A Christian camp in Missouri is being accused of covering up regular sexual abuse against young boys and hiding its “pervasive culture of sexual assault.”
This isn’t just one allegation, either. Lawsuits filed by three former residents say the “ranch” for troubled boys ignored abuse, then punished boys for reporting it, according to the Springfield News-Leader.
According to the lawsuits, Lives Under Construction viewed sexual abuse as consensual acts between residents and fired an employee in retaliation for making a hotline call about it.
There was a “culture of pervasive sexual assault,” the lawsuits say.
These allegations are especially interesting considering the ranch has had its problems in the past.
It came under intense public scrutiny in 2013 when two boys ran away from the ranch to a nearby residence, where they bludgeoned and stabbed to death an elderly couple.
Of course, Lives Under Construction has denied the allegations related to sexual assault.
“Some people will be able to differentiate truth from fiction, and some can’t,” ranch founder Ken Ortman said. “We invite anybody who wants to know (the truth) to eat with us, visit with us.”
Ortman’s vague denial aside, the residents have made some pretty credible claims. They all describe the same circumstances under which sexual assaults and associated cover-ups are common practice.
The lawsuits filed by the former residents — in addition to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed after the double murder — paint a sordid picture of the rustic ranch in Stone County.
Staff members were unqualified, the boys were too dangerous and advice from state officials was ignored, the lawsuits say.
Reporters for the News-Leader dug into the internal documents from the ranch as well as court records and found that, among other things, “several months passed before authorities were told that a 9-year-old boy was raped by his 19-year-old roommate.” They also found evidence of frustration with local law enforcement:
In one email, Ortman, the ranch’s founder, wrote that he believed juvenile officers had a “vendetta” against the ranch. Emails appear to say the agency intended to remove about five boys from the ranch and charge some with sexual assault.
Minutes from a 2009 board meeting appear to say a state lawmaker intervened on behalf of the ranch to quash an investigation by a state agency. According to the meeting notes, the interdiction was successful.
Shutting down investigations into sexual assault certainly sounds like something a guilty organization would do, but they continue to deny all allegations of wrongdoing. The founder not only says all the residents who have made similar claims are lying, but that the alleged rape of the nine-year-old boy never happened.
To add insult to injury, the founder says God supports his ranch. The Almighty apparently told him to start the troubled boys’ home by bending a piece of metal wire at a 90-degree angle (because that makes sense).
According to Ortman, 69 years old and white-haired, the boys’ ranch would not be in operation today were it not for the will of God.
Ortman was a dairy farmer three decades ago when he stood in a barn in South Dakota. He said he felt God calling him to open a ranch in southern Missouri for troubled boys.
Ortman stuck a piece of metal wire into a bale of hay, prayed and went to bed.
The next day, he said he found the wire bent at a 90-degree angle.
Maybe this is why God never speaks to me. I never thought to try communicating via bent metal wires! If God did speak to Ortman, I doubt He would have told him to start a home that takes advantage of young boys and covers up sexual assaults against them. You know, not what Jesus would do and all.
(Thanks to Charles for the link)