G.R.A.C.E. Update—Why we replaced G.R.A.C.E. as an investigative firm

Harrisburg, PA —

UPDATE 2/20/2013:

ABWE replaced G.R.A.C.E.— the victims’ advocacy organization—with a new investigative firm in mid-February of 2013, after determining G.R.A.C.E.‘s investigation was flawed and would not find the truth. G.R.A.C.E. was hired by ABWE in May 2011 to independently investigate the tragic child abuse by former missionary Donn Ketcham in Bangladesh more than 20 years ago, as well as ABWE’s handling of the situation. ABWE replaced G.R.A.C.E. with an independent investigative firm, Professional Investigators International (Pii).

Since that time, we have been asked for more information on this decision. (Get answers to other questions you may have here.)  As members of the body of Christ, we know the value of truth, honesty and transparency — and we are continually learning how to exemplify those characteristics in our actions and words. For that reason we’d like to share some more of the details that led us to our decision. 

In the fall and winter of 2012, at least 8 victims and witnesses voluntarily contacted us to express their concerns relating to the G.R.A.C.E. investigation. They felt G.R.A.C.E had left out information, did not record their testimonies, changed their statements, provided inaccurate summaries and asked leading questions. Some of these individuals shared that they had been in touch with G.R.A.C.E. directly regarding their concerns, but they were dissatisfied with the organization’s response to them. As a result, we know that some of the interviewees requested that G.R.A.C.E. not use their testimonies at all.

Starting in November 2012, ABWE wrote Mr. Tchividjian, director of G.R.A.C.E. to request a meeting to address the victims’ and interviewees’ concerns, as well as potential problems we saw in the investigation. ABWE offered to meet with Mr. Tchividjian in person, or even fly in members of the G.R.A.C.E. team. G.R.A.C.E. agreed to meet, however, they told us that they could not address specific areas of concerns without knowing the identities of the victims and witnesses who had contacted us. We believed that this was a fair request, so we asked those who contacted us for their permission to share their names along with their complaints with G.R.A.C.E. These MKs and victims agreed with one stipulation. They asked that G.R.A.C.E. promise to protect their identities to prevent reprisals or retaliation.

G.R.A.C.E. refused to sign a confidentiality agreement to protect the identities of these witnesses. While we do not understand why this decision was made and were offered no clear explanation, the ABWE Board of Directors believed it was important to respect the MKs and interviewees request for confidentiality — especially as some expressed a fear of retaliation in this process. Since G.R.A.C.E. would not sign the confidentiality agreement, we were unable to meet to bring clarity to the body of concerns and questions.

We felt that this response by G.R.A.C.E did not seem to reflect an interest in protecting all the victims, including those who had questions about the investigative practices.

Without being able to address the questions and concerns about the legitimacy of the summaries and testimonies used to produce a report by G.R.A.C.E., we were left questioning the validity the report itself.

If the report was based on paraphrased testimonies or incomplete statements from witnesses and victims rather than their exact words, there may be information missing from the analysis that could greatly alter the tone or accuracy of the report. We felt this also made G.R.A.C.E.’s agreement for us to “fact check” the report meaningless. How could we fact check a document for complete truth (which G.R.A.C.E. required we do within 5 days) when we wouldn’t know what information was omitted which might have an impact on its accuracy?

We believe there may have been a way to work through these issues with G.R.A.C.E., had the organization been willing to sign the confidentiality agreement and agree to correct these investigative flaws where they could. We were incredibly disappointed when we learned that G.R.A.C.E would not, but needed to remain true to our commitment to protect the confidentiality of the victims and witnesses.

We firmly believe that a truly independent investigation should be conducted in a way that is consistent with the highest standards of the industry. The process of collecting evidence should be objective, and key interviews should be recorded and based on unbiased and open-ended questions that seek facts. For this reason, we have begun working with Pii, an investigative firm with a track record of high standards in objective reporting.

ORIGINAL STORY: Following lengthy deliberation and prayer, ABWE today replaced G.R.A.C.E.— the victims’ advocacy organization—with a new investigative firm. G.R.A.C.E. was hired by ABWE in May 2011 to independently investigate the tragic child abuse by former missionary Donn Ketcham in Bangladesh more than 20 years ago, and ABWE’s subsequent handling of the situation. ABWE board members and executives discovered that G.R.A.C.E.’s investigative process was “fatally flawed” and would not find the truth, nor advance the cause of reconciliation with the victims.

ABWE remains committed to completing an independent investigation of the situation; ensuring its past mistakes have been corrected; and to bringing, as much as humanly possible, emotional recovery and reconciliation to any individuals who have been hurt by this abuse. 

To that end, ABWE has hired an independent and reputable firm, Professional Investigators International (Pii), to complete the investigation and produce a report. Pii is led by Bob Davis, a retired FBI agent, with extensive experience in child abuse investigations. ABWE has requested that G.R.A.C.E. release their records from the investigation to Pii.

“We made this decision with great reluctance, and after repeated attempts to reach an agreement with G.R.A.C.E. about how to proceed in an independent investigation that would ensure objectivity, address our concerns, and be in accordance with industry best practices,” said Larry Green, Chairman of ABWE’s Board of Directors. “Unfortunately, the flaws in the investigative process that were brought to light were so significant that to continue with G.R.A.C.E. would hinder, rather than help us achieve the primary goals for the investigation in the first place—that of discovering the complete truth and facilitating biblical reconciliation with the victims.”

In the past few months, several individuals who were interviewed by G.R.A.C.E. during the investigative process voluntarily contacted ABWE, unsolicited, to share their concerns. These individuals reported that the interviews by G.R.A.C.E. were not conducted in a professional way or in complete independence and autonomy, as stipulated by ABWE’s contract with G.R.A.C.E.

 As a result of these conversations, ABWE believes that G.R.A.C.E.:

  1. Has not utilized acceptable practice and professional techniques in interviews to obtain truthful statements. For example, in its Philadelphia interviews of more than 20 witnesses, many of them alleged victims, it was reported that G.R.A.C.E. housed them in the same hotel and allowed the witnesses to compare stories BEFORE the interviews, thereby tainting the testimony so much that it would not have been admissible in a court of law according to former VA Attorney General Mark Earley. 
  2. Has not recorded many of their interviews to ensure accuracy and context of the interviewees’ testimony, which is standard operating procedure for any independent investigation, especially as to alleged victims and key witnesses. 
  3. Has provided to interviewees incomplete and inaccurate transcriptions of their interviews.
  4. Has asked clearly leading questions to interviewees, demonstrating what appears to be a strong bias in one direction
  5. Has added and/or cut out important information, including any favorable information about ABWE, letting the transcript misrepresent facts and not reflecting appropriately what the      interviewee stated.
  6. Has confronted some interviewees with blatant and intimidating statements and suggestions, rather than questions, during the interviews. 
  7. Has refused to use any standard of evidence (such as preponderance of evidence or clear and convincing as adopted by ABWE) in which to apply the facts to reach its conclusions.
  8. Finally, these wrong investigative tactics and flaws have led victims to withdraw from the investigation with a number of other victims and witnesses expressing similar concerns about the perceived lack of truthfulness of any report due to the fatal investigative flaws. In fact, one of the victims who was allegedly abused by Donn Ketcham has recently withdrawn from G.R.A.C.E.      investigation and stated to G.R.A.C.E., “We continue to be very uncomfortable about the incomplete nature of the notes.  We were very surprised that G.R.A.C.E. did not record our session in order to get a complete record of the interview  . . . Therefore [we] withdraw our consent for G.R.A.C.E. to use any part of our interview both verbal and written in its investigation process.”  One of the victims stated to ABWE that she felt that she was “re-victimized by G.R.A.C.E.”.

In an effort to address these issues directly with G.R.A.C.E., ABWE shared its concerns in correspondence in November and December 2012, with additional follow up in recent weeks, but to no avail.

ABWE specifically requested G.R.A.C.E. demonstrate its commitment to complete independence and autonomy in an investigation by basing all conclusions on a commonly accepted legal standard of proof. ABWE’s Board of Directors considered this issue for investigations into other cases of child abuse in its 85-year history, and chose to adopt two common civil standards: clear and convincing evidence and preponderance of the evidence. G.R.A.C.E. has refused to do that, despite ABWE’s urging.

Allegations against Ketcham surfaced in 1989, and ABWE quickly moved to dismiss him from the ministry. More victims stepped forward in 2002, and ABWE began a wider investigation, which it admittedly failed to complete.

“An important part of this process has been addressing the mistakes of the past and appropriately correcting them,” Green said. “We are committed to finishing this investigation, not only into Ketcham’s abuse, but also into our failures as an organization. We want to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

Over the past two years, ABWE acknowledged its failures, leading to a series of administrative and personnel changes that resulted in the departure of everyone known to be involved in mishandling the Ketcham case through the years. The organization also reported Ketcham to the Michigan Board of Medicine, which resulted in the loss of his medical license. In addition, ABWE hired an independent law firm to conduct an investigation of all historical cases, in accordance with today’s standards, to ensure that they were handled properly or that further action was taken, if appropriate.

For more information on the steps ABWE has taken to protect its children, please visit www.abwe.org/protecting-our-children.

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