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Dear friends,

Several weeks ago, my sister Lauren Shifflett announced her decision not to participate in the investigation taking place at Eastern Mennonite University by D. Stafford and Associates and explained her reasons why. I support her decision fully and after being asked to submit to an interview myself, I also have decided to decline.

My own full and detailed testimony was published on April 21st of this year on the public website OurStoriesUntold. I am asking DSA to please take my report into account.

I often forget that so many of you do not get to see behind the scenes, that you do not know the full extent of the conversations we’ve had or actions we’ve witnessed that have led us to question and feel uncomfortable with how Mennonite institutions have responded to us. It is unfortunately not possible to review all of it with you, but here is a small glimpse into some of those conversations.

Mennonite Church USA posted an article on June 14, 2016 detailing how an independent organization would be chosen. The article indicated that representatives from the three institutions (Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia Mennonite Conference, and Lindale Mennonite Church) would be involved in choosing who would investigate them. I was alarmed. This was a huge conflict of interest! I immediately emailed Ervin Stutzman, executive director of MC USA to express my concern about that conflict of interest and request that Lauren and her advocate Barbra Graber be included in the process. Here is my first email in full.

Ervin’s response was disheartening. He ignored my request to involve Lauren, making a general statement about how hard they are working to maintain integrity through this process and that “we want to do what is best…particularly for the sake of victims of sexual abuse anywhere in our church.” He told me that my concern about a conflict of interest was unfounded since it was “not the staff members involved from those entities…but rather [members of the] boards.” He also informed me that Herman Bontrager (board rep for EMU) and P. Marshall Yoder (EMU’s legal counsel) were involved in the decision making and that “since they [EMU] are being asked to pay for this service, they need to have a clear stake in the choice of the organization.”

I responded with a second email telling Ervin “I am baffled by the fact that you think choosing members from the boards of VMC, EMU, and LMC means there is no conflict of interest. Gloria Lehman, Chair of the Elder Board at Lindale Mennonite,  respects Duane very highly and chose to stop communicating with me and Lauren…If this is not a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is. Anyone who had/has a relationship with Luke, Duane [Yoder – Lindale pastor], Loren [Swartzendruber – former EMU president], Clyde [Kratz-Executive Virginia Conference Leader,] or others associated with these organizations has a conflict of interest. I am not feeling any more reassured by the fact that P. Marshall Yoder (EMU’s legal counsel) is involved in your decision. I have no confidence that he would choose an organization that might uncover information that would incriminate EMU. His job is to protect EMU, not survivors of sexual abuse. I do not know who the EMU leaders were who first heard about Luke’s relationship with an ‘unnamed female,’ but if the EMU board was involved, then Herman Bontrager has a conflict of interest. Was Herman in the room when Luke ‘confessed’?”  Here is my second email to Ervin Stutzman in full.

I did not receive a response to my second email. The fact that Ervin does not understand that there is a conflict of interest, has not attempted to involve Lauren when we have requested this multiple times, and then stopped communicating with us after my second email, has led me to believe he is more concerned about the Mennonite institutions he is working with than he is about Lauren.

If the institutions being investigated are allowed control because they are the ones with the money and Lauren is given no voice at all, then the investigation is worthless, not to mention unethical. Whew…politics.

The Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention pulling their support and walking away from the investigation because “the process…has focused too much on the needs of the institutions involved, and too little on the needs of the victim,” has confirmed my distrust of the process.

Honestly, Lauren and my distrust has grown since we have been ignored, excluded, and met with silence throughout this process despite our openness to conversation and collaboration. Not one leader from the Mennonite institutions involved in dealing with Hartman’s abuse reached out to Lauren (except for Loren Swartzentruber, former president of EMU, who attempted to secure Lauren’s private cell phone number through one of his employees despite the fact that she requested all communication go through her advocate).

In April, Lauren reached out by private email directly to Loren Swartzentruber and never got a response or even an acknowledgement that he had received it. In June she reached out to him again to request an informal meeting. He agreed to it and a date was set, but then just days before, his office cancelled the meeting. I also was the first to communicate with Ervin and now he is silent. Now that the process of choosing DSA is already completed, we received our first communication from MC USA through Iris de Leon-Hartshorn, Director of Transformative Peacemaking, just today. Virginia Mennonite Conference and Lindale Mennonite Church leaders never reached out and as far as I know have taken no steps to hold Duane Yoder accountable for his harmful words and actions towards Lauren or his protection of Luke.

Is this how the Mennonite Church is going to care for victims of sexual abuse? Is this the kind of response that invites and encourages victims to expose the truth and find accountability, justice, and healing?

Except for the Panel’s one clear action of terminating their involvement in a process they deemed flawed, Lauren and I have not felt supported or cared for by Mennonite church leaders.  We have a hard time trusting Mennonite leadership when we are being treated this way.

In an email interview with Hannah Heinzekehr for an article in The Mennonite, I spoke a little bit more about our feelings concerning the formal complaint against Duane Yoder and the process that led to choosing DSA. You can read my full answers to her interview questions here, as most were not published.

After EMU announced that it had officially hired DSA to investigate, OSU’s Hilary Scarsella reached out to learn about the organization’s qualifications and investigative process, since neither Lauren, myself, SNAP nor OurstoriesUntold was familiar with the organization. Her intent was to get information to help us decide whether or not DSA is an organization we could trust. They initially refused to speak with Hilary and agreed to answer questions by email only after some form of affirmation was received from Ervin Stutzman.

Hilary posed a number of questions that gave DSA ample opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to exposing the truth about how Hartman’s abusive behavior was handled by church agencies on the one hand, and to conducting a victim-centered investigation deserving of survivors’ trust on the other hand. The communication she received from DSA, while complex, did not convince us that their investigation would embody either commitment well. For example, when asked how they maintain a victim-centered process when doing so creates tension with the organizations that hire them, a DSA representative answered by saying that no such tension ever presents itself and that conflict between the interests of victims and the interests of institutions do not come into play in their investigations. Well. If there is anything we’ve learned in this process it is that it is riddled with tension and conflict between the interests of the institutions and the interests of survivors, particularly Lauren.

Add to that these facts:

1) when Barbra was asked to submit to being interviewed by DSA, she requested to see a list of initial questions in advance. They replied that would not be possible.

2) our only communication from DSA has been through EMU and Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) board and staff members, and we are skeptical. Wouldn’t truly independent investigators be contacting us themselves?

I see too many red flags. At this point it is clear to me that no matter its training or background, DSA is under contract to answer to EMU, not to victims of abuse or to an independent search for the truth. It seems clear that the process used to choose DSA was flawed and did not take into account the feelings or needs of the victim, Lauren. The Panel that called for this investigation in the first place is no longer supporting this process and Lauren is still excluded.

This is why I also cannot, in good conscience, participate in an investigation by DSA.