Why Abuse Survivors Still Think Twice Before Telling their Stories: Retaliation At Goshen College

by Stephanie Krehbiel and Hilary Scarsella

ACTION ALERT: We’re asking folks to send email of support for survivors to Goshen College’s president and board. It can take a little as 30 seconds to amplify survivors’ voices.

Documentation:
Introduction to May 5 event from Anneliese Baer
Victim Impact Statement from Anneliese Baer
Victim Impact Statement from Rachel Stoltzfus
Update Statement from Erin Bergen (July 2018)
Goshen Signed Resolution Agreement with U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights
Facebook Live Stream video of statements by Anneliese Baer and Rachel Stoltzfus, recorded at Goshen College, May 5, 2018

“There are many survivors who would like to be present today, but are restricted by time, financial burden, and the ever-present weight of Goshen College’s past inaction and silence surrounding our abuse. Let us not forget the voices that are not present today, and the implications of who has the most access to this space. As we take in these stories, remember that this meeting is not happening in a vacuum. It is happening after 6 years of constant silencing, and that affects how the information is presented today.”
–Anneliese Baer, May 5, 2018, Goshen College

On May 5, two courageous women who were abused in the Goshen College women’s soccer program, Rachel Stoltzfus and Anneliese Baer, spoke on the Goshen College campus about their experiences. Their stories included testimony about sexual harassment, racial misconduct, homophobia, stalking, financial manipulation, emotional abuse, housing and food deprivation, and life-threatening physical conditions. The stories began with the 2011-2012 school year, spanned the tenure of two different coaching teams, and implicated multiple current and former members of the Goshen administration and Athletic Department. Rachel and Anneliese spoke in front of Goshen President Rebecca Stoltzfus, a select group of students, the president’s cabinet, and other invited members of the larger Goshen community.

At the behest of other victims of abuse in the Goshen athletic department who could not be present or were legitimately fearful of retaliation if they showed up at the May 5 meeting, Anneliese and Rachel made their statements accessible to fellow victims and their supporters through a public Facebook Live video. In the time since that meeting, a number of Goshen leaders have tried to discredit the survivors who spoke, focusing on their decision to do so publicly. These survivors agreed to a physical meeting with a restricted guest list, but contrary to some of the recent assertions made by administrators and Goshen board members, there was never any agreement about containing these victim impact statements behind closed doors. Accusing these women of wrongdoing for publicly streaming their own words has operated as a convenient pressure valve for an administration that is clearly facing the heat from multiple directions.

We are sympathetic to the pressures administrators and board members face when confronted with the failure of their institution to adequately respond to abuse, but managing such pressures is well within the job description for administrators, and well within the expected commitments for board members. These women are not asking Goshen leaders to do anything but their jobs, and even that request, they make at great personal risk to themselves. It’s the responsibility of Goshen’s board and administrators to negotiate the difficult dynamics of their positions without passing the burden of that difficulty on to survivors calling the college to account for abuse they experienced at Goshen as students.

One of the most harmful things a college president can do, after revelations of systemic abuse in an athletic department, is to attack the integrity of survivor whistleblowers in front of all the students and personnel in that same department. When administrators and boards try to take pressure off of themselves by criticizing victims, the only people who really benefit, ultimately, are abusers.

And yes, that has already happened at Goshen, since May 5.

Survivors’ fears of retaliation have not been unfounded. As Into Account has continued to work with survivors at Goshen, they have brought us extensive documentation and evidence of recent retaliation. Due to confidentiality and our concerns about further retaliation, we are not sharing all the details we have at this point. However, it is our confident opinion that Goshen administration and Board of Directors share responsibility for responding to abuse revelations and May 5 victim impact statements with tactics that have fomented further abuse against current students.

On a related note, Goshen College is currently in a mandatory agreement with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education, due to multiple failures in Goshen’s Title IX protections against sexual harassment. Those failures were found by OCR investigators after our client, Erin Bergen, filed a federal complaint against Goshen for mishandling her own case of sexual assault.

Title IX forbids retaliation against students who report abuse. Title IX also demands that schools take preventive action to protect students from hostile environments. Since May 5, in our opinion, Goshen has already failed on both counts. Those failures have caused terrible harm in individual lives. Furthermore, these failures are undermining what we had dearly hoped was some concrete progress in Goshen’s approach to race and sex discrimination.

As victim advocates representing current and former students who have experienced both, we are in the difficult position of receiving multiple reassurances from Goshen officials that we feel unable to trust, due to duplicitous actions that have intimidated and retraumatized our clients.

Not only are administrative attacks on victims unethical, immoral, and frequently illegal, they are also ultimately self-defeating. The past fifteen years of revelations about sexual assault cover-ups and high-profile administrative resignations at colleges and universities across the country should have taught this to all of us by now. The repressive tactics that worked for previous generations of leaders in higher education do not work any more. Social media is a large part of the reason why.

As of today, that Facebook live video of victim impact statements delivered to Goshen on May 5 has received nearly 3500 views. For a school as small as Goshen, that is a lot of views. There will be more. And these will not be the last Goshen survivors to come forward on social media and say #metoo.

Goshen owes these women. We need to be clear about that: the debt is flowing in one direction. There are far more victims from these soccer teams than those who spoke on May 5, and Goshen can never begin to repay them what they are owed. We are not going to entertain talk of our clients owing yet more gratitude to Goshen leaders for their willingness to listen to stories of abuse that happened in the recent past at Goshen. These women have been more than courteous. They deserve far better than to be treated like naughty children by officials from a school that is still struggling to meet minimal compliance standards related to the kinds of abuse that they suffered.

Survivors use social media because social media is the best way to reach other survivors. With the international #metoo movement, this is more the case than ever before. Social media allows us to organize while at the same time protecting us–albeit imperfectly–from physical and psychological peril. It gives us tools to resist the divide-and-conquer tactics we encounter from institutions. Survivors’ power is amplified through the people that we reach with our stories.

And thus, when college officials decry survivors’ use of social media, it’s time to pay extra attention to the content of what has been posted. To that end, we’re sharing the Facebook live video here, as well as printed versions of Anneliese’s and Rachel’s comments from the video.

We’re going to keep sharing their words. Into Account makes no apology for our role in disseminating their stories. Goshen cannot afford to attack these women; the news they carry is too important. When student athletes make up half of the student body, and when the bulk of recruiting of students of color happens through the athletic department, nothing is more important than making sure that the leaders and coaches of that department are people whose first priority is the health and safety of students. Not administrators’ egos. Not institutional reputation. Not fundraising goals. Right now, holding the health and safety of students as the first priority means practicing nondefensive solidarity with those who are asking for accountability, apology, and change.

To quote the refrain of thousands of wise activists over many years of struggle: People are more important than institutions. We understand the loyalty that can lead people to want to believe the best of their alma maters, particularly when they had good experiences there themselves, or know people who work there and work hard. But a college that builds its economic survival on the backs of abused students is undeserving of such loyalty. If you want the colleges and universities that you love to survive in a way that is worthy of your support, hold them to these high standards. Anything less is a betrayal of your trust.

 

ACTION ALERT: We’re asking folks to send email of support for survivors to Goshen College’s president and board. It can take a little as 30 seconds to amplify survivors’ voices.