Physical molestation, sexual molestation, it will not be swept under the rug [at Bob Jones University]. It never has been. It’s not the way we operate. It’s always reported to the authorities.
Reading the transcript from Third’s sermon yesterday has been too much for me. We all know he’s not telling the truth–either ignorantly or deliberately. All of us. This is most easily proven because in the 2010 Clery Act Report — which colleges and universities who receive federal funds are required to file — Bob Jones University did not report Charles “Chipper” Snow’s sexual assault of a minor.
We all know this. It’s a simple fact. Plain and public. It just needs to be stated for the record.
Many people have flooded my inbox with stories that, if they were pursued in the full sunshine, would prove similar cover-ups. Third has thrown down the gauntlet. He’s challenging us to tell the truth. And we need to step up.
Here’s one thing I know. One thing I was privy to. One thing I can say.
I was this student’s “Prayer Captain” — the WW2-era phrase that BJU uses to identify an older student who’s two-steps up in the disciplinary hierarchy. It’s not a paid position. All it meant was that I had been around a little bit longer and that I was pretty compliant with the BJU authority.
I’ll call this student, “Jennifer,” though that’s not her real name.
It was 22 years go this month. In 1989. Probably right around this time of year — before Thanksgiving and all. I was ironing, as we did so often in the 80s. And she had been acting needy for a few weeks. Just homesickness, I figured. She was up on my bunk — top of the double. It was a Thursday or Tuesday afternoon. Cold and icky outside like today. And she said, “My father has been sexually abusing me ever since I can remember.”
I had never, ever, ever, ever, ever had someone admit that to me. I was an English major. A student! I knew nothing about how to handle things like this. Nothing. And my first gut impulse was to say, “You must be mistaken.” I didn’t say that. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit muzzled me. What I did say was this: “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know! But I do know you need to talk to someone. . . . And I’ll get you the appointment. You tell me who you want to talk to.”
She picked Jim Berg, the Dean of Students. Okay. Seemed like a good plan to me. So I forged on.
And I got the run-around. That’s not all that terribly surprising. It is a big organization, and the secretarial gatekeepers have a job to do. I can handle that. So I pushed. And I pushed. And I got “Jennifer” an appointment with Jim Berg. She wanted me to come with her.
I sat in on those first two meetings. I believe she had one or two with him after that without me, but I’m not sure since I didn’t attend. And this was my face-to-face introduction to how sexual assault is handled in the Bob Jones University system. This is how pastors are taught to handle alleged crime in the IFB. So it didn’t happen to me; it happened in front of me.
His manner was very kind. It was. In those two initial meetings that I witnessed. He told her that it wasn’t her fault. I heard him say that. He told her that what her father did was clearly wrong. He made it clear that it was all her dad’s problem, and none of her own.
But other things were just . . . strange. Berg told her that she was still a virgin metaphysically, even if she weren’t one physically. Well, no, but . . . maybe that helps. He told her that when she did date a young man, she should not tell him about this because he might conclude that she was ‘damaged’ and would take liberties with her that had already been taken. Really, you want to lay that guilt on her? I thought you said it wasn’t her fault? Instead “Jennifer” should have Berg tell him if she so wished. He then went on to say that there was no reason she ever needed to tell her boyfriend/fiancé/husband about the events unless she needed to keep her own children away from their grandpa’s care. Maybe that’s good? I don’t know. . . . Maybe that would free her up–that idea that she never needed to tell. Maybe? But what about the crime against her? Her damage? Does that count? I’m not sure if those things helped or hurt. I’m not in her shoes. But I think it’s more of a burden to hide in the darkness than to step out in the light.
But then there’s the rest. Berg insisted that she never go to the police and he added vague threats of future rejection to her already-big-burden. “Going to the police breaks up families, and you wouldn’t want to carry that burden. Dads go to jail and families have no source of income. Moms blame their daughters and they get jealous of the sexual attention their daughters are receiving.”
Okay. . . . There’s a lot that’s wrong with his advice. But just one thing–notice how he framed that: she must never go to the police. What about him? What about Jim?
That was wrong. I thought it was right for years until in 2005 or so a friend explained mandatory reporting laws. As a counselor, an employee in an organization who cares for others, Jim Berg was required to file a police report. By law! So was his secretary, dorm counselors–anybody in BJU’s employ.
But there’s more. Her dad was the local IFB church’s Sunday School Superintendent. And “Jennifer” said explicitly that she was worried about her younger minor sisters who were still at home. “‘Susan’ [not her real name] is starting to get headaches now,” she said. “And I think my dad is doing it to her.”
That’s what makes me sob. There were minors at risk, and Jim Berg did nothing. It was a matter of BJU policy that he did nothing. Nothing. Nothing at all. Oh, instead he told “Jennifer” that if her dad tried something again over Christmas vacation to say, “NO!” And “I’ve told the authorities at BJU about this. They know.” And he gave her his phone number. . . . He doesn’t know much about sexual abuse victims, does he? Or power. Or even the law.
“Jennifer” or “Susan” might be reading this. “Susan” probably wouldn’t know that I know. But “Jennifer” does. “Jennifer” is a forty-something mommy. The statute of limitations is not up yet on her Dad’s crimes. She can still go to the police. And I would stand with her. Just like I tried so feebly to do back then. I’m sorry we had such bad counsel. I pray for you a lot, “Jennifer.” I do.
This is just one story I know first-hand. What do you know?
UPDATE — The Chipper Snow crime occurred .7 miles driving distance (.5 miles walking distance) from BJU’s campus. Therefore, it is in the “surrounds” (one mile radius) and BJU must report it under the Clery Law. Period.