A. A Mission Organization’s Response to Abuse Allegations
- Cast the Net Wide. An organization’s response to past abuse is prima facie inadequate if it responds only to spontaneous reporting by survivors of childhood abuse. All organizations should actively reach out to the complete universe of potential abuse survivors, offer them the opportunity to fully tell their story to an impartial, professionally trained third party, and to participate in an independent investigative process.
- Avoid Any Conflicts of Interest. An organization’s response is prima facie inadequate if it relies (wholly or in part) on internal resources, including its own staff, or on other organizations or personnel who may have even an appearance of a conflict of interest with respect to the referring organization.
- An Independent Investigation is Crucial. All organizations receiving allegations of abuse should avail themselves of a completely independent investigative process, not a process that draws on personnel or resources from within the organization itself or is controlled by the organization itself. The investigation should also not draw on personnel from other mission agencies, or member agencies of CSPN (Child Safety and Protection Network), the umbrella agency of mission organizations and denominations.
- Investigate Allegations Brought Against All Staff Members. When a group of survivors jointly report abuse, allegations are generally brought against a number of missionaries and/or staff members. The mission agency’s responsibility is to request that the Independent Commission of Inquiry investigate all staff members against whom allegations are made. The report should include all the findings of the investigation.
- Work with a Vetted and Victim-Chosen Advocate. The investigative process should include a victim’s advocate who has been vetted by the individual survivor or group of survivors involved. The victim’s advocate should, at all times, be kept in the information loop of how the investigation is proceeding and will keep the survivors and their families apprised of all significant developments. If the investigative process has stalled for whatever reason, the victim’s advocate will explain the reasons to the survivors.
- Be Prepared to Make Amends. All verified abuse allegations should result in the responsible organization making full recompense to the survivors, including payment for counseling (retroactive if necessary) for the individual, as well as his/her family, when deemed appropriate by the independent investigative body.
- Don’t Just Look Back.Each organization should recognize (through policy, procedure, training, supervision, and auditing) the need to remain fully vigilant regarding the ongoing potential for abuse in its ranks.
- Demonstrate Zero Tolerance. Each organization should have an internal disciplinary process that deals impartially with all abuse allegations. Upon either an administrative or legal finding of abusive conduct by an employee, the employing organization should immediately withdraw any professional credentials held by that person and terminate the person’s employment.
B. Initiating an Investigation into a Specific School or Other Setting
The following are suggestions for drafting a letter to investigative organizations requesting an investigation into a specific missionary boarding school or other setting in which abuse occurred. Depending on the specifics of your situation, all or parts of the following could be included.
- Overview of Prior Communication: A statement that personnel at the American/Canadian headquarters of the mission organization have already been informed about abuse at the boarding school, but that no adequate action has been taken. Perhaps detail some of the communications.
- Summary of Systemic Abuse: A statement that there was a significant pattern of abuse at this school. Perhaps summarize some of the abuses that occurred.
- Sampling of Personal Stories: The inclusion of representative stories from school alumni.
- Notice of Other Stories: A statement that some survivor alumni are only willing to tell their stories if they believe that they will be taken seriously and appropriate action will be taken. They do not want to be re-victimized by telling their stories and then having them dealt with inappropriately.
- Emphasis on the lifelong Impact of the Abuse: A statement that you are aware of many alumni from this school who are struggling as adults with the consequences of their experience of abuse. While some have been able to move forward, others remain paralyzed and are in desperate need of help.
- Request a Meeting: Some groups have requested that the mission / denomination hold a joint meeting with representatives from the survivor group and mission / denominational leaders to discuss the process of establishing an independent investigation. This is funded by the mission / denomination. This could include legal representation for both parties and should include a victim’s advocate for the survivors.
- Request for a Formal Gathering: A request that the committee investigating this school / mission setting hold a retreat, funded by the mission / denomination, for alumni from the school / mission setting similar to the one held for Mamou alumni.
- Notation of Others Receiving the Letter: Copies of this letter should go to the Chairman of the Board of the mission / denominational organization, including both Canadian and U.S. Boards if appropriate. The more people that are copied on the letter, the greater the chance of action being taken.
C. If Survivors Need to Go Public
Be Prepared. Most victims of clergy / missionary abuse simply want the church to “be the church” to them. Most victims want the church to reach out to them, hear their stories, believe their stories, hold the perpetrators and the church appropriately responsible, and engage in biblical disciplines of confession, repentance, restitution, justice making and healing.
Unfortunately, these kinds of responses on the part of the church are all too often the exception rather than the rule for fear of exposure; therefore, survivors need to take proactive measures. The following actions have been effectively used by other survivors:
• Exposure of the abuse through media (religious and secular)
• Public demonstrations outside their headquarters or annual business meetings / conferences
• Going directly to congregations / lay supporters with reports of abuse and thus by-passing top church officials
• Lawsuits and legal action
Don’t Do It Alone. When the mission / denomination stonewalls, attacks victims, etc., you may find it necessary to the use the strategies mentioned above. Advice from professionals is crucial, especially legal advice. If you find yourself needing or wanting to go public, MKSafetyNet and other survivor groups such as SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) have experience working with the media, have legal contacts and other resources to help your group.
June 25, 2014
Tamara Rice- Writer and editor
Beverly Shellrude Thompson
MK Safety Net Canada, President Emeritus