Students at Bob Jones University who self-identified as sexual abuse victims were blamed, encouraged not to file police reports, and directed to untrained staff for counseling, according to findings from a report released by an independent watchdog group on Thursday. The conservative Christian school has about 3,000 students at its campus in Greenville, South Carolina.
Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, also known as Grace, was hired by Bob Jones University to conduct a two-year investigation into sexual abuse claims at the university and into the response. The report was originally intended to be published in March, but the school fired the firm in January, saying it was concerned about the direction the investigation was taking. After several complaints, Bob Jones University said it rehired the firm after negotiations.
The investigation included a review of over 900 confidential surveys, 20 written statements and hundreds of documents provided by Bob Jones University and participating witnesses. The firm conducted interviews with 116 individuals, 50 of whom self-identified as victims of sexual abuse. Some experienced abuse during their childhood, others while attending the university.
The survey included in the report found that 47 percent of sexual abuse victims were discouraged from reporting. Survey comments included reports of Bob Jones University personnel telling sexual abuse victims to “deal with your own sin” and to “not be selfish in sharing the experience with others and gaining inappropriate attention for the school.”
When it came to counseling, more than 60 percent of survey takers who self-identified as sexual abuse victims said they were met with blame and disparagement after sharing their experience with the school’s faculty.
“I was abused from the ages of 6 to 14 by my grandfather,” one survey taker wrote. “When I went for counseling, I was told, ‘Did you repent for your part of the abuse? Did your body respond favorably? If it did, then you need to repent.’” Another survey taker said “the vast majority of those who reported sexual abuse of any kind were immediately disbelieved until it was proven” and many “were viewed as having suspicious motives for seeking justice.”
Participants say they heard sermons, classes and counseling sessions in which women were blamed for sexual assault, citing the way they dressed, and labeled as “damaged goods.” The same individuals said they heard messages from Bob Jones University representatives that viewed all sexual 'sin' as equal. “Most in the fundy [fundamentalist] world view all ‘sexual sin’ as being equally bad, with almost no distinction between consensual ‘fornication’ and rape,” one survey taker wrote.
Bob Jones University President Steve Pettit addressed students and faculty Wednesday ahead of the report’s release. He apologized to the victims, describing the school’s counseling as “inadequate, insensitive and counterproductive.” The 300-page report concluded with 26 recommendations “to assist BJU in continuing the journey of repentance that demonstrates Godward sorrow, invites God to transform the institution and brings healing to the hurting.”
“It is our hope that Bob Jones University will respond to these courageous voices with an enduring commitment to transform the school into a place where abuse victims are valued, respected and protected,” Boz Tchividjian, executive director of Grace, said in a statement.