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Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va.
Handout photo
Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va.

Uncovering alleged abuse

News | Two Christian colleges remain in the news for ongoing investigations of sexual assault

Issue: "Inside the wire," March 22, 2014

Officials at Bob Jones University (BJU) in Greenville, S.C., announced on Feb. 25 they had reached an agreement with the Christian organization GRACE to complete an investigation into BJU’s response to reports of sexual abuse. 

The Christian university asked GRACE (an acronym for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) in November 2012 to conduct an independent investigation into complaints concerning BJU’s response to students who reported they had been sexually abused at some point in their lives.

After a year of conducting confidential surveys and interviews, GRACE announced BJU terminated the agreement on Jan. 27. The school’s initial letter to GRACE didn’t indicate clear reasons for terminating the project, but BJU officials later said they had grown concerned about how GRACE was conducting the effort. 

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The termination provoked frustration from students who had participated in the project and anxiety over the prospect of starting over with a different investigative body. 

By mid-February, the two parties met in Lynchburg, Va., to discuss BJU’s concerns. (Both organizations said the talks were confidential.) On Feb. 25, BJU announced GRACE had addressed the concerns, and the school had reinstated the group to complete the project. 

A GRACE statement said BJU reinstated the original agreement with no modifications, but noted the temporary suspension would “significantly postpone” the completion of the project. 

In northern Virginia, officials at Patrick Henry College (PHC) responded to a different set of questions over how they had handled students’ reports of sexual assaults in the past. 

A Feb. 17 article in The New Republic reported allegations by five former students that PHC administrators mishandled the women’s reports of sexual harassment or off-campus sexual assaults. The article primarily focused on one incident in 2010 and another in 2006. 

Two female students alleged the Christian school’s administration urged them not to go to the police after they reported off-campus sexual assaults by male students. Another student said school officials never mentioned the possibility of involving police after she reported an off-campus assault by another student.

PHC offered a five-page response to The New Republic’s inquiries about the allegations in July 2013 and denied encouraging students not to report assaults to police. The school also issued a statement to current students and alumni, saying, “The fact is that the information provided by the key individuals at the time [of the 2006 and 2010 incidents] differs from the allegations now related in The New Republic article.”

The university also rejected the article’s assessment that the school blamed women for their assaults or treated women less favorably than men because of the school’s view of the biblical roles of men and women. The article also reported, “Underlying homeschooling culture is the Christian patriarchy movement …” and identified PHC founder Michael Farris as part of “the most conservative patriarchy devotees” who also adhere to the “Quiverfull” movement. A PHC statement said the school and Farris reject both movements.

PHC spokesman David Halbrook said the school was reviewing its procedures for handling sexual assaults, and that PHC had hired a legal firm to audit its policies and review past events.

—Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky works four weeks each year at Patrick Henry College mentoring students and interviewing newsmakers, and recused himself from involvement with this article. 

Editor's note: In article above, WORLD made the most grievous error we’ve made in 20 years. This is a story about a story, and the headline accompanying it promises more than our story actually delivers. All we sought to do was to note the existence of ongoing controversies, but our story adds very little new information. We should have held it back and done more reporting before publishing it.

The larger error concerns the photo we carried in the print and digital editions of the magazine and originally posted here online. Images matter, and by choosing a photo of Mike Farris to accompany this incomplete story, we gave readers the wrong impression that the story was about him before they’d even had the chance to read it. 

Good photojournalism emphasizes people, not things, and that fact alone is what drove the decision to use the photo of Farris. Nevertheless, given the sensitivity of the story, as well as the potential for misunderstanding and the consequences of it, we should have chosen more generic campus photos to represent each school discussed in the story (like the one from Patrick Henry College above). But we don’t have it to do over again, so all we can do is admit the error, try to repair it, and seek Farris’ forgiveness. We begin that process publicly.

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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