Today, our law firm filed a lawsuit against the Western Mennonite School in Salem and the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference on behalf of a nineteen year-old survivor of childhood sexual abuse by her high school teacher.
We intend to prove that Matthew Yoder, a geography teacher at the Oregon school, was hired by school officials despite being aware of previous sexual abuse allegations against him and widespread concerns about Yoder’s inappropriate interactions with students.
Our client, who we’ve identified in the complaint as “M.L.,” was enrolled as a freshman at Western Mennonite in 2010, and Yoder, 27 years old at that time, was one of her teachers.
For about one year, Yoder sexually abused his fifteen year-old student–including fondling, masturbation, oral sex, and intercourse. In order to keep his victim quiet, Yoder used threats to coerce her into silence.
Then, in 2012, under pressure of exposure, Yoder confessed to school officials that he had sexually abused our client, and he was arrested on Valentine’s Day of 2012.
Yoder later pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree sexual abuse and was sentenced to 32 months in Shutter Creek Correctional Institution in North Bend, OR. He is still there today.
Commenting on the lawsuit’s negligence allegations against the school officials, Attorney Peter Janci, stated, “This is a story of failure-after-failure of this school to observe simple measures to protect kids. We intend to prove that Western Mennonite School administrators knew prior to hiring Yoder that he had previously been accused of sexually abusing several children and we intend to prove that even after his hiring, there were red flags everywhere. It is outrageous for schools today to knowingly ignore risks of child abuse.”
Even the Yamhill County District Attorney who prosecuted the case noted during Yoder’s trial that the former teacher should not have been hired, saying that there were “red flags all over the Defendant’s history.”
We are also naming the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference as a defendant. This is a regional governing body of the the overarching Mennonite Church USA, and founded and oversees the operations of Western Mennonite School.
Many people confuse Mennonites with the Amish, especially in eastern parts of the United States where they dress in a somewhat similar way, but the two faiths are actually different sects of the Anabaptist Christian movement. In the west, Mennonites are not required dress in quite so traditional clothing.
Ironically, in June of 2013, Mennonite Church USA formed a committee focusing on sexual abuse within the church after it was revealed that John Howard Yoder (the church’s most prominent modern theologian) was the subject of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. John Howard Yoder died in 1997. The Mennonite Church USA recently devoted the entire issue of the Mennonite Quarterly Review to the issue of sexual abuse within the Mennonite Church.
FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Reporter Steven Dubois reported on our lawsuit in The Republic
Attorney Steve Crew noted, “This case will show that even organizations with strong commitment to pacifism can have a blind spot for sexual violence and exploitation of children. A great mission statement is simply no substitute for common sense child abuse prevention policies.”
Crew and Janci hope this lawsuit will encourage the Mennonite Church USA to adopt and enforce better prevention policies and ensure adherence to the policies at local levels across the country.
As is common whenever we meet survivors of a convicted child sexual abuser, there are often many more victims who have never spoken up about their abuse. In Carol McAlice Currie’s article for the Statesman Journal, Peter Janci summed up the importance of speaking out: “[Our client] didn’t stay silent, and hopefully that will encourage other victims to come forward so that these institutions can be held accountable.”
If you would like to speak with someone confidentially, please call us toll-free at 1-888-407-0224 or use our confidential online form.