CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - A Christian university in South Carolina discouraged some students who reported being sexually assaulted as children or on campus from going to the police and made them feel they were responsible for the abuse, a report released on Thursday said.
Bob Jones University’s attitude over nearly four decades toward student reports of sexual abuse or assault was “blaming and disparaging,” according to nearly 62 percent of survivors who took a confidential survey as part of an independent investigation commissioned by the university.
The report examining the response by the non-denominational Protestant college in Greenville comes as universities nationwide are scrutinizing policies for dealing with sexual assaults after a Rolling Stone magazine report on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia.
Nearly half of the sexual abuse survivors at Bob Jones University who replied said staff discouraged them from making a police report or told them directly not to report the abuse.
In an apology to victims, university President Steve Pettit said the school had changed its practices in recent years to “make it clear the biblical lesson of forgiveness does not imply that the victim is in any way responsible for the sexual assault or abuse they experienced.”
The review was carried out by a non-profit organization in Lynchburg, Virginia, called GRACE, which stands for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment.
One person who replied to the survey said students were told “that a woman who was raped or sexually abused brought it on herself.” Another victim who reported being abused by a grandfather said Bob Jones University staff asked: “Did your body respond favorably? If it did, then you need to repent.”
The report found that school officials were not appropriately trained to counsel victims and that some victims felt staff members rushed to resolve their negative feelings.
The university said on Thursday that an appointed committee would review the findings and make changes as needed “to better reflect our values and show victims the love of Jesus Christ.”
“Victims should never be blamed for abuse or assault,” said university spokesman Randy Page. “In hindsight, we see how some could have interpreted our teaching, preaching and counseling as indifference and insensitivity to those who needed help the most.”
Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Mohammad Zargham