A two-year investigation into the way Bob Jones University handled reports of sexual abuse and assault on and off of campus reveals staff members were not properly trained and were insensitive to the suffering of victims, university President Steve Pettit said Wednesday.
The 300-page report was released on Thursday morning. Pettit offered a glimpse of the findings in chapel service Wednesday morning.
Pettit said 40 victims were interviewed. Some had been abused or assaulted before attending Bob Jones, others while they were students. The incidents spanned 40 years, he said.
"Sexual abuse is horrible," he said. "It is criminal."
The report says victims told investigators that BJU staff members blamed victims for the abuse, Pettit said.
"We failed to uphold and honor our own core values," he said.
In addition, counseling overlapped with discipline. The report recommends the two be separated and that confidentiality be maintained, Pettit said.
Key university officials were allowed to see the report ahead of its release to check for factual errors. GRACE officials withheld the right to decide whether to make suggested changes.
In chapel on Wednesday, Pettit apologized to victims who felt they did not receive adequate help from university officials.
"We have carefully listened to your voice," he said. "We take your testimony in this report to our hearts."
Pettit said he will appoint a committee to review the report with the expectation to hear a response within 90 days.
"We are all awakening to the depth and breadth of this societal problem," he said. "Colleges and universities across the country are reassessing how they handle cases of sexual abuse and assault. We want to be part of that solution. To do that, we must first take the mote out of our own eye and address our own failings."
Jeffrey Hoffman, who spoke to GRACE investigators about abuse he suffered as a child by someone who worked at BJU at the time, said he was gratified to hear Pettit's apology but hopes another is forthcoming.
"It was a very carefully worded, lawyerly statement," Hoffman said. "It doesn't really own it. I would like to see them acknowledge culpability. To say we covered things up. We didn't protect children."
Hoffman said it is one thing for Pettit to say officials are sorry people did not feel safe and another to acknowledge that victims weren't safe.
Hoffman was born on the Bob Jones campus and attended school there through his first semester of his freshman year at BJU. He left due to illness and ultimately graduated from the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, where he lives and works as an organist and choirmaster for an Episcopal church.
In its statement Wednesday, GRACE did not reveal any of its findings but said the report includes painful disclosures by sexual abuse victims and strong language.
"We caution readers who have their own histories of abuse that reading this report may trigger painful memories and you may find portions difficult to process," the organization said. "We urge you to take steps to care for yourself in protective ways, seek support and only read the report in a place of safety and with the encouragement of faithful companions."
GRACE, which stands for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, also said the two-year investigation introduced investigators to people they consider heroes.
"Thank you for allowing us into your lives," the statement said. The organization also said it hoped the report would lead to transformational change at the university.
Former Bob Jones University President Stephen Jones asked GRACE to begin its work in late 2012. At the time, he said it was in response to allegations made on other university campuses.
At about the same time, however, alumni had become vocal about the way they were treated when they told officials they had been abused. They said they were told not to report allegations to law enforcement because it would harm family members or others. That they were to pray for the individuals and to forgive.
They also reported being asked by counselors what they had done to bring on the abuse.
GRACE began the investigation in January 2013 by releasing an online survey. From there, investigators interviewed respondents, both in person in Greenville and Charlotte and by phone.
GRACE was formed in 2004 to help prevent sexual abuse in churches and other Christian organizations and to teach them how to respond appropriately when allegations are made.
The lead investigator in the Bob Jones investigation was Charissa Sloan Dvorak, a lawyer who at one time was a prosecutor in the Harris County, Texas, District Attorney's office. She lives in Indiana and attended Baylor University for her undergraduate degree and law degree.
The report had been expected early in 2014 but the university canceled its contract with GRACE in January. GRACE officials said they were surprised and dismayed by the termination.
"We grieve with those whose hopes will be crushed should this independent process remain incomplete. Please know that we heard your voice and it was not spoken in vain," the organization said in a statement.
The university said the investigation had veered away from its original intent but did not specify in what way.
Some alumni and others protested through social media and spoke to news organizations.
GRACE and Bob Jones leaders met in Lynchburg, Va., GRACE's home base, and the contract was reinstated without change a month later.
At one time, Bob Jones' policy called for faculty members to report allegations of abuse to their supervisor, who would take whatever action was deemed appropriate, according to a handbook from previous years.
Pettit said the policy was changed to say reports should be made to law enforcement if the abuse occurred in Greenville and to the Department of Social Services if the victim is underage, as required by law.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Pettit said the university also now encourages adult victims to report what happened to them to law enforcement.
Hoffman said he hopes GRACE will suggest that Bob Jones University make reparations in the form of contributions to the Julie Valentine Center, which works with adult and child victims of sexual assault, and to BJUnity, which works with LGBT alumni of Bob Jones, many of whom have been abused.
He also hopes a recommendation is made not only to have properly trained counselors but to require professionals who are licensed.
He said he had been told 150 people responded to the GRACE questionnaire but many opted out for various reasons.
"It's going to be very tough reading," he said.