Here’s the Perfect Example of Doug Wilson Minimizing Steven Sitler’s Abuse

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Content warning: descriptions of child sexual abuse and abuse minimization.

In one of his many, many self-defensive blog posts, Doug Wilson provides us the perfect example of how he has minimized (and continues to minimize) the child sexual abuse perpetrated by Steven Sitler, the homeschool alumnus who attended Wilson’s New Saint Andrews College. The blog post is titled, “The Only Kind of Gospel There Is”, and was published Thursday, September 10, 2015. Wilson writes,

The twittermob has been circulating numerous untruths, among them that Steven Sitler is a child rapist. He was actually convicted of one count of Lewd Conduct with a Minor under 16 years of age (Idaho Code 18-1508).

Yes, of all the actually important and relevant aspects of the current dialogue about child molesters Steven Sitler and Jamin C. Wight, Wilson chooses to focus on this. The fact that Steven Sitler was not convicted of “Child Rape” but rather “Lewd Conduct With a Minor,” the implication of which is, of course, that “Lewd Conduct” is somehow less egregious. Thus these evil twittermobs are the real abusers, falsely accusing poor Sitler of something he never did.

Well, yes, Steven Sitler was never convicted of Child Rape. Yes, Sitler was convicted of Lewd Conduct With a Minor. And yes, in Idaho, those two charges are distinct (though advocacy groups and other states like Washington State consider them the same). But let’s look at the Idaho statute Wilson cites to determine what Lewd Conduct with a Minor actually is. This is from Idaho Code 18-1508:

LEWD CONDUCT WITH MINOR CHILD UNDER SIXTEEN. Any person who shall commit any lewd or lascivious act or acts upon or with the body or any part or member thereof of a minor child under the age of sixteen (16) years, including but not limited to, genital-genital contact, oral-genital contact, anal-genital contact, oral-anal contact, manual-anal contact, or manual-genital contact, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, or who shall involve such minor child in any act of bestiality or sado-masochism as defined in section 18-1507, Idaho Code, when any of such acts are done with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust or passions or sexual desires of such person, such minor child, or third party, shall be guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned in the state prison for a term of not more than life.

Wilson wants us to believe, in other words, that Steven Sitler isn’t as bad as a rapist. No, all Sitler did was force a young child to engage in all sorts of other sex acts that are… “better”? “Less bad”?

And we do not have to guess as to what Sitler actually did. Because the father of one of Sitler’s abuse victims did tell the Idaho court what Sitler did to his child. This is a September 7, 2005 letter written by a victim’s family to Idaho Judge Stegner. ** Content warning for explicit description of child sexual abuse. ** Click the image to enlarge:


In other words, Steven Sitler lured a 2 year old child into an isolated area and forced that toddler to perform oral sex on him.

And somehow this is important to Wilson to clarify… why? Why is it only important to Wilson that he wins these little semantic games with people bringing sincere and heartfelt concerns to him regarding his and his church’s actions? So he wins on this technicality. So what? What does Doug Wilson want? Does he want us to give him a round of applause for having the courage to say what no one else did: that poor Steven Sitler is falsely accused? That Sitler never raped a child? That Sitler instead only forced a 2 year old to perform oral sex on him? That somehow that’s a relief? That somehow that makes Wilson a courageous champion of truth?

If Wilson actually cares about the God he claims to love, he should set aside his pride and his desire to play games of technicality. Because at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter to anyone except the Idaho court system whether Sitler “raped” a child or “forced oral sex” on a child. You know why? Because both are egregious cases of child abuse, for God’s sake!

I’d like to conclude with an excerpt from Mike Sloan and Beth Hart’s important article, “Doug Wilson’s Failure to Safeguard Children,” which I highly recommend you read here. Sloan and Hart write,

Where are the voices of the leaders of Reformed churches and Reformed networks who can gain a hearing from Doug Wilson and influence thousands of other pastors in their denominations and circles of influence? Where are the voices from The Gospel Coalition? Crossway, why are you giving a voice to a man who will not use his voice for voiceless? Who is asking Wilson, “Where is your grieving heart for this baby and the other victims? What child protection training are you putting in place or experts are you consulting so this does not happen again?”

Where indeed.


UPDATE, September 12, 2015, 2 pm PT:

Doug Wilson has issued a clarification on his post. An image and the text of the clarification follow:

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 2.00.15 PM

Text is,

Important clarification: When I say above that Steven was convicted of one count, I was not meaning that this was his only offense, and neither was I seeking to minimize the egregiousness of his behavior in those other instances. That is why I argued, just below this, that the father in Texas who killed the molester he walked in on was fully justified. I should have made my meaning more clear than I did, which I could have done by putting the Texas paragraph first, and linking it expressly to Steven’s offenses. My apologies to any friends who missed my meaning here, and who thought I was trying to trim and be cute on Steven’s behalf. Such a misreading would be my responsibility. I believe there was at least one scenario where Steven could have been killed on the spot, and no injustice done.

Doug Wilson’s Defense of Child Molester Steven Sitler

Steven Sitler, image via public records; Doug Wilson, CC image courtesy of Flickr, speric.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on September 4, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

I read a disturbing article yesterday that sent me reeling. I think we always want to hope for the best in people, but after having seen this pattern taken place so many times, those who were familiar with the story could see the inevitable train wreck before it took place. Our fears were in fact confirmed this week, and I am heartbroken.

Many times when we hear of breaking scandalous stories, the focus is on the perpetrator and those who enabled the abuse. The background to this story can be broken down into several important topics, and I hope other bloggers will cover some of the other aspects to this story. But for this initial post, the victims will be the primary focus, as they should be. They are the ones we need to protect and defend.

Background Information

In Fall of 2003, Steven Sitler moved from Moscow, Idaho to attend New Saint Andrews College (NSA). Sitler attended Christ Church, pastored by Doug Wilson. When he came to Moscow, ”No one knew at the time, however, that Steven Sitler was also a serial [child molester] who preyed upon boys and girls, ages 2–12, and who left a trail of victims in at least two other states prior to his arrival in Moscow” (Source).

In March of 2005, the parents of one victimized child notified Doug Wilson, who advised them to retain the Christ Church’s attorney to accompany them as they notified legal authorities of the crime. This marks the beginning of Sitler’s legal issues.

About this time, Doug Wilson began counseling with Steven Sitler. To make a very long story short, Sitler was convicted, served time, took a plea deal, and will have supervised parole for the rest of his life.

A note of interest is the letter that Doug Wilson sent to the judge essentially defending Sitler and asking for leniency. Yes, you read that correctly – leniency for a serial child molester! Doug Wilson told the Judge Stegner he had been providing counseling to Steven Sitler for only SIX times, gave him some books to read, and assignments to do between sessions. He stated that at the beginning of their counseling sessions, Sitler didn’t know the nature of his problem, but was later convinced that Sitler was open and honest when he confessed his thought life and behavior.  The final paragraph of Wilson’s letter reads:

I am grateful Steven was caught, and am grateful he has been brought to account for these actions so early in his life. . . . At the same time, I would urge that the civil penalties applied would be measured and limited. I have good hope that Steve has genuinely repented, and that he will continue to deal with this to become a productive and contributing member of society.

Ed Iverson and Doug Wilson Encourage Courtship and Marriage of Steven Sitler

Fast forward a few years and time served, and now a young lady is on the scene. Let me introduce you to Katie Travis. Katie had posted her personal story online, but it has since been taken down. But it is possible to piece together her story from others who have quoted the words from her online journal.

Katie moved to Idaho to attend New Saint Andrews College from Fallon, Nevada. She lived with the family of Ed Iverson whom she had known several years before arriving at NSA. Mr. Iverson was NSA’s librarian and also an elder at Doug Wilson’s church, Christ Church.  Reports are conflicting as to their relationship, whether he was her grandfather by blood or acted as a father figure, but it is clear that she looked to him as a respected father figure, and he readily assumed that trusted role in her personal life.

At the age of 23, Katie was at the prime of life, single, and ready to find a husband and start a family like all young ladies who are brought up in Patriarchy. In Christian Patriarchy circles, women are encouraged to marry young, so 23 years was pushing it. Several reports indicated that Katie felt the pressure to find a husband in short order because most of her friends were courting or married. She asked Mr. Iverson to assist her in finding a spouse, and he eagerly agreed.

Are you picking up on this culture? Katie asked a family friend to find someone to court. He was to choose for her, not the other way around. And this was normal and what Katie wanted.

On August 18, 2010, Mr. and Mrs. Iverson invited Steven Sitler to come to their home for dinner. This dinner was set up for the express purpose of introducing Steven and Katie for the possibility of a future courtship. “Ed Iverson’s description of Katie was that, though NSA was tough for her, she persevered through and she was, “pretty good looking, too” (Source).

While Doug Wilson and Ed Iverson were obviously fine with this possible courtship and marriage, it’s important to note that the Department of Corrections did not support the idea of marriage for Steven Sitler at all.

Steven posted his account of their joyous meeting on the internet:

“We met on August 18th, 2010 at the insistence of Mr. and Mrs. Iverson. One week later we were writing emails like it was going out of style. On Katie’s first visit back to Moscow in October, we had our first date, after which I asked her father if I could start courting her. I got the pleasure of spending Christmas break with Katie’s awesome family and decided on a whim to ask her to “merry” (misspelling intentional, more on that later) me on our second date. Of course it wasn’t really a whim, I had been meticulously planning it for months. She was shocked… and speechless, but finally she said yes, and the rest, as they say, is history. I love you., Katie” (The Real Doug Wilson Encouraged & Presided Over the Marriage of a Serial Pedophile).

Katie and Steven wed on June 11, 2011.

The website originally hosted a video of Wilson officiating Sitler's wedding before the video's owner requested it removed.
The website originally hosted a video of Wilson officiating Sitler’s wedding before the video’s owner requested it removed.

Breaking News for the Sitler Case

Yesterday, reported (my bolding):

“A Latah County 2nd District Court judge ordered Tuesday that a convicted sex offender, Steven Sitler, must continue to have an approved chaperone present, within his direct line of sight, at all times he is around his infant child in the wake of new disclosures of “contact resulting in actual sexual stimulation.”

This was the train wreck we feared. The article stated that Katie was now disqualified as a chaperone “for failure to report disclosures related directly to the couple’s son and Sitler was required to move out of their home” (Source).

Ok, this is just sad for all involved.  I have a lot to say about Doug Wilson but I’m biting my tongue for the moment. What I’d like to discuss is Katie.

Katie’s World as Wife and Mom

Katie and her infant son are victims of her husband’s criminal behavior. Imagine Katie being in a town away from parents and her own pastor and trusted father figure selected a serial child molester for a husband. They had to convince her that Steven had repented. Who was she to second guess Mr. Iverson and Pastor Wilson?  They wouldn’t do anything to harm her, right?

In these circles, Katie would be expected to serve and submit to her husband and bear his children. But how does that work when the State says he can’t be around children? Doug Wilson knew this before he married them. Professionals warned that marriage was not a wise idea, but the State had no laws to prevent it from happening.

The article states that “the Idaho Department of Corrections would try to remove his wife and parents as chaperones.” This suggests to me that Katie and parents were not responsible in guarding the baby. Do you see this never-ending conflict? Katie of course wants her husband to have a relationship with his son, but yet she also has to police him? How does this work in a home where she is to obey her husband as head of the home? What an awkward position to put grandparents in, watching Steven like a hawk. There is no relaxing in this home, there is always a threat if Steven is in the premises.Life Sentence

When Ed Iverson and Katie’s parents agreed to the courtship of Katie and Steven, and then Doug Wilson agreed to officiate in this fiasco of a wedding, they pronounced a life sentence on Katie and her child, and extended family.  She will never be able to live as a normal wife and mother. This infant has already been sexually violated. Imagine the emotional stress in the home, always looking, trying to be vigilant, yet also trying to find a sense normal. There is no good thing in this situation, and Doug Wilson as pastor failed this young woman and her child. This is shameful behavior for a pastor who is supposed to be shepherding and protecting. What kind of shepherd intentionally puts sheep in harm’s way?  One who is arrogant to think he can determine whether a serial child molester is repentant or not.

The actions by Doug Wilson, I believe, also constitute as spiritual abuse. Katie put her trust in her spiritual leader to guide her and protect her. He asked for leniency for Steven – that is not protecting her. Wilson married them. That was also not protecting her. How might this affect how she trusts spiritual authority? If her pastor told her this, will she be upset at God for allowing it to happen? There are so ways this could lead to a real crisis of faith. I pray it doesn’t.

I sure hope Doug Wilson apologizes to this family for the harm he has caused them. What a disgrace not only to this family, but to the world as they once again see how Christian leaders mess up so badly.

Sex Abuse Victim Allegedly Filing Lawsuit Against Josh Duggar

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

By now, nearly everyone with access to the Internet has likely heard of the Duggar family tragedy. At least five young girls were allegedly molested by Josh Duggar, the oldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting. The family waited several years to report the crimes. When they finally did so, they only told a police officer who was a family friend, who himself was later convicted of child pornography.

A new report today by InTouch Weekly reveals that one of Josh Duggar’s alleged victims is preparing to file a lawsuit against him. The report says,

A non-Duggar family molestation victim is preparing to file a civil suit against Josh Duggar, sources tell In Touch magazine exclusively in the new issue on newsstands today.

The shocking development means that Josh and his parents Jim Bob and Michelle could be forced to give depositions and testify about Josh’s molestation scandal. The Duggars likely will have to answer every question as they will not be able to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination because the criminal statute of limitations has expired.

While I would not normally feel comfortable citing from a gossip magazine, InTouch Weekly has led the investigative journalism charge on the Duggar tragedy. The information they have uncovered on this issue has thus far been credible.

For further reading:

Humane Child Training: Sarah’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Thomas Hawk.

HA notes: All names have been changed to ensure anonymity. “Sarah” is a pseudonym.

CW: Physical Abuse and Infant Abuse

How Horse Whisperers and Dog Lovers Freed me from Michael Pearl

I have a distinct memory of when I first opened up Michael Pearl’s “To Train Up a Child.” I was about 10 years old when I discovered the book in our library. My parents had recently introduced the switch (a roughly 2-3 foot long supple tree branch) as a “disciplinary tool”. I’m not sure if I started at the beginning or opened it at random, but I remember feeling deeply disturbed and attempting to hide the book after I put it down.

While my parents didn’t follow Pearl’s advice to the letter, I was raised in a household with a strong emphasis on obedience.

There was love, yes, and bonding and laughter, but I also knew that outright disobedience would be met with consequences, often painful consequences. If I was told to do something I strongly disliked or even feared – and if my (polite) protests were ignored – I knew I had only two “choices”, if you could call them that. Deal with it or face the punishment. Our first puppy started training with the Koehler dog training method, roughly dragged on a choke chain so that she would “know” to ignore distractions. We stopped shortly thereafter when she grew so terrified of “training” that she’d just freeze; but I’m convinced we started with that method in the first place because the principle of “obey or else” resonated with my family.

I was mostly a bookish kid, with few reasons to conflict with my parents, so I wasn’t spanked (beaten?) very often. But as a pre-teen I became increasingly upset about how “discipline” worked out for my younger siblings. My bull-headed, hot-tempered sister Tabitha often got in screaming fights with my mom, which then turned to violent spankings until Tabitha would at least make a show of submission. (To this day she has a horrible relationship with my mom.) The discipline didn’t help Tabitha learn to control herself. Instead, she learned to lie as easily as speak, and she took her anger out on our even younger siblings whenever she felt she could get away with it.

My family used the buddy system – each older child caring for a younger child – and at the time my “buddy” was my two year old brother Noah. Noah was smart but opinionated, and notorious for throwing high-intensity fits when he couldn’t get his way. I still get a sick feeling to my stomach when I remember one afternoon when Noah’s fire truck broke and he couldn’t get the ladder to go down.

He lost it, screaming and throwing things and rolling on the ground, and my Mom decided he needed to stop “rebelling.”

She found the wooden spoon and started a cycle that went on for nearly 30 minutes: spank spank spank, “Noah, stop screaming!”, pause. Spank spank spank, “Noah, stop screaming!”, pause. For a long time, Noah’s screams and flails only grew louder and more desperate. I tried to keep cleaning nearby, but as his diaper came off for harsher swats and he became hoarse from screaming, I couldn’t do anything but watch in horror. Eventually his screams became a little quieter, and she decided that was good enough. She put him to bed for a nap and left to help some siblings with school in another part of the house. I remember cradling his quivering body as he whimpered and telling him that Mom was wrong and she shouldn’t have done that.

Despite how upset I was with these situations, I didn’t yet have the experience or broader context to identify an alternative.

I was homeschooled, in a Christian fundamentalist / patriarchy / quiverful family, and was already indoctrinated with a very deep distrust of the secular “system” that I was told would try to take us away through CPS and brainwash us with secular (aka satanic) content in public schools. I had many young siblings, and I knew that it was necessary at times to control and change their behavior – one had to do SOMETHING if the toddler was trying to play with the electrical outlet, or the five-year-old was hitting a younger sibling. Physical, painful punishment for disobedience was the only way I knew how. I occasionally perused secular parenting books through the library, but I dismissed their “permissive” advice on child-rearing as non-Christian without any real reflection.

Instead, I found a different perspective from a slightly unusual source: animal trainers. I loved animals, and my preteen and early teen years were right in the middle of a revolution in humane, non-coercive training methods for animals. I was mesmerized by watching a video of Monty Roberts taming and training a wild mustang gently, without force or coercion. I eagerly read Jean Donaldson’s dog training book “Culture Clash”. She dismissed techniques that used pain and fear to train a dog as cruel and – just as importantly – unnecessary. Instead, she made a strong argument that you could get excellent obedience, robust and resilient behavioral change, using the basic principles of the science of operant conditioning: get the behavior you want and reward it. Make the things that the dog wants contingent on the behaviors that you want. From there, I went on to Karen Pryor’s “Don’t Shoot the Dog” and internet forums on clicker training and positive dog training. I refrained from putting a pinch collar on my next puppy and instead trained him – very successfully – using treats and toys and praise, with a rare time-out as the ultimate punishment.

As I came to understand that you could change behavior without pain or fear, I began to apply that to how I interacted with my younger siblings.

Unlike the secular child-rearing books, I wasn’t afraid of a “satanic” or non-Christian influence from these animal trainers: how could it be un-Christian to give your dog a treat, or train your horse gently? And unlike many child-focused sources that emphasized the child’s self-esteem and psyche above all, these books gave me tools for what I needed: how to get my “buddy” to go take a nap, or put on his socks, or not put that rock in his mouth. At this point, I was a fourteen year old girl with most of my time filled with caring for my younger siblings. I didn’t have the resources to use advice on how to improve my little sister’s confidence or problem-solving abilities so she could grow up to be a strong, compassionate adult. I needed something that would help me control multiple toddlers and young children so that they wouldn’t fall down the stairs or color on the walls while I tried to cook lunch. I suspect many “quiverful” mothers and big sisters end up in this situation, and this is part of the appeal of Michael Pearl’s advice.

I want to clarify here that I am NOT advocating a parenting style that treats children as animals. Instead, I am arguing that there are lessons in humane animal training that can improve human relationships, especially when those relationships involve children – individuals who often don’t recognize danger, have challenges to communicating, don’t understand adult human rules and priorities, and most of all are vulnerable to abuse from their caregivers. Humane animal training involves a commitment to avoid the use of fear and pain as a “training tool”; respect for the animal as an individual being with feelings and fears; and knowledge of both the science of behavioral change and the animal’s instincts, wants, and needs. These are all important principles in dealing with young children.

Moreover, the success of such methods is a direct counter-point to Michael Pearl’s argument that obedience or behavioral change can only be gained by punishing disobedience.

While they shouldn’t be prioritized above other things like encouraging exploration and developing healthy independence, knowing things like coming when called can improve a toddler’s safety (and a mother’s sanity). Young children often need to learn things like not throwing food and to put toys back in the appropriate box. Humane animal training taught me that if you must change someone’s behavior, there are better and kinder ways to do so than pain and fear.

As a young teen, I was very close to my Mom. I was the oldest girl and her right hand. We spent almost all of our time together and had a “best friend”-like relationship. As I explored kinder ways of dealing with my young siblings, I talked with my Mom about those successes and even sometimes confronted her about how I thought she should change her parenting. Shortly after the incident with the fire truck, we tried a simple alternative: we responded to Noah yelling with a gentle, “I’m sorry, I can’t understand your yelling. Can you speak softly?” Speaking normally was rewarded with our best efforts to help him, and yelling (except in cases of an emergency) was ignored or gently prompted to bring the volume down. This worked beautifully without any need to get out the switch. I’m very happy to say that my Mom did make some changes over time, and as an adult with several young siblings still at home, I’m no longer afraid that they might be living through the kinds of physical abuse that occurred when I was younger.

Now? I’m living away from home, and left the quiverful / patriarchy / fundamentalist Christian mindset a long time ago. I have a dog of my own now. This dog comes when called and leaves shoes alone and lets me clip her nails. I don’t need fear or pain to find ways to help her conform to my weird human rules. I want kids someday. I know the old trope that you’re not supposed to know what you’ll do with kids until you actually have them.

Given my background, though, I’m very comfortable stating this: my children will never be beaten into submission or trained to be obedient through fear.

If I find myself in a situation where I must change their behavior – whether because my toddler wants to run into the road or handles frustration by biting people – I know there are ways to accomplish that change that don’t involve switches or wooden spoons.

Want to Help Fight Child Abuse? Pay Attention

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Edmund Garman.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate Truth. It was originally published on April 14, 2015.

Being the survivor of childhood/adulthood abuse is not an easy place to be.

And I say ‘survivor’ not victim, because I am not the abuse I suffered, I am continually striving to rise out of the pit and to protect myself, parent myself, and heal myself. There are times when I realize just how much I’ve had to do to pick myself up and make sure I am in most ways a functioning adult and that is heavy knowledge. I wasn’t taught anything about how to be an adult. I just knew how to take care of kids, how to grocery shop for a large family, how to cook, clean, be chief book and . I didn’t know anything about money, I didn’t know anything about budgeting. I taught myself or carefully asked people I hesitantly trusted.

Child abuse is not taken seriously in this country, especially among the people where it happens the most. Child abuse is not taken seriously when it’s the adult victims/survivors of said abuse finally breaking decades of silence to speak about what they endured. Those adults, myself included, are ridiculed for making things up, for not remembering circumstances correctly, and for just being bitter, angry, depressed. Well, let me tell you something, children have the purest bullshit meter I have ever seen in any human being. A child knows when they’re being lied to, when someone is not to be trusted, but what to do we adults do? We laugh off their terror, we brush off their tears because what do children know. It makes me sick to my gut to see children dismissed especially in situations of suspected or confirmed abuse.

I learned fast to not cry when talking about the daily abuse I saw and experienced at home. Somehow my tears of absolute heartbreak were seen as a manipulative tool and were taken to mean I was trying to make my story real when it wasn’t. There’s a part of a child that simply dies when they face a constant stream of abuse. If you know what to look for, it’s visible in their empty eyes, their lack of enthusiasm for activities, it’s their acting out and bullying other children. Adults look at children who act out or who even bully and all they see are misbehaving children and they look on them with disgust. What adults and other parents don’t look for is the cause of the acting out. Yes, I’m aware that some children just act out because they can, but more often than not, there is some sort of abuse triggering their need for attention or their need to dominate other children.

I have watched my siblings be those misbehaved, acting out children that no other family wanted or wants anything to do with. I have sat by and watched as we were rejected by other kids because we were so desperate for love and attention. I have also seen people brush me off time and time again because they just saw or see rebellious kids, not the hurting, broken children I see because of the abuse they daily suffer.

My sister is one of the strongest and bravest people I know, but she is seen as a rebellious little girl who is out of control. She is seen like that by the very family who offered to help, by the parents who are friends with my parents. I understand where they are coming from with their point of view, but I see the tears, I see the brokenness she tries to hide, I see the fear and pain from years of being thrown around, emotionally and physically. The adults don’t see that, they just see what they want to see because it is too hard to face the reality of child abuse. It is too hard to dive in and try to fight something of such a strong stigma as child abuse.

I understand the fear of hardship when it comes to people who could be advocating for more awareness of what really goes on in a large percentage of homeschooling homes. Tackling such a huge problem as child abuse takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of breaking in you as you face the realities these kids, myself included, have had to face and still face on a day to day basis. I don’t know very many people, outside of the private circles I am apart of on facebook, who are willing to put in the enormous amount of effort it takes to fight those perpetuating child abuse. Reality isn’t pretty when you enter the world of child abuse, but shame on you world for not taking seriously the horrific crime of child abuse.

There is so much more I want to say, but I am running out of steam now. I am constantly amazed at the scientific studies that are starting to come out revealing the drastic effects of emotional abuse on the brains of children. I don’t understand how people can be outraged about something in the media but then completely ignore the realities of that happening in their backyard. Innocent ignorance I can tolerate, it’s the turning a blind eye upon those who are hurting I can’t.

Pay attention to what happens around you, maybe you can help a child who is broken inside.

On Forgiveness

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Tony Webster.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on May 22, 2015.


I’m having a difficult time with this concept. I know in my world, it meant “you nicely forget everything bad that was done to you and never bring it up again or treat the other person different because, they’re forgiven. As far as the east is from the west.” It was like the magic eraser of all wrong-doing. And you didn’t have a choice in the matter. If you didn’t forgive someone, God wouldn’t forgive you. You’d allow a “root of bitterness” to spring up in your heart, “give the Devil a foothold” and suddenly Satan had a stronghold in your soul from which he could reign terror over your life. Didn’t matter what the offense was, they were all equal in the sight of God and all needed to be forgiven and you certainly aren’t perfect so who are you to withhold forgiveness and cast stones. That one time I lied pretty much negated any right I had to be angry at my sister for stealing from me or angry at my mom for manipulating me. Being angry at someone who sinned against you wasn’t allowed because that meant you hadn’t truly forgiven them. Remembering what they’d done and avoiding them or treating them differently because of it wasn’t true forgiveness either.

No matter how much I try, I cannot help but see the concept of forgiveness as a means by which you enable people to hurt you. A means that abusers and toxic people use to control you and be sure you never talk about what they did to you. All wrapped up in a neat package with the label of “For The Bible Tells Me So”.

Since becoming an adult, I have only seen forgiveness used to hide serious evil against other human beings. Abuse of every kind is covered up by the world “you must forgive them”. And victims are silenced and suffer alone, feeling like they are the ones who failed when they cannot help but be angry or sad at how someone has treated them. They are not allowed to be angry at someone who abused them because “no one is perfect”.

As far as I can tell though, forgiveness from a Judeo-Christian perspective, as far back as the Old Law, was not anything like what the church preaches today. It was really more of a legal definition. That whole eye for an eye thing? It’s talking about natural retribution. Payment for a debt owed. If someone hurt you or stole from you, they owed you and you had the right to retribution, to make them pay. Forgiveness was about debt. Not about saying “it’s OK, I’ll forget this ever happened and we’ll all feel loving again”. No, it was more like, “I will not enact retribution for this action. I will not take what is owed me.” Now that I can get behind. (‘Course Christians claim that Jesus came along and changed all that and that’s where it gets a little murky in the area of definitions and practicality.)

And yet….some actions demand retribution. They demand a debt be paid. This is how our legal system works. You kill or steal or destroy, you pay. It’s how all human institutions have functioned throughout all history. Wrong-doing demands retribution. Whether or not a person chooses to forgive that debt that is owed, and how they choose to do so, is completely up to them. No one can demand that from them. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with forgetting what was done or demanding that someone not feel a certain emotion for it or treat the evil-doer as they would someone who had not enacted evil against them. This is not only unhealthy, it is dangerous.

I am so sick and tired of people playing the forgiveness card. The manipulation is disgusting. And the control that it has over so many people thanks to religion is abhorant. “Forgive” a child molester? Um, no. That’s a debt that legally must be paid so others are protected. Whether the child demands retribution for that evil against them or not is up to the child and does not affect how the rest of the world treats a person who commits such atrocity.

People need to stop hiding behind the modern Christian view of forgiveness, stop trying to coerce people into shutting up for Jesus. Stop telling children that if they feel revulsion and hatred for a person who molested them then God won’t forgive them and their lives will be ruined. That kind of forgiveness can never be a choice. It will always be coercion. Those kids who were abused deserve to enact retribution. They deserve to feel whatever they want to feel. They deserve to say “No, I don’t forgive you for this pain”. And they deserve the choice of when or if any amount of release of that debt happens in their own hearts, regardless of what justice must be enacted on their behalf.

We deserve to be angry. To be filled with rage. To not let abusers off the hook because they pulled the forgiveness card. We deserve the choice to determine how we handle wrong-doing against us….without coercion or guilt-trips or religious platitudes. We should not be told that we cannot judge an atrocity because “he apologized”and “you’re not perfect either”. (One nice thing about not being a christian anymore is that I don’t have to believe that the one time I stole five dollars from my dad is just as bad as Josh Duggar molesting his sisters. Judge him I certainly will.)

And the next person who tells me “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is going to get some rocks chucked at them.

Why Dan Savage’s Call to Redefine “Duggar” Will Only Further Hurt Josh Duggar’s Victims

Dan Savage. CC image courtesy of Flickr, soundfromwayout.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

The Duggar family tragedy has received widespread media attention over the last couple weeks. At least five young girls were allegedly molested by Josh Duggar, the oldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting. The family waited several years to report the crimes. When they finally did so, they only told a police officer who was a family friend, who himself was later convicted of child pornography.

The tragedy has prompted claims of hypocrisy due to the fact that both Michelle and her son have repeatedly decried LGBT* people as potential child molesters when in fact her son — held up by the Religious Right as a paragon defender of traditional family values — was an actual molester, according to a recently revealed police report. Even more ironic is that Jim Bob Duggar, during his 2002 campaign for U.S. Senate, called for executing sex offenders during the exact same time period in which Josh allegedly was committing sex crimes against fellow children.

The plight of the five young girls has provoked a vast array of responses, with conservatives like Mike Huckabee and Matt Walsh jumping on soap boxes to defend Josh and liberals like Mike Luckovich gleefully asking the Internet to redefine “Duggar” in a way that invokes sexual abuse. In the midst of all these reactions, sex columnist Dan Savage offered a moment of sanity and compassion on NBC’s All In With Chris Hayes. On the show, Savage gave the sober reminder that, “We have to remember as we talk about this that five little girls — at least five little girls — were abused and molested and there’s nothing here to take delight in or celebrate.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Dan Savage on this point. Because not only am I a survivor of child sexual abuse, I am also a homeschool alumnus who was homeschooled in a Christian environment my entire life, much like the five young girls and their attacker. I also am the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and education about child abuse, mental illness, and other issues within Christian homeschooling. My work has led me to connect with hundreds of homeschool children and graduates around the United States who have experienced abuse within homeschooling, much like Josh’s victims. And our collective pain is not funny nor should it be reduced to punch lines by the media. I appreciate that Savage realizes the seriousness of the situation.

This is why I was surprised today to see Savage has now joined in the call to redefine “Duggar.” Savage previously experienced great success with redefining “Santorum” to cleverly punch up at Rick Santorum’s anti-LGBT stances, a moment in Internet history that I found humorous.

However, Santorum never faced charges of abusing other people in his family who share his last name. But Josh Duggar does.

I do not want to further violate Josh’s victims’ privacy (In Touch did a good enough job with that). So suffice it to say that several of Josh’s victims also share the name “Duggar.” Which means that these efforts to brand Josh with his crimes will also brand all of his victims with a permanent reminder of the horrendous pain inflicted upon them.

For homeschool alumni like myself, the Duggar tragedy is a watershed moment for us. We have fought for several years now to bring attention to the abuses and problems within religious homeschooling. While we have had some minor successes, it has taken the sex crimes of a television star to thoroughly break down the walls and shine a light upon the rotten nature of these high-control, Christian educational subcultures. For some of us, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for. For others, it’s bittersweet that it took this — five young girls being molested — for the U.S. at large to finally care about our and our younger peers’ plights.

The very least that the media can do — and the very least that celebrities like Dan Savage should do — is handle these stories (our stories) with compassion and sensitivity towards survivors and victims. Please don’t make our pain into punch lines and please don’t start campaigns to permanently brand fellow survivors with memories of their attackers. Put your energy instead into further helping us expose what’s going on behind the doors of many Christian homeschooling families.

Help us bring to light the fact that just because a homeschooling family is on TV, all smiles and politeness, doesn’t mean that family is safe.

It’s Not Just the Duggars

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Melissa’s blog Permission to Live. It was originally published on May 23, 2015.

This post has been a long time coming, and with the Duggar scandal all over the news, it’s been on my mind again. First off, let me say that what Josh Duggar did was wrong, and how the media has handled this story has been pretty awful too. Tabloids have been flippant about sharing police documents with the victims’ names on them, and since the Duggar family has been very vocally against LGBTQ people, who they claim are child-molesters, there are a lot of people eager to point out the hypocrisy of covering up the deeds of a child molester in their midst. I think there is plenty out there on what happened and how it was “handled”, I want to talk about the why. So many people are shocked and horrified that this happened in a “good christian family” like the Duggars, but it didn’t surprise me at all. I grew up in this movement, along with 10 siblings.

Sibling incest is not young, similarly aged siblings curiously looking at each others’ genitals. It is initiated by one sibling, and there is usually a 3 (or more) year age gap. Risk factors for sibling incest include power imbalances, parentalized siblings, lack of sex education, and other forms of abuse already occurring in the home. Judging by the general information we have about the Duggars, a lot of these factors are present. The sheer amount of children dictates that the older children care for the younger ones. And in the police report interviews none of the children interviewed even knew the correct names for the human anatomy when it came to genitals.

In a large homeschooling family, older siblings are often in charge of the younger ones. Younger children are expected to obey their older siblings as they would a parent and may face punishment from the parents or even the siblings if they do not obey. This creates a hierarchy where the younger children are basically powerless and have already come to expect that they do not have a say in how they are treated. Sexual actions initiated by the older sibling are not likely to be resisted or talked about in this sort of relationship.

If a parent is physically or emotionally largely unavailable, such as would be the case for anyone with 19 children, parenting younger children can often fall to the older ones. The older child is often experiencing the parental neglect as well, and since they are not emotionally mature enough to handle being a parent, they end up relying on the younger child for whom they have parental responsibilities for emotional fulfillment. Sometimes this leads to sexual actions as well.   Other abuse existing in the home greatly increases the likelihood of sexual abuse occurring. If children are used to being emotionally abused or physically abused, they do not have healthy boundaries or understandings of their rights as a human being.

In the conservative christian homeschool worldview sex ed is extremely lacking. We are talking about no knowledge of what sex is, human anatomy, etc. I grew up in this movement. My parents did not allow books in the house with such information. I remember when an art book from my grandparents included a nude sketch, my parents stapled several thick sheets of paper over it. I was told when I was 10 about menstruation and that babies grow in a womb inside a woman’s belly with help from a seed from her husband. I was at several of my siblings’ home births. But that was it. When I was 17, I found a book in the library filled with pictures of fetal development; on one page it showed 2 thermal images of a penis showing how flaccid = cool, and erect/engorged = warm. This was the first time I was aware of the fact that erections were a part of (penis-in-vagina) sex. I went to a different section and found “Seventeen magazine’s girls guide to sex”, and I put it inside of a large history book so no one could see what I was really reading and sat in the back corner on the floor reading as fast as a could. This was how I finally figured out that sex (the thing that only married people were supposed to do when they love each other very much, and was sinful and dirty otherwise) did not magically happen while 2 people slept in the same bed, and I was 17. I was 20 and married before I learned what a clitoris was. I had several children before I finally heard of the concept of “consent”.

This sheltering did not keep me from being a sexual person; it just left me with a complete lack information about it. I had no understanding of boundaries, or consent or even that masturbating was a sexual (albeit normal) act.  My point is that it is entirely possible to be a teenage, conservative, homeschooled kid, and have no idea what is sexual and what is not, or what is appropriate and what is not.

So no, given the circumstances of the home, combined with their belief system, I am not surprised by sibling incest. In fact, I think this happens in large conservative families far more than anyone thinks it does. What is truly horrifying is that after setting their kids up for this to happen, Josh Duggar’s parents pushed it under the rug, kept things in house, and didn’t get help for either the molester or the children who were molested. Several of the headlines have claimed that Josh was turned in by his dad; this wasn’t true either. The investigation did not occur until over 3 years after and only because an outsider got wind of it and called the abuse hotline. Jim Bob and Michelle did their best to cover up and move on. They claim because of god’s grace the slate is wiped clean, as if it never happened. Except it did. It happens precisely because of the family system that has been paraded on TV for too long.

And it isn’t just the Duggars; this is basically the tip of the ice berg of what is out there in the conservative christian homeschooling movement. Despite the smiling wholesome-looking exterior, ignorance and repression and isolation creates this kind of set up again and again. When a system teaches that the victim is to blame, refuses to educate on or even talk about sex, treats children as property with no rights, and requires unquestioning obedience, it is not surprising when dysfunction comes to light.

When “Family Values” Means Covering for Child Sexual Assault

Matt Walsh (l) with Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar (r).

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 26, 2015.

In March 2002, Jim Bob Duggar found out that his fourteen-year-old son, Josh, was sexually molesting prepubescent girls. Jim Bob did not say anything about this to the authorities until July 2003, even as it continued to happen and the list of victims grew. And in the wake of these revelations, I have been absolutely horrified by the number of people who have said they would not have immediately reported their fourteen-year-old son for molesting prepubescent girls either.

I have a six-year-old daughter. The number of people who have said they wouldn’t report their teenage son for molesting girls either makes me worried for my own daughter. I look around at families with teenage sons and I wonder. If that boy molested children, would his parents turn him in, or would they cover for him? Whose safety and wellbeing would they prioritize—their son’s, or my daughter’s?

Here is Matt Walsh’s answer:

3) I know I’m opening myself up to serious criticism here, but let me be honest with you: If my own son, God forbid, came to me and admitted to doing what Josh Duggar did, I don’t know that I’d immediately run to the cops.

Would you? Is it really that simple? The decision to have your child arrested as a sex offender would be an automatic thing for you? Really?

I guess I’m just a horrible person then.

. . .

As a parent, you have to think whether your 14 year old son deserves to have his life ruined over his mistakes. Maybe you’d decide that he does. I can’t say I’d agree.

Mistakes?! That’s what we’re calling sexually assaulting a child now?!

Do you see what I mean about prioritizing the wellbeing of the abuser over that of his current and future victims? Walsh says a fourteen-year-old child molester doesn’t deserve “to have his life ruined over his mistakes,” because apparently ensuring that he is punished for his abuse and prevented from abusing in the future is just too much to ask for.

Did I mention that I have a six-year-old daughter?

I suspect Walsh would say that his hypothetical son’s abuse would be punished and future abuse prevented, it’s just that this would be carried out by him as father rather than by the authorities. But we have authorities and a process for dealing with child sexual abuse for a reason. Parents frequently make excuses for their own children, as we see Walsh doing in his hypothetical. Parents are less likely to play hardball and more likely to believe justifications or excuses.

I’m sure Jim Bob felt he appropriately punished Josh in March 2002, when he first learned of Josh’s behavior, but for a full year after that Josh went on to victimize more girls. Had Jim Bob immediately taken the matter to the authorities and sought professional help for his son, this might have been prevented.

I’m honestly not sure how it’s not painfully obvious that parents should not be the ones handling punishment and prevention if their child sexually assaults another child. It is very common for someone who has molested one child to molest other children. Josh Duggar, for his part, molested five girls from two different families. Parents should not be the ones dealing with this. We have authorities and professionals for a reason!

Well sure, Walsh would say, but what if you had a teenage son and found out he’d sexually fondled a young girl? Would you turn him in, and ruin his life? Yes I absolutely would, but I reject the framing of the question. Turning someone in for child sexual assault helps ensure that they will get help, that they will get treatment, and (hopefully) that they will turn their lives around and not victimize more children. And yes, I do have a son. He’s not fourteen yet, but he will be someday.

Turning someone in for child sexual assault can only be framed as “ruining their life” if you remove their victims, present and future, from the picture entirely. Does life as a registered sex offender truly weigh more on the scale than the life of a sexually abused child whose abuser walks the street with no record or legal consequences for his actions?

My daughter’s school does background checks not only for teachers and school staff but also for volunteers and chaperones. An increasing number of churches do background checks for their childcare workers and Sunday school teachers as well. The goal is to protect children by ensuring that they will not be placed in the care of someone with a history of molesting children. Denying child sex offenders this sort of access also helps ensure that they will not reoffend. If Josh Duggar wanted to volunteer at my daughter’s school, or work in the religious education program at our church, he would be permitted to do so, because a background check wouldn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary, even though he sexually molested five girls, some as young as five years old.

Background checks only do what they’re supposed to do if people report child sexual abuse, no matter who the perpetrator is.

Mostly, right now, I want Matt Walsh and all of the other conservatives saying that they, too, would not have reported their son to get off the moral high horse they ride so often when it comes to religion and family. How can they proclaim “family values” from the rooftops and yet openly state that they would cover for their fourteen-year-old son if they found out he was sexually assaulting children?

Matt Walsh is on record arguing that gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt, because of the potential harm to children, and that transgender women shouldn’t be allowed to use the women’s bathroom because of concerns about women’s safety. But when it comes to the potential harm to children and threat to children’s safety posed by unreported child sexual abuse, suddenly what matters is protecting the abuser? For all Walsh’s claims of “progressive hypocrisy,” he really needs to look in mirror.

Four of the Jackson Brothers Plead Guilty in Incest, Rape Case

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

In May 2014,  news broke about a homeschooling family — the Jackson family from North Carolina — that hid child sexual abuse within the family for over a decade. A young girl (then 16 years old) was repeatedly molested and raped by the six Jackson brothers, Eric (27), Jon (25), Matthew (23), Nathaniel (21), Benjamin (19), and Aaron (18). This sexual abuse occurred from the time she was 4 until she was 14. The boys’ parents, John and Nita Jackson, knew about the abuse and yet did nothing to prevent it.

The original news report from WTKR notes that in addition to the brothers being charged, the parents were also charged “because they witnessed the abuse” and took no action. 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.”

The latest development in the Jackson family story happened last Thursday, May 21, 2015. As reported by WAVY, four of the six brothers pleaded guilty to the charges against them:

The oldest brother, Eric Jackson, who first came forward about the sex crimes happening in the family’s home, pleaded guilty to first-degree sex offense. The second-oldest brother, Matthew Jackson, took the same plea deal, leaving both brothers to serve 12 to 15 years in prison.

The two oldest brothers could barely speak through their tears Thursday afternoon, as they asked for the victim’s forgiveness. They said they were trying to make the situation right, and will do whatever God calls them to do in the future. The victim responded, saying, ” Forgiveness is not mine to give. It’s God’s. You need to take it up with Him.”

Nathaniel and Benjamin Jackson pleaded guilty to 4 counts and 3 counts of incest, respectively. They will receive 20 to 24 months in prison, followed by 36 months probation.

The other two brothers, Jon Marc and Aaron Jackson, are taking slightly different routes. Jon Marc’s case is being postponed until July due to an alleged conflict of interest on the judge’s part. However, Jon Marc is still expected to plead guilty. Aaron Jackson, on the other hand, declined the state’s plea agreement and desires his case to go to trial. He is thus expected back in court at the beginning of next year.

Both of the Jackson parents are also expected to appear in court in August to face charges of child neglect, child abuse, and accessory to sexual abuse charges. During the brothers’ trial, the victim said that, at one point during her 10 years of abuse, the mother, Nita, witnessed the girl being assaulted and “walked away.” The young girl also said that “she believed she would go to hell if she told anyone about the assaults.” She thanked the oldest brother, Eric, for stepping forward and admitting the abuse to his pastor.

For more information about this case, read our original article on it: “This is What Child Abusers Look Like in Homeschooling Communities.”