A story published by Business Insider Tuesday detailed decades of sexual misconduct tied to Young Life, an international youth Christian organization, with incidences of sexual assault of former members reported across the country — including at the University of Michigan.
Public Health senior Maddie Malvitz and LSA senior Becca Wong, two of the students interviewed as part of the Business Insider story, both began attending Young Life meetings at the University as freshmen. Wong was promoted to a leadership position her sophomore year.
The two told Business Insider that a male student leader harassed Wong at a block party in 2019 and later that night, invited Malvitz to a house where he and other Young Life members lived.
Instead of going to that house, Malvitz told Business Insider the student leader took Malvitz to the back of another house and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Following the incident, Malvitz said she went to the house where other Young Life members lived and slept on their couch while the student leader went upstairs. During the middle of the night, Malvitz said the student leader came downstairs and demanded they have penetrative intercourse; Malvitz refused.
When Malvitz told Wong about the assault in May 2020, Wong was a student leader and reported the incident to the University’s Young Life leadership immediately, according to the Business Insider story. After doing so, Wong said she was called to meet with leadership over Zoom, where they informed her that she would be terminated from the organization.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Wong said she felt blindsided by this decision and even afterwards still wanted to be a part of the organization. Wong said it took her time to fully recognize the organization’s systemic issues.
“It’s a very harmful experience but when you’re in (Young Life), you really drink the Kool Aid and you really believe everything they’re doing,” Wong said. “Leaving Young Life was a very eye-opening experience, and you can’t really see the problems in Young Life until you’re out of it.”
Malvitz echoed Wong’s point, saying that after her assault and what she believes to be the organization’s manipulative handling of the report, she began experiencing religious trauma that she still struggles with.
“I think my trust in church structures in general has declined extremely,” Malvitz said. “(Young Life) has hurt me so much further than I can explain by using the word of God or saying that what they were doing was more important than the pain I was going through.”
Wong said she believes Young Life will not take proper action unless they are prompted to by people speaking out. She referenced the #DoBetterYoungLife movement, an online forum space dedicated to those who have been harmed by Young Life and want to share their experiences, as an example of how members continue to speak about their experiences in the organization.
“I do not believe that Young Life can change internally,” Wong said. “I think the external pressure is the only thing that will force them to change because we’ve seen how they responded to the #DoBetterYoungLife movement and how they responded to so many stories of people being hurt by their homophobia and their homophobic policies, and they responded with, ‘We’re not changing our policies. This is the Word of God.”’
In an email statement to The Daily, the Young Life parent organization’s communications office said they take all allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment seriously, and “no one guilty of violating or abusing another individual is allowed to continue in relationship with Young Life.” The organization also said they deny all claims from Malvitz and Wong.