Legal Article Shows Misunderstanding of MK Abuse.

The law firm Rothgerber Johnson & Lyon recently published an article titled Are Protestant Ministries a New Market?  Lessons Learned from the Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal.  This authors are L. Martin Nussbaum, primary contact for the Religious Institutions Group, and Theresa Lynn Dixon Sidebotham, formerly an MK in Indonesia.  This article discusses child abuse in the Catholic church, in Protestant religious groups (including mission boarding schools) and in government settings such as schools and juvenile facilities.  I am responding to his statements about MK abuse, which show a lack of understanding of MK issues, in spite of the fact that an MK is named as an author.

The authors state that sexual abuse lawsuits against religious organizations come in waves, and reasons that these waves are a result of marketing by lawyers in order to expand their business, since settlement amounts for Catholic plaintiffs are dropping off.  There might be lawyers doing this, but there are other explanations for the wave of allegations being brought forward by MKs.  Demographics alone can explain it.  During the 60s and 70s, boarding school attendance was at its highest numbers, and this is when much of the abuse occurred as well, at least in SIM schools.  The MKs from that time are just now reaching a point in their life where they feel safe reporting the abuse, or when they can no longer ignore the effects it has had on their lives.  You can read more about this in my post Delayed Disclosure of Abuse on the Mission Field.  The internet, and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are also playing a big role, as MKs are becoming aware that they are not the only ones who suffered from abuse, and are being empowered by each other to tell their stories.  It is easy to do this today, to a world-wide audience, in a way that the mission cannot edit or censor.  The fact is that most MKs present their stories to the mission first, sometimes for a long time without results.  When an investigation is opened it is done by an independent panel, not in the courts.  Lawsuits are more of a last resort with MKs, so the wave of stories coming out today is hardly the result of influence by marketing lawyers.

The authors state that the “theory of repressed memories is junk science. The almost universal human experience is that traumatic events are more memorable, not less.”  I am not a psychotherapist, but then neither are either of these authors.  What is passed off as a factual statement is based on the work of Elizabeth Loftus, in The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse (1996).   Elizabeth Loftus’ theories are just that – theories – which have been highly criticized by some of her colleagues and labeled as inconclusive, abstract, and invalid.  Her main argument for her theories is that there are no controlled scientific experiments to prove that repressed memories actually exist.

I disagree with the statement that it is universal human experience that traumatic events are more memorable.  I know many MKs, including myself, with huge memory gaps and fuzzy memory.  Memory loss is a natural survival skill, a coping mechanism and sometimes I believe it is a gift from God.  Memories can resurface when you are ready to process them, or can be triggered by an event or a sensation, causing severe symptoms such as PTSD.  Dissociative amnesia is inability to recall important personal information, usually of a traumatic or stressful nature.  For more information on studies in this area see Jim Hopper’s page on Recovered Memories of Sexual Abuse.  I have to make clear here that the abuse stories I know of at SIM schools are not the “fuzzy” type, they are clear memories that can be corroborated by several MKs.

The article states that “Some allegations of abuse in missionary boarding schools conflate actual abuse with typical MK issues, or confuse the two.  Most MKs have feelings of disorientations, dislocation, abandonment, and rejection, whether or not they attended a boarding school….These experiences, though painful, were often not abusive, but an outcome of a particular choice of lifestyle and occupation by the parents. For a missionary child to face a boarding school separation is no more abusive than for military children to have their fathers sent to Iraq for a year.

Really!   Do these people think that we can’t tell the difference between homesickness and rape?  No one is bringing allegations of disorientation or abandonment and trying to pass them off as abuse.  Sure, the separation was a root cause of the problem, because if the parents had been present the perpetrators would not have had their power, however the real issue here is rape of children by staff, rape of children by other children, severe punishments and humiliations inflicted on children by dorm parents and teachers.

The article cites the documentary “All God’s Children” as an example, stating that “it appears to assume that growing up as an MK is abusive by definition.”  I am flabbergasted by this statement – did they actually watch the movie?  Are they suggesting that the event at Mamou were a normal part of growing up as an MK, and not abuse?

The article states “Some investigators assume the guilt of the organization and the truth of every claimant’s report. Many accusations are true, but a substantial percentage are exaggerated or untrue.”  There are two things wrong with this statement.  The first is that all the investigation reports I have read showed meticulous research by the investigators, interviewing and corroborating all of the allegations.  In fact in the Mamou investigation one perpetrator was never named because only one victim would testify against him, and he was still employed by the mission.  Secondly, it is insulting and unsubstantiated to say that a large percentage of claims are exaggerated or untrue.  Although many of the statements made in this article are cited in footnotes, this one is not.  I can only assume it is a personal opinion without any factual basis, and it certainly shows a derogatory attitude towards abused MKs.

This article takes the GRACE organization to task for several reasons,  and I disagree with a few of their points, but one of the most important is their statement that “The report, discussing numerous sensitive personnel issues and naming specific employees, was released simultaneously to the board and the general public. A board should receive such a report confidentially and then decide whether the values in play are best served by public announcements.”  According to this article, the mission board should be able to decide what to do with the results of an investigation.  This exact situation happened with the Mamou investigation.  The investigating panel handed the results over to the mission, who refused to release parts of the report, even to the MKs who were victims!  The MKs felt like they were being further victimized by this withholding of information.  It is just more of the same behaviour that brought these problems about in the first place – the secrecy surrounding abuse.  It is WRONG to keep information about abusers a secret, because it creates an environment where victims think they are the only ones suffering, and are reluctant to come forward.  It shelters the perpetrators and allows them to keep on committing these crimes.  A mission board that receives a report confidentially and then withholds information from victims and the public is just continuing to participate in the cover-up.

The article ends with a few open-ended questions.  “Is there a moral statute of limitation for the person who offended 30 years earlier, reformed his life, and provided good ministry without blemish thereafter?”  No, there is no moral statute of limitations!  This law office should know that sexual abusers do not just strike once, they abuse over and over again, and most likely that perpetrator did not have a ministry without blemish.

Does it matter whether the boundary violation with a child was slight or severe?  NO!  This is a call that can only be made by the victim themselves.  It would be presumptuous for the mission or a lawyer to tell a victim that their abuse was only “slight”.

What does the forgiveness preached by the ministry mean when it comes to disciplining a perpetrator?  The ministry often preaches a skewed message of forgiveness, meant to keep the victim quiet by telling them to forgive and forget.  Are these authors implying that victims should be forgiving their abusers and not asking that they be held accountable?  See the Thoughts on Forgiveness in the pages on this blog.

This article concludes by saying “We hope that this paper might help facilitate such learning.  The risks are great.  Now is the time to prepare.”  These lawyers are drawing the battle lines for missions who wish to protect themselves against an onslaught of sexual abuse lawsuits.  Advice like this will only make missions even more secretive, more cautious and protective of themselves, and less willing to listen to abused MKs and to help them.  In spite of having their own MK on staff (who may or may not have attended a boarding school), it is clear that these authors don’t know or understand abused MKs and their issues.

Missions, and especially SIM, seem much more concerned about the legal defense of their resources and their reputations than they are about helping MKs who were abused by their own staff.


17 thoughts on “Legal Article Shows Misunderstanding of MK Abuse.

  1. Liz, thank you so much for all your hard work and your gentle skill at sharing the truth with love as well as your personal opinion. It is true that just “thinking” about it all is like falling into a huge dark hole that doesn’t seem to end which makes it hard to live life simultaneously. It is also true that some of us are not in safe situations at the present to be able to share or sign our name. It is possible that the MK with the Law firms could be one that has been abused but has “moved on” and feels that others should too or not been abused and feels that others should not be “wimpy”…I do NOT agree with those viewpoints but those perspectives could be why she is in that position. Please know that every article you write Liz I read carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. Even if nothing gets changed on the official front or the organizational front, my heart is being changed and healed.

    • Thank you Much Afraid. I am so happy when I hear there is healing going on even without SIM, or other organizations, acknowledging the abuse. Because the grim reality is that if you wait for it, you will spend most of your life in that ‘black hole’. It is so, so easy to slip into those thoughts of bitterness and fear and anger. We have to believe that it will all get sorted out in the end, that “justice will roll on like a river.” I am not saying we should all be quiet about the abuse, or that SIM should not be taking their part in the healing process. They have a lot to answer for, as an organization and many as individuals. But don’t let YOUR heart depend on what SIM (or your particular organization) decides to do.

  2. Pingback: Law Firms and Insurance Companies should not advise on Child Abuse Policy | SIM Missionary Kid Survivors

  3. @ Audrey……..sounds good to me! I am willing to sign and I am sure those on fanda eagles would be too. They are very upset about the article. There is alot of talk on their forum about it.

  4. Ok………so, I just sent a long email to Nussbaum and cc’d Sidebotham. I called his ext but no answer. Left a detailed message and left a request to open a dialogue. I will let you know what happens. Liz, I couldn’t help it………..I finally posted on Red Baron’s wall…………couldn’t help it…it was too much, his last post. It is awaiting moderation. We’ll see if he has the courage to post it or if I get a response. I told you I was on a roll:)

  5. Meant to add, put as many names as possible on the letter, and first write a draft for everyone’s input…that is, those who are following this blog 🙂

  6. I think it might be wise to put together a strongly worded letter to the editor of the publication. There’s a good chance it would be published and get a wider viewing. I’m a journalist by trade, happy to write it.
    oh yes, MK from East Africa, 60s and 70s

  7. And the article gives the lead attorney’s number too…………Nussbaum. He will hear from me this afternoon:) He just doesn’t know it yet……………followed up with an email to both he and Theresa.

    Theresa: 719-386-3059
    Nussbaum: 719-386-3004

    I will have to call from a different number just in case my number from yesterday was “blocked.” I cannot imagine they want calls like that but then, again, they did list their direct lines. And yes, Liz, thanks for the work you do! It has been a tough journey but one I believe was meant to be traveled. Oh, and my contact at SIM, that didn’t pan out…….haven’t heard a word. Regardless of what Marge says, I believe word has spread that I am persona non grata. So, I will just follow a different route……………I mean to comment more often on your posts but you know my story and it isn’t always easy. The blog means a great deal to many and I also think it makes “management” as the article called them, somewhat uncomfortable.

  8. Hi Liz, Marilyn, Lost-N-Lonely, Audrey,

    I will post when I get a chance. I have read and reread the article and came to the same conclusions as you Liz. I have highlighted and made notes and plan on calling Nussbaum this afternoon. I have countered their statements with what you and I have recently been through with SIM, Liz…………for every statement he makes against MK’s, I have a response…………maybe this is why we had to go through all of this “junk” recently.

    For all of you who have suffered so much, I am deeply sorry!!

  9. Liz, I am so glad you responded to this document with such clarity and detail. Thank-you for the hard work it took to prepare a response. No one could have said what you said better! The startling thing for me is how desparately these two lawyers want to silence the MK survivor, how they want to minimize the pain of being a sexual abuse survivor and marginalize us by quoting statistics of the occurence of clergy sexual abuse. How many decades have individual MKs and small groups of MKs tried to get their mission sending groups to act on their behalf.

    • I also find it shocking that one of them is an MK. You’d think she would have some sort of clue about MK issues, even if she wasn’t abused herself. An SIM MK phoned their office yesterday and gave that MK lawyer a piece of her mind. I hope she (Beth) will talk about the phone call here. My feeling is that they have probably only heard the missions’ version of the story. I have heard the slant SIM puts on this, that they are doing all they can, they care so much about their MKs, etc, etc. Anyone who listens to their side and never bothers to listen to an abused MK will have completely the wrong perspective. Also, these people are representing the missions and churches in court, so of course they will try to minimize the pain MKs are suffering. As Beth says, they are responsible for pedophiles being on the payrolls of the religious institutions that they represent.

      I had to pick and choose what I talked about in my post or it would have ended up very loooong, but there is a LOT more in that article that needs to be addressed. We can’t let their opinion stand so that people take it as the truth.

  10. lost ‘n lonely, I appreciate how much energy it takes you to talk about these things. I’ve heard the same from other MKs – that they need to take it in very small doses, and how much these memories can take over and dominate your life. I think everyone has to step back from it at times, you know I have done the same! When I actually took the blog offline in the past I got messages from several SIM MKs urging me to continue with it, and that is why it is still here, and will stay until some happy day when it is no longer needed.

    Audrey, Wes Stafford’s book is on my list of summer reading. I believe SIM has a policy now regarding child abuse, and takes much better care of MKs currently in the field and MKs returning to their home countries. It is the older MKs that are falling through the cracks. Their program they ran 10 years ago (the AMK Task Force) did not include many of the most wounded MKs, and in fact a lot of MKs who were out of the loop never even knew it existed. It didn’t scratch the surface of the problem. Right now SIM is doing nothing for abused MKs. They even know of specific cases of abuse – they still have people on their payrolls that have been accused, and they are doing nothing about it. As long as everyone just keeps quiet they don’t need to do anything. Where would people be comfortable telling their stories? I have already found that I can’t handle a certain level of disclosure on this blog – it will bring it down, as it has in the past, and then all of the information that is already here will be gone. I’ve thought of starting a closed facebook group for abused MKs, a forum such as the Fanda Eagles have would also be good, but I would not be willing to run such a thing without partners to present more of a united front, versus me making all the decisions on my own.

  11. Liz, thanks. Those who question repressed memory and abuse at boarding schools simply did not experience it, period. We need more stories to be told in order to show that these issues are not isolated, but rather widespread.
    I think it’s important to get the facts about what SIM has actually done. My understanding is they do have a policy regarding their schools now, and they have done some investigation and support for MKs. Is there more to be done? I’m certain there is, but it will take individuals to tell their own stories with details and without generalities – see Wess Stafford’s book “Too Young Too Ignore: Why the Least of these Matter the Most.” It’s not about boarding school but he has included his story of attending one in the Ivory Coast. We need that level of disclosure, and yes, sometimes it’s repressed for a very long time.
    Audrey Martin

  12. My comment above to you Liz – was a specific desire to encourage you

    It seems rarely does anyone (myself included) get involved into any well-deserved interesting discussions about the various posts YOU are writing your heart out about. Posts YOU are spending incredible amounts of time on through research, reading, then writing them out and sending them. Posts where YOU are sharing willingly regarding your own thoughts and opinions. And finally posts where YOU take YOUR time time to respond in a thoughtful, respectful, and typically encouraging manner to each and every one who responds back – sometimes even in the face of readers who have demonstrated an “attacking manner” back your way

    YOU demonstrate persistent courage in that YOU are potentially putting YOURSELF on the line (out on a limb all by YOURSELF) with SIM – as a consequence of the fact that very few of US READERS write frequent enough supporting words to demonstrate that we JOIN WITH YOU in this battle of retained silence and protection for the abusers VERSUS the needed support that could be offered to the abused

    Why do I personally not respond?? …. a myriad of reasons … some legitimate … some not

    Most each time I read one of these POSTS (similar response each time I read SIMROOTS) – I typically am bombarded (absolutely OVERWHELMED) by memories, feelings, intense emotions, thoughts, new opinions … It takes extreme energy out of the “core me” as I try to process the conglomerated MESS of all the above into a concise and rational acknowledgment to “share out there”

    I may start, but inevitably find myself shredding into tiny little pieces inside. Invariably, I need to put it all “on the back burner” because there is a real-and-now life that I must in turn deal with (ineffective as I am in dealing with my real-and-now life) LONG before I can create words out of feelings and memories, transfer them to thoughts, and follow up by putting them into sentences with value worthy to impart to others. Life keeps happening around me and I find I am forced by default to keep trying to survive life – Personally I know nothing about and have no experience with thriving in life!

    My request: Is for YOU to continue to share these various informations that you are discovering for as long as YOU CHOOSE to do so (related to YOUR PASSION and CONCERN surrounding these various topics). I encourage YOU not to give in to any discouragement regarding the actual responses that are showing up. I believe that what YOU are sharing is growing roots of strength and offering various forms of healing opportunity for many of us readers

    I doubt very much that I am alone in these thoughts

    I enjoy your personality and character as I glean them through your writings. YOU have a loving and giving heart. YOU have a compassionate heart for the wounded and hurting

    take care of you

  13. Thank you for keeping us informed – For investment of your time to process the information you have uncovered throughout your many searches

    Thank you for all the various Resource Links that you typically share. This allows for us (readers of this Link) to have the opportunity to also process the same informations that you were processing and then shared about. This allows us the ability to process not only your thoughts but your sources as well

    I find you to be open minded and willing for all of us who read here – to read, think, and then in the end make up our own opinions. I never feel as if you are attempting to “control me” even while you are sharing your personal take on various subjects – via your own personal experience, those you know in person, as well as the many articles and groups you keep yourself informed through

    You matter!

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