Spiritual Abuse: The Victim’s “Confession”

Forcing the “confession of adultery” from a 14-year-old victim is nothing if not spiritual abuse. Note that a trained Christian counselor hired by ABWE forced this upon her.

A wise participant in this blog once gave us this quote and we give it to you again now:

“Let’s be clear again: Not all strong Christian leaders are abusive, nor are all spiritual systems abusive. It’s also possible that healthy leaders and spiritual systems can sometimes, unintentionally, treat people in hurtful ways. There is no such thing as a perfect family or church where people don’t ever get hurt. But the difference between an abusive system and a non-abusive system is that while hurtful behaviors might happen in both, it is not permissible to talk about problems, hurts, and abuses in the abusive system. Hence, there is no healing and restoration after the wound has occurred, and the victim is made to feel at fault for questioning or pointing out the problem.”

– Jeff Van Vonderen & David Johnson, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse

Please feel free to discuss spiritual abuse of sexual abuse victims and the forced confession of the 14-year-old here.


About Bangladesh MKs Speak

We are a group of American former missionary kids (MKs) who lived in Bangladesh while Donn Ketcham worked as a missionary doctor there with the mission agency Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
This entry was posted in Abuse Mishandling, Stories and Discussion of Documents. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Spiritual Abuse: The Victim’s “Confession”

  1. Sharon Waala Ronan says:

    I can only hope that the “confession” was forced out of ignorance of any counseling knowledge.

    The only kind of statement a trained counselor would ever even suggest that a victim write is a statement of what had happened to her for her own therapeutic value or perhaps a letter to the perpetrator stating how the perpetrator’s actions impacted the survivor’s life. Sometimes, in the US courts, these statements are called victim impact statements and can be read to the sentencing judge.

    To call this a confession shows a lack of training and/or common sense and to have the minor victim take responsibility for the perpetrator’s actions re-victimizes the victim.

    I am a mental health professional licensed in Michigan.

    • watching closely says:

      You are 100% correct in this assessment. Through the course of my work I have read many of these “Victim Impact Statements.” I have never seen one like the “confession” from the 14-year-old girl. Her “confession” looks more like the kind of confession that comes at the end of an interview with law enforcement officials. (Sometimes through my work I am privy to those as well.)

  2. watching closely says:

    I don’t believe, not even for a moment, that the confession was written by a 14-year-old. It is too well organized, too methodical, too focused. There is an almost scientific description of the times and places of the “relationship.” To me, this statement bears a lot of similarity to police reports or legal documents meant to prove a case to a judge or jury.

    The confession portrays the victim as an equal partner with the perpetrator. While it is true that often the abuser likes to shift the blame to the victim, this is too well crafted to be something she wrote up on her own.

    To make a 14-year-old write and/or sign this is, in itself, a form of abuse! To fly her half way around the world, with 2 men she did not know, w/o the consent or even knowledge of her parents, is abusive. (I couldn’t convince a store to pierce my 14-year-old sister’s ears without my mother’s written consent. How can you take a child out of the US and through several foreign countries w/o consent from her parents?) To deny her request to speak with her parents was abusive and probably illegal.

    • Ellen says:

      That is one (only one of the many) thing that deeply disturbed me reading the diary pages and this “confession”. It is illegal to take a 14 year old CHILD across international borders without her parent’s consent. It is extremely illegal to deny her access to her parents as she “begged” to be able to have. It would classify as kidnapping.

      Then it is extremely unwise …. I am sitting here dumbfounded, appalled, stunned by these actions…. to have an abused child travel with two men. Where was the woman with them to protect the child? What total lack of wisdom did they have here?!

      If I were the parents, I would be absolutely outraged if someone had done that to my child, and I would have pressed charges, too! You do not deny my child access to me – alone, unsupervised, free, at ANY time they request! They should not have even proceeded with any more questions after the initial “confession” without involving her parents!

  3. Tamara Barrick Rice says:

    Continuing the discussion I started (and was having with myself … lol) over on the main thread, what sort of counseling methods or schools of thought went into such actions in this situation? I mean that as an honest question.

    We’ve heard the excuse many times that not as much was known then, and that may be true to an extent. But it’s not as if nothing at all was known about molestation. There were laws against it here. People went to jail for it.

    As I searched around my house for evidence that “biblical counselors” were talking about this in 1989, all I could find was that Dr. Dan Allender’s Wounded Heart was first published in 1990, which tells me that even if we are strictly going on what other Christians have to say about counseling (and he was hardly the first Christian counselor on the Christian publishing scene), child abuse was already being discussed in 1989.

    But what was being said? Does anyone have anything by Larry Crabb or another Christian counselor/psychologist of the day back THEN?

    ALSO … Russ Lloyd’s organization the Institute of Biblical Leadership was founded in 1988, and does advertise itself as an organization that provides counseling to ministry couples during marital strife, difficulty on the mission field, rebellious children, etc., but nowhere on the site (that I could find, please others look) does it state that they have any expertise in child abuse, molestation or pedophilia. Which begs the question … did they have any in 1989? Was this child molestation by Christian leader case numero uno for Dr. Lloyd?

  4. Sharon Miller Chambers says:

    I would agree that Dr. Lloyd’s handling of this bothered me the most. I was in college taking Psychology classes and child abuse was discussed in the early 80’s and taught. I remember Dr. Ehnis discussing the long term effects. A point I made early on the blog was that if Dr. Lloyd didn’t have any knowledge of this subject, then it was his job to seek professionals that did. I am pretty certain they would have insisted an investigation be done right away given the young girls that DK had access to. The very fact that DK was their doctor should have made them even more concerned. When I first read the confession, I was disturbed to say the least. A 12 year old doesn’t have an affair with her doctor. She was groomed by him to be used by him. If you ask some of the other ones abused, you will find out that he used their “physicals” as the door to the abuse. He had his “pets”, favorites, etc. That, of course, is the mindset of an abuser.

    • isaiah 61:8 says:

      Sharon, you are so right. I have heard someone else in college at the time say the same, that sexual abuse was being taught with accuracy and sensitivity in college psychology classes (even Christian colleges–unfortunately sometimes the last frontier of such things) at the time, 1989.

      I went to the bibliography of Wounded Heart and was struck to see that not only did the “secular” resources (which were no less than nine, date all the way back to 1979, but the six Christian books on child sexual abuse were dated 1986 – 1988, and included a book called Sexual Assault and Abuse: A Handbook for Clergy and Religious Professionals (Harper & Row, 1987). So there was no shortage of available resources that — even in a worst case scenario — could have been grabbed from a library on the way to the airport.

      Would ANY have recommended the course of actions that were taken? I highly doubt it, but I’d love for someone to prove me wrong and prove where a counselor would read or hear in 1989 that having someone abused from age 12 to 14 sign a confession of guilt is good and right. Who was teaching such things? Was someone? Because as the 20/20 special from a few months back proved, unfortunately, Russ Lloyd is not the first Christian to place the guilt on a young girl for her abuse.

      — Tamara

  5. Dr. H.E.Marcilliott says:

    At the wise old age of 72, I had the privilege of Dr. Clyde Narramore as my authority. I interviewed him regarding sexual abuse by older teen males of young national children of both sexes. As youth pastor involved with returning teens from the mission field I constantly found myself dealing with their depraved sexual education. Dr. Narramore stated he was finding growing occurances of both male and female abuse and the parent missionaries were without experience to advise their children. Our Bible Colleges and Seminaries were not providing the applicable education. Dr. Narramore gave me a number of secular sources which assisted me very well. This was in 1970.

    • Tamara Barrick Rice says:

      This is fascinating to note. I did have to look up who Dr. Narramore was and wanted to share the link with others who may not know: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clyde_M._Narramore

      Note about halfway down the page that one of his areas of expertise was SPECIFICALLY studying and counseling the children of missionaries!

      Why? Because he married one. An MK from China. An artist, poet and magazine editor, Ruth Elliott.

      Suddenly feeling the need to go see if any of this man’s books are still in print! Thank you so much for sharing this.

  6. Former ABWE Missionary says:

    I echo several of the thoughts from the last week. I think it is too simplistic to blame a few men, mission leaders, who did some very wrong things and made some incredibly bad decisions. They bear much responsibility and need to be accountable I believe, but I think the true source of the wrongdoing is much broader and much more complex. There was Mamou in the C& MA, there was Fanda of NTM, there is the whole DK situation in ABWE, and I understand that AMKs of other missions are calling for an investigation of o other MK schools, and probably there is more that I do not know about. All of these situations involved serious abuses reported by MKs. None of them so far have been dealt with in an appropriate way by mission leadership. I think it is too simplistic to assume that all the missions involved had incompetent leadership, men who didn’t know how to call sin “sin,” and that no one around them had enough discernment to see their incompetence and/or lack of godliness and/or lack of integrity. I think it goes much deeper than that.

    As has been mentioned before, I think the element of spiritual abuse of a particular kind is involved, the kind of abuse in which authority is never permitted to be questioned. Just do what the authority says and trust God for the outcome (and it doesn’t hurt to pray while you’re at it!). Abuse finds a ready environment to thrive when this kind of teaching predominates.

    The second contributing factor that I see is commitment to keeping all “dirty laundry” as secret as possible, no matter who is hurt by the silence. Abuse flourishes also in this kind of environment. Scripture does teach that it is the glory of God to overlook a matter and that love covers a multitude of sins, and I believe that it is often inappropriate to broadcast every bit of dirty laundry over the loudest sound system available in the name of transparency, but we ARE exhorted to confess our sins to one another that we might be healed. There is a difference between the indiscriminate airing of all things negative and the appropriate, constructive confession of sin in ways that preclude the safe-harboring of abuse, ways that help curb organizational systemic dysfunction and even sin.

    The third contributing factor that I see is the low esteem in which women are held in most evangelical missions compared to men. And single women often held in lower esteem than married women, and younger women held in the least esteem. This is not without exception, but in general whatever is in the best interest of the men prevails. Rarely are women asked for input on matters of substance. If Kempton, Ebersole, and others had consulted several women on what to do in 1989, I wonder if the outcome might have been very different.

    The fourth contributing factor that I see has been mentioned a couple of times recently–the prevailing approaches to counseling in the more conservative missions. Most people in these circles study what is called “Biblical Counseling.” Mind you, many counselors do counseling that is thoroughly Biblical, but what typifies the so-called “Biblical Counseling” approach (called “nouthetic counseling” a generation or two ago) is that it emphasizes the sin of the counselee. Even if the person has been sinned against, the “Biblical Counselor” is trained to ask, “What did you do to cause what the other person did? And how did you respond?” If the counselee became angry or bitter or disobedient, then the “Biblical Counselor” is trained to point the counselee to his/her own sin. In my acquaintance with so-called “Biblical Counseling” (“Biblical” basically meaning “anti-psychology” and let’s make sure we throw out the “baby” of helpful knowledge with the “bathwater” of “secular humanism!”), there is no adequate approach to dealing with being sinned AGAINST. The only approach is to help the counselee see his/her own sin, including anger at injustice (which is not even sin!). If that was Russ Lloyd’s training (and I don’t know if it was), then what took place is very much the logical outcome of an approach to counseling that always emphasizes the “sin” of the counselee, even when it is not sin. That is the approach to counseling that is most commonly advocated in ABWE / GARBC circles. It is probably the approach to counseling that would have been utilized by most counselors that ABWE would have consulted not only in 1989, but even in very recent years, perhaps even today. And it gives no way to deal with being sinned against, ends up “blaming the victim” in many cases, does not adequately take into account developmental dynamics or power-differential dynamics (14-yr-old girl vs. 59-yr-old male M.D. leader) and in general is the preferred “school of counseling” endorsed by ABWE and several other conservative missions. It goes hand-in-hand with telling people that questioning authority is sin–just trust them and obey them and pray and God will make everything come out all right in the end.

    Meanwhile, apologies to those of you who are Biblical Counselors and feel that I have given only a caricature of it. As I describe it above is how I perceived it as I read textbooks written from the viewpoint of this “school of counseling” and from several situations in which Biblical Counselors have “dealt with” counselees I have known. Perhaps it has grown more helpful to “victims” since my original acquaintance with it a number of years ago, but at the time that I was studying counseling, the above was what clearly differentiated counseling that was intentionally informed by both Scripture and psychology from the approach that calls itself “Biblical Counseling” (minus any inclusion of the findings of psychology).

    I could wish this whole thing were as simple as blaming a few mission leaders and getting rid of them. But if abuse is to be prevented in the future, then I believe it will take changing faulty beliefs, practices, and culture embraced by nearly the whole organization (and its organizational “relatives”) of which the mission leaders in question are products as well as representatives. In their own way, they are victims (although on a very different order) as well as perpetrators, strongly influenced by counselors (and many “Biblical Counselors” are licensed as professional counselors) who would say that the 14-year-old had an affair and sinned, which we all agree is a totally perverse way of conceptualizing what happened. This does not excuse the mission leaders, and accountability is needed, but if we spend most of our energy blaming the mission leaders instead of seeking to understand WHY they did something so wrong (especially since they acted with integrity and compassion in almost every other situation), then we might miss the opportunity to come closer to the roots that need to be addressed if we are going to prevent future injustice of this kind.

    • Tamara Barrick Rice says:

      Former, I couldn’t agree more with most of what you’ve said, although I think integrity and compassion have frequently been amiss in some of the main players. But while I do hold the men in charge ultimately responsible, I think we (and those at the mission board) must consider the internal climate that would allow this sort of thing to happen. The now horrifying actions are the symptom of a bigger problem in the way that ministry and life were viewed and lived out.

      If we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it. The reasons you’ve pointed to are all there, from my perspective. And these mission boards would do well to ask themselves if they have contributed to the pain of MKs and the sins committed by abusers by creating and maintaining such cultures.

    • isaiah 61:8 says:

      I agree with you wholeheartedly, Former ABWE Missionary, that this isn’t about the failings of a few mission leaders. This is all about a culture that has been perpetuated for decades, a culture of fear—fear of standing up for what is right, fear of speaking out, fear of holding leaders accountable because of what the cost might be. And if you haven’t known the fear, it’s probably because you were on the top of the pyramid instead of where most find themselves. Fear is what keeps the vast majority of ABWE missionaries from supporting this blog. Fear is what keeps most of them in line. Fear is what caused so many missionaries to observe a “code of silence” for over two decades. So while it may be satisfying on one level to see a few leaders removed, it won’t solve the underlying problem, which is the culture. What is needed is a “baptism” — a death, burial, and resurrection of the culture. And that is my humble opinion.

      ~ Phil Walsh

  7. A member-care counselor says:

    I am a professional counselor who has worked with missionaries from all over Asia. As a professional, I have an ethical duty to assess myself before taking on a client. I must ask myself if I have the training, expertise, experience and ability to help someone. When I am confronted with a situation that is new to me I need to read professional materials, consult with others and otherwise prepare myself. Certainly Dr. Lloyd should have done that before jumping into this situation.

    I would also like to address the question of resources available at the time. When this all came up I checked my shelf of counseling books. I have one written in 1989 by Karen Mains in which she covers the topic of sexual abuse very thoroughly from a Christian point of view. She specifically mentions that pedophiles usually have multiple victims, the average number being 30. We know now, that number is even higher. But, it does show that in 1989 Russ and Russ should have been aware of the possibility of other victims.

    I have managed a number of situations of possible abuse in missionary settings. It is common practice to take down a statement from the victim early in the process to preserve their words before they are pressured by the perpetrator. However, I would never urge them to consider it a confession, or focus on the “sins”. The point would be to let them clearly tell their story. Also, while it is important to quickly remove children from abusive situations, I cannot imagine that there needed to be such haste to take the child to Bangladesh, to confront DK so quickly after arriving, and to keep the parents so completely in the dark.

    Finally, I have a comment on whether there were Bangladeshi victims. In many Asian cultures if a girl is raped she is considered guilty no matter what the circumstances. She would be unmarriagable. The reason there are so many child marriages is that parents fear rape so much that they try to get them “safely” married before their reputation could be destroyed. If there were Bangladeshi girls involved it is unlikely that they would ever speak up.

    • isaiah 61:8 says:

      I appreciate your insights and thank you for adding your voice to this conversation. I would just like to comment, however, on your final paragraph regarding how victims of sexual abuse are viewed/treated in Asia (and specifically in Bangladesh). It is true that in shame-based cultures, victims feel tremendous societal pressures to remain silent. In the Chittagong District of Bangladesh, where I grew up, there is a saying about Bangladeshi women: buk fatey, mukh fatey na. Loosely translated, it means that their chests will explode before their lips will part. However, traditional views about sexual crimes and how victims should be treated are changing, albeit ever so slowly. In the past couple decades, stricter laws have been passed (thanks in part to having two female Prime Ministers running the country) to address crimes of this nature. It is much more common now, for example, to hear about sexual assaults taking place or read about charges being brought against the perpetrators of these acts. So while it may still be unlikely to have victims speak up, it is much more common than it was even a few years ago. It was interesting to hear the perspective of some of my Bangladeshi friends when this blog first appeared. Their reaction?

      After the investigation of the white victims has taken place, there needs to be an investigation of the dark-skinned victims.

      I share these things because I have seen first-hand that victims have come forth, within the ABWE field of Bangladesh, to seek justice for sexual crimes that were committed by national “pastors” who are patronized to this day by ABWE and American mission dollars. Included in this group are at least three minor girls who were raped by two different men who are still “pastoring” as I write these words. In addition, there is a long list of adult women victims of sexual assaults committed by these men and others who are under the guidance and protection of ABWE missionaries in Bangladesh. I do not write these words lightly. I have been trying to get the attention of ABWE leadership for a decade now, with no success. So while many have been shocked to see the cover-up of what really transpired in Bangladesh by a missionary doctor from the 1970s through 1989, I am not surprised at all…because it is still happening today. I am committed, if I do nothing else in my life, to making sure that the voices of these girls/women are heard. Furthermore, I am standing with Bangladeshi brothers in the faith who have spoken out against these wolves and have lost their jobs as a result and who have been subjected to abusive treatment in the form of taunts, ridicule, and threats by the very ones who “harass” the women. I want all these victims to be vindicated and I want ABWE to be held accountable for this culture they maintain with every ounce of their power. It’s that simple.

      ~ Phil Walsh

  8. Tamara Barrick Rice says:

    It is interesting to note the differences between a statement, as you’ve described it, and what the victim was made to sign.

    Also, I fear that there were many Bangladeshi girls victimized, but that you are correct they may never come forward.

    Let’s not forget that even in the last decade abuse of Bangladeshi girls and women by a few Bengali pastors was ignored — allegations that I have very good reason to believe. And you are right that in such cultures, being a victim like that causes more heartache if it is exposed. But I think we can agree that it does not mean the perpetrators should not be dealt with somehow.

    And while I believe mission work must be gentle and sensitive in how we might influence national culture, the treatment of women–God’s children–is an area worthy of addressing. Standing up for women in such cultures is a risk that must be taken. Our basic human decency (not just our faith) should cry out when we see women oppressed to the point that they are blamed for rape (which you are correct, of course, that they are in many cultures abroad), the same as it should cry out to us when we see a child beaten or an act of genocide.

    I admit I didn’t always think women in other cultures needed our help. I used to view it as a lost cause. And then I read a book about the Taliban practices in Afghanistan and realized that there are oppressed women who do need saving, who cannot save themselves, and just because their culture teaches them that they are not worthy of saving and just because some of them do not believe they have a right to show their face in public, etc., anyway, “just because …” does not mean we should not attempt to rescue the oppressed somehow.

    However, great questions of missiology arise out of this discussion, and even what IS the Good News we bring to another culture? How much does Jesus liberate individuals? What do we mean when we say He sets the captives free? (Insert discussion of slaves obeying masters in Scripture versus the underlying messages of freedom, the Good Samaritan, etc., and you see it’s not a simple matter.)

    Isaiah 61:1 “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners … ”

    But how does one free women in such cultures without completely alienating the men who benefit from their oppression? Most missionaries in such cultures walk a fine line.

    Cue the forum for mission methods and cross-cultural ministry! (Sorry, folks. I promise we are hoping to have them soon.)

    And PS adding for the record that I do believe we must be very careful that what we bring into other cultures is Jesus and not westernization. Though some westernization is inevitable.

  9. A member-care counselor says:

    My comments about why Bangladeshi women do not speak out are meant as explanation but not justification. I agree that the good news should bring freedom to the oppressed, and that should include abused women, wherever they may be. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if the church were the first place where women are allowed to speak truth, rather than the last?

    • Tamara Barrick Rice says:

      Agreed! And wouldn’t it be wonderful if the church led the way in protecting children from harm? But sadly, they have seemed to lag behind. I understand that prosecution of a perpetrator is a difficult process for a victim, and some wish to remain as anonymous as possible. But I get angry when I hear churches and mission boards use the excuse of protecting a victim’s privacy as their reason for not doing the right things. What about the next victim? What about justice?

      This is the problem with allowing men to remain in their positions of spiritual authority (whether we’re talking about Donn Ketcham or a Bangladeshi pastor) after they have disqualified themselves from ministry. We’re not thinking about the next person who falls prey to their abuse of power.

  10. With Love From Michigan ... says:

    My own experience with pastors/trained professionals and how they dealt with abuse leaves me to believe that it frequently depended upon their age and their own experiences or awareness. In the late 80’s, early 90’s, the abuse I experienced was not sexual and not on a missionary field, but here in Michigan. The abuse was physical and from my husband. I was then a young wife and mother of 2 small children.

    My parents were intimidated by my husbands family (he came from money and were considered upper class) so my parents didn’t know how to help. His parents who were very religious and very involved in their church told me” well, if you wouldn’t make him mad, he wouldn’t hit you”. The pastor from the church that I attended (a 60 years old) and the pastor of my parents church (a 50 years old) could only offer what they thought of as wise advise, things like “have supper ready on time” or “keep the house picked up” or even (my personal favorite) “make sure the toilets are always scrubbed and cleaned because a man notices those things”. Yet never was the physical abuse acknowledged directly.

    He and I went to see a “Christian” marriage counselor for almost a year, and from that trained and educated person, I got more of the same. At one point, that very educated therapist (in his mid 40’s) told me about how his wife would please him and encouraged me to be more considerate of my husbands needs, heaping on generous portions of the word “submissive”. Again, the fact that I was carrying bruises, both physically and emotionally, was not addressed. Many years later, with different educated professional help and with support from a pastor who was younger, I started healing.

    My reason for sharing any of this is only this – if pastors from the United States or if a fully educated licensed “family” psychologist couldn’t understand or address physical abuse, it is possible that RL wouldn’t have had much education about abuses (sexual, physical, or emotional). And if he himself were from the culture that was raised with the word “submissive” and in a world where the expectation is that the wife silently supports, then his respect and expectations of a 14 year old female may have been skewed by his own life experiences. Looking at his diary pages again, I think he never thought of the victim as a child or young girl, just as a female. At that time and place and at the ages some of the people involved were, it isn’t surprising (only disgusting) that it was viewed and handled the way it was.

    • isaiah 61:8 says:

      Unfortunately, many Christians short-change themselves by going to Christian counselors because they claim to be “Christian” counselors, rather than seeking counsel from someone educated or trained to provide therapy for the specific abuse they have suffered.

      I’m glad you were able to get help. May God continue to heal you.

      -Susannah Goddard Weldy

    • Tamara Barrick Rice says:

      “With Love … ” I’m sorry to hear your story and how you were further damaged by bad advice from people you trusted. It’s sad that it’s a common tale.

    • Former ABWE Missionary says:

      I’m so sorry to hear that someone you turned to for help–a so-called professional–actually exacerbated the harm. This should not have happened. I’m so glad that you were able to find someone later on who was able to to helpful.

  11. isaiah 61:8 says:


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