Prestigious Bible college vows to reform after failure to counter abuse

Warning: this article deals with sexual abuse.

As the fall semester gets underway at Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, its executive leadership team has committed to reform the handling of complaints of sexual assaults at the evangelical flagship.

The college established by DL Moody has made 11 strategic commitments in response to an independent review that identified a “lack of trust and confidence” in the college’s processes for handling reports of sexual harassment and violence. The report by Grand River Solutions recommends that the school “address its overall organisational structure” so as to respond to allegations more appropriately.

In a post earlier this month, the college wrote: “Education leadership, along with the staff and the Title IX [sex discrimination] department, have been hard at work this summer developing the implementation plan. We are in the process of finalizing our plan for each strategic commitment, and we are currently on track to operationalize these commitments during the next few weeks.

“In addition, we are seeking to hire a full-time Director of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence Prevention and Response / Title IX Coordinator.”

“We were deeply saddened to hear common themes of dismissal, cover-up, and even disciplinary action being taken against survivors of abuse.” – change.org petition

Moody officials commissioned the review in response to reports of sexual harassment and violence by 11 former and current Moody students who shared their experiences, including Moody’s responses to their reports, in October 2020 on a Change.org petition.

“In our conversations with our classmates, we were deeply saddened to hear common themes of dismissal, cover-up, and even disciplinary action being taken against survivors of abuse after they risked so much to come forward,” the petition reads.

“Harm that includes instances of stalking, discrimination, sexual assault, and rape … were made worse when members of our community in positions of authority, specifically Dean Arens, seem to have an inability or unwillingness to act to address them.

“While we have no desire to malign individuals out of spite, we feel it must be addressed that a few individuals who have been tasked with protection of Moody students have failed.”

“We commit to doing everything we can moving forward to create a safe environment for all of our students, staff, and faculty.” – Mark Jobe and Dwight Perry

After making the report’s findings public, Moody president Mark Jobe and provost Dwight Perry issued an apology to “members of our Moody community who experienced a lack of empathy and follow-through with respect to their Title IX reports. We also apologize to those whose reports were not processed as rapidly and efficiently as they could have been.

“We commit to doing everything we can moving forward to create a safe environment for all of our students, staff, and faculty. We appreciate the courage of our students and alumni, both women and men, who came forward with their stories, and for their vulnerability in sharing their difficult and sometimes painful experiences.”

It said it was “deeply sorry” for the pain caused to its students and emphasised that the action steps it had committed to did not mark an end, “but rather are part of an ongoing process to ensuring our community better serves all of our students, faculty, and staff in the prevention of sexual violence, abuse, and harassment.”

According to an extensive report in the left-leaning journal Mother Jones, however, Moody assault survivors are sceptical that substantial steps will be taken to reform what they see as a systemic failure to address sexual misconduct at the evangelical college.

The Mother Jones article documented the experiences of several assault survivors, including Megan Wohlers, who said she was “shamed and blamed” after filing a Title IX report after aggressive behaviour by her ex-boyfriend escalated.

When he made counter-allegations against her, she was told she needed to drop her charges before she could obtain a restraining order against him.

“Every single authority figure I ever talked to completely failed me.” – Megan Wohlers

When she confided in a professor about her experiences, she was asked “Oh, were you playing with fire?” When she asked another professor: “How do you move past trauma?” He told her that she needed to take responsibility for the part she played in her own assaults.

“Every single authority figure I ever talked to completely failed me,” Wohlers is quoted as saying. “My department head, professors, I trusted the Title IX department, they all completely failed me. So I just kind of gave up.”

The scandal came to light when 2017 Moody student Anne Heyward posted on Facebook that when she reported her sexual assault to the school, administrators mishandled it and “manipulated me into not telling anyone in order to graduate.”

As a litany of similar allegations from other students followed Heyward’s post, she realised there was an epidemic of abuse throughout the campus that was going largely unchecked.

The experiences of 11 women, dubbed the MBI Survivors, were collated into a Change.org petition, which went on to collect thousands of signatures.

In its reform plan, Moody makes a clear commitment to “enhance education to clearly distinguish between consensual sexual conduct prohibited by Moody’s student life policies and non-consensual sexual conduct that violates the law as well as Moody policies against sexual harassment, sexual assault, and interpersonal sexual violence.”

But the question lingers as to how the college will uphold this pledge to adhere to biblical values without tackling its purity culture – which punishes women when they report sexual assault because they have violated rules prohibiting premarital sex.

Survivors say this purity culture imperils girls and women because it does not engage with consent or acknowledge sex at all. It places all the responsibility on the girl to remain pure for her future husband while also working to make sure her attractiveness and sexuality do not become “stumbling blocks” for other men.

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