The Liberian government is investigating a charity founded by a New Jersey woman after ProPublica and Time published an astonishing report that alleges the school—touted as a safe haven for sex trafficked girls—were repeatedly raped by one of the charity’s Liberian co-founders.
The shocking report documents how the leadership of More Than Me, a charity that has raised $8 million, set up 19 schools that educate around 4,000 girls, and has won high praise in the media, deflected responsibility for the alleged crimes.
Katie Meyler, 36, founded More Than Me in 2008, two years after witnessing poverty in Monrovia, Liberia while on an internship with an evangelical charity. Meyler has temporarily stepped down as chief executive officer and charity board’s chairman, Skip Borghese, has resigned.
Four days prior to the backlash, ProPublica reported that Meyler, who was only on the ground in Liberia “an average of two months each year,” distanced herself from Macintosh Johnson, the charismatic co-founder who allegedly raped as many as 30 students.
Johnson, died in 2016 and had AIDS—a fact that, according to the report, MTM management attempted to hide. Some of the girls he assaulted tested positive for HIV, and in response to the report, the charity will provide private HIV tests at its schools.
The report alleges Johnson raped girls, some as young as 10, at the school. Ten of them testified against him in court:
One girl would tell authorities Johnson would come to her home, telling her family she was needed for promotional photographs and interviews. Sometimes it was true.
Other times, she said, he raped her. She would say it began when she was only 10.
Some girls later told authorities he raped them on the beach among the canoes, or in his house with the MTM sign outside; that he lined them up, one watching the door, one watching porn on his phone, waiting. Sometimes afterward, he would give them Liberian money worth about a dollar.
Some in West Point knew what was going on, but Johnson was well-liked and viewed as having brought Meyler, and her money, to the community. One girl later told authorities that her aunt caught him raping her, yelled at him, but did nothing else; the conversation she overheard made her believe Johnson was having sex with her aunt, too. “That how I got to know the two of them were loving,” she told authorities. “My aunty was behaving for Macintosh business.”
Once confronted by Johnson’s abuse, Meyler and MTM’s board did not take responsibility for their failure to protect students in its charge, and sought immediately to save MTM’s reputation, astoundingly by positioning the school as one of the few progressive enough to report sexual assault.
Deddeh Kwekwe, gender-based violence director at the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, told ProPublica that, when she met with Meyler in 2014 over the widespread allegations of sexual abuse, she could not determine how Meyler was running the school, how she recruited teachers and what protection measures the school implemented. “The only thing I heard her saying, she was trying to help the poor people in West Point,” Kwekwe said.
“We are deeply, profoundly sorry,” More Than Me wrote in a statement issued after the report was published. “To all the girls who were raped by MacIntosh Johnson in 2014 and before: we failed you. We gave Johnson power that he exploited to abuse children and staff failed to report the abuse to our leadership immediately. Our leadership should have recognized the signs earlier and we have and will continue to employ training and awareness programs so we do not miss this again....”
“We acknowledge the enormous complexity of being responsible for the care of children and that previously we were naïve to believe that providing education alone is enough to protect these girls from the abuses they may face .... An independent audit completed this summer called for the implementation of a range of changes including survivor-centered protocols, additional resources to ensure efficient reporting, broad application of safety standards to all of our public schools and organizational culture change and we continue to be firmly committed to further bolstering our safeguarding policies. As we work to correct past failures, we welcome the Ministry of Education to the Academy at any time for a complete inspection.”
Read the full report here.