Tag Archives: child abuse

Stephanie Davies Story of Abuse

I have told my story to many people verbally.  I have written it down in bits and pieces on social media sites such as Facebook.  I have even shared it with other victims in forums for those trying to recover from sexual, spiritual, emotional and physical abuse. In light of recent events with Bob Jones University firing G.R.A.C.E. from their independent investigation, I feel the need to share my story publicly.  I, like many victims of the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult, are outraged that BJU has slapped the faces of victims.  Their cowardice shows by their lack of courage to hear what G.R.A.C.E.’s findings would be.  Just weeks before the final report was to be delivered, at the time of this writing, G.R.A.C.E. had no knowledge as to the reasons behind Bob Jones University’s decision to fire them.

It is very hard for a victim to tell their story.  To give it in detail, in a public forum, takes a lot of courage and strength.  My hope is that my story will help others realize that they are not alone and that they do not need to walk the path of validation by themselves.  I have walked that path.  It is terribly lonely, frightening and exhausting.

While it is terribly hard to find anything in my story that can be criminal or even prosecuted today, what I endured was heinous.  What I endured is considered child abuse by today’s standards.  It could also fall into that category when it occurred.  Sadly, I have to say that the abuse continues to this day  because it is not being addressed and it is still swept under the rug.  Since I opened a Facebook account a little over four years ago, I have spent much of this time diligently trying to right the wrongs, expose the truths within the lies, and tell MY story.  My only hope is that my story gives someone else courage to address what needs to be addressed in their life.

I grew up in what appeared to be a normal, loving home.  My mother was and still is a very loving mother.  She tried to give the best she could to my brother and I.  She was an outstanding mother and I loved how we would go shopping every Saturday after we cleaned the house.  Almost every time we would go to the mall, she would buy me a scoop of bubble-gum ice-cream which I would lick so hard that it always landed on the floor in front of my feet.  We spent a lot of time together.

The first 13 years of my life were pretty much considered normal.  I would have fun with my cousins during the summer.  I was in a public school.  I went roller skating with my friend every Saturday.  My grades were average.  I was well-adjusted.  I was happy.  My parents always got compliments on how my brother and I behaved in public places.  But, there was always a fear that my brother and I had of our father.  He was quick with his hand and we were fearful of  angering him.  My mother was fearful of him.  He threatened her with bodily harm on numerous occasions.  Various incidents happened during their marriage that caused them to realize that the marriage was not what they wanted.  My brother and I were forced to realize that our parents were going to divorce.  I was in 7th grade at the time and I was so stressed about my parents that I had forgotten to do my homework one day.  I never forgot to do my homework.  I went to school and told my teacher at the time that I had forgotten to do my homework.  She gave me a detention.  I ran out of her room and went directly to the girls bathroom to which I began sobbing a body wrenching sob.  It scared me that my emotions had taken over the way that they had.  That made me cry harder.  My teacher entered the bathroom and asked me why I reacted the way I did.  I told her everything.  I told her that my parents were divorcing and that I had to live with my father and that I did not want to.  I felt that I was stuck.  She was not a heartless woman. She took the detention away.  That was a relief because had I gone home with that news, I was surely going to suffer for it.

My brother and I came home one day from school.  We had to take the school bus as we lived in a very rural part of New Jersey.  We came home and we noticed that all the living room furniture was gone.  Our mother’s clothing was gone.  All her belongings were gone.  We were stunned.  I cried for the longest time and the only person who could comfort me was my paternal grandmother.  I loved my grammy.  I begged to have my father drive me the 45 minutes from our house to hers on the night my mom left.  I just could not understand why things happened the way they did. I share all this with you because it builds the reason why my father decided to begin his religious journey.  At least in my mind, this is where it started.

When my parents were having their troubles, my father would attend church more regularly than we had in the past.  My grandparents were very religious and they told him about an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church in a town not far from where we were building a home.  I think that there was an effort to incorporate more religion into our lives in an attempt to save a failing marriage.  It was not that we were not religious.  We were.  We just became more so with this disaster in our lives.

My brother and I were forced to answer questions asked by strangers who appeared that they were interested in us.  It is now, that I realize that these people were lawyers and court appointed psychologists.  They wanted to know who we wanted to live with and why.  But, I always felt this horrible pressure on me to say that I wanted to live with my dad – even though I wanted to live with my mother.  I kept a diary at the time and all my pages during this time-period state just how oppressive it was to live in the house with my father.  He was never happy.  He put on a facade for the outside world, but at home, he was grumpy and just never a happy man.  At the tender age of 12, I was able to notice this about him and noted it in my diary.  I still have this diary today.

The divorce finalized and my brother and I were awarded to our father.  My mother was devastated.  Her story is a much more horrible version.  I will say that my mother was not painted in a complimentary way.  My brother and I were enrolled in the IFB school that was a ministry of the IFB church that our family attended.  The tuition was a lot for my father to pay, but he paid it – somehow.  There were times where we could not even afford a gallon of milk, but he paid the tuition.  There were many winters where he could not afford to fill the oil tank to heat our home, but he paid the tuition and gave his tithe. We heated our home with kerosene space heaters.  It is a wonder I am still alive.  My clothing smelled so badly of kerosene.

Our IFB church had what was called, “Paycheck Sunday”.  During this Sunday in late November, my dad gave his full week’s pay to the church.  Everyone did.  A full week’s pay for a single income parent during the early 1980‘s in blue collar New Jersey was not an easy task.  But the same mantra was uttered by everyone,  “God will provide”.

I guess the realization that having two teenage children with activities was too much for my father to handle alone so he began dating right away.  Every woman he brought to the house, my brother and I did not care for.  He eventually married someone just 8 years my senior.  I was horrified. My brother and I were immediately no longer part of his life and it was shown with many actions.  My brother and I began experiencing changes in how we were disciplined and we were treated extremely different.  By the time I was a Sophomore in the IFB school we attended, my brother and I were extremely miserable.  We were realizing that what we were going through was not normal.  We were so miserable  that we would tell people that things were not right.  Later that year,  my brother had had enough and asked to have my mother sue for custody of him.  She won and he went off to live with her for a while.  I was alone in a house with a step-mother who despised me and a father who placated to her every whim and need.  I was forgotten.

When my parents divorced, my mother had a boyfriend.  This man gave her the attention that she felt she deserved.  She was so starved for attention that it was nice to be the center of it without having to worry if she was saying something wrong or doing something wrong.  It was very well-known that there was infidelity in the marriage and that ultimately caused the demise of my parents marriage.  My mother decided she had enough and that was when she moved.  This boyfriend of hers took great strides to get to know my brother and I.  We were, after all, going to her apartment every other weekend.  He was living with her after she got settled from the divorce.  I was about 15 years old when his affections turned to more than just genuine interest.  He was more touchy with me as my body began to develop.  I was not sure what these advances were.  I know now he was grooming me.

My father was never kind to my mother when she would come to pick me up to go to her home on the weekends that she had visitation.  He would avoid her.  He would state things to me that my mother was worldly.  He was trying to taint my perception of her and trying to make it so that I would be less inclined to go visit her.  This made me want to see her more often.

One particular weekend, my mother’s boyfriend wanted to take me four-wheeling in the woods.  I was 15 years old.  I loved going four-wheeling as that was a highlight and I was finding that my freedoms were becoming less and less living with my father and his new wife.  They were now pregnant and a baby was on the way.  I still had a voice at my mother’s house, but even that was being quieted because by the time I would break out of my shell and start talking, it was time to get in the car and head back to my father’s house where I would have to get ready to go back to the IFB school I attended.  I was in the truck alone with my mother’s boyfriend.  I really don’t think my mother had any idea that it was not a good idea to allow her teen daughter with a man alone.  Maybe she was incredibly trusting.  I am not sure.  We drove out to the woods and started going through mud puddles.  This was in the mid 1980’s, so there were no cell phones.  I was in a truck for 8 hours out in the middle of the woods – far from any civilization – while this man raped me repeatedly.  He was stronger than me and he was drinking.  He made threats to me that if I told, he would kill my mother.  I believed him because he said he was with the Mafia.  I was a 15 year old girl and so naive because of the things that I was being “sheltered” from.  Finally, we went back to my mother’s apartment and he raped me one last time while parked next to the dumpster in the apartment complex.  He always made advances toward me. Now that I am a 44 year old woman and I think about it, he was very calculating in his plans for me.  He would send my mother off to go buy him potato chips (Wise Brand).  While she was gone, he would expose himself to me.  Again, the threat that if I told, I would lose my mother or that I would be harmed too.  He raped me in my mother’s bed while she bathed in the tub in the next room.  One night, he raped me in my bedding on the floor of the living room while my brother slept next to me.  We did not have our own room when we visited.  This constant advancement on me made me not want to spend time at my mother’s house.  I was trapped.

I knew that I could not tell anyone my story.  You see, I dealt with the fear that the boyfriend would kill my mother and I dealt with the fear that if I told my father that he would forbid me to ever see my mother again.  Add to this stress, a girl who is defiled is always guilty.  She either wore something she should not have or she walked a way she should not have.  We were taught in the IFB that the woman was the cause of all men’s sins.   My home life was becoming less and less normal.  The lectures we would get would go on forever.   We were not bad kids.  We obeyed every letter of the law laid down before us.  However, I was never good enough.  I tried so hard to be a good daughter, but it was the same thing – I always failed to meet expectation.  I was to be seen and not heard.  It really got bad when my half-sister was born as it was now my responsibility to raise a baby.

Around my Junior year in high school, my brother wanted to move back to my father’s house because he was promised material objects if he did move back.  He was told that if he moved back home he would get a bb gun, a motorcycle and weights.  He wanted so much to have a relationship with our father and our father made claims that things would be better.  His visitation with my brother was always so fun.  He was a different man around my brother when those weekends came.  He allowed freedoms that we normally never got.  We actually were able to have friends over.   So, my brother, desiring a relationship with his father, really believed that he would get all the things he was promised.  He moved back “home”.  There were no court documents filed and no attorney’s fees paid.  He moved back and everyone was happy – except my mother.  She was stricken with grief, but she allowed my brother to do what he thought he needed to do.  She never once uttered a negative word about our father.  She always felt that it was our observation to make.  Her opinions never muddied our perception of our father.  It was not the other way around.  Rarely was a kind word said about our mother.

My brother went back to the IFB school and graduated 8th grade that year.  He wore a borrowed suit because money was so tight.  I was wearing borrowed shoes that were a size and a half bigger than my feet.  I stuffed them with toilet paper to make them fit.  I was wearing my step-mother’s clothes to school.  Skirts that were 3 or 4 sizes larger than my small frame were pinned on the sides to keep the waist band up.  I never got new clothing unless my mother bought something for me.  We were the children of the ex-wife and we were reminded daily.  Little incidents, like not turning my brother’s socks right side out, became an issue.  His socks would not get washed if they were a balled up mess.  To this day, I see my sons’ socks and I think of that.  Of course it takes only a second to turn socks the right way, but a fuss was created and meanness ensued.  It was constant meanness and vindictiveness in the home.  I was told that I was to always be available to watch our half-sister.  I was the live-in baby sitter even though I had intramural sports that I was involved with and homework that took at least 2 or 3 hours a night.  We were expected to be in church every Wednesday evening, Sunday school, Sunday morning service and Sunday evening service.  There was no time to just be a kid.  I started going off alone into the woods just to get away from all of it.

I walked the halls of my high school with my secret of the rapes and just tried to be the best daughter I could be.  I made no noise because we were taught to never bring attention to ourselves.  We were told that we were never to argue anything.  We were told that if our father said that the sky was black and it was as blue as blue could be without a cloud, we had to agree that it was black.  There were no opinions allowed.  I was smacked across the face with a mouth full of braces when I voiced my desire to move to my mother’s home.  I had had enough of being taken for granted and treated horribly.  By this time, my mother had grown wise of her abusive boyfriend. My brother voiced that he did not care for the man and the two of them kicked him out.  Because he had moved back to our father’s house,  I could not leave my brother in this environment so I did not try to move to my mother’s house.  I also was beginning to drink the IFB Kool-Aid by the gallon and was reading my bible daily.  I had my own little monthly Daily Bread booklet.  I would do my devotions from them.  I read all 66 books of the bible.  I was doing all I could do to be the daughter I thought they wanted me to be.  My brother was not tolerating the lifestyle.  He just could not handle the constant badgering and the oppression we were experiencing.  We began telling people that we were having troubles, but nobody listened.  We were told to read our bibles more.  We were told to “honor our mother (stepmother) and father”.  Today I know that that commandment is taken out of context a lot in the IFB.  There is also a bible verse that says, “Fathers provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” – Ephesians 6:4.  We tried to tell people that we just could not live the life we were living.  We were being ignored and treated very badly.  My maternal grandparents felt there was an issue and they tried to help.  CPS was called to our home and they were turned away.  My brother and I were never interviewed by the agency.

Things got so bad that my brother and I began making plans on how we were going to run away.  We talked many hours in his bedroom.  I still remember a conversation we had.  I remember the way his room was set up.  I was laying across the foot of his bed and he was next to me on the floor.  We were talking how we could not tolerate it anymore and how we were going to get away.  We were thinking of who to tell and who we could trust.  He finally said that we just have to settle down and let things take their course.  I remember specifically a time when we were thrown into the back of our family car and I was so upset that I was going to miss something that I wanted to do with the school.  Our father was notorious for throwing everyone in the car not telling us where we were going with the explanation that we were just “going for a ride”.  This ride happened to be 12 hours long down to my grandfather’s house.  I was so upset that my only escape from my family was being taken from me.  My brother calmed me and said, “It will all be okay in a little while.”

For a 14 year old boy, he was so much stronger and wiser than his years.  I was 17 years old at the time and I had just started my Senior year in the IFB high school.  He was starting his Freshman year in the same school.  He just got picked up onto the Varsity soccer team and we were so excited that we had an escape through our respective sports.  These sports took us from our abusive situation at home.   Every hour away from there was an hour of freedom that we gleefully relished in and felt free.   As the days progressed, I did not notice my brother getting depressed.  He was always the one lifting me up.  Now, he was losing it.  I was involved in my cheerleading and was involved with my Senior year now, so I never saw the signs.  He began telling people in his class that he hated his life and that he had to end it.  His friends were all either 13 or 14 years old so they never really thought that his words would come to fruition.  They were innocents.  They were children.  One night, September 16, 1986, we went home after practice and we had to do our homework and nightly chores.  We were so accustomed to not talking because we would get in trouble if we woke our half-sister.  Any speaking we did was normally in the form of whispering.   We also had to be quiet when walking out to the garage because there was an alarm on the door that would beep every time the door would open.  My brother told me he was going to feed the dog.  His last words to me, “I’ll see you in a bit, sis”.  We were expecting company that night.  Our uncle was coming to see us as he had not seen us in a while and was coming by to catch up.  I watched from the kitchen window while I worked on the dinner dishes as my brother went out to feed our German Shepherd, Bear.  He came back into the garage.

My brother was always tinkering on something.  At this particular time he was working on a bike frame that he was in the middle of repainting.  He had it hanging from chains that held a heavy weight bag from the rafter of our garage.  The chains were not long enough to have the heavy weight bag low enough to be used properly,  so our father suspended the bag with extra length from a rope.  On this particular night, he removed the bike off of the chains, wrapped it in a towel or blanket and set it on his weight bench.    The same weight bench that he was promised if he moved back “home”.  I heard the dog barking and realized that my uncle had arrived.  I ran out to the garage to go meet him at the door.  What I saw forever changed my life.  What I saw forever changed the image that I see when I close my eyes each night.  What I saw is the reason why I am so vocal about abuse and abuse within the IFB today.  I saw my brother hanging from those chains.  The chains were deeply embedded in his neck.  He was gray.  He was motionless.  He was dead.  I ran over to him, and tried to raise him by lifting him so that the tension of the chains would release from around his neck.  They were interlocked by S hooks.  They were so deeply imbedded that I could not release the tension.  My uncle must have heard me or looked in the window, but all the sudden he was next to me trying to lift my brother up.  He screamed at me to go get a knife from the kitchen so that we could cut the rope that was attached to the chains and to tell my step-mother to call an ambulance.  There was no such thing as 911 in 1986.   I ran in the house trying to be quiet to not wake the baby and I whispered to my stepmother, “call an ambulance, Scott hung himself”.  I whispered it.  Why did  I whisper?  I whispered because I was so conditioned and oppressed by this woman that I knew I would get into trouble if I screamed.  My screaming should have trumped all regard for her rules.  But fear stopped me and I whispered.  I ran into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and ran out the door.  As I got back to my uncle, I noticed my brother’s grey sweatpants had a wet spot on them.  I began screaming inside, “NO”.  I knew what that meant.  My uncle got him down and removed my brother’s shoes.  My aunt started CPR.  I did not know what to do and was starting to freak out.  My exterior was stoic, but inside I was screaming.

My home sat off of the main road.  This main road was not well lit and we lived three miles down from the first stop sign.  As I already mentioned, it was a very rural area.  I ran down our gravel driveway in my bare feet to get to the road so that I could flag the ambulance to the house.  Anyone going down my road would drive right by the house.  We were always told to go to the end of the driveway to flag company in.  On this particular night – it was no different.  I ran and stood in the middle of that road – still warm from the heat of the day.  I still feel the warmth of that road on the bottom of my feet.  I looked up to the sky and saw every star.  I cried the most soul crushing non-human cry I have ever heard come from my body.  I pleaded with God that night to not take my brother.  I cried for hours it seemed.  The ambulance took forever.  I do not remember going back up to the house.  I do not remember the ambulance coming.  But I do know they came because my next memory was talking to a police officer.  I told him everything I remembered.  Our father was working a second job, so he was not home at the time of the incident.  I told him the story when he came home.  I told my mother the story when she arrived.  I told the whole story as I have just written it here.  My story is written in a police report.

As the night progressed, I was telling my story over and over.   Then things started to change.  All the sudden I was told that I was not going to tell the story like the way I have just recounted.  I was going to tell the story that it was an accident.  That Scott did not hang himself.  I was even coached to not talk about it at all.  I was told that I was not going to talk to a therapist.  I was told that I did not need to go to the hospital for what I witnessed. The policeman asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital.  The EMT kept looking at me for signs of shock.   My mother told my father that her boss would pay for a therapist to speak with me about what I saw and endured.  I was just told to not talk about it.  I was told that things will get better.   I was told that Scott was just was messing around and that it was a horrible accident.  I was told by my father that my brother was playing with the chains and they came back and hooked around his neck.  His words still echo in my mind today – “don’t you think he was just playing around and they came back and hooked around his neck?”  “Don’t you think that the stool next to him was knocked over because he was trying to frantically reach it with his feet?”  “Don’t you think he died because he wanted to die?”  The last question is the hardest one for me.  This question was asked of me when I last tried to speak with my father in January, 2012 about allegations of abuse that have come to light regarding the IFB church and school I attended.  That was the last time I spoke to my biological father.  He promised to call me back and talk about these allegations that were starting to surface within the IFB church and school I attended.  I am still waiting for his phone call.

I was told that if I ever tell my story that I would get into trouble.  I remember a friend coming to my home a day or two after my brother passed.  I tried to talk to her in my room, but I was so scared that I would be heard.  I tried to get the words out.  I was so fearful that I would get into trouble.  She reminded me of this story and the fear I had.   I know that what I experienced was real.  I needed help.  I got no help.  I was denied any form of help.  I was told that the children in the IFB school we attended were told that my brother died of a weightlifting accident.  The pastor had decided that was the best way to handle this story.   I was bold enough to ask my father, many years later, if the pastor told him to lie about my brother’s death.  My father’s answer was “yes”.  He never even hesitated in his answer.  I can not even think about lying about something like that.  Why he did not stick up his middle finger on each hand to that pastor is beyond my comprehension.  Why he did not put his familial duties as a father above the laws of this man, I will never understand.  I can only guess that my father’s following of this man was greater than the love he had for his family as this was the pattern that has been repeated over and over to this day.

On the day of the funeral, I stood outside and met every single person who came to see my brother.  The IFB school we attended had a “field trip” that day for all the 7th -12th grade.  They were to go to the funeral home and pay their respects to my brother.  I met every single kid that got off that bus.  Where was the person for me that day?  Where was the person that was supposed to comfort me?  I was the one who found him – why wasn’t I being comforted?  Standing outside in my step-mother’s too big, pinned-at-the- waist black suit with toilet paper in my shoes so they would stay on, I greeted every single person with a smile on my face. I was trying not to bring attention to myself. What was wrong with me?

The eulogy was the most disgusting thing that I have ever heard repeated to me.  I did not hear the eulogy that day as I was too busy trying to keep my mother from jumping out of her chair and hitting that pastor.  He stood up there and bragged how his son was thriving in this world while my mother is burying her own.  This was the man of God that we were following?  No compassion.  No love.  Just pretentiousness and narcissism.  My step-grandparents felt that they were the maternal grandparents that day and denied my maternal grandfather the right to ride in the limousine with my family and his grieving daughter.  Instead, he had to drive himself to the cemetery.   There was so much hurt and I just had to hold it all together for my mother.  I had to keep her calm.  Nobody kept me calm – but something made me strong that day.

Our school was involved in an annual event each year where we would compete with other Christian (IFB) schools in the Tri-State area.  We competed in what was called Academic Day.  A day that included going head to head in debates about topics such as creationism vs. evolution (a difficult topic to debate when everyone in the room believes in creationism).  Schools vied against each other for the coveted position of the best choir.  There were sewing (textiles) competitions for the girls to enter.  Sewing showed the best of our academic caliber.  There was a competition to see who had the best score in solving an accounting business model.  There was competitions about speeches and which school delivered the best impromptu or recited speech.  My event was the speech under the line of Dramatic Interpretation.  I had to recite a speech with feeling and draw my audience into me.  They needed to feel what the speech was saying and hang on my every word.  My speech was entitled, “I Hadn’t Time” by prolific Christian author, Ethel Barrett.  The speech was taken from her book, “There I Stood In All My Splendor, Chapter 4”.   It was a 10-12  minute speech on which I was graded for articulation, posture, style, proficiency, and memorization.  I was slated for first place. This story as I was telling it to my audience, was about a young mother who is alone with her son, Kip, for the last time.  She is sitting in front of his coffin and she is recounting all the things that he was trying to get her attention for.  He wanted her to sew a patch on his shirt or to see a frog that he brought home.  She recounts the things that her son wanted her to do and realizes that her being busy was routine.  Now her child is gone and she has all the time in the world for her son.  But it is too late.

This speech was the most heart-wrenching, tear jerking speech.  My father insisted that my mother come to the school and hear it because my school was hosting Academic Day that year.  When I saw my mother, I begged her not to come into the room that I would be delivering the speech.  I knew that it was not for her to hear.  My brother had just died months earlier and here I was delivering a speech about a mother grieving over her dead son.  The teachers in the school should have forbidden that I do that speech.  My father should have forbidden that I do that speech.  I did deliver it and to this day, I ball up with tears because I remember the opening words verbatim.  Staring at my mother as I delivered this speech was one of the most horrific things I have ever had to watch.  The pain that crossed her face was, without question, unremarkable.  I could not deliver the whole speech without breaking down in a jagged cry at the end.  I did not win 1st place because I had to be prompted and because I lost control.  If only the judges knew what I had just endured.  To this day, I still have my third place ribbon and the grading sheets that the judges filled out on me.  They are a reminder of the hell that I should have been saved from, but was forced to endure.

I finished my senior year with all sorts of christian leadership awards and a scholarship to attend Pensacola Christian College.  Dr. Robert C. Gray Jr of Trinity Baptist from Jacksonville, Florida preached at my commencement in May, 1987.  Two months later, allegations about his involvement with minor girls in his church were brought.  Turns out he was a pedophile and this man was in my church.  This man shook my hand.  I still can not believe the proximity I was to him.  My skin crawls at the thought.

During the summer of 1987, I was to turn 18.   My life just was not the same life without my brother.  I went through the daily motions.  I still did my devotions and still tried to be the best daughter I could be, but there was not enough love for me – even after the loss of a child.  I was not living.  I was simply existing.  On the morning of my 18th birthday, I decided to change all that.  I woke that morning packed what I could and stashed it.  I told my father as he was taking me to my summer job that I was going to be moving in with my mother after I finished my work day.  I called my mother from my job and told her to be at my home to get me when I got off work.  I got home and in my driveway were my mother and my pastor.  The same pastor who lied to everyone about how my brother died and delivered the eulogy.  This “man of God” told me that if I leave to go with my mother that I would end up just like her.  I would be worldly and I would not be the woman of God that I should be.  I left without ever looking back.

I still attended the church, but I was looked at differently.  I was to go to Pensacola Christian College in the fall and – in reality, I was following my then boyfriend.    But I also realize that the Christian Leadership awards and the scholarships that I won were a way to keep me quiet about my brother’s death.  I thought that following my boyfriend to PCC, one of three colleges that I was to choose to attend,  was my ticket out of the hell I was living.  I started preparing for my move to Florida and asked for help from my father.  He would not help me.  He told me that as long as I am living with my mother that he had no obligation to help me.  My mother bought all my books, all my bedding and all my PCC approved clothing.  My mother sent me money for expenses, care packages and other expenses that I am sure she would never tell me about.  I never once got a dime of financial support from my father when I went away.  I tried to call him to inform him how I was doing, but there was never any interest.  I attended PCC for my Freshman year and hated every minute of it.  A person was guilty until proven innocent on that campus.  It was very oppressive.  I was beginning to see that I just could not live this way.

Summer came and I went back to my mother’s home.  I would see my father at church, but had no desire to go to the his house and visit.  Things were very awkward.  My step-mother was pregnant and I felt it was so soon after my brother passed away, in my opinion.  I worked that summer and gained some cash.  I told my mother about the rapes.  The boyfriend was long gone.  I still have never told my father – though he probably will find out now that this is posted on a forum.  I broke up with the boyfriend I had followed to PCC and started tasting freedom a little more.  I dated a boy that I really liked that summer and I knew that I was finally starting to live.  The veil was lifting.  There was life to be lived and I was free.  I went back to PCC for the fall of my Sophomore year and I called home every weekend crying to be picked up.  I had recurring nightmares.  I began purging everything I ate.  I hated it there.  I was a 19 year old woman and I was being treated like a 12 year old child.  No touching someone of the opposite sex or you would be “socialed”.  You get socialed too many times and you get “shipped”.  You get shipped, you are blackballed from your church.  No walking on the same sidewalk as the boys.  No using the same stairwell as the boys.  No music with a beat.  No Christmas music before the Christmas decorations were up on the campus.  Lights out at 11 – even during exams.  The never -ending ear worm of a song we sang every day at the beginning of chapel:  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Praise Him, creatures here below. Praise Him above heavenly host. Praise Him Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen”.  My world was not what it should be.  This is not how a 19 year old ADULT should live.  The freedoms that we were supposed to have were non-existent.  There were no freedoms.  Every move was monitored, scrutinized, judged and calculated.

Finally December 20, 1988 came and I left that campus for what I thought would be the last time.  I actually returned a few years later to see my half-sister receive her degree in nursing.  My half-brother was now attending PCC and was a security guard for the campus.  He would not hug me when he saw me.  He would be socialed.  I was proud of my half-sister on the day she graduated.  I had concerns that her degree would not provide her much by way of a job and voiced these concerns with her.  Ultimately, this was her decision and I was proud of her for accomplishing a task and for her life moment that she wanted to share with me.  This pride had to be stifled, however.   Nobody was allowed to  “hoot and holler” because anyone who showed their pride for their graduate was being prideful in the Lord’s house.  The audience was given a very stern warning by Dr. Joel Mullenix (present when I attended PCC in the late 80’s) to not “hoot and holler” or the commencement ceremony would be stopped.  Someone did “hoot and holler” and it was stopped and we were all chastised from that pulpit – a full auditorium of adults chastised for being proud of their child’s or loved one’s accomplishments.  I just could not believe what I was hearing.

I was able to break free from the PCC environment and lucky for me, my mother was moving across the country to begin a new life with her soon-to-be husband in  California!!!    A quiet little girl from New Jersey was moving to California! Starting my life free from all control, all judgement, all religion – that was my plan.  I arrived in California and the world was so fresh.  Everything was new.  I was new.  I was living.  I managed to get a great job.  I wanted to go back to school.  So I tried to enroll in my local community college.  The woman registering me that day laughed at me when I showed her my high school transcript and the transcript from PCC.  Her words still resonate with me today.  She said, “you don’t have enough credits to graduate high school let alone have these credits from Pensacola transfer.”  My jaw dropped.  My mother could not believe it.  PCC is unaccredited and the IFB school I attended is only recognized by other IFB schools.  The education that I received was sub-par at best.  I always knew that, but now I had confirmation.  I had to do most of my high school credits over and I had to redo everything that I had done at PCC.  I was now back at square one.  I would have to say that it was in a negative position that I was in as I had to capture enough credits to be considered eligible for the local junior college.  I worked while going to college.  I worked as a bookkeeper for a tiny law firm in California.  I learned a lot about probate law and criminal law.  I also studied my heart out.  I wound up enrolling in a Jesuit college not far from my home so that I could continue to work at the job I loved so much.  I graduated Cum Laude with a degree in Business Administration.  I did this all on my own.

During all of this, I would still call home to talk to my dad and see how he was.  I wanted to check in on a family that had now grown to three half-siblings.  I sent them gifts to let them know that I trying to be a part of their lives.  I am 20 years older than the youngest sibling.  It was important to me at the time to be a part of their world.  Unbeknownst to me, they were not allowed to ask about me.  I have learned recently that every time my name was mentioned that my father would get angry.  I was even threatened that my arm would be broken if I tried to convince any of the children to move out to California.  My birthday would come and go.  Christmas would come and go.  I would not get any acknowledgement that I was a part of their world or that I was welcomed.  Gifts – if they did come – always arrived late.  I was not part of my father’s life any more.  When I graduated college in California, he was there.  I was over the moon that my dad traveled to California to attend my graduation. I also had a grandmother who traveled from Boston and an aunt who traveled from Texas.  However, my father took all my attentions.  I willingly gave them thinking that this time with him would bring him back into my life and that he would be proud of me, finally.  I was wrong.

A year or so later, I was about to get married.  I asked my father to walk me down the aisle.  Without any warning, he flew to California to see me.  I was amazed that he was in town, but had to scramble to rearrange plans so that I could spend the weekend with him.  I had a brand new home with my fiance and I was proud to show it off to him.  I showed him where I was getting married and went through all the plans with him.  I really thought he would walk me down the aisle.  The day before he left to go back home, he told me he was not going to walk me down the aisle because the boy I was marrying was not saved.  I was broken hearted.  The familial duties were once again put on the shelf for religious reasons.  For appearance sake, his appearance, he chose to not walk me down the aisle.  He broke the cardinal rule for every father.  He destroyed the visions I had of walking down the aisle with my father as he gave me away to my husband.  Dreams dashed and heart broken, I sought the next best thing.  My maternal grandfather walked me down the aisle on my wedding day.

That marriage did not last long.  It was 10 months of pure hell.  I was physically abused, emotionally abused, and threatened with death.  I finally got the courage to leave this abusive environment, which before I was married never had any physical abusive signs.  There were emotionally abusive situations, but I played them off.  I called my father for help and I was told to talk to my pastor.  The same pastor who lied about my brother’s death, delivered the eulogy, told me that I would end up being a whore just like my mother, was going to give me marriage advice.  His advice to me was, “Steffers – you need to go back to your husband.  You need to be submissive to him.  Show him through your submission that you are saved and lead him to Christ.”  That was the last time I have ever spoken with my pastor.  He condones spousal abuse.

I have discussed numerous times with my father about my upbringing and how the education I received was below average.  Each and every time, I have been told that he did what he could for me.  As a parent, I understand that.  But if my child were to tell me that my decisions had set them up for such heartbreak, I could not handle that without apologizing to them. I don’t think I could defend what I did if it was brought to my attention that my actions actually hurt my children in any way.  I have never received an apology from him – only more excuses.

I have tried to address why I am not important in my father’s life.  The issue is always skirted around.  In January 2012, I tried to discuss these things and now other issues that I have been made aware of within my church and school.  Issues that have been brought to the attention of a detective because many voices screamed and they were finally heard.  Issues that many people have known about and many have talked about.  To this date, these issues and allegations still will not be discussed with me.  I have tried.  I have tried as respectfully as I can.  I suppose the ostrich with its head in the sand is the best analogy here.  If it doesn’t see anything, nothing is there.  But, I am here and I am not going away.

I have been vilified.  I have been denied as being a child of his.  I have been told that I was dead just like my brother.  I have been told that family members were told that I ran away and can no longer be found.  My three children have been held by this man.  He has met my loving, supportive husband of 15 years.  I am not a person who has done anything but speak the truth.  I am not the monster here.

I am strong because each of the things I have shared here, in this long story, will not destroy me. There are a lot of events in my life that have shaped me.  All have been handled by me, alone. This is MY truth. This is MY story.  I am who I am today because I chose to thrive.  I chose to not let my past end me.  I chose to let my past shape me.  I have found courage.  I have left the darkness.  Every day, I get stronger.

I share with you who I am. I have no agenda.  I have no motive.  My only hope is to help those who are learning to find their freedom.   My voice is for my brother.  I avenge his death.  I will not let anyone cover up his death anymore.  I avenge anyone who has had their death covered by lies.  I am sad today, but I honor my brother’s memory by speaking for him.

In honor of Scott Edward Reger

March 28, 1972 – September 16, 1986

Stephanie Davies

February 9, 2014

Lani Harper’s Story – Part 3

MY ISOLATION, MY PROTECTION: living isolated, in fear of the world; Shunning

shunningMy parents taught us assiduously to be skeptical of anyone outside of our family. People in the church were okay, but still not to be trusted or relied upon; we could only rely upon each other. The IFB church helped in this regard, believing anyone in any religion, even a different form of Baptist, were wrong, misguided, in error, going to hell. The Southern Baptists were liberal, loose and soft on sin. This because they danced, allowed their girls to wear pants and just by the very nature of the South, were more relaxed in manner.

By teaching us that they, and we by extension as long as we remained “in the fold” created by them, had the One True Path and that we would get contaminated by others’ sins to be led astray, we learned to turn inward. We learned to mistrust everyone and everything, buying into their persecution complex, their belief that “everyone is out to get me”; failing that, at least to taint us by association or participation in their sinful ways. Thus, we needed to concentrate on building stronger and stronger ties within the family and the church, so that we had a rock-solid foundation and would not waver when faced with someone in the World who would inevitably tempt us. We would be able to stand strong.

They created such a picture, instilled such a fear, a wariness, a suspicion and guardedness of anyone outside our home, outside our family, that the only logical response was to turn inward. To return to our home and family. No one outside our Inner Sanctum could be trusted. We knew we could not trust our parents or siblings – they proved that by repeatedly betraying us. Yet without a viable safe place to turn, because the World and all its offerings could not be trusted, our only option besides sleeping under a bridge alone, was to stay. The evil we knew remained better than the evils we did not know. They made us understand that if we left, we would be utterly and completely desolate, alone, lost and vulnerable. We could return home; they would take us, but we knew our transgression of leaving would mean a lower rung on the familial ladder.

With the exception of Bonnie and Pat, a female/female couple who lived next-door to us in the Blue House in Waukegan (1982-3) long before we knew anything about gays or the Fundie stance against homosexuals, we were never friends with our next-door neighbors. Constantly and tirelessly instructed to not talk to them. Now, I look at that as another indicator that we were abused: they did not want the people who lived closest us too close. They might have seen something, heard something.

I would never have termed it isolation before writing this, but in re-examining my childhood, the proverbial Red Flags pop up where I least expect them, often in and among things I thought innocuous up till now. This is another one.

At that time, especially in the small rural town in the mid-west where we lived, very few people went to church. Not enough that we were odd because of the size of our Quiverfull family (though relatively small by Quiverfull standards, still much larger than anyone around us), and how our family operated – which was very different than others around us, much more stringent – we were now also strange because we went to church. Were professing born-again Christians, which no one around us was at the time. Now most people consider themselves Christians, and nearly everyone attends a church of some sort. But in that time, and in that area of the country, going to church was rare and made us an oddity. On every front we stood out, could not escape or avoid standing out.

I hated standing out. Hated being different. Desperately wanted to blend in, disappear into the background with the blessing of anonymity by being normal. We were not normal.

The first level of people we were not to associate with was the general public. They fell into the category of “unsaved” or “heathens”, and were Verboten. The barest of pleasantries in order to not be rude or disrespectful was sufficient; anything beyond that simply could not be. We were to prevent friendship or on-going relationship of any kind.

Further, we were taught that friendship with one of these Unsaved, one of these Heathen, simply was impossible. Because we did not share the most important and foundational component, belief in Jesus and salvation, the only way to have a friendship with someone like this would be to elementally reject and set aside our faith. Because it could not happen, I didn’t try, and thus missed out on countless friendships after entering the public school system. They couldn’t be my friends: they couldn’t relate to me or I to them. Their values would contradict and conflict with mine, and I didn’t want to be contaminated by associating with them. We were pure water, they polluting oil, and could not mix ever, no matter what, unless they accepted Jesus. Only then could we let them into the most personal and private areas of our life.

The second layer of isolation involved our extended family. My mother’s family were Catholic, and we in the IFB world knew they were going to hell for venerating Mary over Jesus, the doctrine of trans-substantiation (and yes, at 8 I knew the title and the definition of this and how it conflicted with our doctrine, as well as Bible verses I was to use to show Catholics how wrong they were), and other things that they took every opportunity to tell us. My father’s family were Protestant of some sort, but I never knew what type of church they attended, if at all. Because the type of church mattered.

Extended family occupied a circle inside the general category of Unsaved, but only just. They were not in the inner circle; that place belonged only to our family, my parents, sisters and brother. I could probably count on one hand the number of times in my first two and a half decades that I saw any given aunt or uncle, grandparents, cousins. My parents strictly controlled the amount of time we were permitted to be around them. Held their own families at arm’s length.

I knew my mother’s father had been abusive. She has told two or three stories about him, one involved him chasing her mother with a cast-iron skillet to hit her. I knew of his physical abuse, and I suspect sexual abuse, though she remains coldly silent about him. Any words she says about him are thick with anger, hatred, bitterness.

The first time I talked to him I was seventeen. He called our house, and I answered the phone. He introduced himself as Mike, asked to speak to Mag. That was the only time I’d had any contact at all with him, this man vilified by my mother’s few words.

When her mother died, she and I travelled to stay with one of her brothers and his family. At one point, they received a phone call. She then came to the room we were sharing, agitated and flustered, hands flapping as she paced back and forth. He was coming, she told me. On his way, imminent arrival. When he arrived, she refused to come out, refused to see him.

At the funeral, no one approached him, no one spoke to him. At one point, I walked over to him and introduced myself, Hi, I’m Lani, Mag’s daughter. And then she shunned me for the rest of the service. I knew she was angry at me for speaking to him, and later when we spoke of it, she could hardly spit the words out of her angry mouth. You don’t understand! You don’t know what he did to us.

I responded by telling her I didn’t care; I would not carry on generational bitterness. She exploded at me, I’M NOT BITTER! With some more you don’t understand statements. No, I don’t understand. She never told us, never told us about him or her childhood beyond a few short, tersely-brief stories meant to give evidence and validity to her not wanting us to see him, intended to make me thankful for her protecting and shielding us from his evils.

As a direct result of this isolation from extended family, my siblings and I still do not have relationship with any aunts, uncles, cousins or our sole remaining grandparent, JD’s mother. Any interactions are liberally sprinkled with awkwardness at not knowing them, not having history or memories with them. No holidays spent around Grandma’s table; all our holidays belonged strictly to our family, in our home, but always with people in the church, orphan-families who had no family with whom to celebrate. These were families my parents took under their wing, to instruct them in how to build a solid marriage and raise obedient children.

These occupied the next-smaller circle, inside Extended Family but outside Immediate Family, and this circle also belonged to our friends. That is, our friends inside the IFB church. And there were precious few of those.

The most inward circle was reserved for only our family. No others could enter, until we married. Then our spouses would be permitted entrance into the inner sanctum.

However, in this innermost of circles, the smallest and most restrictive, the isolation bended and twisted and curled around us, like a snake slithering through our midst. We never knew where we’d see it next or how it would encircle us. It was not a biting snake; its wounds were inflicted as it separated one or more of us, using its slimy, scaly serpentine movements to slowly strangle us apart from the rest.

The damage then, was two-part: physical separation in that we would be set aside, apart from the rest of the family, for a time; and emotional separation, where especially Mag would harbor anger against us and not speak to us for the duration of the separation.

Only during the writing of this book did I term the separations for what they really are. I’d labeled my childhood as abusive. I knew that with most religious or spiritual abuse situations members can be shunned as punishment, to coerce them back into the fold, to return from their wayward ways as the scriptural Prodigal Son. I mentally checked off the important aspects: parents beat us, check. Churches abused us spiritually, check. Verbal abuse, check. But we hadn’t been shunned, so I thought whew, we at least escaped that.

In the middle of one night, my thoughts roiled around in the guise of dreams, words tumbled over and over such that one sentence couldn’t end before the next had overlapped. Slowly, they honed in, tightening in my mind, focusing inward to the underlying point: oh my god, she shunned us, I thought, and woke at the same time the thought solidified into words. She shuns us.

The abusive story was complete.

Mag’s version of shunning is a bit different. It is not an all-or-nothing denial of our existence forevermore. She does not physically act or speak as if we are dead or that we never existed. Her method of shunning, or isolating us within the family, is much more capricious, much more fluid. She shuns when and if she feels it necessary to make a point, to teach us a lesson.

In Mag’s world of shunning, she holds the cards, controls the world. She uses it to what she deems her advantage, to keep us off-kilter, always guessing, never knowing where we stand with her. It is emotional manipulation at its very finest, and Mag has honed it to a well-defined art form. It can be so fast as to appear a transitory tantrum, with a large explosion (or a series of small explosions) then, if she doesn’t get her way, she’ll storm off in a huff. When this happens, I’m never sure when she’ll deign to speak to me again. Sometimes it’s hours; sometimes months. Regardless, when she does decide to acknowledge my presence again, there is usually a large dose of residual manipulation in the form of what I term the “wounded bear” complex. She ensures the other person knows she was offended and hasn’t let the offender off the hook yet, all without breathing a word about the event that set her off.

While we were growing up, we had a particularly unique form of shunning exhibited in our family relating to mealtimes. They used food as a leveraging tool, based on our attitude and work that we had completed during the day.

There were times we were not allowed to eat. I recall being made to stand in my place, in front of my chair, during dinner while everyone else ate. This was the picture that accompanied the words in the dream-state that informed me we had been shunned. Standing at the table as everyone held hands around us for the song and prayer required prior to eating, and did not touch us or speak to us during the entirety of the meal.

These meals would drag on seemingly for an eternity, with JD offering extra helpings to everyone multiple times, eating dessert, lecturing on the topic-of-the-day, discussing the day’s happenings. My legs burned, muscles threatened to rebel against being still for so long, and my stomach refused to remain silent. We had to stand with hands down by our sides, eyes straight ahead.

I tried, as always, to control my tears – received not a few You want something to cry about? I’ll give you something to cry about! statements – but inevitably a few would stubbornly refuse to obey and trickle down my cheek. I could not use my hands to wipe them away but made and unmade fists by my side, keeping the fist on the side away from my parents’ eyesight. And I had to work to hide my anger at being treated such, not let it show on my face: that was a surefire ticket to an attitude adjustment with the belt. I, more than my siblings, could not avoid the evidence of my emotions on my face, a fact that resulted in more than a few attitude adjustments.

The punishment continued after the meal with being made to clean up. At that age, I always had one of my older sisters “helping” me. Really, they were present to educate me, to instruct me in the proper way to clean up. Sometimes these were fun times, teasing and happily chatting. But after a meal that included shunning, the silence lay heavy in the air. I was still forbidden from talking to anyone, and to avoid having my mouth taped, I endeavored to show them by my voluntary silence that I understood what I was to do.

The sister, either Libbie or Andie, also had the duty of ensuring I did not sneak scraps off the plates, to appease my hunger. I was also forbidden from eating until the next meal which meant an interminable night of a rumbling stomach that would not let me sleep peacefully. Times like these we became adept at sneaking food from the pantry. Spaghetti noodles were my favorite, as they were small, could be eaten quickly, and couldn’t be counted. Marshmallows too, if I were brave to sneak something sweet. I loved sweets.

Andie was more compassionate; Libbie was, still is, very hard-hearted and tendered zero sympathy. She more than the rest of us completely swallowed the rhetoric shoved down our throats. She believed we deserved our punishment. And she could not be trusted to keep confidences but would betray us to Mag, silently and without our knowledge. We never guessed she was their mole; we simply thought Mag and JD really did have eyes everywhere. Libbie was their eyes.

This type of shunning continued for several years. In high school, they simply refused to let us sit at the table, remanded us to our room for the duration of everyone else’s joyful consuming of aromatic foods whose scents wafted up the stairs and under the door to taunt me. Always after a meal like this I had to clean up after everyone else, but by this time they expected I knew my duty to not eat. But I was very adept at sneaking small portions that would not be missed; because they checked the leftover containers to ensure the amounts matched what was left at the end of the meal.

Mag’s manipulation of us through battering us with emotional neglect continues to the present. It is so ingrained, so instinctual, so capricious I believe it is completely unconscious. Though I also believe she has no idea of the ramifications or tangent consequences to us or our psyches, I also do not excuse her any longer. In essence, she acts with social skills comparable to a spoiled three year old.

Not only does she herself shun, but she pulls everyone in the family into her shunning game. She uses her diabolical skills as emotional manipulator to convert my father and siblings into turning against me as well. Now, with this new definition of shunning on her actions, I look back at instances of her not-talking to me and see them for what they truly were. Not talking to me after disagreeing about baby-proofing (as in, I wanted to; she thought me to be spoiling my child) – shunning. Not talking to me after I joined a charismatic church – shunning. Her ire at me during her mother’s funeral – shunning. Not talking to me after Libbie’s wedding, as well as turning the entire family against me – shunning.

Libbie’s wedding exemplifies her tactics of persuading others to believe her and join with her in battle beautifully.

When my oldest sister got married, I like a dutiful sister traveled with my husband and babies to participate in supporting her. By this time my brother had also gotten engaged, and so I think I met his fiancé for the first time at Libbie’s wedding. By this point I had put myself on this path of questioning the way we were raised, questioning Mag and JD’s methods, questioning if they really did “the best they could have” under the circumstances. As a result, I’d experienced not a little bit of tension and animosity towards me and had begun distancing myself from my parents specifically, and also my siblings who Mag roped into agreeing with her.

My children were 22 months and 7 months, and I had persistently worked with Libbie for her to find me a babysitter so that I could enjoy the rehearsal and wedding without chasing after babies or worrying about their inevitable disruptions, and without needing to apologize for their babyness.

On Sunday the day after the wedding, they wanted to have a family breakfast at the hotel with everyone. I was exhausted from wedding activities and little sleep – my younger child was still waking up several times a night. Plus I knew the drive back to Raleigh from Virginia Beach would be taxing – my children hated being strapped in, unable to move for prolonged periods of time, so whoever was not driving was entertaining them so as to keep them content and quiet(er) than they would be. They had no coping skills for driving like this and were too young to understand. I’m sure they felt we were punishing them unnecessarily. Road trips were not fun, and so we avoided them as much as we could at that point in their lives.

I explained to everyone our need to leave first thing Sunday morning, that we would miss the family breakfast. At this point I still needed to be heard, to be understood, thought that if I just explained things correctly, used the right words, that my message would be heard and they would cease to antagonize and criminalize me for not complying with their wishes. Mostly “their wishes” applies to Mag, and JD by extension because he doesn’t disagree with her much, but Mag pushed her wishes on everyone else with her coercion and emotional manipulation.

Unable to get them to stop nit-picking at me, finding fault with my plans as my choices did not accede to what they wanted of me, I threw my hands in the air and went about our business preparing to leave, ensuring we did not leave anything behind, had fresh diapers on the kids, gas in the tank, and so forth.

Not sufficient to lambast me in person, Mag and my sisters continued to harass me via email for the next few weeks. At that point, Andie and I were still adversaries, clashing and believing what Mag said about the other person, and she took part in the email bashing. Her husband even took part, and between the two of them, they told me that I was hurting everyone on purpose, that I was self-centered, and tearing the family apart. Among other things, which she has since profusely apologized for. I do not fault her any longer for saying and doing these things then; I merely use it to exemplify what the family was like then and the hold Mag retains over anyone who lets her. Andie, Evie and I do not any longer let her control how we perceive each other, and we decline to take part in her schemes against anyone else.

At this point though, she turned everyone against me. I’m sure she griped about me at the family breakfast – it is her manner. Sadly, she has done it enough that I know her tendencies.

I responded authoritatively to each and every email, discarding my pleas for empathy and understanding, as my explanations only served to continue the harassment. The more I responded to their allegations and accusations, the more they accused me. The more I attempted to explain my point of view, my situation, the more I was labeled self-absorbed and egocentric. The more I asked for consideration of my circumstances, the more they said I was manipulative and trying to force everyone to bend around me as the center of the world. I should add that at this point, I was the only one who had children so no one understood the demands of having two babies; after many years, after everyone else had children, they would use that to appeal to my compassion: please, Lani, you should understand.

And so after a few bouts with several family members, including my brother-in-law, and conferencing with my husband as to the best way to handle the situation, I took a different tack: I responded with confidence, authority and a strength I did not yet own. And I cried after each email was sent. They had no business informing me that I was “tearing the family apart”, especially my brother-in-law, who had never met my daughter or come to my home or made any attempt to get to know me. That accusing me of “hurting everyone on purpose” was untrue and they did not have permission to say that, or anything like it, to me again. And many other things that I do not recall, as it has been nearly a decade since this all took place.

As a result of standing up for myself to my family, no one talked to me for months. No phone calls, no emails, no visits or invitations to visit.

Now, though, Evie, Andie and I see this sort of situation – which was and is far from exceptional in our family – as exemplifying how our parents turned us against each other. Used anyone who dared step out to stand on her own feet, in opposition – however courteous and respectfully – of their will and their way as an opportunity to influence the others, indoctrinate the siblings to their way of thinking and doing things. This created strife and massive rifts in relationship that the three of us are endeavoring to now mend, but these rifts and strife instilled between and among us run deep and are exceedingly difficult to change. We are trying.

But how stressful never knowing if your mother is angry at you! And wracking your brain, trying to determine which incident set her off this time. Examining over and over your actions, your words, wondering how she could have misinterpreted meaning or intent. Always viewing her and her words with skepticism, trying to figure out her underlying meaning, what the double-speak might reference. But never being able to define it or her actions for what they are, else ensure a barrage of venomous anger. As always, standing up to her means inciting her to wrath and guaranteeing that if she hadn’t been angry and shunning before, she surely would after.

Still, to this day, though I have left this life far behind, I struggle with letting people in. With the instinctive labeling of people relative to the circle in which I should place them. It is a constant and conscious and deliberate pursuit, to reject the isolation that I internalized due to the doctrines of the IFB and the practices of my family. To pause when I hear the words in my head, to form the thoughts into words and then reject those thoughts that tell me I should keep myself apart, separate.

It takes work to emerge from this sort of isolationist mentality, but it can be done. It takes effort, but it also takes desire. Without wanting to change, I would not seek change. Without defining from where I have come, I cannot define where to go. I still have a practiced mentality that completely dismisses next door neighbors. Living in the South has helped, though it has taken nearly two decades of deprogramming in this setting. Of not being irritated at what I defined as intrusiveness, of not reacting viscerally at what felt inappropriately intimate. Of not labeling people as dangerous, out to unravel my carefully-constructed life.

Now, though, I am much more gentle on myself, realizing my instincts of self-preservation, of preventing people close to me from damaging the most inward and delicate parts of my heart, reflect the severity of my upbringing. When I can put words to it, when I can make connections between why I do or feel something and what my parents did or taught me, I build a new step. A step that takes me further from them.

It is a long road, and a slowly-built one. And a never-ending road. But worth the effort.

13 Yr. Old Hana Williams Dies

hana williamsOn the night of May 11, 2011, sometime around midnight, 13-year-old Hana Williams fell face-forward in her parents’ backyard. Adopted from Ethiopia three years before, Hana was naked and severely underweight. Her head had recently been shaved, and her body bore the scars of repeated beatings with a plastic plumbing hose. Inside the house, her adoptive mother, 42-year-old Carri Williams, and a number of Hana’s eight siblings had been peering out the window for the past few hours, watching as Hana staggered and thrashed around, removed her clothing in what is known as hypothermic paradoxical undressing and fell repeatedly, hitting her head. According to Hana’s brother Immanuel, a deaf 10-year-old also adopted from Ethiopia, the family appeared to be laughing at her.

When one of Carri’s biological daughters reported that Hana was lying facedown, Carri came outside. Upset by Hana’s immodest nakedness, Carri fetched a bedsheet and covered her before asking two teenage sons to carry her in. She called her husband, Larry, who was on his way home from a late shift at Boeing, then finally dialed 911, telling the operator, “I think my daughter just killed herself. … She’s really rebellious.”

From court testimony, pretrial motions, and a detective’s affidavit, here is what we know about what led up to that night: Hana had been outside since the midafternoon, wearing cutoff sweatpants and a short-sleeved shirt in the rainy, mid-40s drizzle of spring in Sedro-Woolley, Wash.—a small town just 40 miles south of the Canadian border. Carri had originally sent Hana outside that day as a punishment, ordering her to do jumping jacks to stay warm. She walked Hana to an outhouse reserved for her use and watched her fall several times, but went back inside to avoid seeing what she thought was attention-seeking behavior. As the hours wore on, Hana refused to come back in when Carri called. Carri put out dry clothes and sent two of her biological sons to hit Hana on her bottom with a plastic switch for disobeying. But Hana had begun to remove her clothing, and Carri, who believed in strict modesty, called the boys back in.

As the operator walked her through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, an even-voiced Carri explained that Hana’s mouth was full of mud, her eyes dilated, “like she’s in a dark room.” Her voice grew annoyed as she described Hana’s nudity, and how she’d been “passive-aggressive,” causing “so much stress!”

Hana was pronounced dead at the hospital, the cause hypothermia compounded by malnutrition and gastritis. The following day, when Child Protective Services tried to check on the other children, Larry Williams refused to let them in. When police followed up, a deputy noted that the family acted as though Hana’s death was “an everyday occurrence.” Twelve days later, detectives and CPS conducted interviews with the children, but their answers seemed rote and rehearsed, all repeating that Hana was rebellious and refused to mind Carri; one child said he thought Hana was possessed by demons. According to investigators, Immanuel said that “people like [Hana] got spankings for lying and go into the fires of hell,” just before Larry abruptly ended the interview.

Two months later, in mid-July, CPS received an anonymous tip from someone claiming that Carri didn’t like her adopted children and that Immanuel was starting to be treated like Hana had been. CPS launched a formal investigation, and all eight remaining children went into state care. In late September, Larry and Carri were arrested and charged with Hana’s death.

When Hana died, she became one of at least dozens of adoptees alleged to have been killed at their adoptive parents’ hands in the past 20 years, and part of a far larger group of children who become estranged from their adoptive families—frequently, as it turns out, large families with fundamentalist beliefs about child rearing. Just within the Seattle area, and just among Ethiopian adoptees who came from the same orphanage and adoption agency as Hana, there has been an unreported crisis of “forever families” that fail. These are adoptions that, in an absence of any real oversight and in environments of harsh discipline, began with good intentions but went profoundly wrong….click here to read more.

Laura Jeanne’s Story

I distinctly remember the summer of 1994 because it was the summer that I finally packed away all of my beloved Barbies. I knew it was time to put away childish things and grow up to be a big girl. Little did I know how fast I would have to grow up…..

When the school year started, Bill Wininger would call me into his office just to make sure I was doing okay. He portrayed himself as a father figure and let me know he was there for me if I ever needed anything. It was strange how random these meetings were–sometimes in the middle of history class and sometimes right before gym class–but he always said that we were buddies and that this should be our little secret.  It felt weird when he hugged me, but after all, he was portraying a father figure, and fathers hug their children; and he was the “man of God,” so he wouldn’t do anything wrong. When the hugs turned into a little something more, I knew something wasn’t quite right, but when you were in his office it was as if you were under some sort of spell. You would just freeze, almost as if you weren’t really there but watching yourself in a dream. Even though we were taught by church and school to respect and obey authority without question, my parents always explained their rules and let us question and talk about them.  I thank God that my parents instilled this self respect in me. Although I could never say or do anything while I was in his office, outside of his office I was able to tell him that I didn’t feel that it was right and that we shouldn’t do this anymore. Thankfully, he never did call me back into his office after that, and shortly thereafter, he left the church.

I thought he had repented of what he had done and made a fresh start down in Georgia.  In my young, innocent, and forgiving heart I truly believed this was true.

If only I had known how untrue this was……

I am telling my story not to benefit myself, because personally I would rather just take it to God and forget the whole thing happened.

I am sharing this to stand with my dear friends who suffered along with me, Janeane, Robin, and now, I know Bethany did as well.

I also pray that anyone who is afraid to come forward will get courage from God to stand up for what is right.

Tiffany Moon’s Story of Abuse, Kidnapping and Rape

image027My kidnapping was part of years of violent abuse, deception about my identity, a custody dispute, 10-day captivity, and escape across state lines.  When unable to stop it, the Catholic Diocese of San Diego and the School of the Madeleine chose to hide it.

My birth certificate was falsely marked with the name of the older husband of my 18-year-old mother.  My natural father had refused custody, and finally to pay child support when unable to control her.  I didn’t know his identity until I was an adult, but I did learn the word, “bastard” in conjunction with violence when I was a child.  Throughout my childhood, until I was nine, I was severely abused.  I lived in violent, drug-using homes in California and Oregon, where I was sexually abused by the man I was told was my father, given drugs and alcohol, threatened with guns, photographed, trafficked to men who came to our home, tied with rope, experienced my animals being tortured (hung, strangled, cooked alive), and watched my mother raped and beaten.  Sexual deviance was a hallmark of abuse in our home, with forced urination in my mother’s mouth being among the things I witnessed.  I was first raped by a young neighbor when I was seven, after he had stolen my cat.  But it was this boy’s knowledge of the use of captivity and animal abuse, and early knowledge of intimate secretions, that suggested his own abuse by the man who dominated my home:

Captivity was a common practice by my stepfather, who often separated, restrained, and confined me and my mother, while privacy in the bathroom was not permitted.  The most significant events of violence and captivity leading to my kidnapping occurred in August of 1980, when I was nine, in our Oregon home:  When divorce was imminent, and during a violent argument about custody of me, my mother escaped with me into my parents’ bedroom and locked the door.  My stepfather kicked the door in, punching the doorknob into the wall behind it, missing my face by inches, and then held and beat my mother in the bathroom.  My mother escaped our home after this, leaving me and my 2-year-old half-brother behind.  During the 10 days of her absence, I was held in the house, starved, kept awake, and forcefully raped in my room by a boarder who lived in our home and took LSD with my stepfather at night. On the night my mother returned, when my stepfather became violent and she attempted to walk out through the attached garage, he attempted to kill her.  With a drop latch at the kitchen doorway, he dropped the garage door on her head, and when she had fallen on her back, sat on her abdomen and applied pressure to her chest and neck with his hands to suffocate her.  I was watching from the kitchen, sick and starved, with my rapist standing next to me.  A neighbor called police on that night, but police came and went, regarding my mother as the problem, and leaving us to be abused again.

My mother did finally escape with me and my half-brother that August, returning to California and divorcing my stepfather, and then abandoning me with my grandmother in San Diego.  I was still starved, unable to eat, and had pneumonia when I arrived.  In my grandmother’s home, where I was left to care for my grandfather, a cigarette addict dying of lung cancer, I lived another nine years of severe emotional, physical and mental abuse and neglect, often by my visiting aunt, alcoholic mother, and her many boyfriends.  My grandmother was an employee of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, and that September, she placed me in the School of the Madeleine, where I was bullied by students and abused by teachers.  School officials had been informed that my mother had custody of me, that my grandmother was my guardian, and that my stepfather was a violent man who did not have permission to see me. During my first month of school, on picture day, I was physically abused and threatened by my 4th-grade teacher, who took me alone into a hallway, pinned me into a corner with her arm to my chest, and told me what she would do if I ever lied to her. Shortly after this, in October, my stepfather, who had driven from Oregon to San Diego, entered the school campus through open gates, without notice.  He first went to the school office and asked permission to take me out of school.  When denied permission, he ran throughout the school, from room to room, yelling my name, with the school principal, a small nun, running behind him.  He forcibly removed me from a classroom, pushing the principal, who had stood in the doorway to block it, out of the way, knocking her into a bench and onto the ground, and dragged me, screaming my fear of falling, down the steep hill away from the school.  He first drove me to an unpopulated restaurant for a drink, then to a secluded canyon, where he raped me, and from a nearby parking lot, returned me to school in a taxi.  Approximately two hours passed from the time I was taken until I was returned.  When I arrived back at the school, there were no police; no one had called them.  The campus was quiet.  I walked back through open school gates, guessed where I should be, and returned to the classroom of the teacher who had threatened me about lying. She had been talking to the class; her words to them when I entered the room were, “It happens every day.”  She called my name as I entered, hugged me, while I stood still and unresponsive, and then took me to the school office.  I was sent home with my grandmother, who had been called away from her job at the Diocese.

Nothing was done, however.  No police report was taken.  No paramedics were called.  No counselors, nor Child Protective Services, were contacted.  I displayed obvious symptoms of abuse on the day of my kidnapping and for my remaining years at the school.  I had regular infections for which I carried cranberry juice to school, information I shared with students and teachers. I described pain to my gym teacher to be excused from class, something for which I was bullied by students.  I described feelings of depression to my choir teacher, who then frequently offered to drive me and other girls home alone after private lessons.  I also disclosed information to the Parish Monsignor in confession two years later, when I was mutilating myself, genitally and compulsively (a result of sexual trauma), who then gave me penance for my sin, but no action was taken.  For my remaining four years at the school, when I was hiding in closets during class, jumping every time a chair moved, sitting alone, dissociated and comatose, during lunches, and finally leaving visible suicide notes, seen by students, in classrooms, no action was taken.  In fact, the school gates remained open every day, despite the kidnapping, and the teacher who had threatened me about lying said to another teacher in reference to my behavior, “I think she just wants attention.”  The same teacher, during a sixth-grade sex-education discussion, told our class, “if a child is sexually abused, she will become schizophrenic.”  The crime was ignored, I was ignored, and I was shamed into silence.  An experienced felon walked free, and my wellbeing continued to decline.  I was still a child, still abused, and still incapable of reporting the crime myself.  I was afraid of my family; I was bullied, ignored, and abused at my school.  Had police been notified by the school or the Diocese when I was kidnapped, I might have been found before I was assaulted.  Had police and paramedics been present when I returned, I would have disclosed what had happened to me, there would have been evidence, and my stepfather could have been convicted.  Had CPS been contacted at any time, I would have explained the kidnapping and abuse, and perhaps been removed from my family and the school.  I might have received help, treatment.  My life today might have been much different if the school and the Diocese had not deliberately chosen not to act.

The years of these events were threateningly normalized by the abusive adults around me while I was living them, and I adapted into the shell of a person I had to be in order to survive.  I have only recently begun to understand exactly how these events created the traumatized, debilitated adult I am, the adult who continued to attract and tolerate abusers, and who has required a severely and increasingly restricted work, home and social life.  But today, despite the fact that my stepfather has confessed to the kidnapping on an audio recording, very little legal action is possible without the support of law enforcement. And while I live with severe disabilities, including chronic C-PTSD and a major depressive disorder, psychological injuries caused by the trauma, something that prevents me from functioning normally, in a way that meets my intellectual potential and potential for sufficient income and community giving, the school and the Diocese have refused to accept responsibility for the tremendous, lifelong damage they caused, also making treatment impossible without compensation.  Today, there is little recourse for these events, and no help available for me.

ABDUCTION madeleine descanso officer finney allowing blocking of my protest statement and me 25 april 2013 turned

Officer Finney allowing blocking of my protest statement and me on 25 April 2013.

SB 131 madeleine descanso front

Protest Statement

In San Diego, CA, my own recent attempts at seeking legal justice and help for the trauma-related symptoms I finally understood, resulted in a death threat, stalking, the questionable suicide of my mother, abuse by police and sheriffs, abuse and denial of service by my local FBI, neglect and abuse by my local DA, callousness and abuse by attorneys, a medical misdiagnosis, permanently damaging medical maltreatment, illegal denial of county health-care services, illegal denial of aid by Social Security, the CalFresh program, and all other social services, denial of service by support organizations, denial of disability by my private insurance carrier, the loss of my small business, the loss of my suburban home, and the depletion of my resources, finally resulting in seven months of homelessness, damaging separation from my physical and psychiatric service animals (one of whom died), and over a year of chronic stress. Ultimately, my attempts at seeking support for the results of the crime that had been ignored in the past were not only ignored in the present, but resulted in ultimate loss, worsening my disability and financial state with abusive and criminal responses. Today, I won’t survive without help.

Today, I’m trying to rebuild, and I’m pursuing legal justice, compensation, and treatment.  After learning that the way I have been treated is very common, and being forced to compile resources alone, I’m also applying my knowledge and skills to support groups filled with amazing abduction and kidnapping survivors, from whom I learn more every day.  And I am sharing my story, because what my teacher said that day is true:  Abduction does happen every day.  The problem is that abduction incidents sound so outlandish to those who are unaware of or simply afraid to hear them, that survivors are left feeling alone, betrayed, and frustrated, with a profound and unique trauma.  Many of us do not survive, not because we did not live through the crime, but because we were denied help after it.  Far from receiving the support and treatment we so desperately need, most abduction and kidnapping survivors are just as profoundly mistreated after the crime.  Today, I’m seeking help, and I hope that, by sharing my story and providing services for other survivors of abduction and kidnapping, while seeking help for myself, I can also promote public awareness about a painful but common crime, and provide the support that I didn’t receive, the support that would have made all the difference.

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ACTION ALERT!  ABDUCTION SB 131 Poster Governor Choose Sign 2

On 12 October, 2013, CA Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 131, the Child Victims Act, the bill that would have allowed me to sue the Catholic Diocese of San Diego for my kidnapping and assault, and to receive justice, compensation, and treatment for the crimes committed against me by the School of the Madeleine. With his veto, Brown chose to protect the school, the Diocese, and my rapist, rather than to protect me, their victim.  He chose to protect powerful institutions that harbor rapists, rather than to protect today’s children and compensate yesterday’s victims.  Please read my statement, and demand Governor Brown’s resignation:

www.facebook.com/notes/tiffany-moon-foundation-for-abduction-recovery/ca-governor-brown-vetos-sb-131-the-child-victims-act/535316056545103

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From the Author: Tiffany currently operates The Tiffany Moon Foundation for Abduction Recovery. This foundation helps in fighting for justice for her kidnapping and abuse at a religious school (and religious abuse in the family) and, offers support to all kidnapping survivors. For more information on her foundation, or to help support the foundation through donations, please visit her website at http://tiffanymoonfoundation.org/index.htm.

RELIGIOUS ABUSE – What Exactly Is it?

spiritual abuse picThroughout the last several years, it has been a goal of mine to expose abuses hidden under the guise of “religion.” Countless millions of people have no idea religious abuse is real, that it exists, or what it involves. For those who have experienced such abuse, it is personal . . . very personal. The trauma inflicted not only encompasses physical and sexual abuses, but it encompasses spiritual, psychological and emotional abuse as well. What many do not realize is that religious abuse, terrorism, and “hate crimes” are all related. Really take some time to think on this. Religious abuse is linked to domestic abuse, child abuse, inequality of the sexes, prostitution and sex trafficking, etc. The list can go on and on. Once you understand what religious abuse is, then you will understand why I say this. This understanding is paramount in recognizing the abuses for what they are – abuse – and, helping to stop them. When we can stop religious abuse, hate crimes, domestic abuse and other associated crimes will also dwindle down.

Before we get started, however, on defining this term in depth let me say that religious abuse is a direct result of religious indoctrination. Indoctrination affects thoughts, beliefs and behaviors toward others for either good or bad. Keep this in mind as you read further.

 

RELIGIOUS ABUSE – What Exactly Is It?

So what is religious abuse? In case there is some uncertainty as to what this means, let me be very specific in this matter and define it for readers, as follows:

RELIGIOUS ABUSE: The instilling of religious precepts, doctrines, rules, and dogmas into the mind of an individual or group in order to bring about a change in thought processes and behavior for control, manipulation, and personal gain. As a result of this indoctrination and control, it can lead an individual or group to slander, attack, assault or kill under the pretense that they are doing God a favor. In the name of God, they inflict harm or violence toward an adult or child that results in physical, emotional, psychological or sexual trauma. It may even lead to the death of the victim.

Religious abuse is a by-product of an authoritarian or rule-based religious system. Usually these types of religious systems give men unquestionable authority over women and children. The women and children, however, have no authority or input at all. The many rules and dogmas are set “against” women and children so that men can have freedom and control.

Some may refer to this type of system as “legalistic.” It doesn’t matter what term is used to define it. What is important is that the abusive system is identified and those abused in it are rescued and given the justice they deserve. Those who perpetrate religious abuse demand silence from those abused. To speak out will cause the religious abuser to further attack a victim.

Who are religious abusers? There are two categories of religious abusers:

1)  They are those who use their authority and/or position in conjunction with religious text to persuade the abused they were responsible for the abuses done to them; thus, silencing them through shame while protecting the perpetrator of the abuse. This category of abusers will usually hurl one or all of the following abusive phrases at a victim:

  • “It’s your fault. What were you wearing?”
  • “God commands us to forgive.” Therefore you need to forgive your abuser. Don’t go to the police. Let us handle this issue internally. After all, we don’t want you to cause “damage to the cause of Christ.”
  • “You’re just angry and bitter!”

2)  They employ unethical and/or injurious tactics to silence a victim of religious abuse such as stalking, cyber-stalking, cyber bullying, harassment, causing one to lose their job, etc.

As a result, religious abuse continues to thrive and religious abusers continue to silence truth and allow criminals a hiding place under the mantle of righteousness their religious sect wears.

There are many facets to religious abuse. They are as follows:

FACET #1 – EMOTIONAL ABUSE

Unlike physical abuse, emotional abuse leaves no physical marks. And because it can be difficult to detect, it is very difficult to stop. In this type of abuse, it is all about CONTROL. The one being abused by it is the one the abuser wishes to control and manipulate.  It can be inflicted in many different forms as follows:

  • Verbal Abuse – using words to inflict harm, modify behavior, or instill fear of someone or something.

It can be as subtle as damaging words between a parent and child, pastor and congregant, or between two congregants. It can be as subtle as a message preached with an “underlying message” aimed at modifying behavior and thought processes. It can be as overt as a message preached with the express intent of attacking a congregant or child’s behavior and publicly humiliating them. Or, it can be as overt as yelling and screaming with threats of physical violence. The atmosphere becomes one of fear, anger, anxiety or hostility.

  • Isolation – isolating the victim from other family members, close friends, others in the church, and authorities.

This is usually done intentionally and is used to either hurt a victim emotionally or, isolate them for better control and manipulation. It is employed by religious leaders and lay people to bring about conformity to the rules and dogmas of the religious sect they are a part of. It is used to control others for personal satisfaction and gain. It is also used to prevent its victims from escaping the abuse and going to authorities for help. Isolation ensures no one escapes from the sect, its leaders, and those who are members of it.

  • Limited Social Contact – severely limiting or eliminating social contact with others, especially those that can think independently or, believe differently or, live different lifestyles. Isolation from the rest of secular society keeps those who are indoctrinated from being influenced by outside sources and/or truths.

This is a deliberate attempt to control the circle of influence of the victim in order to ensure that the modifying and programming of their behavior is successful. Any contact with those that think for themselves and/or believe differently, can prevent successful indoctrination toward the sect’s rules and dogmas. This is a control tactic used by church leaders and congregants especially where children are concerned. This prevents autonomy and develops “clones” of the system. This also leads to severe bouts of loneliness and depression since this is also a form of isolation.

  • Neglect – the failure to give proper and adequate attention to the individual’s need, problems, questions, and concerns.

Especially where women and children are concerned, this is a very big problem within religion. Many emotional needs are not met in a religiously abusive environment. Many will adopt the attitudes and behaviors of the sects they serve and often become unemotional, uncompromising, abrasive, lacking in compassion and, violent toward those who question authority, practice, rules or leadership or, disobey any of these. Because abusive religions degrade and suppress women and children, they are treated as having no value. As a result, their desires, wants, and needs are overlooked or ignored and only the desires, wants and needs of the men and the church leaders are deemed important. This is not only neglect, it is abuse.

  • Threats – of physical harm, shunning, public humiliation, death.

All of these are used consistently to coerce adults and children into obeying “without question.” Those who do not obey without question, will find themselves on the receiving end of public humiliation, gossip, slander, beatings, torture, starvation, loss of comforts, and other inhumane treatment. Some may even be killed. These “threats” are no different than hate crimes. In my opinion, any abuse meted out in order to force conformity or, because one does not conform, can be categorized not only as religious abuse but also as a hate crime.

  • Belittling the person – attacking a person’s character because their actions do not line up with the sects rules and ideals.

Belittling is used to force conformity and to deter associations with outside influences. Belittling can be used against a victim’s family members if they do not believe and live the same way the sect members do. This is done in order to deter the person from having social contact with those specific family members who believe differently and might question the religious rules, dogmas, and beliefs of the sect. This limits the sphere of people available to the victim who have the potential to rescue them from the abusive sect. This tactic is used on adults and children to cause them to obey leadership without questioning anything they may say or do. It is also used to humiliate a victim in order to modify behavior. While this tactic works well, it also can lead to anger, resentment, and a desire to flee the abuse at the earliest possible chance.

  • Psychological Abuse – This is also known as emotional abuse or mental abuse and is characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Physical abuse, molestation, and sexual assault cause psychological trauma and abuse. Certain religious teachings can also cause this same trauma. For instance, the concept of hell is a huge trigger for psychological abuse; especially in small children. In the sect I came out of, there were videos that were viewed by the adults and children that showed human torture in hell. Some of the messages preached were also graphic in nature regarding this human torture. These were used to instill fear. This fear was then manipulated by clergy. Children can suffer nightmares from these things and live in fear of dying. It also causes them a fear of “breaking the religious rules” for fear of going to hell. The emotional trauma is compounded by the child’s inability to keep all the rules and their anxiety builds up to a level where depression can occur as well as other mental illnesses as their mind tries to find a coping mechanism. Those who cannot cope may attempt suicide to escape the mental anguish they are living under.

Emotional abuse has the same effects in every instance: it beats people down, destroys their self-image, stifles growth and maturity, destroys autonomy, self-respect and, leaves victims defenseless. Emotional abuse is specifically designed to kill the spirit within an individual and replace it with the institution’s ideals, precepts and dogmas. It is, in effect, “soul murder.” .

Emotional abuse also instills fear, coupled with an imposed shame and guilt from the perpetrator of the abuse. This fear then becomes an impenetrable wall that grows so strong it can take decades of therapy to remove. Emotional abuse is a direct result of a power imbalance and inequality. The number one weapon used to inflict this abuse is Scripture. Not only is it used as a baseball bat to beat people into conformity through fear, it is used to incite people to violence (hate crimes and terrorism) against those who disagree or question religious leaders, their religious rules, dogmas, church policy, or the abuses witnessed.  Emotional Abuse also leads to the inability to cope with the problems and challenges that may occur throughout the life of the victim. Those who endure this type of abuse live their lives in fear of God, government, the church, church leaders, their abusers, the unsaved and, those still entrenched within the abusive sect they extract themselves from.  Victims of emotional abuse may suffer from mental illnesses, depression, and addictions with alcohol and drugs. They may have eating disorders and suffer physical maladies as a result of the emotional trauma inflicted.

FACET #2 – PHYSICAL ABUSE

This could include sexual mutilation, beatings, starvation, burning, cutting and torture. In some instances, physical abuse can lead to death. Those most vulnerable to this type of abuse are women and children. It is used to instill fear to further the control over an individual.

In religion, physical abuse is used to control behavior. Every time the proper response is not correctly exhibited, the victim may be the recipient of public humiliation, physical spankings and/or beatings, starvation and loss of comforts. This is especially true with children. Not only is physical abuse done in the home, it is also administered by other kids within a religiously controlled environment. Examples would be a church run home for wayward teens, camp settings, religiously run boarding schools, church activities. For examples of this, read any of the following stories:

The “Gauntlet” – By Samuel Bain.

New Tribes Mission (NTM) Abuse and Fanda.

Ten Thousand Days in Hell – Sheri’s Story

Colin’s Story of Abuse and New Tribes Mission

Simone’s Story of Abuse

Donna Trout’s Story – New Bethany Home for Girls, Arcadia LA

 

FACET #3 – SEXUAL ABUSE AND RAPE

This is the number one problem throughout the world. There are several forms of sexual abuse:

  • Child Sexual Abuse – This involves sexual abuse, sexual mutilation, incest and/or molestation, and sex trafficking. Forms include asking a child or coercing a child into engaging in sexual activities, indecent exposure (of the genitals, female nipples, etc.) with the intent to gratify one’s own sexual desires, or to intimidate or groom the child, physical sexual contact with a child, or using a child to produce child pornography. Effects of child sexual abuse can include depression, mental illnesses, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, anxiety, and lead to further victimization in adulthood as well as physical injury. This type of abuse is usually coupled with psychological trauma and includes the effects of this trauma as well.
  • Sexual Mutilation – It is also known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The age of the girls varies from weeks after birth to puberty; in half the countries for which figures were available in 2013, most girls were cut before the age of five. This practice is an ethnic marker, rooted in gender inequality, ideas about purity, modesty and aesthetics, and attempts to control women’s sexuality. It is supported by both women and men in countries that practice it. It can lead to recurrent infections, chronic pain, infertility, epidermoid cysts, complication during childbirth, and fatal bleeding. It also brings emotional trauma to the child.

Some countries also sexually mutilate the breasts of young girls by ironing them flat with a hot iron. The trauma and scars inflicted by this form of mutilation goes beyond moral comprehension and, defies conscience.

  • Rape – this occurs with women as well as young girls and boys. Rape is a sexual assault against a women or young child against his or her will. Usually, you will find rape coupled with physical violence and/or death. This type of abuse is well hidden within most religious sects. It can result in pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, psychological trauma, suicide, secondary victimization, and victim blaming.

Rape and other forms of sexual assault on a child can result in both short-term and long-term harm, including psychopathology in later life. Psychological, emotional, physical, and social effects include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, poor self-esteem, dissociative and anxiety disorders; general psychological distress and disorders such as somatization, neurosis, chronic pain, sexualized behavior, school/learning problems; and behavior problems including substance abuse, destructive behavior, criminality in adulthood and suicide [Wikipedia].

The risk of lasting psychological harm is greater if the perpetrator of the sexual assault on the child is a relative (i.e., incest), or if threats or force are used. Incestual rape has been shown to be one of the most extreme forms of childhood trauma, a trauma that often does serious and long-term psychological damage, especially in the case of parental incest. Many incest victims suffer from mental illnesses as a result.

 

FACET #4 – SPIRITUAL ABUSE

This type of abuse, like emotional abuse, leaves no physical marks. However, its trauma is profound in the life of the one being victimized by it. In this type of abuse, God’s Name and/or religious text is used to JUSTIFY all abuse inflicted. Scripture is also used as a tool to force victims into submission to the dogmas, beliefs and rules of the religious sect. God’s name and scripture are the two main “weapons of choice” employed by abusive leaders to extract money, prestige, power, personal gain, and, to sexually exploit women and children within their congregations; thus gaining control in all aspects of their followers lives.  All messages taught and preached have one agenda in mind – to control each individual within the congregation. Using deceptively packaged sermons laced with “underlying meanings,” religious leaders attempt to stifle creative thought, independent thinking and, instill new thought patterns and behaviors into their flock (Thought Reform and Behavior Modification).  These new thought patterns and attitudes become the norm by which everyone is judged. Those who adopt the same thought patterns and beliefs as the leadership are “right with God.” Those who do not, “are not right with God” and are in jeopardy of being attacked, shunned and/or character assassinated.

Scripture is the number one weapon of choice for religious leaders in modifying behavior. People naturally believe religious leaders are speaking on God’s behalf. This belief motivates followers to follow all the rules and believe all the rhetoric preached and taught. What they do not realize is that many religious leaders do not speak for God. They speak for themselves. Scripture is also an excellent tool used to instill a fear of further punishment from God if a victim tells anyone about the abuse they have endured or witnessed. Again, as with emotional abuse, the same phrases will be employed. “Hurting the cause of Christ” by telling the truth is heavily discouraged. To speak out is akin to gossiping and many victims will be told this repeatedly and reminded how God hates gossip.

Spiritual Abuse can be inflicted without the knowledge of the victim. When it does occur, it leaves its victims in shock, hurting, confused and, yes, traumatized. They know they have been hurt, but justify the abuse because they don’t know it IS abuse. They think within themselves that the “preacher” is really trying to look out for their best interests and accept the abuse as “God sent” in order to bring them back to the right path.  They may not even realize it is, in fact, abuse. For example: The sect I came out of used the pulpit as a whipping post to attack congregants publicly who did not conform to the rules and standards of the church and its leaders (public humiliation). They used the pulpit to attack publicly, those who questioned the pastor’s authority, disagreed with the pastor, or exposed abuses in the church. They forced children, teenagers and adults to stand before the entire congregation to “confess” sins – a form of punishment that leaves lasting psychological scars and trauma. Usually, these “sins” were nothing more than a breaking of one of the sect’s many rules. To do so, to the sect members, is sin. They used God and scripture to support inflicting this emotional attack. Therefore the trauma is two-fold – emotional and spiritual. The twisting of scripture to suit leadership’s agendas and long-term goals is professionally done in order to control congregants and reap personal gain. Those that do not question what is being taught, follow blindly whatever leadership wants done, even if it means inflicting more emotional trauma to the same victim (secondary abuse).

Sadly, spiritual abuse is designed to prevent independent and rational thought processes. It is the most destructive of all abuses because those subjected to it are left seeing God as an abusive entity that lacks love, compassion and acceptance. He is ever ready at any moment to hurt and destroy anyone who does not conform to the religious dogmas and standards of the religious system they are a part of. He is seen as someone who is angry all the time and ready to destroy at the slightest infraction. Because of this, many followers will adopt that very attitude in dealing with those who fall short of perfection in keeping all the religious rules and precepts. Some will adopt this very attitude with their children, leading to the emotional and physical abuse of a child. As a result of spiritual abuse, many victims fear speaking out because they have been taught that GOD will punish them further, or their children, or their families, if they dare to speak out against “God’s Man.” It can take many years of therapy for a victim of this kind of abuse to overcome their fears and speak out!

Spiritual abuse is also the number one reason multitudes of people are turning their backs on God, the religious texts, the Church and religion. Religion and religious texts become toxic to the spiritually abused. For many, it creates anxiety, panic attacks, fears, mental illnesses, and physical illnesses in those subjected to it. Just as the other abuses traumatize and have ill affects long term, so does this type of abuse. Those still entrenched in the abusive religion cannot understand why a victim would turn from God and religion. As a result, they “label” the individual and shun them, not realizing that they are inflicting secondary trauma by doing so. The victim being labeled and shunned develops a poorer self-image and self-esteem as a result. This may cause severe depression and can lead to suicide for many of those affected by this tactic.

Recognizing spiritual abuse is key in stopping it and extracting oneself and others from it. The lives of those suffering this type of abuse are devoid of joy. Many of them suffer depression. They isolate themselves from others out of fear and, once again, employ aids to help them cope – food, alcohol, and drugs.

Religious abuse is very real. It is very destructive. It has many facets. It leads to domestic violence, hate crimes, terrorism, physical abuse, child abuse, and on and on. How is it possible all of this could be taking place underneath an entity millions have come to trust as the safest place for themselves and their families? The answer: They are taught to adopt the mindsets and beliefs of the systems they serve. In doing so, it leads to blindness. Those indoctrinated cannot ‘see’ reality. They only see what they are taught or told to see by leadership within the system they serve. The abuses have always been taking place and are well hidden because of ‘blindness’ instilled through indoctrination and fear tactics.

It’s time for people to realize religious abuse is real and be able to recognize it for what it is. Everyone needs to be educated on every aspect of this type of abuse in order to protect themselves and their families from it.

Lani Harper’s Story – Part 2

From the Author: Lani Harper is a religious abuse survivor that has found the courage to speak out about the abusive teachings within religion. She is currently working on a book that will encompass how the teachings of her religion affect children. The working title of her book, is Dear Mom & Dad: You’re Fired. It is a much needed resource to show the populous how destructive religious teachings can be in the home; especially for children. I am looking forward to the time when it hits the market. Lani is an excellent writer and, is gifted with the ability to expose truth in such a way that it can infiltrate the heart of the reader and give genuine understanding regarding religious abuse and how it is used to destroy lives.

MY INJURY, MY SECRET: Lack of medical care

It is common in these cultures to minimize medical care for a variety of reasons. They decry the establishment of the medical community as information-gathering conspiricists complicit with the government which, though they appear to support, are in actuality extremely suspicious of its actions and question its policies and procedures that conflict with what they believe God wants them to do. But they also minimize medical care in order to hide abuse. Or they have lists of approved doctors who are complicit in hiding the abuse. These doctors are either Fundies (fundamentalists) or sympathetic to Fundies and will not report any injury that looks like abuse.

I had maybe just turned 6 when I received my first two-wheeler, and we were living in the blue house that JD (my father) had built in Waukegan (or Beach Park) Illinois. Shortly after receiving this bike, Mag (my mother) actually planned to go on a bike ride, just the two of us. I was beside myself with excitement. I never got her all to myself, always had to settle for the crumbs of her attention that I got when she didn’t have to be watching Dale and Evie all the time. Or be cooking with the older two. I was the middle child of five and expected to just find my place.

She and I prepared to leave. I had a miniature basket that looked like a small laundry basket that I tied to my handlebars. I had a bunny I wanted to bring along, and she needed a place to ride. I couldn’t very well hold her for the entirety of the ride, so I made a seat for her. We pulled out of the driveway and turned left, and I must have over corrected or lost my balance somehow, but my used-new-to-me bike and I fell into the gravel road. I skinned my left knee and my right hand was torn up. I remember crying and coming back inside, sitting on a chair just inside the door while everyone frenzied around me trying to figure out what was going on. There was some terse informing me I had to stop crying, but I was hurt and disappointed: I knew there would be no bike ride with mom and me now, and there was not.

That injury did not heal. I look back now and at the severity of the injury that does not equal the intensity of the accident and wonder: what really happened? It was nearly eight weeks, and most of the summer, I spent in and out of doctors’ offices getting my hand cleaned and treated and wrapped. My oldest sister is convinced I had a splint on my index finger, but I have always insisted that that particular event did not have a splint.

Which begins to create a spiderweb of possibilities. Was there another incident with a finger of mine getting injured that required a splint? Did they not appropriately clean my injuries from the bike accident and they got so infected I had to see a doctor? Why was my hand injury so severe? It required tons of gauze wrapped around my first two fingers, then down around my palm several times.

I also remember having this treated and returning to multiple residences during the healing process. Houses that I can’t place, that I don’t know where they were. I remember having my hand re-bandaged then returning to a bedroom where twin beds lined three of the four walls. Mine was under the window which had a window fan. Central air conditioning was not common at that time, so we used fans. I remember not wanting blankets because I was sticky with sweat, and I kept holding my bandaged hand up to the fan to cool it off.

I came in while the other girls were sleeping, and I crept across the cool, squeaky hardwood floor to my bed, eased myself onto the mattress and tried to ignore my stickiness in order to go to sleep. Why was I being treated at night? Was it a secret doctor? Why was this not the same house where the accident happened? We hadn’t moved in the interim. And Mag was not there: were my parents separated at the time? Did JD keep an extra residence to take us girls for secret time with us?

My sprained ankle when I was five was another instance I do not believe they took me to a doctor. I remember being taught to crab-walk through the house. It was so severe I could not put any weight on it, but any sensible doctor would have given me crutches. My sister Libbie taught me how to wrap it with an ace bandage, then sent me on my way to creep and crawl around the house, using hands and one foot and my rear in order to do navigate hallways and stairs.

About this time I also had a back injury, the first that left me with a life-long issue with my lower back that has plagued me off and on. I was outside playing with a ball at the blue house. This house had a garage with an automatic door opener. Someone had pushed the button to close the door, and my ball rolled under the door. Instead of going to get help or going through the house, I decided to crawl under the door. I had just enough room to get under it, but because of the time period, these doors did not have a safety sensor that would stop it if someone crossed under it while it was operating. So it closed on top of my back, and I had to sit there on all fours, screaming until someone came to find me. I was stuck and in pain, with the entire weight of the door resting on my small frame.

Another episode where I had a back injury took place at camp. I don’t know what camp is like for non-Christians, but for us fundies, when we were living in Roscoe, Illinois, we would go to the mountains in Wisconsin to Camp Joy. It took several hours by bus, and was located in an extremely remote area surrounded by acres and acres of wooded land, fields here and there, on the edge of Whitewater Lake.

My room along with numerous other girls was in the main lodge. The center room of the lodge houses the dining hall, and has one wing to the left and one to the right through double doors. Each of these wings has multiple large rooms used for sleeping, with several bunk beds in each.

Because it’s in the very hilly area of Wisconsin, they built a water superslide that goes from the top of a hill and ends in the lake. We would walk all the way up the hill, through trees and underbrush along a foot-worn path to the top of the slide and climb the stairs. The slide had three runs, so that they could send three children down at once, but they had ceased doing this, as some children on the outside two had fallen off on their way down and been injured. At this point, they only used the center run. One time I went down the slide, I gained a lot of speed, and being a small child, and perhaps because I unknowingly pulled my legs up at the last second, just before leaving the slide and sailing through the air and down into the water, I flipped around backwards. This meant when my body left the end of the slide and I careened through the air, my back hit the water first, instead of my behind and legs. My back smacked the water worse than any belly flop, and the instantaneous pain meant I struggled swimming back to the top and then to the side of the lake to get myself out of the water.

I remember crying as I was walked back to the lodge, hunched over with pain. They tried to get my shirt off so they could look at my back, but this required my grabbing the underside of the frame of the bunk above me (they had put me on the bottom bunk) in order to get my back off the bed so they could remove or lift up my shirt. Yes, in spite of the pain, they had laid me on my back in bed.

A stodgy old nurse gave me a cursory look-over, then I was put in bed to just lay there and recover. Alone. All day. Alone and crying with pain. They never took me to a doctor. They may have given me some Tylenol for pain, but the pain was so great I could not move for several days. Could not get to the dining hall, so they brought me my food. I lay on that bed with no way to count the time, knowing my friends were having fun without me.

I was told to “just rest”, but resting while enduring so much pain was next to impossible. I could not even reach my arms around to touch my back with my hands. and the bruise that emerged covered nearly the entirety of my back in a black and blue discoloration of my fair skin.

This injury prevented me from participating in camp activities for the rest of the week. I think by the end of the week, I could move around stiffly, walking like an old woman, slightly hunched over still, and had to stay with the counselors, sitting on the sidelines as everyone else got to play, run, jump, swim and cavort around the way kids do at camp.

The first time my parents took me to a doctor about my back was in middle school after testing positive for scoliosis. The testing took place during gym class, and the teacher tried to hide her alarm at the severity of the curve in my spine and the fact that my hips were not level.

The inflexibility of my spine meant that when I attempted to touch my toes while standing, I could reach no further than about mid-calf. This was not a problem with needing to stretch more; my spine simply would not bend the way it needed to because it was twisted and curved around in a pronounced S shape.

I am not sure why Mag decided all of a sudden to take my back issues seriously – I had complained about lower back pain for years; indeed, I did not remember a time without back or hip pain. But she went on a mission and found a pediatric back doctor of some sort and took me.

The doctor was a man, and coupled with my self-conscious sensitivity concerning body changes relative to puberty, I was humiliated that I had to undress and parade around scantily clad in front of a man. As I did not know how to voice my discomfort, and knew inside I’d be ignored anyways, and not knowing there were female options for doctors, I swallowed and tried to endure though I can still feel the fire of embarrassment in my cheeks as he sat behind me touching my hips and butt as he examined me. I was then sent for x-rays, after which he looked at x-rays of my physique.

He determined that he could do nothing – it was not severe enough to warrant surgery, but enough to keep observing it, and so scheduled to see me back in a few months. We went four or five times, with much the same experience and diagnosis: nothing to do but come back every few months to ensure it did not get out of hand.

After several visits like this, I told Mag I didn’t want to go anymore, that it was the same thing every time and he wasn’t able to do anything to help me. Instead of taking concern for my well-being and the health of my back as her responsibility, she never mentioned it again. I continued with low back and hip pain for more than a decade after that before I discovered chiropracty.

My entire life, Mag and JD dismissed things they did not value. They (still) do not explore something new-to-them to investigate its benefits or potential positives. They merely scoff and brush it aside, refusing to educate themselves to see if their opinion is correct.

Chiropractic care was one of these things. They scoffed: what use is cracking bones? They’d say with a tone that said more. They thought it ridiculous, worthless; these people were quacks, they told me, charlatans. People who duped their “patients” into believing they were physicians, but really they were deceitful, deceptive and Of The Devil. This “of the devil” determination was slapped on anyone and anything that fell outside the purview of our born-again Christian fundie mindset. They never researched chiropracty, never looked at or talked to any actual chiropractic doctors, just simply dismissed it without another thought.

But the degree of curvature was so severe that it had most likely developed slowly as I grew over the several years prior to my seventh grade year when they screened us. The teachers tried to hide their alarm, but urged me to tell my parents to get me checked out. The curvature prevented me from reaching my full height – the first chiropractor I saw also x-rayed me and measured the curve to be 47 degrees. At 50 degrees, surgery is the only option, but prior to this, even then there were braces and therapies to slow it down or guide the spine to grow upright instead of sideways. The chiropractor told me the curvature was so pronounced that if my spine were straight, I would be three inches taller.

Meaning, I was not allowed to grow to my full height due to lack of medical care when it would have made a difference. Thus, I stood out in my family: all my sisters grew to adult heights of about 5 feet 7 inches. They teased me as the “petite” one, the one who got Mag’s small-statured genes.

I began to see chiropractors just prior to getting married in my middle twenties. A little terrified, a little skittish – what was I doing, seeing the devil’s doctors? Feeling a little rebellious (I didn’t tell my parents what I was doing; they would have began a strongly-worded and toned lecture to tell me how astray I was), I went with my then-fiance to observe.

After he finished with my fiance, I let the doctor examine my back, though I was tentative – I had told a bit of my discomfort in previous back-examinations from my doctor experiences to my fiance, and he assured me that chiropractors did not undress you, that this particular version of medical care was very non-invasive. The doctor felt my spine through my shirt, and assured me that he could help.

Were I younger, he told me, he could actually have improved my spine by decreasing the curvature. At my age, though, he told me the best he could probably do was to get me more mobility (I was not very flexible due to the curve and how it had pushed my ribs and other bones out of place to make room for my spine) and definitely decrease my pain, increase my comfort level on a day-to-day basis. With my fiance urging me on, I decided to give it a try.

I began seeing chiropractors regularly, and as a result back pain rarely plagues me unless I have done something to strain it. My hips did not bother me again until after having babies, but even that issue is alleviated with regular adjustments. I have flexibility in my lower back that I never had before, and at the end of the day, when I lie down in bed, my back doesn’t keep me awake with the severe ache from just living, sitting, walking, standing, driving that happens in my days. And, despite what the first chiropractor told me, the curvature in my spine has improved significantly.

Multiple chiropractic doctors have independently told me the same thing that first one did: were I even 18, they could have done so much more for my back in decreasing the curvature, most likely even making my spine perfectly straight again, as well as realigning my hip. But due to my age, my bones had set and would only shift slightly. As a result of the lack of medical care in this culture, and a result of dismissing an option without researching to verify its ability to help me, my back and hips are permanently deformed, and I am physically disfigured.

I place the blame entirely at my parents’ door. Their attitude concerning chiropractors prevented me from getting help in a place that could actually have helped me. They ceased actively seeking out medical care of any sort for this issue, consigning me to a life of pain. And by lack of care, I live with the reality of being deformed when, had they explored the realities of chiropractic care instead of believing what the church told us about it, they could have fulfilled their sacred responsibility to ensure my health and well-being.

In fact, the more I have thought about it, the more I think Mag felt guilty. She may have done something to me when I was a baby that resulted in my hip being misaligned, and the reminder that it was still not correct, that I am maimed because of her and that it was an issue that plagued me throughout my life, made her hide and avoid any instance that would continue to remind her of what she had done to me. This is speculation, and she will never tell me. But given the realities of our childhood, how they purposefully injured us in order to “train” our behavior, this fits the profile.

Why else instantly and completely give up pursuing help for me for what others had determined was a serious physical malformity? Why else in this instance but no other would she let me, a child, have a say and go with my wishes when in all other instances they disregarded us? Why else not ever mention either the malformity or the pain that plagued me again? She never checked in with me on it, when she checked in on other, smaller maladies like headaches or flus. She would, however, if backed into a corner where she felt she had to admit it, blame it on me, on something I did, in a feeble attempt to exculpate herself.

Consequently, when my daughter complained of a rib hurting, I took her straight to my chiropractor. She had knocked a rib out of alignment while playing on a jungle gym, and I could not idly sit by when I knew of a tool that would help. Small things like this are ways that I purposefully walk contrary to my parents, endeavoring to be a better mother, to raise my children better. If looking at, and defining, their errors results in my learning not only how to not parent but how to parent, then I have succeeded in breaking the cycle. If I can say that is abuse, then I can identify things that are not abuse. I can free myself and move forward, but only when I know what I am moving away from.

And I will keep their secrets no longer.

Kimberly Ann Howard’s Story – New Bethany Home for Girls, Arcadia La.

kimberlyhowardFrom the Administrator: This past year, I have had the extreme privilege and honor of helping numerous victims of sexual, emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse to tell their stories. Each one affected my heart in such a way that it ignited a passion in me to help expose this type of institutional abuse. I can think of no greater way to help than to make sure their voices are heard regarding such abuse. Women and children are the most vulnerable sect of human society. To take away their honor and dignity and self-worth and, replace it with shame, guilt and self-deprecation, is the worst possible crime one can commit on any human being. Utilizing religion to incite violence toward a woman or a vulnerable child is the greatest injustice. Using God and the Bible to inflict harm on one of God’s “little ones” deserves the strongest punishment available. There is no excuse for “bullies for God”.  These “bullies for God” stop at nothing to inflict their “will” on others at the cost of “destroying the victim”.

Kimberly’s story is one that I hear often. She was emotionally and psychologically and spiritually abused all in the “name of God”. God will not pardon those that carry his name in vain (See, The Third Commandment, What it Really Means.). Thankfully, this gives the victim a little hope since many perpetrators of abuse “in the name of God” have escaped justice. I am so GLAD that in the end, God will see that justice is served.  Here’s Kimberly’s Story:

Arc-06 – Kimberly Ann Howard

My name is Kimberly Ann Howard. I am a survivor of the New Bethany Home for Girls in Arcadia, La. I attended New Bethany from February, 1982 through April, 1983. I was sent there by my parents as a result of drug abuse and repeated runaway attempts.

Though not sexually abused myself, I was aware of some other girls who were. Teresa Trahan, a female staff member, sexually abused different girls at different periods during my stay there.  This was common knowledge and in some cases spoken of openly among the girls. Another girl, Kim Link, confided in me about sexual advances made by Bro. Jewell. This later was exposed and he, along with his family, left the home. He was never reported to the authorities.

One of my best friends had an ongoing relationship with Craig Clark.  It was very difficult to get her to see the reality of what was taking place. She later became a staff member, and then left. To this day, she still has some contact with him.

As for our living conditions, they were horrible. We were only allowed four sheets of toilet paper for urinating and eight for bowel movements. Doors were sometimes left open in the bathroom to ensure that we weren’t masturbating with a tampon (What teenager even thinks of those kinds of things?). Medicine was distributed by Miss Shipman as she saw fit. On a few occasions when I had a cold, Miss Shipman gave me antibiotics that were prescribed for someone else. Also, though there was a gym, we had no exercise. We were never allowed to run and jump.

For part of my stay there, we were allowed outside for one hour per week within the fenced barriers. At some point this stopped and we only had the three to four minutes it took to get from the house to the school or the house to the church.

Something else that I am confused about to this day is that many of us didn’t have our menstrual cycles for the first few months after we arrived, and some never at all. I myself was in the home 6 months before mine resumed. I can only assume that it was the constant stress that caused this.

I was paddled on numerous occasions with a heavy wooden board, or paddle. The “swats” or “licks” were between three and twenty or thirty, depending on what I had done, or not done. They were extremely painful and left bruises and marks. I very clearly remember Miss Nora paddling Michelle fifteen or twenty times and then the paddle broke. Miss Nora picked up a new paddle and continued to paddle her about twenty more times.

I also saw Doreen Spangler after Mack Ford beat her. She had a black eye and a swollen face. Though I was not there to witness it, staff member, Miss Gala, later told me that she was there trying to restrain Doreen and had witnessed the whole thing. I have witnessed Mack Ford whipping girls across the back, buttocks and legs with kindling wood from the wood pile. I have seen so much more, but it is too exhausting to go into and it would fill a book.

All this, I survived. The emotional and psychological abuse I suffered far outweighed the horrid living conditions.

Not one day passed when we were not told that we were whores, and drug addicts, sinners and devil’s spawn. The preachers would leap from the pulpit, on top of the pews, screaming and spitting in our faces, “Sinners! You are going to Hell!” Over and over! Every night, they degraded us, yelling, telling us the horror of who we were and how we’d suffer in hell. They told us our mother’s would burn in hell for wearing pants, or working outside the home. If our parents were divorced they’d burn in hell. We’d burn in hell for cutting our hair, or wearing eye make-up. If you looked at the boys, or men that were occasionally there at the home, you’d burn in hell –  We were told these types of things over and over, everyday.

I was 15 years old, and already had self-esteem issues. I became afraid. I was terrified to fall asleep at night in case I woke up in hell. If I had bad thoughts, I believed God could never love me. I felt like a trapped animal. I couldn’t tell my parents anything about what was happening. All mail coming and going, were intercepted and read. Phone calls were on a speaker phone with a staff member in attendance. If you told your parents, you’d get whipped and your parents were told you were lying and homesick. All parental rights were signed over to Mack Ford for you to stay at the home. And, you must remember that 90% of those at the home were “troubled” teens that would not be believed anyway. How could such abuse take place?

After I left, I ended up in a mental hospital for a month. I made bad choices with drugs and alcohol. I have been sober a number of years now, and I take responsibility for my choices.

Some of the long-term effects of New Bethany are still with me till this day. I still have nightmares, at least three or four times a year. When I was pregnant with my last child, I had dreams about Mack and Nora coming and taking my daughter from me. I hate church and have nothing to do with it as a result of what they did to me. I mistrust anyone who is a Christian. There were many times I’d think and get high to drive away the fear of hell in the past. I am still bitter and angry and, still have low self-esteem at times.

Many of my feelings have been pushed down inside of me all these years because I had no one to talk to about it. I cannot imagine the fires this abuse has fueled in my life.

Now, I am an adult and sober. I have a home and a wonderful family. I am going to an international, culinary college to become a chef. Here it is, 13 years later, and I finally feel I have the strength, emotionally, to go and tell someone about this.

My greatest concern is for the children still in Mack Ford’s homes. It is my belief that New Bethany home for Girls should be shut down and Mack Ford and his staff imprisoned for the abuse of hundreds of children, including myself.

I can only hope, after 13 years, someone will be able to help me and listen. What happened to me is past now. It only is alive in my mind and my heart. But, there are so many other children, suffering and scared, that are still trapped in that home. I hope my statements will help those children before it’s too late.

Kimberly Ann Howard – August 9, 1996.

When I wrote this many years ago, I never dreamed that I would be able to find a measure of healing of the many psychological and emotional wounds that I was carrying. Thankfully, about fifteen months ago, I came across a facebook group that literally saved me. It was a group of survivors that had also endured the abuse under Mack Ford and his staff. Amidst this group of survivors were other abuse survivors that came out of the same cult religion that Mack Ford was part of. Finally, I found people who understood my pain; that knew what I had gone through and what I was going through, even now. I also made some special friends in this group that helped me to find this measure of healing – Simone, Jo Anna, Theresa, Kim Tere and Rhonda – I truly believe that you ladies have made all the difference in my life. You have helped me beyond any means I ever thought possible. My life is better today because of you all.

–        Kimberly Ann Howard – March 24, 2013

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Other Documents from Survivors of New Bethany Home for Girls

Arc-04 Laura Blake          Arc-05 Lisa Blanchard

Other Survivor Stories from New Bethany Home for Girls

Simone’s Story          Kim Holt’s Story

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The New Bethany Survivors have put all there stories into a book that is FREE to everyone. It can be downloaded as a .pdf document. Please feel free to share it with everyone! Just click the link below.

header6The New Bethany book