There is peace in the truth

April 1, 2018 - 12:00am -- Living City

There is peace in the truth
Speaking out against systemic lies and silence in order for love to heal and rebuild a community

By Patty Crawford

One of the worst forms of discrimination is violence, particularly sexual violence. My professional expertise relates to legal compliance, specifically eradicating discrimination that cripples universities and colleges across the country. 

I was recruited and hired to start an anti-discrimination department and program for a well-known Christian university a few years ago. While the university knew it was their legal obligation to have this work done, I quickly learned that it was not work that many leaders at the university truly wanted to be done well. 

It is well known in my professional world that the more we make space for people to speak out about violence that has been perpetrated against them, the more reports will come forward. And in fact these horrific incidents of harassment and violence that had been happening behind closed doors at the university started to come to the surface under my watch. In my 22 months there, over 400 people came to me to report stalking, relationship violence, sexual assault and harassment.

For nearly two years I navigated every report, every decision, action and meeting, every individual heart and soul with great sensitivity, thought, and a lot of prayer. I tried to understand God’s will for my daily work, and I wanted his truth and love to be at the center — be it in listening to someone or providing love in the ways that were necessary for those around me to heal and grow. In fact, part of why I had taken this job was that I could pray with those who came to me for help, as I saw this as an important part of their healing.

As more controversy struck the university, as more narratives of abuse, harassment, violence and assault surfaced, I had to dive deeper and deeper into my relationship with truth in order to navigate my work.

About a year ago, I realized that the courage of the victims to tell their stories, their truth, and my efforts to document and report it made those in power start to feel vulnerable. As time passed, I was understanding the extent of the wrong, which was worse than I thought: in order to save the reputation of the university, themselves, keep fans and prospective students, those high in power helped hide these wrongs. 

The university’s chief operating officer and select board members orchestrated their own cover-ups of issues, like working with the local police department to keep reports with football players out of the public eye, as well as keeping this information from me and my office. Basically, they were helping cultivate a culture where victims were silenced and harassers could get away with taking advantage of others. 

I was at an impasse: keep my job and betray those who trusted me with their painful truth by remaining silent, or speak out and risk the consequences. But I felt that there was only one way to be coherent to what God was asking of me: to be a voice of truth. 

I didn’t want this responsibility. “Why do I have to be this voice?” I asked God and myself. I have a family to provide for, and I love my job and how meaningful the work was. I knew it would require me to sacrifice my career, professional reputation and our financial well-being. 

After praying and asking for prayers from close family and friends, I knew that God’s truth was my guide, my safety, and would bring peace regardless of the consequences and difficulties I would face personally. 

More importantly, I knew that God was asking me to speak on behalf of all those that didn’t have the opportunity to speak out. He wanted me to help pave an easier way for the victims, survivors and others that could be in harm’s way of abuse and violence in the future because of the corrupt systems that made up the foundation of the community, a community I had begun to deeply care for. I realized that this call was a gift God was giving me: the gift to say “yes” and decide to act in such a big way. 

The payout appears
There was a particular moment when I had to make a very difficult decision: the university offered me a large sum of money to leave my job and remain silent about what I knew. It would benefit me personally and provide financial security for my family. 

I could see another, much more difficult road ahead, with no worldly security if I chose to speak out. As we rely primarily on my salary, that could mean losing all possible income until I could find another job. 

But could I live with having known about this big systemic problem, knowing I could have done something to stop it, and not doing so? Could I teach my children the value of truth if I myself did not speak out when it counted? 

Ultimately, I felt God was asking me to speak the truth. And I had a deep peace knowing that no matter the sacrifice, if I did this, if I kept God at the center, that was all I needed as a professional and as a mother and wife. 

Standing up for the truth was worth more than millions of dollars or a lucrative career. It was truly for love of my neighbor. 

It also was very clear in my heart that God’s plan was not for me to be a spokesperson, but for a system to be re-examined, for change to happen amidst so much suffering, pain and sin. I was quickly called to step back, but I continued to challenge the status quo for action to happen, to protect and defend those who have faced severe violence to not have to become more vulnerable by speaking out about their own experience.

This ultimately wasn’t a story about me or my work, but rather about working against lies and silence in order for love to heal and rebuild a community and its systems and structures. 

It has been about a year since I resigned and spoke out, bringing the scandal out to the public, even speaking on major media sources. It has not been easy, and the university has fought me and tried to damage my reputation the whole way. 

The urgency of the issue
Since then, many systemic truths have come to light surrounding sexual violence: at the university where I served, as well as in the media, Hollywood and even Olympic sports. I am glad this issue continues to receive more public attention, and I hope in some way my contribution encouraged others to speak out as well. Every lawsuit, trial, article, and narrative I read about brings up this sense of urgency in my heart of hearts. 

After all this, I was no longer able to find a job in my field, so I had to change track and leave this matter so dear to my heart to others. 

Since I cannot directly work for this cause anymore, I pray that my voice can encourage others who see corruption, violence or illegal, immoral or unethical actions happening in their work, school or neighborhoods to also speak the truth, so that they can give their “yes” no matter the consequences or challenges they may face in the wake of it.