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Mennonite Church USA urged to do outreach in school sex case

1.11. 2016 Written By: Barbra Graber, Anabaptist Mennonite Chapter of SNAP* 1,709 read

The views expressed do not necessarily represent the official positions of Mennonite Church USA, The Mennonite or the board for The Mennonite, Inc. 

*The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is the world’s oldest and largest support group for sexual abuse victims and their loved ones. It was founded by victims of Catholic priests in 1988 and now has more than 21,000 members in over 79 countries. SNAP is open to all religious and nonreligious persons who were sexually violated by anyone inside or outside a faith community. The Anabaptist Mennonite Chapter of SNAP was established in early 2015. A confidential SNAP Survivors Support Group meets the first Thursday of every month in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Call or text 540-214-8874 for more information. You can also e-mail Mennonite@snapnetwork.org

March 3 update: After a Mennonite university official was accused of soliciting prostitution, our group urged anyone who might have seen, suspected or suffered any misdeeds by him to come forward. We have since heard from several individuals. We thank those concerned persons who have come forward to us via our confidential email at mennonite@snapnetwork.org and by word of mouth.

Today we repeat our invitation. If anyone has seen, suspected, or suffered misconduct at the hands of Luke Hartman or any other Mennonite church official, we urge them to report to local law enforcement professionals, a civil attorney, a therapist or crisis counselor trained in sexual abuse, or an independent survivors’ group like SNAP. All information SNAP receives is confidential.  Due to potential conflicts of interest, we do not recommend reporting to employees or appointees of the Mennonite church or its institutions or agencies.

Original Jan. 11 statement: Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Harrisonburg, Va., has reported that its Vice President for Enrollment, Luke Hartman, was among those charged by the Harrisonburg Police Department for solicitation of prostitution. Hartman has since been suspended from his duties.

We do not presume Hartman’s innocence or guilt and have no reason to believe he hurt any EMU students. We hope that is not the case. A distinction should be made between solicitation of prostitution and abuse. A person who does one does not necessarily do the other.

However, research indicates many people engaged in prostitution are victims of sexual abuse. The average age of persons entering prostitution is 12. Sex trafficking is a major problem in the Shenandoah Valley [the region where EMU is located]. Research also finds that men who buy sex may have much in common with sexually coercive men.

Thus, Mennonite institutions have a responsibility to respond to charges of soliciting prostitution with sensitivity to its relationship with sexual abuse.

As a concerned group of Mennonite-related survivors and advocates, we urge Eastern Mennonite University and Skyline Middle School officials in Virginia and Hesston (Kan.) College officials, where Hartman has worked, as well as Mennonite Church USA officials, where Hartman has been a prominent speaker at youth conventions, to use mailings, newsletters, websites and any other means to reach out publicly to potential victims, witnesses or whistleblowers and invite them to provide any additional information they may have. These officials should actively help police and prosecutors by encouraging anyone in their organizations who may have seen, suspected, or suffered any crimes committed by Hartman to come forward.

Such public actions by church and school officials make it clear beyond any doubt that they are serious about truly preventing and ending all forms of sexual misconduct by those in their employ.

To be prudent, our church and educational institutions must become boldly proactive and transparent, not silent, in cases of suspected sexual crimes and exploitation against innocent young people and vulnerable adults.

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