An open letter from OurStoriesUntold to Eastern Mennonite University in response to its statement regarding L. Shifflett’s testimony
You are misleading the public when you refer to Hartman’s aggressive behavior toward Lauren as “past”. It was not prior to his employment but during his employment as Vice President for Enrollment that the stalking incident, which led Lauren to reach out to Lindale for help, occurred. Where and from whom did you get your timeline, and why was Barbra Graber (Mennonite@snapnetwork.org, 540-214-8874), as Lauren’s SNAP advocate, not contacted to confirm it before you chose to publicly contradict Lauren’s testimony? We are tired of reading the lie repeated in the church press that Hartman’s atrocious behavior toward Lauren happened only prior to his employment at EMU. Hartman was an EMU VP in September of 2014. It is clear in her story that she came forward to Lindale out of fear of Luke in August of 2014 and that Lindale leaders contacted EMU around that time. By referring to Hartman’s relationship with Lauren as “past” at the time it came to your attention, all we have left to conclude is that you do not believe her.
.. Secondly, when you refer to Luke Hartman’s behavior toward Lauren simply as a “relationship” rather than qualifying that relationship as one marked by “stalking” or “abuse” your decision not to acknowledge the violent nature of Luke’s behavior toward Lauren suggests, again, that you either do not believe Lauren or do not consider the terror she experienced relevant to the role of the university now or in 2014.
.. These disciplinary actions and measures were commensurate with what we learned about his past behavior and were also done in the context of the measures taken by Luke’s church.”
What “past behavior” did you know about and why aren’t you telling us about it here? Public safety is at stake. In not disclosing this information you are continuing to help protect a known predator.
.. Lauren, however, has now provided lots of new information that reveals Luke’s behavior as also sexually violent, abusive and manipulative. Does she get any of your gratitude? Why not take this perfect opportunity to say “Thank you, Lauren! Thank you for your bravery in providing this critically important information that contributes to the safety of all.” Why not take this perfect opportunity to say WE BELIEVE YOU, LAUREN. Instead you subtly but clearly again distance yourself from her by sidestepping any admission that her account had any import for you.
.. We are glad Lauren’s story has moved you to examine and learn. We also need to know whose professional counsel it is that you will seek. You have not shown, in your handling of this situation in 2014, in your silence ever since, and in the statement you sent to employees and students, that you are committed to the best interests of survivors and those most vulnerable to sexual violence. You are not in a position to ask that we blindly trust you to live out such a commitment adequately going forward. Will the professionals you seek teach you how to become even more skilled at refraining from taking responsibility for the fact that a known predator continued on in a high position that gave him easy access to young prospective students? Such professionals exist and are consulted regularly by universities all around the country. Or, will the professionals you seek truly help you learn to prioritize and advocate for those vulnerable to abuse? We hope for the latter, but only your transparency will assure us that this is, indeed, the path you choose.
.. Since Lauren’s harm has gone unacknowledged, your acknowledgement here that many individuals have been harmed (which, in itself, is certainly true) functions to minimize the harm she experienced. You have made her harm relative and unexceptional. Know also that when you do not express solidarity with survivors your prayers for grace and healing are unwelcome (some use the word “sickening”) to the ear of survivors who have been abandoned and betrayed by the church.
.. No, actually you should not be advising anyone who has been sexually violated to go to EMU’s counseling center or campus pastors. Such resources may provide excellent service for other student needs, but victims of sexual violence have special legal as well as emotional needs that require very special training. An invitation to report any incidents or suspicions of sexual violence in-house offers institutions the opportunity to hide, minimize, and manipulate its reports of rape and sexual misconduct for its own benefit. As of now, victims have no certainty of a fair and impartial hearing or advocacy by anyone related to EMU because the advocates who are there to offer them support are employed by the institution responsible for their safety and thus legally liable.
.. Cases of sexual violence must not be dealt with in-house. We have heard too many stories of tragically harmful counsel from Mennonite employees of Mennonite institutions for far too many years to allow such invitations to go unchallenged.
.. Sharing testimony is one way that survivors put their lives back together. Secrecy is a huge part of what makes abuse violent and devastating. Victims of abuse receive the strong message from perpetrators and from society that they must stay quiet, and this rule of secrecy is precisely what enables the cycle of abuse to continue. When survivors tell their stories, they are (in the act of telling of the story!) both dismantling the power that the rule of secrecy has held over their lives and taking back a healthy degree of control in their lives. Deciding if, when, how and how much of one’s story to tell is literally a process that puts pieces of a survivor’s control over their own body, mind and life back into their hands.
.. One of the ways the rule of secrecy becomes so strong, both for people experiencing abuse and amidst North American culture more broadly, is that we have this pervasive idea that being abused is something one should feel shame about. Of course, well-meaning folks would never explicitly say that victims of abuse should be ashamed of themselves, but we send precisely this message when we say that certain parts of survivor’s experiences ought not to be publicly shared, that they ought to stay hidden. If someone is murdered or kidnapped or robbed, we all expect that the details will be publicly shared, and while we rightly feel devastated for the ripples of suffering that befall the loved ones of both the victims and perpetrators, we do not see it as the victim’s fault that public awareness of the violent offense brings suffering to the community. Any harm that knowledge of violence brings to the family or community of the one who perpetrated that violence is the responsibility of the one who acted violently, not the one who disclosed the information to the public.
.. Public testimony regarding abuse is especially important when the one who acted violently is a community or institutional leader. It is a common mistake of our culture to think of abuse as primarily about private relationships. Abuse, even when it manifests between two individuals, is about wider problems of power and control. Institutions, particularly educational institutions like EMU, have an ethical and legal responsibility to do everything in their power to create a climate in which members of the community are protected from the threat of violence, including the violence of abuse. Thus, when a leader in such an institution perpetrates such violence it must be investigated thoroughly and transparently.
.. I’ll only say that it is not responsible, ethical, or faithful for anyone to make reconciliation the responsibility of a survivor of abuse. To do so is to misunderstand and abuse the Christian concept of reconciliation, which has everything to do with transformative justice.
.. we simply don’t know what Lindale told EMU when they learned of Luke’s abusive relationship with Lauren. When EMU first heard of Lauren’s situation in 2014, we don’t know specifically what was communicated. Lindale may have only communicated Luke’s past relationship with Lauren (i.e. not the stalking incidents), which would explain EMU’s use of the language
.. am unsurprised that their disciplinary actions were not made public for a couple of reasons. One, there is probably a lot of legal red-tape to get through, both on a state and institutional level, which may limit what they can or cannot disclose
.. My guess is that EMU is not making a hard stance with Lauren at this time because they are still trying to reconcile the Luke they knew with the Luke they have been presented. We know that there are always more than one side to a story, and that the truth is generally some combination of the sides. I think EMU is trying to discover as much of the full, true story as they can, and want to avoid “taking a side” in order to be an unbiased arbiter of the situation.
.. I have to point out, When I went to EMU they basically fired (pushed out) a professor for making a statement about supporting gay marriage, just a statement. Even if Lindale didn’t tell all the details knowing that there is a student/ former student who has been harmed by an employee should be grounds enough for being fired.
.. What I’ve noticed is that people are often sympathetic to survivors, yet turn their backs when accountability is called for.
.. Lack of objectivity” and “too many emotions” have been coded phrases for silencing women in particular, as well as survivors of all genders, for quite some time. This may be an area where EMU Senior would like to reflect a little and do some more reading and thinking.
It’s obvious EMU Senior feels a real stake in this issue, as indicated from the time spent composing such a long and in-depth comment. What is at stake, I wonder? Is there an investment in EMU’s reputation and identity? Is there an desire to disbelieve that Mennonite cultures and theologies could contribute to violence? That’s an area worth exploring.
.. You said: I don’t think “innocent until proven guilty of enabling a sexual abuser” is a radical proposal for a principle.
Actually, I heard a law enforcement officer tell a room full of lawyers just the opposite. Sexual violence is NOT a crime that should be considered “innocent until proven guilty.” Quite the opposite. This is why the law requires mandatory reporters to report any “reasonable cause to suspect” sexual abuse. Sexual predators love it when you and I give them the benefit of the doubt. They know how to play that victim card to its full effect
.. I agree with you here. It is not that there are huge numbers of men who abuse it is that 1) when someone is abusive, he or she tends to have many, many victims (from the hundreds into the thousands) and the tendency continues through life unless/until exposed.
.. I can tell you that evidence has come to light. I can certainly tell you that those who hired Luke had the ability to get a good understanding of the situation if they had chosen to make the effort. Much of this story has not been told, so please don’t draw conclusions about institutional innocence. If the rest of the story is not soon told by EMU or an independent investigation then we will do what we can to tell it as best we can within the bounds of legal responsibility and ethical integrity and according to the wishes of those whose stories we hold. Suffice it to say, the public is still being kept in the dark about a whole lot of things regarding this issue. And there should be a whole lot more outrage about that than there is, in my opinion. But this topic is difficult, especially for those who have sexual secrets of their own to protect.