds food and water from her. She finally gets away and makes it back to her dorm, goes to the police to report what happened, and expects that her school will support her, counsel her, and help her recover.
But instead, people at every level of authority make her traumatic experience worse, not better.
They do a rape kit and then stick me in a room where alternating good cop and bad cop question me and accuse me of lying. I confront them and say: “This is not how you treat a rape victim. I am studying to become a rape counselor and this is the opposite of what you should do.” They apologize and mumble something about protocol. They promise to help.
… The police interviewed my rapist and all the “friends” who were there and ruled it a “he-said, she-said” incident that can’t be proven either way.
Jane does everything she had been taught to do in her program by going to the police, providing evidence including her testimony. She even has the presence of mind to correct their wrong methodology in interviewing a rape victim. The police, on the other hand, are not according to standards.
One of the top recommendations for ministry leaders responding to abuse reports is to involve the proper authorities. But that assumes the police will do their job, which sadly doesn’t always happen. Christians who are supporting abuse victims should encourage and even help the victims go to the police, while keeping in mind that the police might not always do the right thing, and the victim may need further support through a miscarriage of justice.
The Resident Director
I’m back on campus thank God! I find my RD (resident director) and pour out all the details of what has transpired. She tells me I have broken the rules, that I signed a contract promising not to do drugs or drink and that even ballroom dancing is prohibited.
It takes a special level of legalism to hear a report of someone who was drugged and forced to drink alcohol, and then chastise that person for drinking.
The correct response for the RD or anyone hearing this story would have been to tell Jane, “I believe you. Have you reported this to police? Would you like me to go with you? Let’s go to the hospital to get you checked out and treated.” A first responder in this situation has an opportunity to meet the physical needs of the victim, make sure she or he is safe, and help take the first steps toward justice.
The Biblical Counselor
These thoughts are confirmed by the female Biblical counselor named Sandra that has been assigned to meet with me. “You know, marrying him will fix this whole thing,” she says to me.
The counselor is saying, “Because that man violated your rights and your body, he has earned the right to keep abusing you for the rest of your life.” This makes Christian marriage sound like a human trafficking transaction. A victim should never be asked to see an abuser ever again, much less enter a relationship with him.
What the counselor said is unacceptable.
She tells me all the good that will come from this rape and speaks of God’s will and joyful suffering and not putting myself in situations like this again.
“Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), don’t shove aside their complex emotions and force them directly into manufactured joy. When an abuse victim seeks you out for counseling, you have the opportunity to bring God’s comfort, which often arrives in a listening ear and a reassuring presence. Validate the range of feelings a victim is experiencing and sit with her in the raw, barren places as she begins to process. Eventually a counselor can be an agent of hope, but not before earning the right to speak hope by being present in the hopelessness.
If you are not trained and qualified to provide abuse recovery or trauma counseling, you can offer initial listening and support, but you should quickly help the victim connect with a professional therapist who specializes in this kind of work.
The Campus PastorI am meeting with Rick Holland—the college pastor for the church that is affiliated with the college. We are alone in his office… He insists I tell him everything. He asks me questions like: Where did he touch you? Where else did he touch you? What exactly did he do? How long did he do that? What were you wearing? Are you dating him? Did he turn you on?
These are wildly inappropriate questions. Pastors providing care for victims should never force details out of victims. Realize that the telling of these details can re-traumatize someone, so let them set the pace and tone of the conversation. Let them speak to the extent they recall and are comfortable speaking. Understand that every piece of their stories they trust you with is a precious gift. You are honored with their confidence. Don’t betray it with a voyeuristic line of questioning to satisfy a morbid curiosity. You are listening to offer healing, not listening to cross-examine and judge. You are not a judge; you are a pastor.
Rick…is angry at me for going to the police and the doctor. I should have let the church handle this without outside interference. He tells me not to tell anyone else, not my fellow classmates, not my teachers, not anyone at church… He tells me I have to go to the police and drop the charges or I will be brought in front of the church to be disciplined.
Sexual. Assault. Is. Not. A. Church. Matter. It is a criminal matter, and the police must be brought in.
A church can and should enforce ecclesiastical discipline on an abuser for their sins, but that only covers the spiritual side of the matter. That does not and cannot address the criminal aspect of abuse. Bring in the proper governing authorities.
The Catholic Church has done this for decades and now know they have been wrong. Many Protestant churches have learned the same lesson. Yet more and more cover-ups in ministries and churches of all stripes continue to be revealed. When will church leaders learn to stop keeping abuse disclosures within the church? Never try to cover it up. Never try to hide it. Never try to adjudicate it only in the church.
“You are ruining that young man’s life!” He says.
The young man ruined his own life (and we don’t need here to mention Jane’s) when he chose to drug her and rape her. A victim who exposes a criminal is not responsible for the criminal’s consequences. Those who commit the crimes ruin their own lives and change the lives of those they victimize.
I am standing outside the door to Rick’s office… I open the door and am shocked to see the stranger sitting there. I am starting to shake and sweat. Rick asks me to sit down by my rapist. Rick speaks for the rapist. “He has admitted to everything he has done. He has acknowledged his sin and that this relationship was not consensual and he has repented. Look at him, he is crying.”
He confesses to a crime. Right then, Rick should have called the police and let them know he had a confession to report. Rick could have been a participant in justice instead of an instigator of injustice.
This is a crucial fact in the entire scenario: the man has confessed to what he had done — he violated a woman. This is where all of this must begin.
Not only is the campus pastor dismissing the confession he has just heard, he is trying to get Jane to share blame. He demands that she apologize to the rapist and that she submit to weekly counseling sessions with the rapist, saying they share responsibility for the sin…which the rapist has just admitted was not consensual and therefore not a two-person sin.
If at all possible, avoid bringing a victim face-to-face with their abuser. Realize how traumatic that could be for them. Never put an abuser of any sort in a counseling relationship with a victim. This only makes the abuse worse for the victim.
The Assistant Dean
My dad has a man-to-man talk with Joe Keller, the Assistant Dean of The Master’s College. Nothing comes of it. I am still being sent home to think through the list they have given me of things I need to repent of. … I am kicked out of school. I have less than twenty-four hours to get my things out of my room and get out. If I show up on campus, I will be arrested. They are changing my three years of earned college credits from A’s to F’s. I have flunked out of college.
The school and those representing the school go beyond a failure to respond well to sexual abuse; they perpetuate abuse. They themselves become abusers of an already damaged victim. The Christians Jane goes to for help spiritually abuse her by invoking God’s name to take power and control over her. They financially abuse her by using grades and the money she has sunk into her three years there to keep her from succeeding at another school, limiting her educational and job prospects for years to come. Several of them verbally abuse her by tearing her down in order to manipulate her with words.
When working with victims, always give them the power to make their own decisions for their own lives. This is one of the most important parts of abuse recovery because it counteracts what abuse is all about at its core: power and control. By helping victims regain their own power to freely run their lives, you dismantle abuse, turning victims into survivors.
My parents are coming to get me. I need to get out of here anyway. They are angry not only for what has happened to me, but how it is being handled… My dad has a man-to-man talk with Joe Keller… I am comforted by my parents’ anger, but I hold them back from their need to bring about justice.
Jane’s parents handle this well. As she says, the righteous anger her parents feel on her behalf brings her comfort. Where is this anger in every leader who hears Jane’s story? Each of them should feel God’s fury at the injustice of the stranger toward Jane, and each of them should help Jane move toward receiving justice.
When abuse is covered up, truth smolders like a campfire under damp leaves. When it is finally brought to light, the flames can burn away dead wood. Jane is exposing abuse in the church and making way for a fresh approach, one that responds to abuse with justice and love.