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Statement from BJU’s President on the GRACE Report

Tomorrow morning (Dec. 11, 2014), the GRACE organization (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), based in Lynchburg, Va., will release a report on BJU’s response to reports of sexual abuse and sexual assault for a period spanning almost four decades. The University commissioned the review because of our desire to examine our history in counseling victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault and to consider how our policies and practices could be improved. We wanted to make sure that we were not only in compliance with legal reporting requirements, but far more importantly, that we were providing the spiritual and emotional support needed to help victims overcome the trauma they had experienced.

GRACE interviewed approximately 40 victims, a number of whom were former BJU students who received counseling from BJU. Most had suffered child sexual abuse while some had experienced sexual assault before or while at BJU. Some stated to GRACE that Bob Jones University did not meet their needs when they came to us for counseling and advice. Some also stated that the counseling they received made them feel responsible for the crimes against them.

On behalf of Bob Jones University, I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding, and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault. We did not live up to their expectations. We failed to uphold and honor our own core values. We are deeply saddened to hear that we added to their pain and suffering.

To them I would say—we have carefully listened to your voice. We take your testimony in this report to our hearts. We intend to thoroughly review every aspect and concern outlined in the investigation and respond appropriately.

We are all awakening to the depth and breadth of this societal problem. Colleges and universities across the country are reassessing how they handle cases of sexual abuse and assault. We want to be part of that solution. To do that, we must first address our own failings, and the GRACE report helps in that effort by identifying specific areas of concerns. Some of those concerns include the following:

  • The report stated that BJU officials were not adequately prepared or trained to counsel victims appropriately.
  • University staff members were perceived by some to be insensitive to their suffering and sometimes rushed to resolve their negative feelings without adequate concern for their pain.
  • Some victims reported that the counseling offered by the University was inadequate, insensitive and counter-productive.
  • Some felt a number of staff members at the University tended to blame victims for the abuse or sexual assault they experienced and that this implied blame left them feeling more traumatized.
  • The report found that counseling sometimes overlapped with disciplinary actions. Victims felt counseling should be separated from BJU’s discipline process and a clear procedure of confidentiality should be established.

These findings deserve careful review and analysis. I promise the victims who felt we failed them that the GRACE report is an extremely high priority that has our immediate and full attention. We are thoroughly analyzing the conclusions, the underlying evidence and the recommendations and we will provide a thorough and thoughtful update as we complete this process.

It is important to note that the GRACE report, as significant as it is, is only one element of the actions we have undertaken in the past three years to improve our approach to sexual abuse and assault. As the report itself explains, the University in recent years has revised its policies and procedures:

  • To make every member of the faculty and staff a mandatory reporter which requires each to promptly notify law enforcement officials of child sexual abuse.
  • To encourage adult victims of sexual assault to report their experience to the appropriate law enforcement officials.
  • To make clear that the biblical lesson of forgiveness does not imply that the victim is in any way responsible for the sexual assault or abuse they experienced.
  • To provide more extensive training and access to professional counselors with expertise in sexual abuse for University personnel who interact with victims coming to them for care and compassion.

In a final note, we are thankful for GRACE and Boz Tchividjian. They are devoted to the cause of preventing sexual abuse and their contributions are significant. All along, our hope has been that this report would give us greater clarity and direction in addressing these important challenges. As you can appreciate, we need to review this report in exhaustive detail. We need to understand better the process GRACE followed along with their recommendations. As we continue the review, we will share our thoughts and any questions we may have. That being said, we find the report a valuable tool in our sincere efforts to improve how we counsel as well as the support we provide to victims of sexual abuse and assault.

We are totally dedicated to this on-going effort and will immediately appoint a committee to review this report over the next 90 days.

We do not take the concerns of the victims who believe we failed them lightly. We know we must work to regain their trust through actions, not words, and for those actions to be truly meaningful, we must make a long-term commitment that creates genuine, sustainable change. It is our solemn pledge to do just that.

—Steve Pettit

Published December 10, 2014