Reporting systems examined as even more accounts surface

By Blake Spurney

Newton Now

This week, four more people—including former Bethel students—came forward to North Newton Police with reports of incidents involving Ted Mueller, KIPCOR volunteer who at one time had access to the Bethel campus, German exchange program and addresses of Bethel students. Mueller was arrested Oct. 31 on two counts of sexual battery and one count of lewd and lascivious behavior against a woman in 2018.

Since the arrest of Mueller, 84, at least eight more women have come forward to report incidents involving him to North Newton police.

“We’re still getting information in from females who had experiences with Ted that they want to talk about,” North Newton Police Chief Randy Jordan said.

Jordan said the new reports are in addition to a handful of complaints that women previously had made against Mueller, going back at least 20 years. Women have contacted his office via e-mail. Jordan said all the reports would be forwarded to Harvey County Attorney David Yoder.

Jordan said he thought someone might have notified the German exchange students about the ongoing investigation. He said he thought media reports about Mueller’s arrest also helped in notifying victims.

“I’m just glad these victims are feeling OK to come forward now,” he said.

Four years ago, Jordan said he and sheriff’s deputies provided orientation about sexual violence to incoming Bethel freshmen. Jordan talked to freshmen women about sexual assault and deputies spoke to freshman men.

Jordan said he investigated four reports of sexual assault that same school year on Bethel’s campus. He also noted that law enforcement wasn’t invited back the next year or any year since.

“Let me just say that I’m disappointed about it, because I think informing as many people as possible about sexual assault is important, and trying to address any misconceptions about sexual assault is important,” he said. “When you’re not given the opportunities, it makes it more difficult for victims to make it feel like they can come forward.”

Jordan said he told women that they were in control of the investigation. He also provided tips on how they could stay safe. He said the timing of disclosures of sexual assault was important. The sooner law enforcement is involved, the better chance it has of recovering evidence.

“In my opinion, the best thing we can do for victims in the community is to show that we’re together on this,” he said.

He added that it was important to put procedures in place for sexual assaults to hopefully prevent future cases.

As this story continues to grow in width and depth, the college has responded publicly.

It scheduled three separate listening sessions for students this week to express their concerns regarding sexual violence and on-campus safety.

“We’re here to move forward and make our campus even safer,” Tricia Clark, director of Bethel Institutional communications said in an interview with Newton Now. “We’re committed to campus safety for our students, faculty and staff.”

It put out releases titled, “Bethel College Prioritizes Safe Campus for Students, Faculty, Staff,” naming the number of services aimed at decreasing sexual violence on campus, such as an on-campus counselor, a Title IX complaint coordinator, and visits from the local violence/sexual assault advocacy center once a week to campus.

Two years prior, as Title IX reports had already been made against Mueller, the response was different, however, as Bethel College declined to employ a new reporting system designed to make reporting sexual violence easier.

At that time, Dr. Tim and Kathy Wiens, both Bethel alumni, offered to fund half of the expense of implementing a new sexual-violence reporting system at Bethel, called Callisto. The system allows victims to report incidents anonymously.

Tim Wiens said Callisto cost about $15,000 to set up and $9,000 annually in fees. He said Bethel conducted a survey the year before showing that students were dissatisfied with the current reporting system. He said Kylie Varney, past student president, told him and his wife that the reporting system Bethel had in place for sexual incidents involved a form that students used for maintenance complaints, such as if a light went out in a dorm room.

Stephanie Krehbiel, the Executive Director of Into Account, a nonprofit organization that advocates for victims of sexual violence, called Callisto an “online reporting system of her dreams” in an e-mail to incoming President Jon Gering in January, 2018.

“I don’t know of any system that more effectively addresses the confidentiality issues and fears of retaliation that many victims face when trying to decide whether to report their experiences of sexual harassment and assault,” Krehbiel continued.

Krehbiel said her organization specialized in advocating for survivors at Christian schools. She said victims were faced with an extra element of spiritual abuse at such institutions.

“There has to be ways for survivors to find support from people who aren’t going to take control from them,” she said.

Krehbiel said evidence showed that the reporting of sexual incidents was lower when a survivor’s choices were taken away. She said a system like Callisto was designed to encourage reporting, which in turn better tracks incidents on campus.

Bethel’s Student Government Association unanimously adopted a resolution in support of Callisto. President Jon Gering, who had just started in his new post in January, 2018, indicated in a Jan. 12 e-mail that Kylie Varney, then the student president, shared the resolution with him.

“It is better than systems I have encountered in the past,” he wrote.

Gering indicated that before coming to a decision on Callisto he would need to understand the reporting system that the college was using.

On Feb. 27, Gering wrote in an e-mail to the Wiens and Krehbiel, among others, that he obtained feedback from the college’s Title IX committee. He noted that the committee was not supportive of adopting Callisto.

“Further, I am confident that the system we have in place is in compliance with best practices and federal regulations, that it is effective for its intended purpose, and that students use it,” he wrote. “I was impressed with Bethel’s Title IX efforts and organization very early in the interview process. Mine is an informed perspective, having served as a trained Title IX investigator for a few years.”

Title IX requires colleges that receive federal funding to protect students and staff from sexual discrimination, including sexual violence. The legislation requires colleges to establish procedures for handling complaints of sexual discrimination and violence, and the school is required to investigate all complaints, even if law enforcement is not involved.

Newton Now reached out in an attempt to interview Gering for this story and ask questions about his decision about Callisto and the college’s actions in the wake of Mueller’s arrest, but was told he was unavailable for the interview. Questions were referred to Tricia Clark, Bethel’s director of institutional communications.

Clark said Bethel’s official stance was that the college didn’t support any sexual violence on campus and that staff were there to be active listeners. She said the college had resources available to assist students, such as a campus counselor, a campus pastor and a Title IX coordinator. The college also has access to a sexual-assault examiner and a sexual-assault team.

Gering wrote in a statement to members of the Bethel College community that Mueller had been entered into the Title IX reporting system in 2016 and 2017. He noted that the earlier complaint involved a student making an informal complaint and that the student didn’t want any adjudication on the college’s part. Bethel’s Title IX committee gave Mueller a warning and denied him access to areas with sensitive information, Gering wrote.

The second complaint against Mueller involved a report of unwanted touching on the back and suggestive comments in a public setting, he wrote.

Kathy Wiens said that after receiving the notice that the Callisto request had been rejected, she couldn’t help but think of the young women being dropped off at the college by their parents who were thinking it was a safe place.