Sexual Assault Victim Not “Privileged Status” at Bob Jones University

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Bob Jones University

June 18, 2014; Al Jazeera

Amid the national controversy around columnist George Will’s view that women who have been sexually assaulted on college campuses occupy “a coveted status that confers privileges,” there is a specific story of one university with an apparently reprehensible policy regarding the treatment of victims of rape.

Bob Jones University in South Carolina lost its nonprofit tax status in a 1983 Supreme Court decision in which the Court decided that the university’s virulent racist policies were incompatible with compelling government public policy and could override the school’s belief that the First Amendment protected its racism. Would the IRS have acted similarly had it known of BJU’s treatment of women at the school who report themselves as victims of rape?

Al Jazeera’s impressive America Tonight program has aired a two-part show on BJU’s approach to the issue of sexual assault on campus. It tells of a woman who, after being raped by her supervisor at a summer job, reported the incident to the dean of students. As the young woman recounts the story, here is what the dean said:

“He goes, ‘Well, there’s always a sin under other sin. There’s a root sin,’” she recalled. “And he said, ‘We have to find the sin in your life that caused your rape.’”

The Al Jazeera story covers the allegations of that young woman and others who described at BJU a “culture that heaped on shamed and pushed them to silence…[in which] they were told that their sins had brought on their rapes, that their trauma meant they were fighting God and that healing came from forgiving their rapists.” The details in the story address not only the incidents of sexual abuse, but the trauma (not privilege, Mr. Will!) endured by the victims and the religious counseling offered by the school’s staff, focusing on getting the victims to forgive the rapists and to convince them to remove from their thinking the thoughts that made them unhappy, depressed, in cases, suicidal.

Although some observers, like Will, think that the definitions of sexual abuse on campus are too loose, the frequency of rape much less than reported, and the consequences much more mixed than one might think, even BJU has figured out that something is wrong with its particular responses to incidents of sexual abuse. The school has invited Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to investigate how BJU has handled sexual abuse complaints. GRACE’s director, Boz Tchividian, himself a professor at the religious Liberty University and a grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, suggests that the sexual abuse problem in Protestant world could be worse than in the Catholic Church. GRACE’s objective is to get institutions like BJU to demonstrate “authentic repentance.”

It looks like BJU has some ways to go. Earlier this year, the university had kicked GRACE off campus and terminated its investigation, only to reverse course and invite GRACE back a month later. BJU’s position, however, is that it invited GRACE in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University, not in response to allegations of sexual abuse at Bob Jones itself. Let’s see what the formerly nonprofit Bob Jones University does with the upcoming report from GRACE. Will the school acknowledge its role in making policies that exacerbate and prolong the trauma of rape for the victims?—Rick Cohen

  • Paul Fitzsimmons

    An Internet-based paradigm shift in the area of sexual assault protection/prevention does indeed exist, but very few people have dared to talk about.

    Quite frankly, I genuinely do not understand why—particularly in this heated sexual assault environment—an “unprecedented, cost-free, easy, substantial, no-equipment-needed, 24/7 Internet protection for billions worldwide against non-stranger rape risks” which might reduce by 50,000 each year (or perhaps more) the number of rapes in the US is, apparently, of no interest to “advocates,” pundits, the government, etc.

    Appended here is a draft op-ed for which I’ve yet to find a bold publisher; this piece outlines the main components of my project. (All “What about …” questions do have sufficient answers.)

    If any good reader hereof has the courage to consider supporting these revolutionary (and relatively low-cost) anti-rape efforts, I’d be most pleased to hear from her or him.



    Although a longtime D.C. litigator (UMich AB, JD), I’ve also been working in recent years on a RADICAL anti-rape project called “ThumbsUpPix™ Security.” That system would offer, if and when implemented, unprecedented, cost‑free, easy, substantial, no‑equipment-needed, 24/7 Internet protection for billions of people worldwide against non-stranger rape risks.

    One highly-placed anti-rape advocate recently called this system “a solution to a problem that has always seemed unsolvable”; another well-placed advocate (someone who was herself sexually assaulted during her undergraduate years at Harvard University) wrote “It makes complete sense.”

    In the six numbered paragraphs below, I’ve attempted to distill the essence of this modestly complicated system:

    1. System Limitations: Just as seatbelts cannot stop every crash-related death, ThumbsUpPix™ Security could not stop every rape. Particularly against credible threats of imminent physical violence, this system might offer little or no anti-rape protection; thus, such threats could unfortunately yet result in rape, just as such threats have already done for eons.

    2. System Protections: If a potential victim (female or male) can successfully REFUSE to pose—thumbs‑up—for a pre-encounter “HeSaidSheSaid™ Photo” with an assailant, or where a potential rape victim is literally incapable of posing for such a photo (especially due to incapacitating drink or drugs), the system, as described in point “4” below, would either (a) motivate the assailant to abandon his rape plans or (b) automatically provide—through free, universally available system memberships—objective, admissible, and compelling documentary evidence of the victim’s lack of consent.

    3. System Preliminaries: Merely signing up permanently memorializes each system member’s “Personal Statement” intent to withhold consent to having sex UNLESS a HeSaidSheSaid™ Photo is first taken and then texted or emailed into the system for secure, encrypted, OFFLINE storage (with police/court orders then required for access thereto; even photo subjects themselves would have no access to submitted photos).

    4. Heart of the System: The HeSaidSheSaid™ Photo bears that name for a specific reason: such a photo could and would never dispositively prove any consent at all … WHEREAS, CRUCIALLY, AN ABSENCE OF SUCH A PHOTO WOULD, for the first time ever, STRONGLY AND OBJECTIVELY DEMONSTRATE, especially to jurors, A SYSTEM MEMBER’S LACK OF CONSENT. (Dolorously but unavoidably, the unavailability today of objective lack-of-consent evidence almost invariably causes non-stranger rape cases to fail under our country’s appropriate “beyond a reasonable doubt” criminal justice standards. This new system would change that old equation.)

    5. System Implementation: Protective “Free‑Forever Membership” would always be offered, just like it sounds, for free forever to anyone anywhere. “Full Memberships,” with photo submission rights, would always be offered for free to the U.S. Military and, at launch, to many millions at U.S. colleges and universities; for others, full memberships would be dirt cheap. (BTW: Focus groups aged 18-26 have strongly supported the system.)

    6. EXTERNAL Problems: Venture Capital will not support this “too radical” project on this “unseemly” rape subject; academics are WAY too timorous to discuss this project above a whisper, if even then; the media typically eschews this project because it cannot be described in two sound bites or fewer; for reasons either inadequate or despicable, too many anti-rape “advocates” will accommodate not even a considered examination of this project, which project could in fact reduce by 50,000 or more the number of rapes each year in the U.S.; and, too similarly, the federal government has willfully and woefully closed its eyes to the potential that its own scrupulously studying and developing this revolutionary project might readily reduce by 50,000 or more the number of rapes each year in the U.S., including thousands each year within the U.S. Military.

    If President Barack Obama directed our nation’s sitting White House Task Force to relent from its ignoring this challenging yet promising unprecedented, cost‑free, easy, substantial, no‑equipment-needed, 24/7 Internet protection for billions of people worldwide against non-stranger rape risks, we might all soon see an Internet-based paradigm shift that greatly reduces non-stranger rape globally.

  • Mike Wood

    “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17 HCSB)

    Until the GRACE report is released, it is a violation of journalistic integrity to draw conclusions from a small number of allegations. People are impatient to come to conclusions that fit with their pre-existing pro or con viewpoints, but they need not be. GRACE is a genuinely independent arbiter who can help both BJU’s boosters and detractors arrive at a good judgment.

    Before the GRACE report is released, the least a journalist can do is to quote BJU’s own public statements on this issue. Al Jazeera did do this, but Rick Cohen did not.

    “The one who gives an answer before he listens—this is foolishness and disgrace for him.” (Proverbs 18:13 HCSB)