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Young Life Accused of Ignoring or Covering Up Allegations of Sexual Misconduct

Young Life—one of the nation’s largest youth ministries, involving more than 400,000 youth and 55,000 staff and volunteers—is being accused of ignoring or covering up allegations of sexual misconduct.

Following a six-month investigation that included interviews with 35 people, including 10 alleged victims, last week Business Insider reported an extensive 7,300-word exposé. Their reporting found that, since 2000, at least eight Young Life staff members and volunteers have been charged criminally, following alleged sexual abuse of others involved with the ministry.

Alleged victims have recently filed four separate complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A related lawsuit against Young Life, claiming the organization’s complicity in incidents of sexual abuse and racial discrimination, was settled out of court in September.

Recently, survivors have also launched a group on Instagram, called @MeTooYoungLife, which compiles stories of former Young Life staff and volunteers who allege abuse and misconduct.

Young Life’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Lashanna Farley, responded with a statement to The Roys Report. “The safety and well-being of children and youth is a top priority for our organization, and abuse is not tolerated,” she said. “While we feel that one case of abuse is one too many, we do disagree with the (Insider’s) article’s conclusions about our culture. We do not have a widespread culture of abuse.”

A source with ties to Young Life noted that the four EEOC complaints and lawsuit have been filed by one law firm, Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC, based in Denver, Colo. This law firm has also promoted the survivors Instagram account, though a representative said the account was initiated by Rathod Mohamedbhai’s clients not the firm.

Founded in 1941 and operating in 105 countries, Young Life states online that its policies regarding sexual misconduct, anti-harassment, and mandatory reporting of abuse are extensive.

Alleged victims tell a different story. Becca Wong, currently a senior at University of Michigan, filed one of the EEOC complaints. “I don’t think that the harm that Young Life causes is justified by the Christians they produce,” said Wong, as reported by Insider. “You can’t justify bringing youth to Christ when a percentage is sexually assaulted and left with no support system.”

Similarly, Erin Watts shared on Instagram how she was sexually harassed and bullied by a fellow staff member when serving at a Young Life chapter in La Grande, Oregon. Watts says she reported the incident to the ministry’s regional director. According to Watts, the response led by Young Life HR was “worse than the initial abuse,” and focused on rehabilitating the abuser rather than victim recovery.

Some sources in the Insider story concede that Young Life’s national headquarters in Colorado Springs has detailed policies. However, the report quotes former and current Young Life staff—some anonymously—who say local chapters often lack the training to properly report and handle alleged sexual misconduct.

The ministry states it is “defending itself vigorously” against the four active EEOC claims.

Farley also notes that these current matters have sparked a review process. “For some months, we have been reviewing our training processes for our leaders on the field. We are taking some time now to evaluate all of our policies to determine whether they should be revised,” she said.

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