VA--University is misleading students and staff, victims group says
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, April 19, 2016
A statement released on Friday by Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) officials to its students and staff is misleading and depressing.
Their statement comes after a courageous survivor, Lauren Shifflett, wrote a moving account last week of the suffering she endured when EMU vice-president Luke Hartman stalked and abused her during the time she was an EMU student and while he worked at Skyline Middle School in Harrisonburg. He also stalked her while he was VP.
EMU keeps misleading the public by claiming things are in the past. Hartman was a university VP until a few months ago when he was arrested for solicitation of prostitution. A stalking event occurred in 2014 and drove Shifflett, out of fear, to report to congregational leaders at Lindale Mennonite congregation in Harrisonburg, VA, yet Hartman remained in his high position for another year and a half until his arrest in January 2016.
School officials claim they took “disciplinary actions” against Hartman but apparently kept them secret and even now refuse to say what they were. School officials also claim they “learned about [Hartman’s] past behavior” but again, are keeping it secret.
We urge anyone who has seen, suspected or suffered sexual crimes, misconduct or cover ups at EMU or Lindale church (where Hartman has attended) to get help from independent sources.
Institutions have many interests in managing sexual assault internally. Reporting to school or church officials gives them the chance to manipulate victims, threaten whistleblowers, discredit witnesses, destroy evidence, and use lawyers and public relations staff to fixate on “damage control” instead of pastoral outreach to any victims who may still be in hiding.
Such wrongdoing should be reported to the independent professionals in law enforcement and to other independent sources of help like family, friends, specially trained therapists, local crisis centers, and survivor support groups like SNAP. Independent experts are much better able to identify a range of options and paths towards justice and healing.
Lauren's account posted on the website OurStoriesUntold.com on April 12 and has received nearly 20,000 hits in less than a week. She has received over 150 personal and public messages of gratitude applauding her courage and strength.
We call on EMU’s president and Mennonite Church leaders to be more honest about the Hartman case and to clearly admit that at least one young woman was severely hurt because of the predatory actions of a top school official and the secrecy of other top school and church officials.
You may contact Lauren through her SNAP advocate Barbra Graber at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPnetwork.org) 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 and their Mennonite Abuse Prevention List in April 2016. A SNAP Survivor Support Group meets the first Thursday of every month in Harrisonburg, VA.
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.