Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Investigation into the Indianapolis Training Center




I found the Indianapolis Training Center a difficult place to thrive, and I never stayed for more than a few weeks at a time. Some of those in leadership seemed to me unreasonably harsh; there were rules for everything, privacy was a hard-won prize, and anyone who failed to meet the standard might be shamed before the group. When Bill Gothard was there, I remember some very odd mealtime lectures about circumcision, menstruation, and lightbulbs. And when he wasn't, director Bennie McWha soberly read us an urban legend about criminals who might steal our kidneys on our way home for the Christmas holiday!

Now that dozens of women have come forward accusing Gothard of sexually harassing and fondling them in private, I wonder how many other secrets that old hotel at 2820 N. Meridian was keeping. Gothard had an office and suite available to him there, and I have no doubt he "counseled" with young ladies. There were a lot of lonely, hurting, weary girls in that building, and some of them were very beautiful. 

But now, it's time for an ITC history lesson:

In 2001, investigative journalist Karen Hensel started working on a story about IBLP's Indianapolis Training Center. Reporters used hidden cameras to investigate reports of children and teens being paddled and put into solitary confinement for whole days in the "prayer room". In January of 2002, Rodger Gergeni, a director at the ITC, told the reporters that the ITC had recently changed its policy and had stopped spanking children there on January 8, following complaints from a parent.

Hensel's work also led to a state CPS investigation, after Dave Cook from the Marion County Public Defender's office heard the reports of abuse on the news. Judge Payne at the Juvenile Court agreed to stop referring youth to the ITC while it was being investigated. And more stories surfaced:
"In late 1995, documents obtained by Eyewitness News show, ITC was aware a 14-year old girl made a child molestation allegation against another resident.
Under Indiana law, ITC had a duty to report any suspected child abuse or neglect. However, state Child Protection Services learned about the alleged molestation from a probation officer – not from ITC Director Rodger Gergeni.
The documents show Gergeni knew of the allegations but failed to notify authorities: “When asked if he had filed a CPS report, Mr. Gergeni replied, ‘No. Was I supposed to?’”
The woman who alleged the molestation told Eyewitness News that when she told Gergeni about it, he blamed her and put her in solitary confinement as punishment."
Reporters "made repeated requests for an on-camera interview with Bill Gothard, but he has yet to agree. We did speak with him on the phone. He denied that there is any abuse at ITC and says his organization has helped millions of people around the world."

But the investigation hit a dead end. The Marion County Prosecutor declined to press charges. Instead, the City-County Council passed a resolution in 2003 apologizing to IBLP for the "embarrassment" and urging the Superior Court "to immediately resume referring juveniles" to the [uncertified, unaccredited] Indianapolis Training Center. IBLP touts this resolution as evidence that no abuse occurred at the ITC. 

The following is the text of that resolution, excerpted from pages 131-133 of the Journal of proceedings  of the City-County Council of Indianapolis-Marion County, State of Indiana. I have added some first names for clarity, and highlighted some parts for emphasis.

April 14, 2003

PROPOSAL NO. 218, 2003. The proposal, sponsored by Councillors [Scott] Schneider, [William] Dowden, [James] Bradford, and [Beulah] Coughenour, concerns the Indianapolis Training Center. Councillor Schneider read the proposal and moved, seconded by Councillor Dowden, for adoption.
Councillor [Steve] Talley said that he is opposed to this proposal and feels it needs more discussion. He said that he has not seen the order that expunged the abuse allegations in writing. He said that he also cannot support a proposal that urges the Juvenile Court to refer juveniles to this facility, as this is not the role of this Council.
Councillor Dowden said that the entire Council received this order in writing. He added that Councillor Talley offered a proposal last year that would ask the Juvenile Court to cease referring juveniles to this facility, and therefore, he does not see the difference in encouraging them to again make referrals now that the facility has been cleared of all allegations, and it was found that the accuser had a history of making false claims.
Councillor Talley said that there have been further allegations since and they need to be verified. He said there may be legal ramifications against the Council if juveniles are sent to the facility at the Council's urging and the allegations turn out to be true. He added that he is concerned about the separation of Legislative and Judicial branches of government.
Councillor [Ron] Gibson moved, seconded by Councillor Conley, to table Proposal No. 218, 2003 until this order can be provided in writing and the findings can be verified. He said it could perhaps be sent to a committee for further information.
Councillor Dowden said that the written findings were distributed with the minutes of the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee over eight months ago and are on file in the Council office. He said that those copies could be reproduced at any Councillor's request.
The motion to table Proposal No. 218, 2003 failed on the following roll call vote; viz:
10 YEAS: Boyd, Conley, Douglas, Gibson, Gray, Horseman, Nytes, Sanders, Short, Talley
15 NAYS: Bainbridge, Borst, Bradford, Cockrum, Coonrod, Coughenour, Dowden, Frick, Langsford, Massie, McWhirter, Moriarty Adams, Schneider, Smith, Tilford
3 NOT VOTING: Brents, Knox, Soards
1 ABSENT: Black

Proposal No. 218, 2003 was adopted on the following roll call vote; viz:
15 YEAS: Bainbridge, Borst, Bradford, Cockrum, Coonrod, Coughenour, Dowden, Frick, Langsford, Massie, McWhirter, Moriarty Adams, Schneider, Smith, Tilford

10 NAYS: Boyd, Conley, Douglas, Gibson, Gray, Horseman, Nytes, Sanders, Short, Talley 
3 NOT VOTING: Brents, Knox, Soards
1 ABSENT: Black

Proposal No. 218, 2003 was retitled COUNCIL RESOLUTION NO. 66, 2003, and reads as follows:

CITY-COUNTY COUNCIL RESOLUTION NO. 66, 2003
A COUNCIL RESOLUTION concerning the Indianapolis Training Center.
WHEREAS, The Indianapolis Training Center, a Faith Based alternative youth training program for troubled youth, operated by the Institute in Basic Life Principles, has been a very positive addition to our community since locating here 10 years ago; and
WHEREAS, The Indianapolis Training Center has served the taxpayers of Marion County very well, operating without any local tax dollars; and
WHEREAS, both individually and collectively, members of the City-County have visited and toured the Center and interacted with the youth and staff; and
WHEREAS, The Indianapolis Training Center was the innocent victim of a media campaign alleging possible abuse, and was also the subject of a City-Council Resolution requesting the City to stop referring juveniles until an investigation is concluded; and
WHEREAS, this adverse publicity caused outside entities which contribute to the operation of the Indianapolis Training Center to suspend their support; and
WHEREAS, a thorough investigation by the state, and a review by the Marion County Prosecutor, found the allegations of abuse to be completely unfounded and unsubstantiated and ordered that the records be expunged; now, therefore:

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY-COUNTY COUNCIL OF THE
CITY OF INDIANAPOLIS AND OF MARION COUNTY, INDIANA:

SECTION 1 . The Indianapolis City-County Council expresses regret to the management and staff of the Indianapolis Training Center for any embarrassment and financial loss endured by the allegations last year.
SECTION 2. The Council acknowledges the good work of the Indianapolis Training Center and its effective help for troubled juveniles in Marion County; and the savings to the taxpayers of Marion County.
SECTION 3. The Council strongly encourages the Juvenile Court of Marion County to join with the many other jurisdictions to immediately resume referring juveniles to the Indianapolis Training Center.
SECTION 4. This resolution shall be in full force and effect upon adoption and compliance with IC 36-3-4-14.
Councillors Talley and Coughenour asked for consent to explain their votes. Consent was given.
Councillor Talley said that this proposal apologizes on behalf of the Council for embarrassment and financial loss to the facility, and he does not want this apology to speak for him. He said that he believes there are still unresolved allegations, and he therefore cannot support the proposal.
Councillor Coughenour said that there is no truth to these allegations and no substance was found for them. She said that the media and the Council did this facility a great disservice and injury. She said that she is very familiar with this organization and it is distressing to see a body that supports being a City of Character impugning such an organization's integrity.

(The next year Governor Mitch Daniels appointed Judge James Payne to direct Indiana's Department of Child Services. Payne was forced to resign in 2012 after numerous questions arose about Payne's unethical behavior, including the possible misappropriation of agency funds. His own agency investigated, and cleared him, after an allegation that he had slapped his grandson's face.)

Fortunately, the Indianapolis Training Center has been shut down for several years now. But I cannot for a moment think of the ITC as an "innocent victim". Many of its silent victims have yet to come forward. Some were damaged for years and are only now strong enough to label their experiences as abuse. Disregard for health--including adequate sleep, nutrition, exercise, and medical needs--was commonplace. One was supposed to rely on God for strength equal to one's assigned tasks, if they were different from what one signed up for. Some have been published on the website Recovering Grace. You can read some of them here and here and here and here.

Surely, if those Indianapolis council members had been aware of the abuse Gothard stands accused of today, they would not have been so quick to regret causing his staff "embarrassment".


Postscript 6/19/14: 
In 2008, Gothard used the Indianapolis City Council Resolution to reassure the Arkansas Times that IBLP had been cleared of abuse allegations at the Indianapolis Training Center. At that time, Gothard also denied that minors had ever been locked in prayer rooms. 

4 comments:

  1. LET ME APOLOGIZE TO ALL VICTIMS THAT HAVE BEEN SPIRITIUALLY ABUSED! As a Christian this grieves me and I know it grieves and angers God. god loves you and it is a disgrace and lie to call the ITC or Gothard's teaching Christian because God is not legalistic. GODALWAYS HAS YOUR BEST INTEREST AT HEART. Peggy

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  2. Fuck your God.

    Tobias

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  3. I'm finding it difficult to find any current information on the place. It sounds like the place was shut down, but your postscript of your post says that Gothard claimed that ITC was cleared of allegations? I know of personal accounts of that place that are horrifying to hear. I want to know that it no longer exists.

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    1. The hotel was sold some years ago. The property is now part of the Ivy Tech Community College campus. The program for reprogramming teenagers was moved to "log cabins" in Arkansas, and later to Skiatook, Oklahoma.

      As far as I know, the IBLP "Leaders-in-Training" program for juvenile delinquents no longer exists anywhere. However, IBLP did claim to operate similar "log cabin" programs at their centers in Moscow, Romania, New Zealand, and Australia.

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