ATLANTA — An investigation into allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct against Ravi Zacharias found credible evidence that the prominent Christian leader was involved in several incidents of unwanted touching, sexting, spiritual abuse and rape.
The international board of Alpharetta-based Ravi Zacharias International Ministries hired the law firm of Miller & Martin PLLC to look into the allegations following complaints made in late August 2020, that Zacharias had engaged in sexual misconduct and abuse tied to two day spas.
Zacharias' work took him all over the world spreading the Gospel.
The investigation included a review of his electronic devices and found evidence of text- and email-based relationships with women as well as more than 200 "selfie"-style photographs of women.
Zacharias, head of a global ministry and a bestselling author, died last May at his home in metro Atlanta following a battle with cancer. He was 74.
His memorial service was attended by former Vice President Mike Pence and athlete and author Tim Tebow.
"We are devastated by what the investigation has shown and are filled with sorrow for the women who were hurt by this terrible abuse," according to a statement by the international board of RZIM, which Zacharias founded.
The organization said it is taking steps to address such complaints and to help the abuse survivors. The scope of the investigation did not extend to the ministry's finances.
The women told their stories on the condition of anonymity.
"To be victimized by unwanted sexual contact, advances, and behavior is horrendous," the statement read. "It is diametrically opposed to everything we believe about the value and dignity of every single person. We believe not only the women who made their allegations public but also additional women who had not previously made public allegations against Ravi but whose identities and stories were uncovered during the investigation."
In 2017, for instance, one woman, Lori Anne Thompson, alleged that she was coerced into a relationship with Zacharias that included "sexually explicit online conversations and solicited indecent photographs of her, which he and the ministry denied.
The Thompson case, which resulted in a confidential settlement agreement, "left several questions unanswered, and RZIM leadership encouraged us to include it in our investigation," according to the investigative report.
The board admitted it was wrong not to believe Thompson and her husband and asked for their forgiveness.
"Our trust in Ravi's denial of moral wrongdoing and in his deceptive explanations of emails and other records that became public was severely misplaced, and our failures in 2017, including our failure to commission an independent investigation at that time, allowed tremendous pain to continue to be caused in the Thompsons' lives," according to the statement.
RZIM now said because they did not believe the allegations, Thompson and her husband "were slandered for years and their suffering was greatly prolonged and intensified. This leaves us heartbroken and ashamed."
The report contained some disturbing details. Some of the women were identified as therapists or massage therapists.
Five therapists reported that he touched or rubbed them inappropriately. Others said he asked them to touch him or he touched himself, according to the report.
"One reported that she would re-drape him if he removed the sheets, told him when she was uncomfortable, and told him he would have to leave if he did not stop," according to the investigation. Another "therapist responded to his attempts to rub her legs by moving his arms back onto the table and at times even binding his arms with sheets into a "sling" to keep them from wandering."
Some therapists said Zacharias paid very well or would leave large tips or lavish gifts, including a Persian rug or a Louis Vuitton wallet with $500 inside, according to the 13-page report.
Going forward the board said it was instituting several steps to address the abuse:
It has hired victim-advocate Rachael Denhollander to serve as a consultant to educate and advise the board and senior leadership on understanding trauma and abuse as well as best-standards practices. Denhollander also has been retained to serve as a confidential liaison with survivors and to help guide the process of care, justice and restitution for those who have been victimized. Survivors or their legal counsel, advocate or representative may reach out to her confidentially at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ministry has also engaged Guidepost Solutions, a management/compliance consulting firm, and will provide full disclosure to them to conduct a thorough evaluation of RZIM, including its structures, culture, policies, processes, finances and practices.
This assessment will contain three main components: survivor care, cultural assessment and policy evaluation that would include a review of RZIM's policies as they relate to abuse, harassment and disclosure.(c)2021 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.