Days after being demoted as president of Baylor University over the university’s mishandling of sexual assault among its students, former Whitewater special prosecutor Ken Starr told ESPN June 1 he is resigning as chancellor.
Starr, elected president of the world’s largest Baptist educational institution in 2010, told ESPN’s Joe Schad in an interview with “Outside the Lines” that he didn’t know about failures to address reports of sexual assault in the school’s athletics department detailed in an independent investigation but he “willingly accepted responsibility.”
“The captain goes down with the ship,” he said.
Baylor’s board of regents announced May 26 that Starr would no longer serve in the role of president effective May 31. David Garland, former dean and professor at Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, was named interim president. Starr continues to teach in Baylor’s law school.
Football coach Art Briles was suspended with intent to terminate, and athletic director Ian McCaw resigned in a shakeup after independent counsel Pepper Hamilton, LLP, found “a fundamental failure by Baylor” in its enforcement of Title IX, a program than bans sex discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
The report said athletics department leadership failed to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence within the football program, discouraged women from reporting abuse and in at least one case retaliated against someone for reporting sexual assault.
While the high-profile scandal is making headlines across the country, victim advocates say the pattern is not uncommon in religious organizations, including churches, unprepared for responding appropriately to incidents of sexual abuse.
“Baylor chose to support and protect itself and image over the precious lives of students,” said Amy Smith, a Texas representative of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “While this is certainly newsworthy, sadly, this skewed priority is an all-too-familiar guiding, operational structure among Baptist churches as well.”
Smith, herself a Baylor graduate, said too often churches try to handle allegations of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults in-house and not report them to police. The result, she said, is “revictimization.”
“Victims are blamed, perpetrators enabled, and more lives placed at risk. Sexual assault must be rightly viewed as a crime and reported to law enforcement, not just as sin or ‘inappropriate behavior’ to be handled as a spiritual and behavioral matter by the church or managed by a football coach or university administration.”
Dee Miller, an author and activist, says the pattern is nothing new. It’s been nearly 25 years since her 1993 memoir How Little We Knew described how her and her husband’s missionary careers were derailed because of their persistence in trying to get a fellow missionary who was preying on women and children off the mission field.
Miller coined a name for collusion in institutions and families that shelter abusers: “DIM thinking,” an acronym for three “demons” of denial, ignorance and minimization.
“We are all prone to participate in any or all of those elements,” Miller wrote in an article on her website. “In fact, survivors generally do for a long time before facing reality.”
Miller said collusion can be either active or passive and commonly includes “games” like passing the buck, “an endless game which allows persons at every level and in every capacity of an organization to rationalize that the work of investigating and then holding a perpetrator accountable belongs somewhere else.”
Christa Brown, author of This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher and His Gang, learned those rules in 2006, when she sent letters to 18 church and denominational leaders about a substantiated report involving a minister’s sexual abuse of a minor and then on her own discovered the man was still involved in ministry.
“The Findings of Fact reveal patterns of institutional failure at Baylor that are similar to what we have seen in the handling of sexual assault allegations within many other organizations, including many Baptist organizations,” Brown said May 31. “They are systemic and embedded patterns, and it will take a strong and long-continuing institutional commitment to eradicate them.”
Baylor’s board of regents apologized for “a fundamental failure” to the many survivors who sought help from the university but were turned away.
“Baylor’s mission to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community remains our primary imperative,” said chair-elect Ron Murff. “The board has taken decisive action to ensure the university’s priorities are aligned with our unyielding commitment to that mission.”
Starr, 69, told ESPN that transparency is needed at Baylor. “As each day goes by that need becomes more and more pressing,” he said.
“We need to put this horrible experience behind us. We need to be honest.”