By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
In this series: Part One, Introduction | Part Two, Kalyn’s Secret | Part Three, Kalyn’s Secret (Continued) | Part Four, Not Open | Part Five, Unmask the Predators | Part Six, Recommended Resources | Part Seven, Conclusion
Part Five, Unmask the Predators
Unmask the Predators is the sexual abuse prevention manual from Lisa Cherry and Frontline Family Ministries. This is the book they are promoting through the Great Homeschool Conventions; it is the basis of FFM’s “Sexual Abuse Training for Homeschool Families”; it has its own “Home Security System Workbook”; and it is the foundation of their National Sexual Abuse Prevention Week for Homeschoolers.
I need to note at the outset that Unmask the Predators, published in 2012, is simply an updated version of 2009’s Kalyn’s Secret. The Cherry family never mentions this online, so at first I felt this was deceptive. However, I am glad I purchased both books because how Lisa updated Kalyn’s Secret to become Unmask the Predators is very telling.
Most elements of Kalyn’s Secret remain the same in Unmask the Predators: there is still the advocacy of first-time obedience, patriarchy, demonology, Word of Faith theology, distrust of non-Christian counseling, and so forth. A few things are toned down, probably since FFM wants to reach a more mainstream audience. For example, they removed any reference to believing in the Azusa Street Revival. They also removed all the “Tools” and “Recommended Resources” (they moved the latter to their website) and replaced them with sections on “Sexual Abuse 101” and “Twenty-Six Keys for Protecting Your Child from Sexual Predators” (both of which, for the most part, have legitimate advice). I already provided analysis of the elements that remain the same, so I will today focus on problems unique to Unmask the Predators.
a. Blaming children for their own abuse
At the end of Unmask the Predators is a “Sexual Abuse 101” chapter. Most of this chapter has helpful advice. Lisa Cherry rightly points out that, “Abuse is never the fault of the victim.” But then in the very next sentence she says, “Victims put themselves in a position of risk due to wrong choices” (160). This is the equivalent of saying, “A woman never deserves to be raped while drunk, but if she’s drunk, I mean, she bears some responsibility.” But the worst part is that, despite saying victims are never at fault, Lisa directly blames children for their own abuse earlier in the book. In Chapter 6, “The Parent’s Place of Authority,” Lisa says that if children leave their parents’ “shield of protection” (a concept remarkably similar to Bill Gothard’s umbrella of protection), they cause predators to exist. In case you think I am exaggerating (or think I cannot be trusted to simply review a book), here is an image from page 91:
There you have it: Lisa Cherry believes that rebellious children cause predators to abuse them.
This is absolutely not the person who should be leading a National Sexual Abuse Prevention Week for homeschoolers.
b. Redefining sexual predators
The most irresponsible aspect of Unmask the Predators is that Lisa Cherry redefines the meaning of “sexual predator” in the context of teaching sexual abuse prevention. The following image (which Libby Anne discussed yesterday) from page 2 demonstrates this:
The predators are not just the psychiatrically diagnosed pedophiles. The middle-school sex-education health teacher, the friendly cohabitating young couple next door that your daughter babysits for, and the clean-cut homosexual teller at your bank who just adopted a baby from Africa are chipping away at our core values and beliefs while we naively think our kids are still with us in the Sunday school. Until we mask the spiritual forces working behind those “nice people” and dismantle their spiritual weapons, we will continue to lose our children.
What is vital to note here is that Lisa is not saying that these people could be predators — in the sense that anyone can be a predator because predators transcend any particular demographic group. If that was the message, I would agree. Predators can be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, white, black, young, old, Christian, atheist, Buddhist, and so forth. But that’s not what Lisa is saying.
On the first page of the book, Lisa says a “sexual predator” nearly destroyed their daughter’s life. She warns there are other predators threatening children as well. She then gives the examples above. The predators “are” (not “could be”):
- The middle-school sex-education health teacher
- The friendly cohabitating young couple next door
- The clean-cut homosexual teller at your bank
Now you might wonder, how on earth are these people categorically defined as “predators”?
The answer is, disturbingly, that Lisa is redefining what “sexual predator” means. You can see the beginnings of this in the above citation, where Lisa says they are predators because they are “chipping away at our core values and beliefs.” On page 3, she elaborates on this:
“Sexual predators are not new. Their stories fill chapters of our Old Testament history books; their names were called harlot and adulterer in Proverbs” (3).
“Harlots” and “adulterers” are “sexual predators”? We clearly are no longer talking about what normal society means by sexual predator, i.e., “People who commit sex crimes, such as rape or child sexual abuse”, or “A person…convicted of a first-degree felony sex crime, or two second-degree felony sex crimes”. You know, the actual definition of “sexual predator.”
But still, you might ask, how are these people “predators”? The answer is that Lisa has redefined “sexual predator” by spiritualizing the concept. In her worldview, predators are anyone and everyone who (1) act in a way that Lisa believes is sexually immoral and/or (2) teaches people sexual morality in a way Lisa believes is sexually immoral. Thus anything or anyone hinting of non-Christian “culture war” is predatory. As Lisa explains, “Predator forces can attack our children through sexual molesters or through a host of cultural invaders” (13, emphasis added).
Lisa makes this most clear in two online articles found on Frontline Family Ministries’s website. Those articles are entitled “Predator Calling Cards, Part 1: Found One in My Mailbox” (archived PDF) and “Predator Calling Cards, Part 2: What is a Predator Anyway?” (archived PDF). In the first article, Lisa expresses some of the most horrid anti-gay sentiments I’ve ever read. These sentiments really shine a light on Lisa’s statements in Not Open where she said LGBT* people often receive “icy stares” in church and that’s a bad thing. I mean, if this isn’t the equivalent of an icy stare, I’m not sure what is:
“I sat down the other day for a rare moment of relaxation with my new issue of Country Living. It’s the one women’s magazine I subscribe to.
I looked forward to dreaming up some unachievable new interior design as I flipped my mind over to unwind mode.
Featured on page 92 and 93 was a quaint 19th century house in upstate New York. But I had trouble figuring out the heading…
My mind did a double take as I re-read the article’s opening line… Jesse and Gus have forged a surprisingly modern home…. I turned the page to find a picture of this “couple”—two men and their five-year-old daughter.
What?! I was accidentally taking a tour of a homosexual couple’s house? I dropped the issue on the floor in disgust.”
Yes, Lisa dropped an issue of Country Living on the ground “in disgust” because it featured a gay couple. Now, ignoring for the time being the message communicated to LGBT* people by this, note again the title of the article: “Predator Calling Cards, Part 1: Found One in My Mailbox.” In other words, just the image of a gay couple is a “predator calling card” to Lisa.
She received pushback on this article from people saying that it’s irresponsible to say this because not all LGBT* people are child molesters (e.g., the actual definition of sexual predator!). Lisa responds to this in the second article:
“In the world today we have Micro-predators (actual persons) and Macro-predators (global thoughts and forces). They are very much inter-related. Think about it. A child “macro-groomed” may more easily be “micro-groomed.””
In other words, LGBT* people — simply by being LGBT* — are predators in Lisa’s worldview. Their very existence is a perpetual state of “macro-grooming” children for abuse. In fact, anything and anyone that is sexually immoral is a “macro-predator.” This is why the list from page 3 of Unmask the Predators says that: people living together before marriage are predators, sex education teachers are predators, and LGBT* couples are predators. They aren’t necessarily child molesters; they’re spiritual sexual predators. So, I guess, they kind of are child molesters, but rather spiritual child molesters.
In fact, nearly every single passage in Kalyn’s Secret that referred to something like “spiritual forces of darkness” is changed in Unmask the Predators to be called “predators.”
Which just blows my mind.
We live in a world where 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will sexually abused. We also live in a world where sexual abuse prevention is sorely lacking. The last thing we need, when teaching about prevention, is someone redefining the word and teaching families to fear the wrong people. Teaching families to fear non-predators — in the context of teaching about predators — is the most irresponsible thing I’ve seen in a long time. There is no excuse for Lisa’s dangerous and sloppy irresponsibility here.
c. Throwing LGBT* people under the bus
As I just pointed out, Lisa calls gay people “sexual predators” on the very second page of Unmask the Predators. She continues to do this throughout the book — as well as in Not Open, where she refers to LGBT* people as “sexual offenders.” She even pulls out the tired trope of LGBT* people wanting to legalize child rape, saying “the homosexual lobby want[s] to see the age [of consent] lowered” (161) — which is particularly ironic in this context, considering that conservative Christian leaders have been the ones most recently advocating for child marriage. In fact, at one point in the book Lisa herself mentions that Kalyn throws this fact in her face (184-5) by pointing out that popular homeschool fiction character Elsie Dinsmore was a young bride married to a much older man:
Remember the problem with this sort of language? I mentioned this yesterday, but it’s worth reviewing the facts:
• First, and most importantly, children who will later identify as LGBT* are at a higher risk for sexual abuse: “Children who grow up later to identify as LGBT are more at risk of sexual abuse as children… LGBT adults report that their behavior and interaction with others was often atypical in childhood when compared to their peers. Being or feeling ‘different’ can result in social isolation / exclusion, which in turn can lead to a child being more vulnerable to the instigation and continuation of abuse.”
• Second, feelings of social isolation and rejection are statistically linked with experiences of abuse. In fact, abusers specifically use isolation as a tool of abuseand target people vulnerable to isolation.
• Third, LGBT* youth are far more likely to be rejected by their families: “Highly religious parents are significantly more likely than their less-religious counterparts to reject their children for being gay – a finding that social-service workers believe goes a long way toward explaining why LGBT people make up roughly five percent of the youth population overall, but an estimated 40 percent of the homeless-youth population. The Center for American Progress has reported that there are between 320,000 and 400,000 homeless LGBT youths in the United States.”
• Fourth, numerous studies indicate that LGBT* individuals “are likely to be at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. One study found that GLB groups are about two-and-one-half times more likely than heterosexual men and women to have had a mental health disorder.”
• Fifth, supporting LGBT* individuals reduces the risk of mental illness. According to the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, “Specific parental behaviors, such as advocating for their children when they are mistreated due to their LGBT identity and supporting their teen’s gender expression, were linked to a lower likelihood of depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.”
Now let’s add a few more facts:
• Sixth, people who sexually abuse children are more likely to be fixated on children than any given gender identity: “Many child molesters cannot be characterized as having an adult sexual orientation at all; they are fixated on children.”
• Seventh, people who sexually abuse children not only fixate on children, but specific children: those in their personal networks. The Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute has noted that, “90% of child molesters target children in their network of family and friends.”
• Eighth, among child sexual abusers who do appear to have an adult sexual orientation, heterosexuality is far more common: “A child’s risk of being molested by his or her relative’s heterosexual partner is 100 times greater than by someone who might be identified as homosexual.”
So let’s put these above points together:
By teaching homeschool parents and families that LGBT* people are inherently predators, Lisa Cherry is isolating and targeting the group more at risk of being the target of abusers and ignoring groups of people who are more likely to be abusers. This is completely backwards. This is fundamentally flawed sexual abuse prevention.
New York Times columnist Charles Blow gives a helpful and important synopsis of what all the above points ought to suggest for us:
“What the data shows us indisputably is that people who will later identify as LGBT have disproportionate rates of having been victims of child sexual abuse. So there are two ways to think of that — one of which I completely disagree with and one I agree more with.
“On the one end, the abuse is making these young people LGBT. The science for that is completely flimsy. I completely disagree with that idea. On the other side … children who will eventually identify as LGBT are more likely to be targets of sexual predators. If you think of it that way, it changes our concept of how we need to nurture and care for children who are different.”
“It changes our concept of how we need to nurture and care for children we are different.” This is true, and some Christian homeschooling communities must begin to understand. We are setting children up for abuse by how we are treating LGBT* people — and we are ignoring the actual abusers in our midst.
c. Soul ties
I mentioned in Part 3 of this series that Kalyn discusses her own abuse in Kalyn’s Secret in demonological terms. She sees her relationship with her abuser as a spiritual one: “My desire to please him, impress him, and be loyal to him dominated my life. I know that this devastating connection must been constructed on a spiritual level because the tie was so strange and strong it could not have simply occurred in the natural realm” (39-40). Kalyn comes to believe this “devastating connection,” or the “so strange and strong tie,” is the result of demonic forces: “Was it only a man controlling me? No, the force that held me no man could establish or break in his own strength. I had opened the door for principalities and powers of darkness [see Eph. 6:12], and I would pay dearly” (44).
In Unmask the Predators, it is clear why Kalyn has this belief: Lisa believes in the concept of soul ties. She argues that Kalyn became “soul tied” to her abuser:
“Kalyn had been ‘soul tied’ to a man steeped in the dark world of pornography and perversion. The battle for her life was a battle in the heavenlies. My busy bluster of motherly activity highlighted by my angry yells of correction did no good” (60).
The concept of soul ties is one of the most damaging messages given to abuse victims and survivors. It is the idea that abusers infest their abuse victims with their sexual demons. Not only does Lisa promote this concept, but so do many of her “recommended resources.” For example:
- Nancy Alcorn (the following is from Alcorn’s book Violated: Mercy for Sexual Abuse, which is one of the books Lisa Cherry recommends to abuse survivors); note the phrase “your soul has been…mysteriously knit with the soul of your abuser”:
- Ron Luce and Teen Mania (who even throw in a “half-eaten candy bar” analogy just to make abuse survivors feel even worse):
“Over and over I failed to sever the soul ties that connected me to every man that I had had sex with.”
“If the sins were sensual or sexual, we asked God to break any soul ties that we had created with another person.”
I cannot even begin to describe how emotionally and spiritually abusive this teaching is. So I’d rather just let an abuse survivor explain it with firsthand knowledge:
“Personally this is one of the most damaging lies I was ever told by the church. Ungodly sex included any sexual act outside marriage. Therefore rape and sexual abuse counted. In fact I even heard it taught that because of the demon activity in an abused person they will attract abuse again and again as like (as in demons in an abused person) attracts like (as in the demons in an abuser). Believing that I had this spiritual tie to the man who raped me was for me absolutely terrifying. It added to the guilt, shame, fear and sense of being dirty that I already had and caused me a great deal of anxiety. During the course of several ministry sessions I had to take part in they were ‘cut’ through prayer but this did little to diminish my anxiety and as I was still suffering from symptoms of PTSD this was seen as proof that I Was still choosing to live with demons in my life. It took a long time to shake the sense that the church gave me of being connected to my abuser in this way but through therapy I slowly managed to see this doctrine for the terrible nonsense that it was.”
I am horrified that Lisa Cherry would teach this in the first place. But I am even more horrified that she is teaching this to Christian homeschool communities under the guise of sexual abuse prevention.
d. Bad reporting advice
In my critique of Kalyn’s Secret, I said that regarding abuse reporting, it isn’t what Lisa says that’s the problem. Rather, it’s what she doesn’t say. At no point in that book did Lisa encourage families to report abuse. Rather, she leaves it open-ended about whether or not they should do so because she focuses on her husband praying about it. What if “the Lord’s direction” had been otherwise?
In Unmask the Predators, Lisa actually discourages families from reporting abuse in certain circumstances. First, in the “Sexual Abuse 101” chapter, Lisa says that — while “reporting illegal activity is our civil responsibility” — “how, when, and where to report predatory behaviors requires the wisdom of the Lord” (168).
In other words, Lisa believes there are circumstances where you should not report predatory behaviors. What circumstances are these? Well, in the next chapter (“Twenty-Six Keys for Protecting Your Child from Sexual Predators”), Lisa claims that, “because of the modern ‘liberation’ views of children and the international discussions on the rights of the child,” “our legal rights as parents are in question.” She then cautions parents that, “The very agencies and government departments designed to protect our children may not, in fact, protect your parental role!” (188).
So basically, despite first seeming like Lisa Cherry is a breath of fresh air from the CPS paranoia that has gripped homeschooling communities for decades and kept child abuse covered-up, she actually is promoting the exact same paranoia. In fact, she even says she “would never call a hotline or agency for help” unless she knew “the exact ramifications.” She warns families that calling such hotlines or agencies “leave incredible room for false accusation” (189).
If you keep in mind just how anti-CPS Lisa’s audience is, you must realize that this is all the encouragement to not report abuse that audience needs.
e. Dangerous “purity” teachings
One of Lisa’s “Twenty-Six Keys for Protecting Your Child from Sexual Predators” is to “install a dating/courtship model” to “help our kids to guard and defend their purity as something of high value and worth” (182). Emphasizing the “high value and worth” of purity is essential to Lisa’s abuse prevention program, which is why in Kalyn’s Secret she recommended purity books by Shannon Etheridge, Joshua Harris, and Eric and Leslie Ludy.
The problem here is not an individual wanting to save sex for marriage. I completely respect such decisions. The problem is the relationship between purity teachings (especially in the books Lisa recommends) and sexual abuse (see the “Modesty and Purity” section here). This relationship is particularly amplified because Lisa directly recommends that abuse survivors and their families read Eric and Leslie Ludy’s When God Writes Your Love Story. In my recent presentation “Facing Our Fears,” I explained how troubling the Ludy book is:
“In one of the final chapters of the book, entitled ‘Too Late?’, Leslie Ludy discusses ‘sexual sin’ and ‘moral compromise’ — in other words, ‘lost virginity.’ …Leslie tells about a 12-year-old girl named Rebecca. Leslie says that Rebecca — again, a 12-year-old — was lured by a 16-year-old boy from a church youth group into his house one day. Leslie says that Rebecca ‘left as a used and defiled sex toy’ and was ‘forced from childhood into womanhood.’
“From Leslie’s description alone, Rebecca’s story reads as a straightforward account of a 12-year-old girl being raped. The words ‘used’ and ‘forced’ indicate a lack of consent. Yet Leslie puts Rebecca’s story in the same chapter as stories of willing sexual encounters of individuals who chose to have sex before marriage. All these stories are then discussed as ‘sexual sin’ and ‘moral compromise.’ At no point does Leslie identify Rebecca’s story as a story of child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and/or rape — and at no point does Leslie then relate it to the importance of children and teenagers learning sexual consent and safety. The message to young women reading this would be and has been clear: you being ‘forced from childhood into womanhood’ is you sexually sinning, even if you were ‘forced.'”
This is the very last book you should recommend to abuse survivors. Yet this is the book Lisa recommends to young people to learn about purity in the context of sexual abuse prevention.
I said previously that, based on Kalyn’s Secret alone, I would highly discourage people from consulting Lisa Cherry and Frontline Family Ministries for advice on sexual abuse prevention.
But based on Unmask the Predators (which is the newer version of Kalyn’s Secret), I would argue that the teachings of Lisa Cherry and Frontline Family Ministries are a direct threat to children’s safety. The above passages disturb me to my core and make me feel nauseous. These teachings are putting children at risk. They are alienating the very people who are most at risk of abuse. They are teaching families to be scared of those people most at risk. And they are distracting families from understanding who the real predators are.
In the next part of this series I will examine the recommended resources on Frontline Family Ministries’s website, both past and present.