The Listening Ear Has Failed In Its Mission

I’m really angry today and can’t focus because of it. So it’s time to unleash it.

I spent about five years volunteering at the Listening Ear of East Lansing. Lately, the center has been making headlines after it was revealed that they have three registered sex offenders on their active staff. (You can read out it here and here.) The organization is still in the process of deciding how to handle the situation and whether or not to require background checks of volunteers in the future. The outcry has been so strong that legislation is already in the works that would render that decision moot. (You can read about that here.)

I absolutely believe that these people have value to society and should be able to give back to their community. Granting them unsupervised access to sexual assault survivors, however, is not appropriate. I can’t even entertain any debate on that.

The organization will almost certainly not survive without a swift change in policy. Michigan State University and multiple area non-profits have publicly cut ties with the Listening Ear in the wake of the news. At least two volunteers, including the board chair, have quit, and many alumni and community members are upset. Even without the proposed legislation, the loss of community support will force them to change or cease operations.

All of this is not what is upsetting me the most, though. It’s clear from what has already been reported that some number of individuals within the organization knew about this issue for some time. Throughout its entire 47 years, the Listening Ear has always made major decisions with input from the entire staff. With this one, however, a small group chose to take that power for themselves. Even the board of directors, who bear financial and legal responsibility for the center, were left in the dark about this. That is unprofessional and completely unacceptable.

So many people have made a great deal of sacrifice to build and maintain the Listening Ear over the years. We should be able to take pride in the work we’ve done, and it makes me incredibly sad and angry that some small number of people have tarnished the reputation we helped build.

The Listening Ear failed its volunteers, its alumni, and its community. I can only hope they make some serious changes and soon to right their ship. It’s not enough at this point to simply require background checks. They need to rededicate themselves to their mission, “To improve the quality of life in the Lansing are by listening, informing, educating, and empowering.” The community is speaking. I hope they listen.

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