By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
We like to think that we know what child abusers look like. That we can pick them out of the crowd based on their creepy mustaches, darkly-tinted cargo vans, or their giant, thick-rimmed glasses.
But those stereotypes are just that: stereotypes.
And like all stereotypes, they fall tragically short. The fact is, child abusers are not Others. They do not walk around with signs that say, “Monster.” They are able to violate our trust — and children’s lives and bodies and minds — because we trust them. Which means they have our trust, because they are a part of our community. They are friends and family and teachers and loved ones. Boz Tchividjian from G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments) is spot-on when he says,
“Those who pose the greatest risk to our children are within our families, churches, and circle of friends.”
A month ago, news broke that demonstrates just how true this is. A homeschooling family — the Jackson family from North Carolina — was revealed to have hidden child sexual abuse for over a decade. Homeschooling’s Invisible Children reports,
A 16-year-old girl was repeatedly raped and sexually abused by the six Jackson brothers (Eric, 27; Jon, 25; Matthew, 23; Nathaniel, 21; Benjamin, 19; and Aaron, 18) from the time she was 4 until she was 14. Though the girl was not identified, it appears that she was the brothers’ younger sister. The boys’ parents, John and Nita Jackson, knew about the abuse and did nothing to prevent it.
You can read the original news report from WTKR here, which notes that “the Jackson brothers’ parents were charged in this case because they witnessed the abuse.” Furthermore, as Julie Anne Smith at Spiritual Sounding Board has pointed out, “At the time of the alleged abuse, they were living in North Carolina and two of the brothers were reportedly members of Scott Brown’s church, Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina.” This would be the same Scott Brown who has “very close ties with the now defunct Vision Forum Ministries and recently fallen Christian Patriarchal leader, Doug Phillips. Brown also heads up National Centers for Family-Integrated Churches.”
I was intrigued to find out that the Jackson brothers still had their Facebook pages active. So I decided to go look at their pages and see what their public lives had looked like. I was interested — but not surprised — to find out that the Jackson brothers had mutual Facebook friends with me. Several brothers actually had quite a few. So these kids (some now adults) clearly had somewhat social lives. They weren’t growing up in a stereotypical compound in the middle of nowhere. They existed within groups — like homeschool speech and debate — that I used to exist in. And yet no one seemed to have any idea what was going on. No one, including some people I myself know.
But here’s the thing: their Facebook pages look normal. They look like the Facebook pages of conservative Christian homeschool students and graduates. And that is exactly the point here. If this case wasn’t being criminally prosecuted, how many people do you think would be defending these people as “godly” and “upstanding” men who would “never do something like that” because they “love Jesus”?
To make this point more salient, let’s look at what the average Facebook posts by the Jackson brothers look like. Because this will tell you what child abusers look like in homeschooling communities.
What Child Abusers “Like” on Facebook:
What Books Child Abusers Read
What Movies Child Abusers Watch
What Child Abusers Post About on Facebook:
Obviously one can “like” any of the above sites, people, books, or movies and not be a child abuser. One can post pictures of sunsets and attach Bible verses to them and not be a child abuser. But it’s the opposite mindset we need to focus on, isn’t it?
— The mindset that assumes people who love the Bible and share its wisdom and love respected homeschool leaders are somehow safe, or safer to “ungodly” people.
— The mindset that “good Christian boys” would never abuse anyone.
— The mindset that homeschooling will make better, more holy, children.
We will not be able to fight child abuse in homeschooling communities until we realize that the child abusers among us effortlessly blend right in. They might be our respected leaders (in fact, sometimes they have been our respected leaders, like Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips); they might be a homeschool celebrity that HSLDA publicly calls a “hero” (like Michael Gravelle); they might be the owners of our beloved companies or those owners’ children (like the son of Paul and Gena Suarez, owners of The Old Schoolhouse); they might even be some of the people claiming to be allies of abuse survivors. There is no magic formula.
This means we must constantly be on our guard. It means we must know the warning signs and know how to report abuse to law enforcement and we must actually report the abuse. We cannot sweep it under the rug or turn a blind eye. We cannot shame those trying to bring it to light. We must start taking a stand, we must start raising a ruckus, and we must demand that our leaders and communities do so as well.
We must demand that our leaders and communities do more than write blog posts about not looking away and actually do the hard work of not looking away.