Patrick Henry College to sexual assault survivors: “If you were telling the truth, God would have kept you conscious”

The administrators at Patrick Henry College have had a tough week.

Beginning on Sunday, PHC founder and chancellor Michael Farris posted a public statement about the recent disgrace of two important leaders within the religious homeschooling and “parental rights” movement, both of them because young women have come forward with testimony of sexual misconduct and abuse of power. Former Home School Legal Defense Association attorney Doug Phillips resigned last fall from the separatist group he had founded after it was revealed that he pursued a sexual relationship with a young woman, under 18, who was under his “authority.” Bill Gothard, leader of an influential Christian Patriarchy instruction program, is slowly being exposed as a predator who has for decades sexually molested young women sent to him, often at his personal invitation, to be his interns.

Farris did not dispute the misconduct of these men, seeming to accept evidence of their “protracted patterns of sin.” Instead, he tried to distance his own kind of “leadership” from theirs. But his statement is very strange. Attempting to avoid criticism of the authoritarianism that undergirds his own position, it ends up reading as if he thinks these “leaders,” these powerful men, should rightly have such control over the women and children under their authority, and that maintaining this position of male authority is a “basic strength.” The only problem with these men is that their strength was allowed to “get out of control.” The statement then ends with a lighthearted punchline normalizing the idea that men naturally want to pursue young women, but are inhibited by the fear that their wives will shoot them.

What came the next day must have been a surprise, although one is at pains to imagine why.

Knowing that a detailed investigative report exposing the sexual abuse-enabling culture promoted by PHC and HSLDA had just been published, readers started commenting on Farris’ statement:

The hypocrisy did not go unnoticed. Homeschool alumni took to Farris’s page to call him out for making such a statement about Phillips and Gothard right when the story about PHC was coming out. Farris’s response was predictable, considering it was completely deja vu from HSLDA’s handling of the #HSLDAMustCampaign: he quickly deleted the evidence of his original statement (which, again, HA archived as a PDF here and a PNG here), deleted comment after comment after comment after comment by homeschool alumni, and blocked homeschool alumni from his public page. [see multiple links preserved by Homeschoolers Anonymous in original]

The New Republic report itself is absolutely horrifying. Written by Kiera Feldman, a member of the Ochberg Society for Trauma Journalism, it is based on extensive interviews with four young women who reported sexual assault or harassment by male students to the college, only to be shamed, blamed, and discouraged from pursuing the matter further. Much of their testimony revolves around the behavior of PHC Dean of Women Sandra Corbitt, whose approach to each complaint was first and foremost to discourage police involvement and to bully the young women into silence by insisting that they must be at least as much to blame as their assailants. One student’s description of her physical experience strongly suggests that she was drugged. She provided a detailed account to the dean, but it seems that Corbitt had already decided what was true.

Listening to Sarah from across her desk, the dean was as polite as ever. But she didn’t seem to believe Sarah’s story at all. “If you were telling the truth about this,” Sarah remembers Corbitt saying, “God would have kept you conscious to bear witness to the abuse against you.”

Dean Corbitt also punished Sarah for reporting her assailant by giving her booklets about “purity” to study, demonstrating her belief that the assault was really a consensual sexual encounter. In another case, a woman received threatening messages from a male student including one saying he wanted to rape her.

When she met with Corbitt to show her the e-mail, the student remembers the dean saying, “The choices you make and the people you choose to associate with, the way you try to portray yourself, will affect how people treat you.” In subsequent meetings, the student says Corbitt told her to think about her clothing and “the kinds of ideas it puts in men’s minds.”

The woman asked Corbitt to alert security and to keep an eye out for the student in question. Corbitt wouldn’t even consider it, the student says.

The report also revealed that because PHC accepts no federal funding it is not subject to the Clery Act or Title IX, and is therefore not required to report crimes nor to provide assault survivors with assistance and resources like restraining orders.

On Wednesday, when local reporters came calling, the PHC administration reacted with this:

On Thursday the Leesburg Today picked up the story, and it turns out that PHC had a statement prepared which they had already posted on Tuesday, so it’s unclear why they were so unprepared to speak to the media on Wednesday.

The official statement, in addition to disputing the former students’ allegations, also denies any association of PHC with such “outside movements” as the “Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy Movement,” even going so far as to claim that “Chancellor Farris has never agreed with such an offensive philosophy.” But that is simply not true. There is an extreme strain of that movement that requires or encourages young women to stay at home under the authority of their fathers until they are given to their husbands – and then there is the more familiar “mainstream” strain in which fathers forbid dating for their children in favor of “courtship,” and reject the use of birth control in favor of siring as many children as possible (that’s the quiverfull part). The Farris family is the very model of this philosophy. Farris has written about his belief in and adherence to these practices for years.

Then finally, on Friday, there was another “Faith & Reason” lecture. The lecture last fall by Stephen Baskerville was both an embarrassment and an abomination, especially in light of these young womens’ stories. Baskerville’s rant was the most obnoxious version of the rape and abuse denialism underlying what the women described – or so we thought. Then PHC invited Allan Carlson. You can read all about Mr. Carlson, and his execrable “World Congress of Families,” here. PHC could hardly have found a more extreme and vocal Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy advocate to address its student body – but at the same time, leaders of the college want us to believe that it repudiates Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy culture.

This sort of dishonesty is par for the course if you’ve been keeping an observant eye on PHC. Remember this?

“We don’t think that there are any such students,” Farris said of gays and lesbians at his college.

Farris said the school’s administration believes Queer at Patrick Henry College is a “hoax.”

His statements don’t seem to hold up. During an interview, Kane showed her diploma from the school, marked with her real name, graduation date and school’s banner.

“It’s hard to believe [Farris] would go straight to, ‘oh, we don’t exist,’ when we can so easily prove who we are,” Kane said.

This was after Farris tried threatening the group on Facebook, quickly withdrawing the threat when it was made public and exposed as legally preposterous.

And for something Farris claimed to think was a hoax, the college seemed to be in a panic over its existence.

“They’ve never blocked anything the way they’ve blocked [the QueerPHC website],” the source said.

Looking even further back, the PHC Office of Communications willfully and deliberately distributed a falsified version of Equality Loudoun’s commenting policy in order to misrepresent both that organization and the Soulforce Equality Riders who visited the campus in the spring of 2007. Students and alumni who had been following events leading up to the visit actively sought out the truth so that they could confront the administrators. As one of them told me at the time, a PHC student would be expelled if they had engaged in the same behavior.

Students have been questioning the authorities at PHC for some time – at least, some of them have. What seems to be happening now, though, is that there’s a big cohort of children raised in this subculture who are now adults and finding their voices.

2 thoughts on “Patrick Henry College to sexual assault survivors: “If you were telling the truth, God would have kept you conscious”

  1. Concerned Parent

    My son attended in 2004-2006 and he signed the honor pledge, when he found upperclassman bragging about sexual contact with a 16 year old freshman, he asked them to turn themselves in, they did not, my son had his ribs broken, was ostracized and subsequently left the school in a suicidal state. No one ever called to see how he was doing even though they knew he was suicidal. So much for “caring for our sons and daughters” Wish my son would have accepted the invitation to Georgetown University instead of going to PHC.

  2. Epluribusunum Post author

    I’m so sorry. I hope your son is doing better now and that the experience of betrayal has only made him stronger. We’ve always thought that there were many, many untold stories of the harm done by these inhumane ideologies. More and more of them are being told now, which can only be a good thing. Thank you.

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