Young Life is one of the largest Christian ministries in the country, with an estimated 400,000 students attending weekly meetings through their high schools or colleges. It won’t surprise you to learn that they promote Purity Culture, anti-LGBTQ beliefs, and the idea that the highest degree a woman can achieve is her “MRS.”
But a detailed investigation published by Rachel Premack at Business Insider shows that Young Life is also a hotbed of sexual abuse.
… according to some in the organization, Young Life has also been a setting rife with sexual harassment and assault of both student members and volunteers, often at the hands of peers or adults they trusted. Ten women contacted by Insider said they experienced sexual misconduct — including sexual assault, unwanted touching, and unwanted sexual attention — while participating in Young Life activities. When made aware of these allegations, either formally or informally, the organization’s local or national leadership ignored or mishandled their complaints, the women said. After reporting their experiences internally, at least one lost her position within the organization and two others were suspended. Some said they were asked to forgive their alleged assailants, while others said they were cast out by those they considered friends and role models.
It’s unfortunately a story we’re all too familiar with now because it’s happened at churches across the country. When a woman reports abuse, church leaders take the side of the pastor or imply that the woman led him on or sent mixed signals. Sometimes, she’s punished for engaging in something-that’s-not-abstinence even though it was entirely unwanted. It’s far easier to say nothing than to stir the pot, which is exactly why the problems persist in these groups.
Occasionally, there’s accountability. But even then the takeaway is that Young Life employs a hell of a lot of creeps, some criminally so:
Since 2000, at least eight Young Life volunteers or staff members have faced criminal charges alleging sexual misconduct with members of the ministry. One Young Life volunteer leader in Holland, Michigan, pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual misconduct after five men accused him of years of sexual abuse when they were teenagers; another 21-year-old staffer in California was sent to jail for one year after allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old girl in his Young Life group, which resulted in pregnancy. In at least three civil lawsuits filed against the group since 2003, plaintiffs alleged that Young Life neglected its duty to protect children from abuse.
And those are just the ones who were punished! Many other abusers, obviously, escape any kind of accountability. Like this creepy local leader:
In the mid-aughts, one area director in Colorado told a high school student that she needed a one-piece bathing suit for camp that summer. The man, who was in his 20s at the time, took her to Macy’s and waited outside her dressing room as she tried several on.
“He made me try on every bathing suit and show it to him to see whether it was modest enough,” she said. “That was super uncomfortable, looking back, and pretty messed up.”
Strong Logan Dorn vibes with that one. Nothing happened to that guy, by the way.
Young Life says it has policies in place to handle these problems, but they obviously don’t work in practice. They often say they can’t comment on cases for legal reasons; that response also doesn’t carry much weight when it’s used over and over to evade specifics. It doesn’t help, though, that the group’s own sexual conduct policy blocks all staffers and volunteers from “reporting misconduct to the police without executive approval.”
You’re taught to keep those allegations inside the Young Life community… which makes it easier for Young Life to sweep the allegations under the rug. It’s not that secular organizations don’t have some of these same problems, but it’s a lot harder to hide the truth when a group isn’t holding God over your head as a way of keeping you quiet.
Even without these allegations, I would have encouraged students to avoid Young Life entirely. But with them, you really have to wonder why any decent Christian would want to join an organization as harmful as this one. If they don’t care about your real life — and they clearly don’t — why would anyone believe that they care about your eternal soul?
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