Following allegations that surfaced on social media about a preacher who sent inappropriate messages, including those of a sexual nature, to school girls, Scripture Union has suspended him and initiated an investigation into him and three other staff members.
In a thread, Twitter user Joel Giftson alleged that Samuel Jaisunder, who was in charge of Scripture Union’s English publications, had been visiting schools and then sending inappropriate messages to the girls he met there.
A 17-year-old student from a school in Vellore said he had been coming to her school for “SU Week” every year, since she was in kindergarten. The Scripture Union team would hold a morning assembly for all students and then hold classes with different age groups. They would also be available for counselling sessions held one-on-one, she said. She described how he coaxed her into sharing her phone number with him and alleged that during a counselling session, he made her feel uncomfortable by hugging her.
On WhatsApp, Mr. Jaisunder repeatedly asked her for pictures of herself.
It was only over the last month or so, after a complaint brought the issue under discussion among students and alumni of her school, that she realised how wide his net had been cast. “There are at least 25-30 students from eight schools in different States who have now come forward,” she says. “I thought it was just me.” In other complaints, received from across the State, the offences date back several years.
Jaisunder and the staff from Scripture Union regularly visited schools across the State to conduct programmes for students. Screenshots shared on Twitter, of alleged conversations he had with students of the schools he used to visit, showed him commenting on their clothes and persistently asking for their photos.
Another woman, who studied in a private school in Chennai, also alleged that he had begun to send her lewd messages after he visited their school for a yearly retreat when she was in Class 9. She recalled how he had constantly broached a conversation about sexual abuse with her, despite she making it clear that she felt uncomfortable.
Scripture Union has suspended Mr. Jaisunder with effect from Monday, following a Sunday meeting of the board, and is conducting an internal inquiry against him. Three other staff members named in the allegations, including one woman who has been accused of ignoring complaints from students, are under investigation, according to an official statement.
However, Scripture Union national director J. Joshua Kirubaraj admitted that he had received an oral complaint earlier.
“I knew about this only the day before yesterday. But having said that, two months ago, there was a complaint which was not written, it was over the phone. So I spoke with the parents and the girl, and we had to reprimand Sam. And because it was all oral, I reprimanded Sam orally, that he will not be involved with children for the next two years,” he told The Hindu . “Suddenly, in a spurt, all these things started coming from the day before yesterday. Because we couldn’t control all these things, yesterday, we called the board meeting and we took a decision that Sam has to be immediately suspended.” He said that no other complaint had come to his desk.
Mr. Kirubaraj added that the organisation is working on a child protection policy which all Scripture Union staff and volunteers will have to sign. It will include norms to prevent counselling of girls by male staff. “We are also very clearly stating that we will stand with the child,” he said.