Young Life’s UMich Sexual Misconduct Allegations Surviving Students Speak to The Daily
Content Warning: Sexual Assault
A story published by Business Insider on Tuesday detailed decades of sexual misconduct linked to Young life, an international organization of young Christians, with cases of sexual assault of former members reported across the country, including at the University of Michigan.
Public health chief Maddie Malvitz and LSA chief Becca Wong, two of the students interviewed as part of the Business Insider story, both started attending Young Life meetings at college as than freshmen. Wong was promoted to a managerial position in her second year.
The two told Business Insider US that a student leader harassed Wong at a block party in 2019 and later that night he invited Malvitz to a house where he and other Young Life members lived. .
Instead of going to that house, Malvitz told Business Insider that the student leader took Malvitz to the back of another house and forced her to give him a blowjob. After the incident, Malvitz said she went to the house where other Young Life members lived and slept on their sofa while the student leader went upstairs. In the middle of the night, Malvitz said the student leader had come down and demanded that they have penetrative sex; Malvitz refused.
When Malvitz spoke to Wong about the assault in May 2020, Wong was a student leader and immediately reported the incident to the college’s Young Life leadership, according to the Business Insider story. After that, Wong said she was called to meet with Zoom executives, where they informed her that she would be fired from the organization.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Wong said she felt blinded by the decision and still wanted to be part of the organization. Wong said it took a while for him to fully recognize the organization’s systemic issues.
“It’s a very harmful experience, but when you’re in (Young Life) you really drink Kool Aid and you really believe everything they do,” Wong said. “Leaving Young Life has been a very eye-opening experience, and you can’t really see the problems with Young Life until you get out of it.”
Malvitz echoed Wong’s point, saying that after her assault and what she believes to be the organization’s manipulative manipulation of the report, she began to experience a religious trauma that she still struggles with.
“I think my confidence in church structures in general has dramatically diminished,” said Malvitz. “(Young Life) hurt me so much more than I can explain using the word of God or saying that what they were doing was more important than the pain I was going through.”
Wong said she believes Young Life will not take appropriate action unless asked to do so by speaking people. She referred to #DoBetterYoungLife movement, an online forum space dedicated to those who have been injured by Young Life and who wish to share their experiences, as an example of how members continue to talk about their experiences within the organization.
“I don’t believe Young Life can change internally,” Wong said. “I think external pressure is the only thing that will force them to change because we have seen how they reacted to the #DoBetterYoungLife movement and how they responded to so many stories of people being hurt by their homophobia and homophobic policies, and they said, “We don’t change our policies. This is the Word of God.”
The Daily reached out to the University’s Young Life arm and the communications office of Young Life’s parent organization for comment, but received no response in time for publication.
Wong and Malvitz also discussed the shooter’s threat directed at women and rocked the University campus over the weekend, specifically mentioning how the threat appeared to target sexual assault survivors. Wong said the threat is one example of the added stress many survivors feel about reporting cases of sexual violence.
“Whether the threat is real or not, the fear is real and we have all experienced it,” Wong said. “I would have liked the University to take this more seriously. “
The university investigated the threat with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and decided there was no harm on campus, allowing classes to continue in person as usual. More than a thousand students signed a petition asking the University to hold all classes and activities remotely on Monday.
Malvitz said she too was troubled by the threat, especially since the Business Insider article was due for publication in the following days. Malvitz said she was disappointed with the University’s response and its lack of recognition of how the threat specifically threatens survivors of sexual assault.
“There are these constant little assaults that make you not want to talk on campus,” Malvitz said. “A lot of those University announcements just said, ‘It’s okay now. We are safe. They weren’t talking about the fact that this was aimed directly at women in the #MeToo movement.
Wong said she thinks it is important to talk about these issues. If the survivors feel ready to do it, Wong said, they should.
“It’s important to tell the truth about these issues because a primary weapon of oppression is silence and Young Life has silenced many of us,” Wong said. “This is why we are speaking out today. We will not be silenced and we will not leave. “