In late July of 2016, The Mennonite sent interview questions to Lauren Shifflett and her sister Marissa Buck for the article Gordon Houser was preparing. Barbra Graber, Lauren’s advocate, was copied on the communication.
The article was published on August 8, 2016.
The bulk of Marissa’s interview was not included in the report and we feel her answers are central to understanding the perspective of the ones harmed in this case.
From Marissa Buck to Hannah Heinzekehr
July 28, 2016
Here are our answers to your questions. Lauren and I were originally going to answer separately, but we feel so similarly, and Lauren is just plum worn out from dealing with this mess, that we’re sending these joint answers. You can quote it as being both of us, or as just being from me. Laur, let Hannah know if you would rather she just quote me. We will have a very strong response once the investigative group is announced, so don’t forget to come back to us once it is! [I don’t believe they did]
Wishing you well!
Hannah: When you published your initial blogs on Our Stories Untold, what kind of response did you receive from Virginia Mennonite Conference leaders, if any?
Marissa: We did not receive any response from Virginia Mennonite Conference. No response from Clyde Kratz or any other member. I expected that they would reach out to ask clarifying questions about Duane’s actions and to tell us their plan for responding to Duane’s misconduct, but they did not.
Hannah: What was the process for pulling together this new, formal complaint?
Marissa: A community leader actually initiated the complaint. She and some others in the conference were uncomfortable that VMC did nothing after learning of Duane’s actions so she contacted us through Barbra and asked if submitting a formal complaint was something we wanted to be part of. We were so grateful! We were uncomfortable, too, but hadn’t known what to do.
Hannah: Did you share the complaint with Lindale Mennonite Church leaders?
Marissa: No. We had notified the Elders of Duane’s actions, our concerns, and asked them to remove Duane from leadership prior to our blog posts going up. Lindale leadership completely stopped communicating with us after that.
Hannah: Have you received any response from Lindale Mennonite Church leaders regarding the allegations against Duane?
Marissa: No. Lindale leadership stopped communicating with us after our posts went up and never addressed our concerns about Duane. I do not know if Dawn backed-up the information she had shared with us. It is apparent to us that they are standing behind Duane.
Hannah: Patsy Seitz from VMC responded to you, citing the upcoming investigation as part of VMC’s process. What do you think about this response?
Marissa: I am upset. Duane is in leadership at a church that I love dearly and I do not believe he is a safe person. He reportedly withheld information from EMU about Luke Hartman that put students at risk. He retraumatized my sister by disbelieving her and protecting Luke. And now we find out that VMC reportedly has a “sealed file” on him? I am worried about the people under Duane’s care now. Who knows how long the independent investigation will take (and whether it will truly be independent, since all of the institutions being investigated were given input into who would investigate them). VMC seems to be trying to pass on the responsibility of holding Duane accountable to someone else and anyone under Duane’s influence may be hurt in the meantime. If Patsy Seitz and VMC truly take this seriously then they should be protecting church members by doing their own investigation of Duane, NOW. And that sealed file needs to be opened! If Duane has been accused of misconduct in the past it is dangerous that the details of that misconduct be a secret.
Hannah: What are you hoping for most from this investigation process?
Marissa: I want the Mennonite Church to become a safe place.
I want Duane held accountable for protecting Luke and re-traumatizing Lauren and any other misconduct. I want EMU leadership held accountable for reportedly ignoring complaints of inappropriate behavior by Luke for years, [not just in Lauren’s case], which put innocent people at risk. I want the church’s response to abuse victims to change. No more silencing, ignoring, and disbelieving victims. No more blind “forgiveness” for sexual predators or the people that are protecting them.
From Barbra Graber to Hannah Heinzekehr with Lauren and Marissa copied
July 28, 2016
Hi ya’all. So grateful to you Hannah for writing this article and including Lauren and Marissa’s voice. You are literally the ONLY ones in church leadership who are talking to them at present. (Correct me if I’m wrong M and L)
Since our time with the Panel in Harrisonburg we have had to elbow and plead and persist our way into being included in even the tiniest part of the process.
After a long thread of email communications Lauren succeeded in setting up an informal meeting with President of EMU, Loren Swartzentruber scheduled for July 25, after his term was up. On July 20 he backed out of it claiming he was ‘advised against it.’ Nancy and Anna from the Panel just yesterday finally agreed to talk with us.
We (Lauren, Marissa, OSU, and SNAP as representative survivor networks) have been given no voice whatsoever in the review and decision of the outside investigator. Please report this. Without opportunity for any discussion or input we received notice that institutional leaders were meeting to plan the process, (Ervin and Carlos’s statement of June 14, 2016) and we were not included, even though we are the harmed party and the ones most central to the opening up of this case and its secrets.
If it cared about survivors at all, as it claims, the church would be eager for our expertise and input. We were pleased with the choice of GRACE by the Panel, but then what felt like an iron door of silence came down between the church leaders and those of us survivor advocates seeking representation and participation.
Please quote me any way you like– or not. I want this piece to be about the many others who have joined this outcry.
Love to you all, sending you strength and the patience and persistence of my dog holding on for dear life to her chew toy!
On Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 8:34 AM, Hannah wrote:
Hi Lauren, Marissa and Barbra,
Gordon is hard at work on the first draft of a story for Monday’s TMail about the panel process and I will edit and add to it soon. I’ve been following all of the social media action (we’re planning to quote from your Google note, Marissa) and also heard about the behind the scenes conversation with DSA. Has DSA responded to you? Do you know if you are planning to endorse them? If you could let us know when you have a decision, I’d like to report what YOU think about the group.
On Fri August 5, 2016 Barbra Graber wrote:
Thanks Hannah. Quick answer. I’ve not been able to reach Lauren or Marissa this morning. This could be a quote from me. Marissa and Lauren are also welcome to send you quotes or choose any of this to say for themselves in your article if they like.
The unwavering request of Lauren and Marissa in a variety of forms to numerous church leaders continues to be:
Trust the Panel’s original and carefully considered recommendation of GRACE and move forward. If you don’t use GRACE then its back to the drawing board, this time with our full involvement and participation.
So, no, we are not planning to endorse a firm Lauren and Marissa and the Benners had no part in choosing. We cannot quickly rubber stamp a firm the Panel (except for Anna, who was not even allowed to take information back to her Panel) had no part in choosing, nor OSU and SNAP, both well established groups of Mennonite survivors have had any part in choosing. We will not offer a quick opinion at this late hour after having been completely barred from a long and complex process.
Do they expect us to quick scramble around to attempt to do our own research and then produce an opinion after they’ve refused to share their own research and details with us? Why didn’t they take the advice of those they appointed to prevent sexual abuse in our church in the first place? You can’t just take away from the Panel the task you gave them and then expect all those you have barred from the process to jump on board with you. Trust has been broken repeatedly and until it is rebuilt through actions that support our cause, decisions made without us are highly suspect.
We will continue to assess whether or not this inquiry protects at all costs the needs and wishes of survivors, in particular Lauren Shifflet and her family. We will assess whether it merits our participation, our time and our attention. We will under no circumstances reveal the identities of the victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers that have come forward to us concerning this case without their full permission.
Read Marissa’s FB post #LetSurvivorsLead for the latest.
Correspondence Between Barbra Graber and Gordon Houser
From: Barbra Graber
Sent: Friday, August 5, 2016 11:07 AM
To: Gordon Houser
Subject: !! Please add this to article?
Forgot to include you in the first one, Gordon and I see Hannah is away! Very important that we try to get this word out and would appreciate your helping us out if you can…:
We will continue to assess whether or not this inquiry protects at all costs the safety, needs and wishes of survivors, witnesses and whistleblowers, in particular Lauren Shifflet and her family. We will assess whether it merits our participation, our time and our attention. We will under no circumstances reveal the identities of anyone that has come forward confidentially to us concerning this case without their full permission.
On Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 1:02 PM, Gordon Houser <GordonH@themennonite.org> wrote:
Thanks, Barbra. Has Lauren decided she doesn’t want DSA to investigate, and has she or you communicated that with Ervin? I really need to know that before I can interview Ervin and Iris to write my story.
On Fri Aug 5, 2016, Barbra Graber wrote:
You have Lauren’s statement. Her sister Marissa has made a public statement concerning DSA. See her FB page. To my knowledge Ervin has not attempted to communicate with either Lauren or me concerning his choice of investigators. That would be his prerogative.