Are Abuse Survivors Best Served When Institutions Investigate Themselves?

An internal investigation allows the institution being investigated to stay in the driver’s seat, while an independent investigation requires that they get into the backseat with everyone else.

The independence of an investigation is not defined by the words or assurances of the institution being investigated. It is defined by a structure that requires the institution to get out of the driver’s seat and give up control. This can be a profound step forward for an organization who is genuinely focused on demonstrating love and repentance to those who have been hurt. 


In the past years, we have heard many faith-based institutions announce the launching of independent investigations to address issues of past sexual abuse that have publicly surfaced. Whether it’s academic institutions, mission organizations, churches, or denominations, the term “independent investigation” has become almost fashionable.

When an organization is confronted with public allegations of child sexual abuse within their ranks, it finds itself under a bright spotlight as the watching world waits to see how it will respond. All too often, the overriding institutional concern has very little to do with caring for the victims, but everything to do with protecting its reputation by doing everything it can to shut off the spotlight. This is often accomplished by announcing that the institution will launch an “independent” investigation. The organization proceeds to hire a private investigative group or law firm to investigate the matter with the hope that this process will calm everyone down and eventually turn off the spotlight. Because the motivation for this process can be based upon institutional self-preservation, many investigations labeled as “independent” are nothing more than “internal” investigations in disguise.

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