Leadership And Addressing Sexual Misconduct By Leaders

A four-month-long investigation has determined that the world-famous Christian Apologist Ravi Zacharias, who passed away in May 2020 at the age of 74, sexually abused massage therapists in the U.S. and abroad and solicited hundreds of photos of women.

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) hired attorneys at Miller & Martin to investigate after Christianity Today reported in Sept. 2020 that three women who worked at his spa had accused Zacharias of abuse.

The attorneys interviewed 50 witnesses and examined homes used by Zacharias from 2014 to 2018. They said, "We are confident that we uncovered sufficient evidence to conclude that Mr. Zacharias engaged in sexual misconduct."

According to the investigation, Zacharias leveraged his reputation and used his need for massage to treat a chronic back injury, as well as his overseas travel, to hide his decade-long abuse of massage therapists.

RZIM released a 12-page report in Feb. 2021 that confirmed that Zacharias committed sexual abuse against women in Thailand, India, and Malaysia and at day spas he owned in Atlanta, as well as revealing the existence of five other victims in the U.S.

Investigators found that Zacharias used tens of thousands of dollars of ministry funds raised for a "humanitarian effort" to provide housing, schooling, pay, and a monthly stipend to four massage therapists. One of the massage therapists told investigators that "he required sex from her." She said that Zacharias raped her; "made her pray with him to thank God for the 'opportunity' they both received"; "called her his 'reward' for living a life of service to God"; and told her that if she ever spoke out and hurt his reputation, she would be responsible for millions of lost souls.

Investigators also found hundreds of photos of young women on Zacharias's devices, including some nude photos. The religious leader allegedly "solicited and received photos until a few months before his death."

Zacharias used multiple phones on a different wireless plan than RZIM's, which allowed him to hide his communications.

The report also corroborated allegations made four years ago by a Canadian woman, Lori Anne Thompson, who was the first woman to go public with sexual abuse accusations against the religious leader. She alleged that Zacharias manipulated her into sending him sexually explicit texts and photos. Investigators found other witnesses with similar stories and concluded that there was a six-year-long pattern of similar text conversations both before and after Thompson.

The investigation concluded that Zacharias continued to solicit sexual photos from other women even as he settled the case with Thompson and told the public and RZIM leadership that he had done nothing wrong and that an investigation was unnecessary. In 2017, Zacharias had claimed Thompson was extorting him and sued her, resulting in a nondisclosure agreement that left her unable to participate in the recent investigation.

The investigation also found that RZIM, which was run by Zacharias's "family members and loyal allies", failed to hold the leader accountable. The RZIM board issued a statement noting that Zacharias took steps to hide his behavior but that structural, policy, and cultural issues likely contributed to the prolonged abuse. RZIM apologized for failing to oversee Zacharias or hold him accountable as well as issuing an apology to Thompson.

RZIM is restructuring after a number of speakers and staff members left the ministry over concerns about how top leaders initially denied the allegations. The board of the U.K.-based Zacharias Trust voted unanimously to separate from RZIM and rename the organization. Staff at RZIM, which is currently the largest apologetics organization in the world, say the organization plans to downsize dramatically. Daniel Silliman and Kate Shellnutt "Ravi Zacharias Hid Hundreds of Pictures of Women, Abuse During Massages, and a Rape Allegation" christianitytoday.com (Feb. 11, 2021).

Commentary

This article highlights the need for every member to be subject to monitoring and oversight and to held accountable for wrongdoing—even the topmost leaders.

Organizations should stress in training that everyone is accountable for their actions, including leaders, spiritually or otherwise. Leadership should make it clear in the training that no one is above the law.

Next, task every member of your leadership team, as well as board members, consultants, or others who work with leadership on an equal level, with watching for wrongdoing. Make sure they understand how to report and the importance of doing so right away.

In addition, organizations should have multiple reporting avenues available to use to report wrongdoing, even anonymously.

Follow each report with an investigation. If the alleged wrongdoer is a leader, most likely it would be beneficial to work with your legal counsel to identify a third-party investigator to conduct the investigation.

If the victims are minors, report the allegations to child protective services immediately.

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