UPDATE: Listening Ear says 3 volunteers are registered sex offenders

Published: Jun. 1, 2016 at 6:45 PM EDT
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They call listening ear for help. Some are victims of a crime. Little did they realize someone on the other end of the line could have a criminal past.

A google search is all it took for one Listening Ear board member to figure that out.

"He said he was doing a check to spell someone's name and googled it and then it popped up," explained Listening Ear's Sexual Assault Advocacy Coordinator, Jamie Tomlinson.

The board member found that person is a registered sex offender and he continued to google the names of volunteers to find two more male volunteers names on the registry.

How could that information have slipped through?

"We don't have a screening process right now. We don't run background checks, we don't do anything," Tomlinson said.

She told News Ten they rely on the Center's 65-hour training program to vet people.

"It's very intense and if they can meet the criteria on staff, then they should be able to take the phone calls. We also work on the belief that it's here and now behaviors that we care about," she said.

Since the discovery, Michigan State University has cut ties with Listening Ear.

In a statement, a spokesman said, "When dealing with potentially vulnerable populations, MSU feels it is important that volunteers are properly trained and undergo background checks."

The Firecracker Foundation and Eve House have also stopped referring victims to The Listening Ear Crisis Intervention Center, a move Tomlinson calls disappointing.

"I hope that we can do what we need to do in order to regain their trust," she said.

But, Tomlinson said, as a victim of sexual assault, she'd be in shock to discover the person on the other end of the line was a registered sex offender.

"I would feel lost," she said. "I would encourage people if that's happened to voice your concerns, but it's something we're working on."

Tomlinson said the volunteers may have answered calls from sexual assault victims, but those calls would have been transferred to her team for further action.

She added that a proposal was made tonight about a new policy that would determine if the three men can remain volunteers and if future staff members will undergo background checks.

A decision is expected to be made on Sunday.


Michigan State University is no longer sending it's students to get help from the Listening Ear.

Listening Ear provided services such as short term counseling, advocacy, community education, and referrals. However, MSU has decided to cut ties with them because they do not do background checks on its employees.

“Due to the Listening Ear’s policy to not perform background checks and screen its volunteers, MSU is no longer referring clients nor listing the Listening Ear as a community resource. When dealing with potentially vulnerable populations, MSU feels it is important that volunteers are properly trained and undergo background checks,” said Jason Cody, MSU's Crisis Communications Manager: Public Affairs Specialist.

We are working to get more information and we'll have an update as soon as we know more.