For years, allegations have swirled about medical missionary Donn Ketcham’s inappropriate sexual behavior.
A surgeon serving in Bangladesh with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) from 1961 to 1989, Ketcham was accused of both affairs with fellow female missionaries and the sexual abuse of 4 women and 18 girls, many times under the guise of medical care.
Those allegations were true, ABWE confirmed today in a 280-page report by Professional Investigators International (Pii), which conducted more than 200 interviews and sifted through 14,000 pages of material during its three-year investigation. (Ketcham and his family refused to speak to Pii investigators.)
“There is no amount of remorse, regret, or shame that can make up for the suffering and pain we caused,” stated Al Cockrell, interim president of ABWE, in announcing the report’s release. “We are offering to meet with the victims in person to express our deepest apology, to pay for counseling for them, and to ensure them we have implemented measures to prevent such deplorable behavior again.”
Last week, ABWE’s board voted to require every leader to undergo abuse training. The missions group has also changed its reporting system and improved accountability and communication, Cockrell told CT in an in-person interview. [His video statement for ABWE is below.]
“We are strong, beautiful women who were once adorable, innocent little girls,” noted Ketcham’s victims on Mother’s Day via their “Bangladesh MKs Speak” Facebook group. “[After seeing the report], we were again faced with ugly, hurtful details regarding our stories. This has been an incredibly difficult, painful, emotional week. BUT! Today [Mother’s Day] we remember and focus on the fact that though hurt, we are still strong, beautiful women, now mothers and grandmothers, that have dozens of reasons to focus on joy and gratitude.”
On Tuesday, moderators of the MK group’s blog sent CT their response to the ABWE report:
We are processing these 280 pages that cover events from the 1960s through the present on both an emotional as well as practical level, and ask for your patience and prayers at this time. The victims who received the report (not all have received it yet) have had it for eight days, which have been a roller coaster of emotions and tears for many of us, in part because it truly seemed this chapter of our story might never be written. This was a long, long time coming. Ketcham’s victims are grown women now—some are mothers, some are even grandmothers—and the wait for ABWE to act has been decades long.
The report’s release is the latest chapter in the burgeoning twin movements of “missionary kids" (MKs) becoming more proactive in standing up for victims, and missions agencies taking abuse prevention more seriously.
Revelations of sexual abuse of MKs in the field have primarily come from boarding schools, most notably New Tribes Mission’s Fanda Missionary School in Senegal and the Christian and Missionary Alliance’s Mamou Alliance Academy in Guinea. (Compassion International’s past president Wess Stafford shared his survival story in a 2010 CT cover story.)
Such schooling arrangements are increasingly rare. By contrast, Ketcham’s abuse occurred in a mission compound among MKs who lived with their families.
The trouble began even before Ketcham entered the mission field in 1961; his behavior was sexually inappropriate as early as high school, when he admitted to “heavy petting” with an unknown number of girls, according to the Pii report. During medical school, he had an extramarital affair. During his medical internship, he had another. During residency, a third.