Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), Bill Gothard, lawsuit, David Gibbs III
Many are probably aware of the recent news that five very brave women have come forward and have filed a lawsuit against Bill Gothard’s former ministry, Institute in Basic Life Principles, Inc. (IBLP), and six men who serve as Directors of IBLP: John Stancil, Anthony Burrus, Gil Bates, Timothy Levendusky, Charles Stephen Paine, Jr., and David York.
The five women, Gretchen Wilkinson, Jane Doe, Charis Barker, Rachel Frost, and Rachel Lees, are seeking:
“redress and damages for personal injuries based on the negligent and willful and wanton acts and omissions of Defendants with regard to sexual abuse and sexual harassment and similar allegations of malfeasance suffered by the Plaintiffs.”
The complaint’s allegations:
- All Plaintiffs either participated in IBLP programs, were interns, or employed by IBLP.
- “Each of the individual Plaintiffs were the victim of sexual abuse, sexual harassment and inappropriate/unauthorized touching, many times while they were minors, at the hand of the IBLP, by and through its agents and employees, and suffered as a result thereof.”
- Employees and directors of IBLP were aware of the sexual abuse/harassment allegations, and failed to notify authorities.
- There was an internal “investigation” done by staff/employees who were not qualified to do such an investigation.
- Apparently, no victims were interviewed in the internal investigation. The investigation was labeled as a sham cover-up (to the tune of $50,000).
- Investigation summary reported that “no criminal activity has been discovered. … However, the review showed that Mr. Gothard has acted in an inappropriate manner, and the Board realizes the seriousness of his lack of discretion and failure to follow Christ’s example of being blameless and above reproach.”
- IBLP plans to sell off and relocate their headquarters to Texas, “in an attempt to flee the jurisdiction (State of Illinois) where this wrongful conduct occurred.”
- Each woman seeks $50,000 in damages.
There are quite a few articles covering the lawsuit, which was filed October 20, 2015:
- Negligence Lawsuit Filed Against IBLP – Recovering Grace. In addition to the linked article, this blog site specifically addresses the abuses by Bill Gothard and the teachings of IBLP. If you are new to the Gothard/IBLP story, this is the place to go.
- Five women sue Bill Gothard’s ministry that has ties to the Duggars, The Washington Post
- Lawsuit alleges sexual misconduct at Oak Brook-based Christian ministry, Chicago Tribune
- Five Women Sue Duggar-Connected Ministry for Sex Abuse Cover-Up, Slate
- Stunning lawsuit alleges sex scandal at Christian ministry, World Net Daily
- Christian ministry with links to the Duggars sued over sexual abuse and cover up, Christianity Today
- DUGGAR CHRISTIAN ORGANIZATION SUED FOR SEXUAL ABUSE, HARASSMENT, Radar Online
- Five Women Sue Fundamentalist Ministry With Duggar Family Ties, ET Online
- Victims Allege Christian Ministry Hid Sexual Abuse in Multimillion-Dollar Lawsuit, Charisma News
The attorney representing the five women is David Gibbs III. Mr. Gibbs and I have had occasion to talk by phone when the Lourdes Torres vs. Doug Phillips case was breaking, and so I asked if he’d be willing to talk again, and he kindly agreed. The articles I have read above seem to present an accurate summary of what Mr. Gibbs relayed to me regarding the lawsuit. But I have seen other questions in the comments of the articles, and have had my own questions to ask, so I was able to address these with Mr. Gibbs.
Interview with Attorney David Gibbs III
Are there plans to name Bill Gothard himself in a lawsuit at some point?
Mr. Gibbs responded, “Bill is not legally connected with the organization [IBLP]. It is the Board’s decision” if they were to bring him back into the organization. Gibbs noted that adding Gothard to the lawsuit would make it more complicated for various reasons, one reason in particular, that some “clients were less comfortable about suing him directly” because of the abuses. He also described that, typically, “litigation goes against an organization with the goal of compensating victims,” not against an individual, such as Gothard.
This makes a lot of sense. I am on the board of a local nonprofit, and as a board member, it is my responsibility (along with the other board members) to make sure the Artistic Director is doing what he’s supposed to be doing. The Board of IBLP was supposed to make sure Bill Gothard was behaving appropriately. If they had any indication that something was amiss, they had/have a responsibility to act on it immediately. According to the lawsuit, the IBLP was negligent in how they handled these allegations by failure to report to authorities, not removing Gothard immediately from his position, failure to seek sex abuse experts to conduct a thorough unbiased investigation, etc. By suing the Board, it sends a clear message to IBLP that there was negligence on their part. Bill Gothard is no longer with the ministry, but, moving forward, how will they address these concerns? Will children be put in harm’s way? Who will make sure they are protected and safety policies are in place so no child will be harmed, or if something does happen, there are procedures in place to report immediately to civil authorities and minimize further abuse?
Why is this a civil lawsuit instead of a criminal case?
Mr. Gibbs made the important distinction that this is a civil lawsuit, not a criminal case. Anyone can report sex abuse allegations to authorities and they (authorities) may decide to open an inquiry for a criminal case, but that is entirely different than this civil lawsuit. A criminal case is initiated by the government and sentencing can include jail time, etc. A civil case is brought on by parties who ask the court to make the defendants fulfill their legal responsibilities, compensate for harm done, etc. This article gives further information.
Child Labor Laws
There was discussion about children working for IBLP without appropriate pay and/or possible violation of child labor laws. Gibbs indicated that he and his firm always report any alleged criminal activity to authorities, such as possible violation of child labor laws; but once again, it is within the discretion of the government to pursue these allegations and decide if an inquiry is warranted, which may result in a criminal case. Mr. Gibbs is exploring labor violations, which might be a separate case.
Is there an ongoing search for victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault that fall within the statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges against Bill Gothard?
Mr. Gibbs indicated that his “office remains open for anyone” to report sexual abuse allegations. We discussed the Bill Cosby sex abuse scandal and how publicity helped to encourage more victims to come forward. Mr. Gibbs believes it is likely that we will see the number of plaintiffs increase as the case becomes more public and victims realize that they are part of a larger group and won’t have to fight this battle on their own. Based on the number of personal testimonies shared at the Recovery Grace site, I, too, predict the number of plaintiffs to rise.
We discussed the IBLP property which is currently for sale. There was recent news that IBLP is selling their main headquarters and has plans to relocate to Big Sandy, Texas. Mr. Gibbs indicated the property is worth approximately $100,000,000. The lawsuit requested that if the property is sold, some sort of trust fund is established until the case is concluded. The monies could later be used to compensate victims if the plaintiffs are successful in the lawsuit.
Survivor Lawsuits in General
Have you served as counsel for other lawsuits by survivors against the perpetrators, or is the IBLP suit the second one for you?
Mr. Gibbs responded that he has handled a number of litigations of injured (all types of injuries). This is not the second case.
Do you think there will be more such lawsuits emerging (e.g., negligence, emotional distress, etc.), given the current overall situation with survivors of abuse?
Yes, if someone is abused, they are entitled to compensation for their abuse. We will see increasingly more of this kind of litigation. With national leaders comes responsibility, and part of that is to protect children, keep them safe, and have zero tolerance for child abuse. They should be safe at church and in their homes.
Allegations of Vulnerable Children Revictimized at IBLP
We discussed a bit of the plight of some of the plaintiffs (in general). It’s important to think about these young children and what it was like for them. Some came from abusive homes and were sent to IBLP so they could be “fixed” by Gothard and his teachings. These were kids who were homeschooled and lived sheltered lives. Some of them came from abusive homes and were being sent to IBLP to help their character. They were sent far from home to a strange environment. Their parents trusted IBLP to take care of them. These children likely had no one they knew, which put them in a more vulnerable position.
If they were caught in a sin, there were serious consequences. Some were isolated and/or abused at IBLP. For some, IBLP became their second place of victimization. When they “misbehaved,” leaders would call home to the fathers (also perpetrators) and share the “sins,” and were sent back home. So some went from one abusive home to experience abuse at IBLP, and then back home in disgrace because they failed at IBLP. Just imagine what would happen to a child who returned to their abusive home from IBLP for discipline reasons! The child was to blame in both places! These children had no safe place for help.
The age range of our victims when abused by IBLP was 14 years to 17 years (and continuing for some as adults). Unreported home abuse ranged from ages 4-17.
For people to cover up, hide it, keep it in the family is victimizing children at unbelievable levels. When you see this pattern of a vulnerable child, they get sent to IBLP to a person with a position of trust, you isolate them, then abuse them, that’s horrific. Then when you cover it up – blame them – that’s horrific. Many people don’t survive [emotionally].
Mr. Gibbs went on to discuss the responsibility of Christian leaders:
I do believe religious leaders/organizations need to realize there is a high standard – and society is holding people more accountable. … I think you’re going to see more cases, but hopefully the national leaders will see there is a higher bar of expectations [for accountability].
Can you give an update on the Lourdes Torres vs. Doug Phillips lawsuit?
The case is currently in discovery and depositions are being taken. The case continues, and mediation will likely occur later in the year. Mr. Gibbs indicated that because this is a high-profile case, extra effort has been made to keep media distractions to a minimum.
I mentioned to David Gibbs that some were concerned about him taking the case based on his background and connections, and asked for comment.
Gibbs identified a possible point of confusion: his name. His father is David Gibbs Jr., and he is David Gibbs III. This often causes misinformation and he’s very used to the mix-up. (You can see a chart comparing the two Gibbs’ here.)
Mr. Gibbs then shared in more detail about the process of what happens when he meets a client:
I always sit down with any of my clients and share my heart, explain to them my perspective, my passion, why I’m willing to get involved. The easiest thing would be to do nothing and not engage in this arena. But I wouldn’t feel like I was doing the right thing. I view this as an honor and the right thing to do to represent these women who are victimized.
In terms of stepping forward, my actions speak fairly loudly. Are there things years ago I wish I weren’t involved in? Yes, but in terms of marching forward, [I have] zero tolerance for child abuse and encourage churches to build awareness, to step forward and do things the right way. The folks that have gotten to know me through litigation seem to have a lot of confidence in the sincerity of these actions. I want to encourage these ladies. I view it as my privilege, along with others.
I asked his views of women, especially with regard to the culture of Patriarchy which depersonalizes women.
I believe women are obviously equal to men, created by God – there is no question in terms of their value. [I believe] they should be educated, and receive every opportunity to achieve their full potential. They need to find their identity in God. Some of the dangerous teachings of the overdomination of males to break the spirit [of women] is not loving. It’s wrong and lends itself to abuse.
We have numbers of lady attorneys on staff and they do great work. Every person has to rise and fall on their own merits. Some of what has been taught in Patriarchal cultures puts ladies in positions where they feel horrifically trapped. People who are supposed to protect, turn around and abuse [women]. That’s incredibly sad.
Is there anything that hasn’t been reported in the media that you would like share?
Many of these women were in abuses at home and escaped to get free. It’s heartbreaking.
The vulnerability – once they’d try to pull away, skip one-on-one sessions, counselors were made to telephone their fathers, they were sent back with shame of being sent home where they were abused and having been told by IBLP officials all of the confidential stuff that went on during sessions. Imagine a girl who has never been to school/doctor – that had to be horrifically confusing. All the people you hoped to trust and then find yourself victimized. When you look at culture, many of these ladies felt like they had no place to turn. It’s frightening to step on the national stage and bring forward these claims. Family dynamics, personal dynamics, these cases bring up a lot of painful emotions and courage to come forward.
It was brave of [these] ladies to step forward – scary with abusive backgrounds – courage. It’s disappointing that IBLP forced them into this. We offered to meet [IBLP Board members] ahead of lawsuit being filed, but they refused. In some measure, they were counting on the victims not being willing to come forward. That was a calculated risk on their part. They are concerned about other women at risk.
Internal Investigation by IBLP
We discussed the internal investigation by IBLP. IBLP paid $50,000 for an investigation to be done. This investigation was a “sham.” The results were never publicly released. I was greatly disturbed to find that the no one asked questions of the victims:
No victims were spoken to in the investigation. It is the lowest level of confidence or credibility if they don’t talk to victims.
The lawsuit will access findings of the “investigation.” They will have to produce who they talked to, the report, the details, so people can judge from themselves.
There was a calculated effort by the Board to handle it disastrously wrong. Hopefully other churches and organizations will learn from this.
Do you have any thoughts on what it means in the Kingdom for you to participate in the dismantling of a system your father helped create that seems to have shielded these kinds of ministries from scrutiny and accountability?
I am always honored to stand up for what I believe to be right, and I want to do it with a right spirit. That’s why we offered IBLP to talk. But when people refuse to do things the right way, you have to evaluate options.
The teachings of Bill Gothard and the abuses that have gone on for years at IBLP have harmed many. What many of us have known for years is finally being exposed publicly, thanks in part to the connection with the Josh Duggar sex scandal. Some have concerns about Mr. Gibbs’ involvement in this case. Others want Gothard to be criminally charged and brought to justice. The bottom line is that five brave women have joined together, chosen Mr. Gibbs to represent them, and to call IBLP to account for the way they have mishandled serious abuse cases.
In my conversation with Mr. Gibbs, the underlying theme I heard was that churches and organizations must be responsible in how they defend and protect children, and they must have policies in place. At the beginning of my conversation with Mr. Gibbs, I asked him if he knew that the number one reason churches are brought to the courtroom is because of sex abuse of minors. Christian churches and organizations have failed miserably in this area. I believe Mr. Gibbs is doing what he can do to bring justice to victims and encourage leaders to make sure our children are safe. I can and will stand behind that. I hope you will all join me in praying for the five women and Mr. Gibbs and his staff as they are working hard on this case.
photo credits: Peas n carrots at Free Jinger
Edit 10/25 Changed “criminal lawsuit” to criminal case” in subtitle for clarity.