Fundamentalist Christian bastion Bob Jones University has sparked controversy after summarily dismissing a consultant group investigating the way the school handled sexual assault accusations.
In 2012, the Greenville, S.C., school hired Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to investigate how the university responded to reports of sexual assault, the New York Times reports. The group's findings were set to be released in March.
For years there have been allegations that Bob Jones University had been stifling the reporting of sexual assaults, and the school's decision to dismiss GRACE late last month -- mere weeks before its report would be made public -- has therefore been criticized by former students and others affiliated with the school.
“As always, they’re worried about protecting the church and the university, not the victims,” Camille Lewis, a former Bob Jones student and faculty member, told the New York Times.
Others associated with the school said they had always suspected the investigation "was too good to be true." Speaking with local station WYYF News 4, former Bob Jones student Erin Burchwell said she had hoped the GRACE report would validate her allegations.
Burchwell said a male student molested her several times in the 1990s, but when she reported the abuse, school officials requested she not go to the police. She told the outlet that administrators also seemed to imply the assaults were partly her fault.
"What was I wearing when all these incidents occurred? What did I have on? Was it tight? Was it low? Obviously, the point being it was somehow my fault," she told WYYF News 4.
On Feb. 6, GRACE posted a notice about the university's decision to terminate the agreement "days before [it] was to conduct the last interviews." A representative declined to comment further when contacted by The Huffington Post on Wednesday.
In a video posted on the school's website, President Stephen Jones stressed it was the university's decision to look back at cases of alleged abuse. He vowed to finish the investigation with or without GRACE.
"GRACE had begun going beyond the originally outlined intentions," he said. "Since the termination, we have intended to immediately negotiate a new contract with GRACE that would enable them to complete the review to achieve our objectives ... It's disappointing that we were not able to have that conversation and reach agreement and continue the process before GRACE went public with it."
This is not the first time questions surrounding Bob Jones' sexual assault policies have surfaced. In November, Al Jazeera America spoke to several Bob Jones students who said the school's strict moral guidelines made talking about abuse difficult.
“The typical response to sexual abuse is first they need to forgive their abuser, and second is that they shouldn’t talk about it or it will hurt the cause of Christ," Jeffrey Hoffman, an alumni of the Bob Jones elementary, junior high and high school academies, told the news outlet. Hoffman told Al Jazeera he was molested on church premises by a Sunday school teacher when he was a boy.
The school's handbook forbids "physical contact between unmarried men and women" and counts "hard-core pornography, sensual behavior or use of alcohol or drugs" as a major moral failure.
Bob Jones University spokesman Randy Page previously told Al Jazeera that hiring GRACE was a "proactive" measure and not prompted by any incident.
"When cases of abuse are reported, BJU will place the interests of the victim first," Page told the outlet. "BJU believes that a victim of abuse or neglect is not to blame for the abuse foisted on him or her. BJU will take reasonable steps to protect the safety of a victim when a report is made."
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