The students who attend Bob Jones University, one of the most conservative Christian colleges in the country, say that they’re often traumatized after seeking counseling from school administrators on the issue of sexual assault. According to an Al Jazeera investigation, Bob Jones staff members have responded to allegations of rape by telling rape victims they should repent for their sins.
Katie Landry, who was raped by a coworker several times during the summer before she started attending Bob Jones, didn’t tell anyone about her assault for several years. She was deeply ashamed and failed most of her classes her first year of school. When she eventually sought counseling, the dean of students told her that “we have to find the sin in your life that caused your rape.”
“He confirmed my worst nightmare — it was something I had done, it was something about me, it was my fault,” Landry said in an interview with Al Jazeera’s program America Tonight. The dean also asked her if she had done anything “impure” or smoked pot.
“I think they should have not heaped more shame on me. Because I was already filled to the brim with shame. I didn’t need any more,” Landry added.
Other students, who opted to speak to Al Jazeera anonymously, shared similar stories. One student says her school counselor told her to ask her rapist for forgiveness. “I would say that the impact of the two years of counseling I had with her is that I felt like I had been raped all over again,” that student recounted.
It’s not the first time that the fundamentalist institution — which teaches a literal interpretation of the Bible and expels students for having premarital sex — has been exposed for mishandling sexual assault. A previous Al Jazeera investigation documented similar cases of students who felt like the so-called “fortress of fundamentalism” was blaming them for their own rapes.
And in 2011, a Bob Jones trustee was forced to resign after allegations emerged that he had covered up the rape of a 15-year-old girl. He also made the girl apologize to her church congregation for being raped. After that scandal, Bob Jones hired GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), a consulting group that helps religious institutions review their sexual assault policies, to conduct an outside investigation. More than 100 students came forward to share their stories of sexual assault with GRACE. But the school made headlines again when it abruptly fired GRACE before the review was completed and re-hired the group a month later.
Bob Jones isn’t the only right-wing institution that’s struggled with issues of sexual assault. Nonetheless, some of those Christian colleges aren’t required to follow the federal laws intended to address campus rape because they don’t get any of their funding from the government.
Conservative approaches to sexuality can often create environments where victim-blaming is prevalent. “You’re worthless if you’ve been abused,” one anonymous student told Al Jazeera. Last year, Elizabeth Smart — the kidnapping and sexual abuse victim who was raised in the Mormon community — made national headlines for expressing the same sentiment, pointing out that an overemphasis on purity ultimately makes rape victims feel worthless. Smart said that’s exactly why she felt “dirty and filthy” after she was sexually assaulted, and now works to make sure that other rape victims feel supported rather than shamed.