Thanks to more than 120,000 people who shared it on social media, Samantha Field’s post — “‘God Is Done With You’: Pensacola Christian College and Sexual Violence” — has forced the school to respond. PCC’s initial statement was callously dismissive and non-responsive, but that was followed this week by a longer discussion in chapel by the school’s president, Troy Shoemaker.
PCC alum Dale Fincher has posted audio from that chapel announcement at Soulation, a blog dedicated to exposing and stopping spiritual abuse. You can read the school’s new, longer official statement here.
Shoemaker’s discussion, unfortunately, is defensive in tone and substance. Some of what he says is somewhat encouraging to hear. He repeatedly says that Pensacola Christian College “will not tolerate” sexual abuse and sexual assault. And he urges students to report any such incidents to school counselors, or to their parents or to local law enforcement. But it all comes across as an exercise in CYA — a pro forma run through of the things that need to be said to deflect legal, moral and (perhaps especially) financial liability.
Shoemaker isn’t launching an offensive to ensure that Pensacola rids itself of this problem. He is carrying out a defensive exercise to deny that Pensacola has any such problem. That is reflected particularly in Shoemaker’s insistence that any such incidents — he stipulates, but never accepts the legitimacy of the allegations — are rarely reported at the school. As Samantha Field writes today, that both misses and confirms one of her main points:
When he says that PCC has been “protected” because “reports of harassment … have been quite rare,” he is dismissing the basic premise of my article – that reports of “harassment” are rare because students are terrified of reporting. From the research I’ve been doing with the Escambia County records department, I don’t think “rare” is a good word to use, either, but I’ll know more for sure when I have all the records from the past 12 years in my hands.
That last sentence, I imagine, may be a bit disconcerting to anyone in PCC’s administration who reads it — kind of the way that sunrise is a bit disconcerting for vampires.
Samantha also notes that Shoemaker’s urging students to report any incidents is highly qualified. He reads from the school’s handbook, where the policy seems intended more to silence and intimidate than to encourage such reporting:
It is the responsibility of any student who believes that he has been the subject of legitimate harassment (not frivolous or groundless allegations) to report the incident immediately to a representative of the Student Life Office who will follow the College’s due process in the investigation of the alleged harassment.
As Samantha writes, this is appalling for a host of reasons:
If a student has been “legitimately harassed,” it is the responsibility of the student to report it immediately.
There are multiple problems with this policy (“legitimate rape,” anyone?), but the primary problem with this is that it has enabled victim blaming. …
What this policy has done, in practice, has made it possible for victims to be at least partly blamed for what happened to them. It has to be “legitimate” (with zero explanation as to what constitutes “legitimate”), and the report has to be made immediately. I’ve talked to a lot of people about their experiences, and one of the common patterns has been the administration asking them “why did you not come forward sooner?” and then using their delay as evidence that the victim was not really a victim. A true victim would have reported it immediately. Since they didn’t report it immediately, they must have “wanted” it.
Ugh. Both Field and Fincher also discuss another aspect of all of this that you might not see if you’re not already familiar with the fundamentalist subculture of places like Pensacola Christian College. That has to do with what PCC means when it speaks of “counselors.” That’s the same word the rest of the world uses for mental health professionals — psychologists and psychiatrists who have studied and trained and who know how to help people who have suffered abuse and assault. But that isn’t what the word means when it’s used in a setting like Pensacola.
Here’s Samantha describing what might be expected from a PCC “counselor”:
PCC is on the extreme end of the spectrum as far as their views on “biblical counseling.” While I was a student there, the only textbook required for the class Educational Psychology was Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology, and everything I learned about the “pseudoscience of psychology” while a student there was that it is evil, corrupt, humanistic, and anti-God. Given that this was their attitude (at least, in 2009, but I don’t think much has changed), I find it extremely unlikely that their counselors are “equipped” to “assist students” with any form of abuse, much less sexual abuse.
And here’s Dale Fincher on the same topic:
PCC also had counselors when I was a student. But PCC, while saying they are “credentialed,” does not say what “credential” means. They also say they are “accredited” but look at the accreditation agency. In fact, PCC denounces psychology and hires based on PCC’s own criteria. This “credentialing” talk should raise some level of concern to people suffering from abuses. I know ”credentialed” counselors that promote spiritually abusive organizations as well as shame their patients.