Updates from the Independent Abuse Review Panel
Missionaries’ children who are now adults seldom fail to mention their gratitude for having had the opportunity to live in another culture. Though many wish they had not been sent to boarding schools at a young age, they speak fondly of teachers and dorm parents who cared for them in their parents' absence.
Tragically, not all children sent to boarding school experienced a protective and loving environment. Just as their parents exhibited bravery by traveling to distant lands, some of these children have also shown courage. They have spoken out about having been physically or sexually abused. They have challenged the church to act with courage.
When missionary kids (MKs) spoke out, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) formed two investigative bodies: first the Independent Committee of Inquiry (ICI), which issued its final report in 2002 about abuse in Congo from 1945-1978; later, the Independent Abuse Review Panel (IARP). Like its predecessor, the IARP looks into past physical and sexual abuse. PC(USA) also adopted policies and procedures for prevention of sexual abuse and created the Office of Ombudsperson staffed by Carol Hartmann. Working with churches and schools serving missionaries’ children, she promotes prevention and awareness and responds to allegations of current abuse.
What is the IARP doing?
As an independent body, we see ourselves working on behalf of three former missionary groups:
- abused individuals yearning for healing and justice;
- parents who entrusted the care of their children to others; and
- the church, which in recent years has recommitted itself to the protection and nurture of children.
The IARP’s charter states that it was established “to pursue the truth, encourage healing, and promote justice.” In our efforts to pursue the truth, we listen to victims. Then we try to find others able to add to our knowledge of the school setting and the scope of the abuse that may have occurred there. We are very concerned about locating other victims, as perpetrators do not usually abuse just one or two individuals.
In pursuing truth we face several challenges. Perhaps chief among them is difficulty in locating alumni of a given school. The denomination did not keep records on children of missionaries. Understandably, schools and groups that send out alumni newsletters or who maintain a mailing list are protective of that information. In our effort to contact MK alumni we have relied on parents. We are currently establishing a database of retired missionaries. To add to the difficulties, paper based missionary files are archived in Philadelphia and Montreat. In spite of the challenges, the panel has been able to correspond with 163 former missionaries and locate 183 MKs.
To increase awareness of our work, we are developing this Web site and a brochure. PC(USA) is also helping us produce a short video that will be distributed as a CD. The video is an educational piece informing viewers about the effects of abuse, how survivors have found healing, and what families can do to promote healing.
What does the IARP do once it receives a report of abuse?
All communication with survivors and other individuals providing information is kept in strictest confidence. We have received reports of abuse at six of the nineteen schools identified as places MKs attended in the past. At this point we do not know how far reaching the abuse by individual perpetrators extends. While each case varies, we have established a general protocol for further inquiry.
The investigative phase involves:
- listening and responding to the survivor’s account of the abuse;
- contacting others who may have known about the abuse at the time;
- and locating other victims.
What can you do to further healing for individuals and for the missionary community?
Educate yourself on the effects of abuse in the missionary community by reading the fiinal report of the ICI or requesting a copy at no charge by contacting Carol Hartmann, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 100 Witherspoon, Room 5631A, Louisville, KY 40202, (800) 728-7228, x5207.
Encourage anyone you know to have been physically or sexually abused to contact us at IARP, P.O. Box 18241, Rochester, NY 14618, (800) 728-7228, x5207 (toll-free). Offer emotional support as s/he struggles with what to do.
Help the IARP further develop its contact list. See the list of schools identified so far. If you or your children attended other schools, please share the information with us.
We welcome all contact information about former MKs from all countries and mission fields.