VA--Church abuse panel walks away from investigation
The process of choosing an appropriate firm was “flawed" they say
Mennonite committee apologizes to victim for excluding her
Survivors applaud this “rare public stand” by church leaders
Today, a church panel ended their involvement in an investigation into a former Mennonite university vice president accused of sexual abuse, stalking and making violent threats. We applaud their compassionate move. We hope that officials will still take the Panel’s original recommendation of GRACE as the chosen investigating group or go back to the drawing board and this time be genuinely inclusive.
In August of 2014, Lauren Shifflett reported the crimes she suffered by church member Luke Hartman, to Lindale Mennonite Church officials. Instead of reporting it, church officials and possibly other Mennonite agencies covered it up.
In January of 2016, Hartman was arrested for solicitation of prostitution.
Through out this time, since 2011, he was vice president of enrollment at Eastern Mennonite University.
Under pressure, Mennonite officials agreed to launch an outside investigation into the church’s response to these and other reports of misconduct in the Mennonite community of Harrisonburg, VA that soon went beyond Hartman's misdeeds against Lauren Shifflett.
After research and deliberation, the church-appointed Panel for Sexual Abuse Prevention recommended Boz Tchividjian's GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) as their top choice for the job. Mennonite survivor groups OurStoriesUntold and the Anabaptist Mennonite Chapter of SNAP agreed. So did Lauren Shifflett.
But all the institutions implicated– EMU, Lindale, Virginia Mennonite Conference, Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Education Agency-- ignored this recommendation and instead - without the panel's full participation picked the Title IX consulting firm of D. Stafford and Associates. (email@example.com).
Now, The Panel for Sexual Abuse Prevention is walking away from the planned probe. Again, we praise them for this principled and pastoral decision.
In a statement released today, the panel says, "We are sorry for the ways in which we have been complicit in this, and view it as a missed opportunity. Now we are choosing to support Lauren, victims and survivors over this flawed process.” It is never too late to do better once we know better.
Lauren Shifflett’s sister, Marissa Buck, initiated a Facebook signature campaign in resistance to the institutional process. Into Account, a newly formed organization seeking accountability for sexual and spiritual violence in Christian environments, helped launch the campaign. You can register your support for Lauren and Marissa here: http://www.bit.do/LetSurvivorsLead
NOTE - The Panel for Sexual Abuse Prevention is headed by Anna Groff, (Anna@Dove’sNest.net). GRACE is headed by Boz Tchividjian (firstname.lastname@example.org). EMU’s interim President is Lee Snyder (email@example.com). Lindale Mennonite Church lead pastor is Duane Yoder (firstname.lastname@example.org). Virginia Mennonite Conference Executive Director is Clyde Kratz (email@example.com). Mennonite Education Association's head is Carlos Romero (CarlosR@mennonniteeducation.org). Lauren Shifflett and Marissa Buck can be reached at Barbra.firstname.lastname@example.org. OurStoriesUntold Director is Hilary Scarsella (Hilary.email@example.com)
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) is the world’s oldest and largest support group for survivors of sexual abuse and their loved ones. SNAP was founded by victims of Catholic priests in 1988 and now has more than 21,000 members in 79 countries. Even though “Priests” is in its title, SNAP is open to religious and nonreligious persons who were sexually violated by anyone inside or outside a faith community. The Anabaptist Mennonite Chapter of SNAP was established in early 2015. Their Mennonite Abuse Prevention List was launched in April 2016. A SNAP Survivor Support Group meets the first Thursday of every month in Harrisonburg, VA. Contact 540-214-8874
50 State AG Call for Grand Jury
Any investigation must be:
- independent of and separate from the church
- must have subpoena powers and ability to compel testimony under oath
Anything short of these criteria is a sham and whitewash.
In addition, write letters to the editor, make phone calls to politicians as they can apply pressure to keep them responsive to our demand. We need to make efforts to ensure that they follow up on what the state is doing to investigate these crimes.
The Attorneys General of forty states have inquired about the grand jury process in Pennsylvania. Let's get statewide investigations going in fifty states.
Note to Letter Writers
Use your own words and style of writing. Cut and paste from the templates as you wish. Include your experiences, whether as a survivor or as a member of the community. And relate your letter to the state you were abused in or state now living in.