Report: Baptist mission group failed to protect kids from known abuser

Sexual Abuse
by Gaye Clark
Posted 6/03/16, 12:10 pm

An investigation by the private advocacy firm Professional Investigators International (Pii) has concluded former missionary surgeon Donn Ketcham sexually abused more than 20 minors and four adult women in Bangladesh between 1966 and 1989. Many of his victims were the children of fellow missionaries. 

The 280-page report also claims leaders with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) repeatedly “mishandled” abuse allegations. 

A partial list of Ketcham’s offenses included multiple extra-marital affairs, sexual abuse of minors and adults under the guise of medical care, rape, and apparent drugging. 

Ketcham’s colleagues first reported one of his affairs to their superiors in 1973. According to the Pii report, ABWE should have removed Ketcham from his post, in compliance with the group’s policies. Such action would have prevented access to many of his victims. Instead, after having three conversations with ABWE’s then-president Wendell Kempton, Ketcham returned to the field. The missionary with whom he had an affair was sent home.

Upon his return to Bangladesh, “Donn Ketcham sexual abused many young girls under the guise of medical care,” according to the Pii report.

In 1984, ABWE leaders called another affair “an incident of indiscretion.” The missionary nurse involved was sent home, but ABWE relocated Ketcham to another hospital in Bangladesh. When he returned to the United States on furlough, ABWE required him to undergo 30 sessions of counseling. He only attended 17 of those sessions, but ABWE returned him to the field anyway.

Once back in Bangladesh, Ketcham began tutoring the 13-year-old daughter of a fellow missionary couple. Over the course of six months, the girl suffered repeated sexual abuse. When she returned to the U.S. in July 1989, she reported the abuse to her pastor.

ABWE dismissed Ketcham but not before leaders “strongly encouraged” the victim to sign a confession she had “participated in a physical relationship with Dr. Don [sic] that transgressed God’s Word and was not pleasing to Him.” ABWE officials labeled the minor victim a “willing partner.”

The victim’s parents were angry when they learned of the confession.

“We’re devastated by the negligence of ABWE leadership in failing to remove Ketcham from the field again and again,” the family of the teen survivor told Religion News Service. “We wish that ABWE leaders could comprehend the immeasurable pain that this … continues to cause her even to this day.”

The Pii report noted ABWE showed “more attention, care, understanding, grace, and support to the 58-year-old pedophile Donn Ketcham than to the 13-year-old missionary kid (MK) victim/survivor and her family.”

ABWE also didn’t report Ketcham to legal authorities in Bangladesh or in the United States. After his dismissal from ABWE, he continued to practice medicine in Grand Rapids, Mich.

In 2002, seven adult survivors of Ketcham’s abuse confronted ABWE’s then-president Michael Loftis, assuring him many more victims existed. Loftis promised to look into it and started a nine-year investigation he never completed.

In March 2011, angry victims started a blog and Facebook page, Bangladesh MKs Speak, to “bring into the light what has previously been kept in the dark … to publicly identify former ABWE missionary Dr. Donn Ketcham of Allendale, Michigan, as a pedophile and to document ABWE’s cover-up of his crimes.”

Two months later, the ABWE board hired GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to look for further victims and terminated Loftis.

In February 2012, Ketcham surrendered his license to practice medicine.

A year later, after two years of investigation, ABWE fired GRACE, alleging “a myriad of investigative flaws.” The organization hired Pii as a replacement and made its findings public last month. Ketcham and his family refused to speak with Pii.

After releasing the report, ABWE insisted it has removed those within its ranks responsible for sweeping Ketcham’s abuse under the rug and implemented new policies and training for its leaders. 

“There is no amount of remorse, regret, or shame that can make up for the suffering and pain this abuse has caused,” said Al Cockrell, ABWE interim president. “What Donn Ketcham did was reprehensible, and ABWE’s lack of oversight and action was simply inexcusable.”

While ABWE staff are encouraged to report any suspicions of child abuse to its home office, the organization makes no mention of filing a police report.

Victims commenting on the blog Bangladesh MKs Speak remain skeptical. 

“After letting the report settle in, I find I am disappointed once again. … ABWE doesn’t get it,” Shary Kroeker Hauber posted. “Abuse must be reported to authorities of the government not the mission. … Every mission needs outside eyes looking in to keep it open and honest. Why must children bear the heavy burden of silence to make the mission look good?”

Gaye Clark

Gaye is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course.

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  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:32 pm

    What is it with Christian organizations that causes them constantly to mishandle sexual abuse?  Granted these allegations are from decades ago, but, really?  They will cast out the missionary nurse who had an affair with him, and make the minor girl admit complicity in his acts, but allow him to get on with life without disgrace.  Unbelievable!