[Trigger warning for rape]
If you’re a dean at an evangelical college and are visited by a rape victim who never drinks, never smokes, has never even held hands with a boy, and dresses like a Mennonite, what can you tell her to turn the blame on herself? Try “root sin.”
Raised in a conservative Mennonite home in rural Ohio, Katie Landry was a sheltered kid. She hadn’t even held hands with a boy when, at age 19, she says her supervisor at her summer job raped her. Two years later, and desperate for help, she reported the abuse to the dean of students at her college.
“He goes, ‘Well, there’s always a sin under other sin. There’s a root sin,'” Landry remembers. “And he said, ‘We have to find the sin in your life that caused your rape.’ And I just ran.”
Landry ended up dropping out of college, and didn’t tell anyone else for five years.
That dean was Jim Berg, of Bob Jones University. Five other students told stories that echoed Landry’s, in which BJU administrators piled on sin and scripture to shame the women into silence.
“He just confirmed my worst nightmare,” Landry said. “It as something I had done. It was something about me. It was my fault.”
“I remember her looking at me and saying, ‘You know that the nightmares are your own fault, because you’re choosing to replay pornographic thoughts in your mind,'” [rape survivor Sarah] said.
According to emails, [Jim’s wife Pat] Berg also advised Sarah to call her rapist and ask for forgiveness. Sarah said Berg told her that if she didn’t forgive, God wouldn’t be able to “use her.”
Within a week, [rape survivor Julia] said Berg found the man responsible [for her rape] and expelled him, but three semesters later, he was allowed to come back. When she expressed her fear to an administrator, Julia said she was asked whether she would really want to prevent a “Godly man” from getting an education that would allow him to “serve the Lord.”
Another BJU rape victim, Lydia, was asked if she’d done anything to make her rapist assault her, and was told that if she didn’t stop talking about her rape she was “not going to be successful [at BJU].” She ultimately withdrew medically from BJU; her withdrawal was marked down as an expulsion.
ThinkProgress notes that other Christian colleges have histories of blaming rape on the victim’s sin and burying rape accusations — and that they’re able to do so because, as they don’t receive funding from the federal government, they aren’t held accountable to Title IX and the Clery Act.
BJU does receive federal funding and is beholden to the Clery Act. Early in 2013, the university launched a voluntary investigation with GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to “make certain that BJU’s policies and procedures for handling reports of sexual abuse both fully comply with very aspect of the law and ensure a loving, scripturally based response.” In February, BJU announced that the investigation had been terminated — just weeks before GRACE was scheduled to release its report. In March, the university announced that it was reopening the investigation with GRACE and would have a report later this year.