Monday, February 20, 2017

Our Stories Untold: Sexualized Violence

Here's a shout-out to my friend Barbra Graber, who with Hilary J. Scarsella, produces the website Our Stories Untold.  Both have history with the Mennonite Church in the USA, and they work to report and reduce sexualized violence by church members and pastors.

The mission of the OSU website and community is serious:

We are an independent network of people who have suffered sexualized violence, people who love people who have suffered sexualized violence, and people who are just plain fed up with the harm that sexualized violence does in our communities and around the world. We are people who are concerned, specifically, about the spiritual dimensions of sexualized violence and the presence of sexualized violence in communities of faith. Many of us have a connection to the Mennonite church in North America (MC USA and MC Canada), whether we are participating members, former members or are connected in some other way. Those with no Mennonite connection whatsoever are also welcome in this space and in the work we do together.

In this public space, survivors of sexualized violence can share their stories, report perpetrators, find support, seek justice, and educate the public.

"A Timeline of What Happened in Harrisonburg: My View" is a report by Barbra on the series of events at Eastern Mennonite University in 2016 starting with the arrest of EMU's Vice President, Luke Hartman, for solicitation of prostitution.  Barbra lives in Harrisonburg, Va.

With the help of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Our Stories Untold invited others at the university who might have been solicited by Hartman to come forward.

One survivor came forward publicly, two came forward privately, and at least one former EMU employee reported sexual harrassment.

Instead of fully investigating these problems, EMU handed the investigation over to a not-so-independent investigating agency, paying $200,000 for its work. 

Neither EMU nor the agency ever interviewed the young woman making these charges.  Instead, they limited the investigation to her case alone and found that EMU had handled it properly--a point that Our Stories Untold contests.

Barbra examines the larger context of this case:
  • OSU received evidence and filed a report  "indicating MCUSA and its conferences, as a common practice, keep the knowledge of sexual misconduct complaints against ordained pastors and lay leaders a secret from those who may also be in harm’s way.*
  • After following up various complaints, OSU also filed a report "indicating EMU has had a past practice of either failing to write up sexual misconduct complaints reported to them or to discard the files, and to rarely file reports with police.*
But the Mennonite Church and the Eastern Mennonite University continue to protect perpetrators and keep quiet about reports of sexual misconduct by students or employees of EMU.

Barbra concludes:
To date, EMU has not indicated a willingness to come clean about the serious historical problems of sexual violence on their campus or open any secret files they hold on past and present employees or students. In fact, a student perpetrator who was found guilty of rape during an internal Title IX investigation as recently as February 2, 2017 is reportedly still walking free and under cover on campus. He is slated to graduate as a social work major, his charges hidden from other girls who could be at risk on campus. All this with a slap on the wrist, no notice to his employer where he works with vulnerable populations, nothing placed on his student record, no invitation for others who may have been harmed by him to come forward. 

At the end of her timeline she places this quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

We [who break the code of silence] are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.  We bring it out into the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be open with all its pus- flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all the tension its exposing creates to the light of human conscience….”
Martin Luther King

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