According to an investigative report from Al Jazeera America, rape victims searching for help at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., were told to repent and seek out their own “root sin” that caused them to be raped.
Within the past year BJU has opened its own investigation into sexual abuse and rape, and now former students who were victimized are coming forward to tell their stories about life on a campus where they were shamed and told to keep their stories to themselves.
Coming from a conservative Mennonite family, Katie Landry, who at age 19 had never even held hands with a boy, was raped multiple times by her supervisor at her summer job. Two years later, haunted by the attacks, and attending Bob Jones University, she sought help from then dean of students, Jim Berg.
According to Landry, Berg asked whether she’d been drinking or smoking pot and if she had been “impure.” He then brought up her “root sin.”
“He goes, ‘Well, there’s always a sin under other sin. There’s a root sin,’” Landry explained. “And he said, ‘We have to find the sin in your life that caused your rape.’ And I just ran.”
“He just confirmed my worst nightmare,” she added. “It was something I had done. It was something about me. It was my fault.”
Landry eventually withdrew from the school and didn’t tell anyone else for five more years.
In interviews with Al Jazeera, other victims of abuse related how Biblical scripture was used to lay blame for the rapes on their own sins, and that their trauma was a sign that they were fighting God and would never be at peace until they forgave their rapists.
Called the “Fortress of Fundamentalism, ” Bob Jones University’s philosophical approach to almost all mental problems, beyond medical issues, is that they are the result of sin.
In a 1996 book, ‘Becoming an Effective Christian Counselor,’ written by former BJU Dean of Education Walter Fremont and his wife, counselors are instructed to emphasize that the blame lies with the abuser. However, the authors also state that being sexually assaulted is not an excuse for “sinful feelings” of discontentment, hate, fear, and especially, bitterness; calling unresolved anger “rebellion and bitterness against God.”
Previously Al Jazeera reported on a BJU student named identified only as Lydia, who had been raped off campus and, seeking help, reported it to the school authorities only to eventually be expelled for dwelling upon it and questioning the schools handling of the incident.