Hello, my friends,

It is time for me to speak after a prolonged silence. I’ve been trying to find my voice again through this complicated process.

My advocate Barbra Graber, my sister Marissa Buck, and my dear friends at Our Stories Untold and SNAP Mennonite have walked along at my own pace as I have gone through phases of feeling silenced and misunderstood as well as uplifted and supported. I remain humbled and inspired by all of you out there who have continued to bring awareness to the issue of sexual abuse and trauma. I am unexplainably grateful for your strength.

I want to address the fact that Eastern Mennonite University has chosen D. Stafford and Associates as their independent investigator. The reason I feel the need to address this is because both EMU and Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) have contacted me about submitting to a 3 hour or more interview with DSA.

I fear I will be labeled as uncooperative if I refuse, but I want to be honest with those of you who have tirelessly supported me and acknowledge that I do not intend to speak with them. You deserve to know why.

First – if DSA is truly an “independent” investigator, why are EMU and MEA the ones trying to set up interview times with me? An independent group who doesn’t answer to EMU or MC USA would set up an interview with me themselves.

More troubling is the fact that DSA wants to talk to me about the “accusations of misconduct” I made against Luke. That fact alone shows me they just don’t get it.  This investigation shouldn’t be about me.  I already told my story in detail.  I stand behind my words. When I gave my pastors my account in August of 2014 they told me and my family that they believed me.

Therefore, the focus of this investigation should now be on the actions and inactions of Lindale Mennonite Church, Eastern Mennonite University, and Virginia Mennonite Conference regarding the reports of sexual abuse and misconduct that have been brought to their attention.

Why are we moving backwards?

If DSA needs information on what transpired between Luke Hartman and me, they can print out my account, highlight things, and jot down notes all over it. I have nothing more to add.

However, these are not my only issues with the choice to hire DSA for this inquiry.

In December 2015, Mennonite Church USA appointed a Mennonite panel of sexual abuse experts.

On May 13, 2016, following the postings on Our Stories Untold by both my sister and me, that panel saw the need for an outside investigation and specifically recommended G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) as the best impartial investigative option.

On August 3, 2016, that same panel chose to walk away from the investigation due to the flaws and lack of integrity in the institutional process of choosing an investigative group.

The Panel also stated that the process undertaken that led to the choice of DSA “has focused too much on the needs of the institutions involved and too little on the needs of victims. The panel cannot confirm the process that resulted in the selection of DSA for EMU…I will not pretend to be fully aware of all the reasons they chose to end their support of the process. 

I’ve made it known to decision-makers from the beginning that I am not comfortable participating in an investigative process decided without my input, and MC USA’s own panel of experts is backing me up. They’ve decided to no longer participate in this process, and so have I. 

I am more than happy to fully participate and cooperate with an investigation conducted by G.R.A.C.E., because they were the group chosen before any conflicts of interest came into play.

To be clear, if the Panel for Sexual Abuse Prevention had recommended other options without unbiased input, I would’ve trusted their decision. However, extreme conflicts of interest and influence became apparent to them and to me.

I was never given a voice, despite repeated efforts from my advocate and support system to include me. Please understand, this process does not revolve around me. In fact, I anxiously and exhaustedly await that moment where it will click in the minds of those still fixated on “Lauren versus Luke” that this investigation (and this problem, at it’s core) is bigger and terrifyingly more widespread than that. But I do want to be included in the process of choosing the investigative group, because MC USA is declaring a dedication to make the church safe for survivors.

Without survivor insight, input, and focus – this process is an epic waste of money and time. However, if done correctly, this investigation could lead to meaningful and drastic change in the way that Mennonite institutions respond to sexual abuse and trauma.

The Mennonite Panel for Sexual Abuse Prevention deemed this process “flawed.” In my mind, this means we either need to go with the Panel’s original recommendation of GRACE, or we need to head back to the drawing board and start over.

At present EMU is continuing to choose DSA. We’ll see what MC USA, Virginia Mennonite Conference, and Lindale Mennonite Church choose.

With hope and gratitude,  Lauren Shifflett

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