YWAM Perth announces 'internal review' of decision to admit Jarryd Hayne

Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Perth will run an internal inquiry of their decision to admit former footballer Jarryd Hayne into their program.

In July 2019, when YWAM Perth chose to accept Hayne’s application to their Discipleship Training School (DTS), Hayne was on bail awaiting trial, accused of the rape of a then 26-year-old woman in Newcastle in 2018. He has since been found guilty of the offense (March 2021) and was sentenced to five years and nine months jail, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months, in jail.

YWAM Perth has been strongly criticised on their Facebook page over that decision by some current and former YWAM members and staff over the past week – criticism that has been picked up in the media.

YWAM Perth’s leaders new statement says they “have heard a range of views and concerns” about “their handling of the decision” to admit Hayne into the program and they “take these matters extremely seriously”. Their internal review will “take action to seek to improve upon” their “existing processes concerning these types of difficult issues”.

“This review will include us contacting former staff and students who were with us during this period to seek their feedback and address any concerns they might have,” the statement reads.

“We have also committed to obtaining independent external advice about our policies and procedures and to receive and implement recommendations on these important issues”.

YWAM is an international evangelism, training and ministry with more than 20,000 workers in 180 countries globally. It was founded in 1960 by 24-year-old from the United States, Loren Cunningham who, four years earlier, had seen a vision of the world filled with young people sharing the gospel.

Described on its website as “a movement of Christians from many denominations” YWAM is “dedicated to presenting Jesus personally to this and future generations, to mobilizing as many as possible to help in this task, and to the training and equipping of believers for their part in fulfilling the Great Commission.”

YWAM has a decentralised international structure with a global network of leaders and elders, but no headquarters. There are several YWAM centres in Australia. This means the Hayne decision falls squarely on the shoulders of the leadership of YWAM Perth – a centre founded in 1985 by Peter and Shirley Brownhill.

YWAM Perth’s first response to criticism over the decision to admit Hayne was issued May 7. It stated that “Prior to his commencement in the course, we did everything in our power to inform staff and students and gain their feedback regarding Mr Hayne’s participation in the course”.

But former student and staff member, Emma, told Eternity YWAM Perth’s decision to admit Hayne and how they handled the matter was simply not up to the standard of a registered charity that has a duty of care to the young people that attend its programs.

Emma was on the YWAM base in Perth from 2004 to 2008 and is “still quite connected across the board”. She says that when she became aware YWAM Perth’s leaders were considering accepting Jared Hayne into their DTS program, she phoned a key YWAM Perth leader.

“I had a very lengthy conversation with them in which I raised my concerns of the possible ramifications of taking him on as a student,” Emma says.

Emma says her criticism is not about Jarryd Hayne personally and she has not heard anything about him behaving inappropriately while at YWAM Perth.

“To the contrary, actually. The feedback that I’ve received is he was very good. He was respectful,” she says.

But she believes the real issue is “a real lack of consideration” shown by YWAM Perth in both their decision and their duty of care to other students.

“YWAM Perth is a registered charity. Therefore they are obliged to adhere to minimum standards under the ACNC regulations, including having a duty of care to those that work for them, both domestically and internationally,” she says.

Emma says that other DTS students were not consultated about the decision or given the opportunity to decide whether or not they wanted to attend in Hayne’s cohort before they arrived in Perth.

“These are students who pay money, who come from around the world with the [financial] support of people to be there,” she said.

YWAM Perth says they did consult students before Hayne commenced his studies at the DTS. This seems to have been after they had arrived in Perth, though. There is also a question over whether students who chose to leave over Hayne were offered a refund. Emma believes there is one person who definitely was not.

“It’s likely and fair to assume that people within that organisation and on YWAM Perth base will have likely experienced some type of sexual abuse or will know somebody who has.”

But Emma says their key failure was to care for women who have themselves experienced sexual assault or abuse, or who know someone who has.

“We know that around one in three women will experience some type of violence or abuse in their lifetime. So it’s likely and fair to assume that people within that organisation and on YWAM Perth base will have likely experienced some type of sexual abuse or will know somebody who has,” she says.

“How is it reasonable and fair for them to be faced with this situation where they are being told that God has told people that he is innocent – what about them and their care and consideration, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually?” she says.

Emma also says that YWAM Perth failed to care for the people it ministers to in the community – a group that includes women who have experienced sexual violence.

“How are they instiling the trust in the people in the community they work for as a charitable organisation, to be certain that YWAM don’t have people who are alleged to have committed rape, actually working with victims of violence?” she asks.

So if Hayne had been found not guilty, or if his appeal against the conviction is successful, does that change Emma’s mind about YWAM Perth’s decision to admit him? She says no.

“We know there would have been a process for the DPP [Department of Police Prosecutions] to actually decide there was enough evidence and was a real case to be answered, and to commit their resources to it,” Emma notes.

Emma also notes that Hayne had another accusation against him in the United States – albeit one that was not prosecuted criminally and was instead settled by Hayne making a large payment to the woman through a civil case.

All of these, for her, are factors that should have been routinely weighed up as character concerns that disqualified Hayne from being a student of the DTS – just as the National Rugby League (NRL) had concluded about Hayne playing football during that time.

“We know he reportedly had an NRL contract axed. Whether or not he was a $500,000 contract, he was being offered a contract that was been removed once the allegations were in place. And in many workplaces – in many professional environments and charities – people who have these type of allegations have to step aside or wait until the proceedings are finalised,” she says.

While Emma’s concerns were heard and she was thanked for contributing them to YWAM Perth’s decision-making process, her perspective was clearly not shared by the leaders who chose to admit Hayne.

“I definitely don’t want to see YWAM cancelled!”

Yet despite that, Emma commends YWAM Perth for their latest statement, particularly their committment to “engaging professional advice on how to respond to this issue”.

“Your response, whilst still not conceding that having Jarryd Hayne there at all was unacceptable, is at least a step in the right direction. I commend you for taking this seriously, and look forward to seeing what outcomes you put in place. You can be assured we will be watching and waiting for productive solutions, appropriate measures and a clear practical application…” Emma wrote in response.

Now, Emma believes YWAM Perth is saying they will take the steps she is ultimately hoping to see taken.

“Good policies, good governance, good training and, ultimately, an awareness about gender-based violence and abuse in general, and the obligations that they have as a charitable organisation to ensure that it’s not just something that’s talked about, but practically put into place to ensure the safeguarding of women and children as a paramount priority,” she says.

Emma’s conversations with YWAM leaders in the wider international community have left her certain that there are others who also disagree with YWAM Perth’s decision to admit Hayne. But Emma is confident many YWAM leaders are determined to learn from the situation and work hard to ensure the lesson results in real changes to their policies and practices.

And, just to be clear, Emma does not want to see YWAM cancelled – not even in YWAM Perth.

“I definitely don’t want to see YWAM cancelled!” she says.

“In fact, I think my entire objective is to ensure that YWAM  is able to be recognised as a professional organisation that does good for our community, and to help enhance that recognition and social respect. Because I think that’s what, ultimately, I would hope they’re deserving of.”