What the Listening Ear Should Have Said

I wrote this before the Listening Ear released their statement about policy changes in the wake of news that they had three registered sex offenders working their crisis lines, including one who disclosed his status before joining the staff. I was trying to get myself back on track with the #LinkYourLife Challenge using the prompt, “Write a false memory.” I thought of things I wish they had said when things came to light.

We are deeply sorry.

It was recently brought to our attention that we had three people on our staff who are on the sex offender registry. While they did serve us honorably, their presence was not appropriate. Many of our clients and staff members are survivors of sexual assault. As a matter of policy, we do not offer counseling to perpetrators because we want to create a safe space for survivors. We should not have allowed people who have perpetrated sexual assaults onto our staff.

We are implementing policy changes including requiring background checks for all volunteers, present and future. We are still in discussion about what offenses will disqualify someone from serving, but rest assured that appearance on the sex offender registry will exclude anyone. We will continuously review and revise these policies and procedures on a regular basis going forward.

In addition to policy changes, we are making changes in our leadership. A majority of our staff and board of directors were completely unaware that we had knowingly accepted a staff member who is on the sex offender registry. This decision was made by a few individuals acting without the necessary knowledge and consent of our volunteer staff and board of directors. The Listening Ear has a long-standing tradition which is codified in our center manual to make major decisions by inviting discussion and consensus of our entire staff and with the approval of our board of directors. While we were gravely mistaken in our failure to conduct background checks, this was not a proper organizational decision. All of those involved have resigned their leadership positions. We deeply regret that it happened.

We must also apologize to our three former staff members. We do believe they have value to our society and as previously stated, they did serve us honorably. However, the Listening Ear is not an appropriate place for them to serve the community. We should have politely declined their service and referred them to other volunteer opportunities. We will be sure to do so in the future.

Thousands of people have reached out to us for help and thousands have served as active volunteers of the Listening Ear. Countless others have supported our mission in other ways. We sincerely regret the hurt that has been caused to all of them by our recent failures. We will work tirelessly to rebuild trust with our community. Again, we are deeply sorry.

Note: While I like this a whole lot better than what they have said, I don’t even think this is anywhere near good enough. I will give them props for thanking community partners which I failed to do, but my false memory is still much better than the real one. Soon I’ll write about when I was an Ear and we navigated a scandal with integrity and transparency, some key ingredients missing there right now.

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