The definition of Child Abuse given in SIM’s Child Safety Policy is as follows:
Child abuse or maltreatment constitutes all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.
This is the WHO general definition, which was still up for discussion at SIM when I received the document, but was the one written in their policy at that time (September of 2010). Presumably this is the standard SIM uses to decide if abuse occurred in the past, as well as the present.
Lets just take a look at sexual abuse alone. In the US population in 2007, the Department of Health and Human Services reports the rate of sexual abuse was 7.6% – those are only the cases that were reported. You might say “It’s going to be a lot lower in a missionary population,” but that is not the case.
What SIM Already Knows About Sexual Abuse
In 1993 a consortium of eight major missionary groups conducted a study from a random sample of 1200 MKs. Six hundred MKs responded to the survey. One part of the survey asked whether the respondant had been sexually abused. Of the MKs who responded, 6.8 percent remembered being sexually abused during grades 1-6. Another 4 percent said they were abused during grades 7-12.
Although other data from the survey was released, the data about sexual abuse was not released for eight years, when the results were provided to a Cleveland Newspaper. One of the researchers was David Pollock, who expressed that they had “a great deal of pain and frustration” with the results. Another researcher was our very own Kent Academy MK David Wickstrom, who explained that the full-time day jobs of the researchers had prevented them from finding the time to release these results on sexual abuse for eight years. You can read more about this survey at the Beliefnet web site.
Is it possible this problem existed at other missions, but not at SIM? Absolutely not. I personally know of sexual abuse that occurred at SIM boarding schools, as well as physical and spiritual abuse. There was a story written up in Simroots several years ago about sexual abuse that occurred at Bingham Academy, although it was written in the most general terms so that it left everyone wondering whether it was their school and their dorm parents that were guilty. John Morrow, an SIM employee who worked at Good Shepherd School in Addis Ababa, was named as a sexual abuser by an Independent Review Panel for the Presbyterian Church. You can read about this on the Presbyterian Outlook web site. Scroll down quite a ways until you find where they talk about Ethiopia. These are just a couple of the stories that we know about.
How many SIM MKs were sexually abused?
How many MKs have passed through the SIM system of boarding schools? Simroots, the magazine for SIM MKs, reports on their web site that they have 2000 on the role. This would include some parents and staff, but there are also many MKs that don’t get Simroots, or families where MKs share copies. SIM MKs attended 13 different boarding schools, some small, and some like KA that housed a couple hundred students each year for decades. It’s probably safe to say there are at least 2000 adult MKs who were “raised” with SIM. If statistics hold true, about 140 of them were sexually abused. The AMK Task Force that was meeting with MKs 10 years ago reported 2 cases of serious abuse. Sexual abuse, by my definition, is serious abuse. So, 2 cases? It seems to me there are a lot of adult MKs out there are living with the unresolved consequences of sexual abuse.
Don’t forget these statistics are just for sexual abuse. There is also physical abuse, which was very widespread at KA, and even more widespread were emotional and spiritual abuse. Humiliation was a favorite method of punishment.
What is SIM doing today for their abused MKs?
Since they disbanded the AMK Task Force 10 or so years ago, I am not aware they are doing anything. The Task Force conferences were “by invitation only,” and MKs who were isolated from their families and friends, or who didn’t read Simroots, didn’t participate. It seems to me SIM has been picking and choosing who they want to help.
I think SIM needs a person on their staff in a dedicated role of outreach to MKs who have been abused. This person should be qualified to work with victims of abuse, and should be acting as an advocate for the victims, not as a damage control operator for SIM. They need to set a clear policy for how they handle abuse accusations, and to publicize this policy using all the media they have at their disposal. This policy should include investigations by an independent panel, not by former MKs and SIM missionaries. Simroots should not be the main route for dispensing information about this because it is a paper that’s only distributed twice a year, which not all MKs choose to read.