Navigating the Justice System, Part Three: As a Young Adult

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on June 12, 2014.

< Part Two

When I was about 17, I moved out.

Once it was truly clear to me that what happened in my home was abusive and not normal I decided to try to end the abuse for everyone. I started making regular calls to Children’s Aid on my father. I had to get help making these calls because Children’s Aid did not take my calls seriously because I was perceived as a disgruntled daughter (I was a disgruntled daughter, I suppose – but it didn’t negate what I had to say). There had already been multiple closed investigations on my family, and my parents presented as godly people who were just doing the best they could do with very little money and terribly rebellious children (although the social workers were always impressed with our obedience). I had help from guidance counsellors at my high school, and from the family I was staying with.

This process exacted a steep personal cost.

I had to relive what had happened constantly, and I worried that if this bid for freedom for all my younger siblings failed, and my parents found out, I would be cut off from them forever. My father had always threatened to pack everyone up and move to Mexico in the middle of the night, and I was afraid that if CAS called and invited themselves over for a pre-announced visit, my father would follow through on this threat and be forever protected by his friend-of-a-friend counterparts in Mexico. This situation caused a lot of pain for me. I had a lot of suicidal thoughts, and began engaging frequently in fairly serious self-harm, although I had done some self-harm even as a pre-teen before I knew that it was a thing. I have self-injury scars on my arms that will never go away.

My self-injury served as a tangible demonstration to those who were supporting me by calling CAS, that there was a real problem that needed to be fixed. I believe that some of the thinking was that maybe if they could get an intervention in the family home, they would be able to save my younger siblings from going through the same thing. It was kind of too late to save them from the pain, but at least they could end it.

CAS became convinced to take a closer look.

Once another investigation was finally launched, things moved quickly. There were a few meetings, and my dad was given the option of promising to not yell at my mother or physically punish the children (this may sound familiar). They found out that he chased teenagers with garden implements, and beat kids with dowel rods and broomsticks. They only wanted that to stop. He declined this option, so he ended up being removed from the property by CAS and police. He was taken to jail and charged with child abuse for his use of unreasonable corporal punishment. He was not allowed back on the family property because my mom was there with the kids (I had also moved home) and he wasn’t allowed to displace the family. We went to criminal court when I was 19. I had just started dating my now-husband, and going out for some lunch while at court was our first date. I testified, along with several of my siblings.

We were given victim support this time.

We testified much more clearly than we did when we were kids. We went for a few days. The judge was kind to us, and cleared the court room of anyone that we didn’t want to have there. They asked us questions kindly, and didn’t push us when it was hard. We only testified against my father, not against my mother. We decided as a group of teenagers that the priority was to get my father to answer for what he did, because what he did was much more serious than what my mom did, and my mom had not been physically abusive to my siblings in the time between my father’s arrest, and court. The result of those court proceedings is that my father took part in a plea deal, where he pled guilty to three counts in exchange for the other six (there are nine siblings) charges being dropped.

He was given a year of probation. He also had to continue going to court with my mom (family court, I believe) to work out issues of custody, but for him to get a say, he was supposed to file his own papers. He never did. He repeatedly attended court with no representation, or asked for adjournments to have more time to file papers. Eventually this ended and my mom pretty much ended up with custody and residency in the home, because of his inaction. My grandfather bought my father a car and a cell phone, and he has spent the past 7 years floating around between staying on his other property in Nova Scotia, and living with his like-minded friends in Ontario who allow him to live in their houses with their children, or to set up a shed or camper in their back yards.

He still has no concept that he did anything wrong at all.

End of series.

Navigating the Justice System, Part Two: When My Parents Went to Court

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on February 2, 2014.

< Part One

This part of Navigating the Justice System deals with a time in my life when my parents went to court and I didn’t, but I am including it in the middle of a three part series since it hinges them together. Here is what happened when my parents went to court:

When I was about 11, we were living in Ontario, where we had moved to get away from the court proceedings in Nova Scotia. However, my parents had been ordered to appear back in court in Nova Scotia. We had been going a conservative church in Ontario, for about a few months to a year. My parents talked to some of their friends in the church, and the decision was made to “farm out” the kids to various families while my parents were away, for about 10 days. I was pretty excited about this, because I was always helping to look after my siblings, and I thought it could be a fun break for me. My parents sent my two close-in-age brothers to stay with a family on a farm, which they didn’t mind too much. They sent my next younger sister to stay with a family with a number of young children, with a daughter that was close to her age.

They didn’t consider that that daughter bullied my sister.

They sent me to an older couple with grown up children, along with the youngest two sisters. They took my youngest brother at the time with them. The two younger girls were very young, so they were not potty-trained and showed some signs of what I now know to be disrupted emotional development. (I would like to note here that these girls have grown up into wonderful young ladies). So the couple agreed to take them for the ten days only if I went there too, so I could change their diapers, and look after them. I suppose this wasn’t that much different from home life, but the lack of supervision at home meant I could make some of my own decisions and revel in some 11 year old laziness. While I was there, I had to do quite a bit of work. I washed their eggs for their egg business, got up before the girls so that I could change them and dress them before they disturbed the family, and usually got the girls their breakfast and did the dishes. I did laundry and other chores also, but I was always responsible for the girls too.

I was expected to keep the girls in the same room all the time and watch them. I don’t know what month it was, but it was some time in the summer, since we went outside at certain times too. The girls weren’t used to that kind of structure, since while my parents were extraordinarily controlling, they also had a notable lack of control in daily life, with no structure, no schedule, and the only rule really was to not upset the parents, and do everything they specifically demanded immediately. I think that this couple disapproved of my siblings’ behavior and my parents’ parenting style and methods, and decided that they could fix it. But it doesn’t work to take an 11 year old or even toddlers and suddenly change everything about how they do life in ten days. They talked to me about how I should behave and what I should be doing in daily life, and to respect my parents, but they also spoke negatively about my parents.

It was very confusing for me as an 11 year old. I knew that my parents were going back to court but I didn’t really understand it.

I kind of hoped that they would go to jail while they were there, but then I was afraid I would be stuck with this couple, raising my two siblings forever.

I had also been extensively isolated so I did not know how to function well around other people all the time, and they made fun of that. I was very awkward. I suppose I also showed signed of disrupted emotional development. My mom and the lady decided that I should keep a diary while I was there, but the lady read what I wrote every day, and then my mom read it when they returned. I felt like I had no privacy, so I only recorded what we ate, and when we went out for groceries.

I do not blame this couple, but it was after I returned home that I started to really experience depression. I didn’t want to go to church anymore, and I didn’t want to have friends. I still was forced to go to church, not that I tried to argue, it wasn’t optional. Being with this family really taught me what other people in the church thought of us, and I knew there was a good chance that everyone talked about us like that.

It also caused a great deal of conflict for me. On one hand, I was angry that they tried to impose so much structure, but on the other hand I realized that if I complied with the structure, it would be peaceful, and that was not how it was at home. Because there were no predictable rules at home, it could never be peaceful. I think as a child I wanted to have the best of both worlds: the comparative freedom of having no supervision at home, the power of being in charge when my parents were gone all the time, but also the peace in the presence of authority figures. The couple we stayed with never hit me or yelled at me or my siblings, just expressed “disappointment” if I didn’t live up to their expectations.

Being around this family 24/7 also really emphasized to me that I was socially awkward, and I felt like my actions and words were on display for constant scrutiny. It wasn’t even that I felt I couldn’t do anything right, but I didn’t even know what the right thing was. I think it was obvious to them that something was wrong in our family, and I wish that the couple had used that knowledge to get us some help, instead of becoming part of the oppression. Every week when we saw them at church after that, I felt exposed, like they knew something bad about me. They were disappointed because they thought I would have some sort of connection with them after I went home, but I didn’t. This experience really reinforced for me that adults had all the power and that no one would help me, and that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. That I was the problem.

My parents were finished with court and didn’t go back to court. I don’t really know what the resolution to that was. I just know that it was a terrifying time for me, and I don’t think it was right that I was put through the knowledge that they were going to court, and that it had to do with parenting, but I wasn’t made privy to the resolution. It also makes me very suspicious about the outcome. I also think it wasn’t right for the church to have that window into our family problems and not do anything about it. I know it should be surprising, as it is very difficult to risk being the whistleblower when surrounded by others who do not seem to recognize the problem.

But if any one of those three families who got glimpses into the mental health status of my siblings and I had chosen to do something, it could have saved us from the six years of suffering that was to come.

Part Three >

Navigating the Justice System, Part One: Alone at 9 Years Old

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on January 18, 2014.

Trigger warning: discussion of child maltreatment and its consequences.

If this is the first Feminist in Spite of Them post you have read, please consider reading this either before or after.

When I was about 9, my parents were investigated by Children’s Aid. Social workers came out to talk to us. They met with us and found out that my parents spanked as punishment — which made sense since my parents had posted “The 21 Rules of This House” next to the dining room table. They came back a few times and spoke to each of us children. My parents homeschooled and they questioned whether we were getting an adequate education and whether abuse would be identified easily enough without regular contact with other people. One day they came with police cars and two police men and took most of us to the police station and interviewed us on video. My parents left the youngest with friends and came to the police station too but we didn’t see them all day.

I don’t know what my siblings said in their interviews, but I had always been taught to be very honest so I answered all their questions honestly, which was hard because I had also been carefully taught to not divulge family business to strangers. The information I gave outlined clearly that we were spanked, when we disobeyed or showed a bad attitude, with an object that was somewhat anthropomorphised in our home: “the rod”. My parents also practiced time-outs like shutting children outside in the evening for several hours for not eating all their dinner. I trusted that my parents were acting appropriately, since that is what they told me when they did it, so I presented it as fair and reasonable, and did not see a reason to hide anything. They told me what abuse was and asked if I was abused. I responded that technically we were because of the punishment methods but it was not abuse because it was Biblical. We were sent home with our parents. They asked my parents to promise to not spank and they were very resistant.

A while later, we went to court. I went to court three separate times. As far as I can remember, I went to family court one day, and then later on I testified two days at a higher or different level of court across the hall.

I don’t really understand the reasoning that led to this situation, but I was interrogated in court by the prosecutor in family court as a reluctant witness to my own parents’ abuse.  I testified that I loved my parents and I wanted to be spanked when I disobeyed. I wasn’t quite sure about that but that was what my parents and their lawyer and all their friends told me to say. Please note that I was sent home with my parents after court and although I spent a few days away from my parents they were able to choose were I went, and they chose a family friend who reinforced my parents’ beliefs. At least two of my brothers may have also testified in that court. I believe that my parents and their lawyer offered us up to testify, but I am not sure. Part of the reason I believe that I was there by the choice of my parents is because we did not receive any kind of victim witness counselling or preparation, and I don’t think that my parents could have declined on my behalf if I was there as a victim of their actions. They should have not been allowed to decline in any case.

I may as well have been alone the whole time. My parents were absorbed in their case, their lawyer treated me as a pawn, and anyone else involved were concerned that my parents might be punished for their actions. I am unclear on the outcome of that case, but my mother tells me that the judge threw that case out but that children’s services tried again from a different angle and that was why there was another prosecutor and case across the hall.

In that court, I was more reluctant to answer questions, things had changed for the worse at home since the first court and I was far more unhappy. We weren’t being schooled anymore, there was another new baby on the way, and there was more yelling and beating instead of rational spankings. I was not happy at home anymore. My father was sitting only a few feet in front of where I sat in the stand, and frowned every time I spoke. I had gotten in trouble for some things I had said in the first court, and my parents were so incensed by what two of my brothers said in the first court that they somehow made sure they did not testify again. My answers were inconsistent so the judge decided to bring out the taped interview taken at the police station that I mentioned earlier.

I was very afraid of what would happen if my father saw that video I had made at the police station outlining his punishment methods, and I knew I had to go home with him.

I protested persistently, begging the judge to not play the video, but I couldn’t tell him why, with my dad sitting a few feet away. I was removed from the courtroom by the bailiff. He was this hugely intimidating man and I was really afraid of him, but he was actually really nice and expressed his outrage about the whole thing, even though I didn’t understand what he meant at the time. He took me to a small room with my mom and a friend of hers.

The judge showed the video to the courtroom, and the bailiff brought me back when it was done. The judge asked me what my story was, if I wanted to stick to my very inconsistent story of a loving family, or if I stood by the police interview that outlined what legally qualified as abuse, depending on interpretation. I didn’t know what to do and I was very traumatized by the experience, to the point that I cannot remember how it ended and I got out of there. I am not sure if the judge decided to discount my testimony or if he took the whole scene as evidence of abuse.

The truth is, I was abused. I was told what to think and how to think it. I was a somewhat compliant child, but I witnessed my other siblings rebel with terrible consequences. I was afraid of what was going to happen all the time, and it felt like I couldn’t breathe sometimes.

Being put into a situation where I had to defend the actions of my own parents created a claustrophobic conflict for me.

Even before court, I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t treated well. I had to give up my own wishes all the time even when it wasn’t reasonable, I had to help take care of younger children, I had to bargain for my own education as a child under ten. Periodically my parents’ beliefs completely changed and most of my possessions would be disposed of because they didn’t comply with the new beliefs.  I walked around with suicide notes in my pocket. We had to ride around in a big van with no windows and couldn’t see out, so I always thought we were going to die, and I was ok with that at 9 years old. Life was too hard and too long, and there was nothing good.

After court was over and my parents packed us out and secretly moved us to another province, everything got much worse. By moving away from the child protection case they moved away from all consequences and started over again in a more conservative church and a more isolated property. I blamed myself for not somehow making sure we got sent to foster care during the court episode, and I spent my pre-adolescent years as a self-harming desperate little adult in a child’s body.

For more reading on my parents’ beliefs, please click here.

There is an outrageous lack of support for children who are put in the position of navigating the justice system, and there is not a great deal of information on the consequences for the children. If you would like to add to the conversation in any way I welcome your comments.

Part Two >

Talking To Kids About Social Services, Part II


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on June 12, 2014.

Part One

I wrote yesterday about the fear of social services I received from my parents and from the wider homeschooling community. Once I grew up I realized that this fear was both irrational and counterproductive. Social services was not the enemy, and social workers do important work protecting children from abuse and neglect. Sure, social services isn’t perfect, and they sometimes make mistakes. But what good does teaching children to be afraid of social services do? Absolutely none at all. When I had children of my own, then, I determined to do things differently.

I wanted Sally and Bobby to see social services not as an enemy but as a friend.

Several months ago we got from a store and Sally refused to get out of the car. She was tired and was comfortable where she was. She was four at the time, and I needed to take her inside and get on with my list of things to accomplish for the day. My options, as I saw them, were to either pick Sally up and carry her into the house or to convince her to come inside voluntarily. I decided to try the later and save the former for last resort.

“I can’t leave you out here,” I told her. “I’m your mom and it’s my job to take care of you.”

“I don’t care about that, mom!” Sally insisted. “I don’t mind if you leave me out here!”

“Okay, let me see if I can explain this,” I said, and I got down on her level. “Kids don’t know everything yet, and sometimes they can get hurt. Kids can get lost or hit by cars or stolen or drown or any manner of things. So parents’ job is to protect their kids and take care of them. That’s me—that’s my job.”

I took a deep breath and considered whether to go on.

I didn’t want to give her my childhood fear of social services, but I wanted her to understand that I really truly and honestly am required by law to take care of her, and that leaving her outside in the car alone is literally not an option. Sally likes understanding how the world works and having reasons for things, and she tends to be fairly mature for her age. So I went on.

“There are laws that require me to take good care of you,” I told her, “and if I don’t take good care of you I will get in trouble. There is an agency called social services that helps make sure children are taken care of. If parents do not take good care of their children, social services will come and tell them they have to take good care of their children. And if parents still do not take good care of their children, social services will find them a new mommy and daddy so that there is someone to take care of them.”

Sally considered for a moment.

“Okay, I’m coming inside, mommy,” she finally said, climbing out of the car. “You have to take good care of me, because that’s your job.” And she looked at me and smiled. “It’s your job to take good care of me!”

Sometime later we were at an outdoor event when Sally asked if it was fine if she go off on her own. I told her that I was okay with her moving around a little bit but that she had to stay close enough that I could see her and would know where she was. I reminded her that it’s my job to protect her and take care of her.

“That’s right mommy, it’s your job to protect me!” she said. “And you can’t protect me if you can’t see me!” And with that, she laughed as though she’d told a joke—and she stayed close enough for me to keep tabs on her throughout the event.

I was glad to see Sally being more understanding of times I had to tell her “no” because what she was asking was not safe. Sally had definitely taken to heart that it was my job to take care of her. But I still worried that she might take the bit about social services finding new mommies and daddies for kids who were not taken care of the wrong way, and end up feeling afraid.

Some time after this I was carrying a load of groceries from the car into the house, and Sally was dawdling and lagging behind.

“Come on Sally!” I called over my shoulder. “Hurry up!”

“I’m coming, mommy!” Sally called out as she picked up per pace and jogged to catch up. “Because you have to take care of me, mom, or they will find me a new mommy and daddy, and I don’t want a new mommy and daddy!”

And there it was. Had I messed up, I wondered?

Was I giving her the same fear I had had? After the groceries were safely on the counter and we were both in the house, I pulled Sally aside.

“Sally, daddy and I try very hard to take good care of you,” I told her. “If social services came here to check on you, they would see that we take good care of you. Social services only takes children away from their parents if their parents are not taking care of them at all, or if their parents are hurting them. Does that make sense?”

Sally paused to think. “Those kids need new mommies and daddies, because they need someone to take care of them!”

“That’s right,” I responded. “Social services comes to check things out if someone calls them and says, ‘that child’s mommy and daddy are not taking care of her, she needs help.’”

“And then they help?” Sally asked.

“Yes,” I told her. “They try to help the family, and they only find kids new mommies and daddies if their parents still refuse to take care of them. If social services ever comes to our house and a social worker wants to talk to you, don’t worry about it, they’re just trying to make sure you’re taken care of and happy. They’re nice people and they want to make sure kids are safe. If that ever happens you can just answer their questions, okay? It is their job to make sure children are taken good care of, and that’s a good thing, because it is good for children to be taken care of and not get hurt. Does that make sense?”

“Oh!” Sally exclaimed, “If they come to our house, they will say, ‘do your mommy and daddy take good care of you?’ And I will say, ‘yes, they do!’” And then they will say, ‘that is good, we like mommies and daddies to take care of their kids!’ Right mommy? Right?”

“Wow, um, yes, that’s absolutely right,” I responded. I’m telling you, you just never know with this kid. She does voices and everything. And with that, our conversation was over and Sally was off to play.

It has been some time now since this second conversation, and Sally has not expressed any fear of social services. Indeed, her comment as she ran to catch up with me—the comment that prompted our second conversation—was less one of fear than one of stating facts. Sally is a very logical and ordered child, and tends to be matter of fact like that.

I have to remind myself not to let my own childhood fear of social services determine my interpretation of Sally’s comments.

That it is my job to take care of her, and that I’m required by law to do so, has continued to help at moments when Sally would really like to be outside alone, or to wander around on her own at an event, and I can’t let her. It means that Sally understands that I don’t let her do those things because it is my job to take care of her and I’m required to do so, and not because I want to kill all of her fun.

Now I’m not saying any of this as a prescription. I don’t know for sure whether I’ve handled this topic correctly, or whether I should have held my tongue and found some other way to coax her out of the car that time several months ago—say, offering her a cookie once we got inside, or emphasizing all the things I had to get done in the house that evening. I do know that I just looked around the internet and couldn’t find a single guide to talking to your children about social services. Perhaps that means most people say nothing, and maybe that’s what I should have done too. But with my background of fear, and my parents in my children’s lives, I think part of me wanted to offer Sally a healthy perspective rather than leaving her with a vacuum.


Talking To Kids About Social Services, Part I

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“I grew up afraid of social services.”

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on June 11, 2014.

I grew up afraid of social services.

Social workers were something of a bogeyman in the homeschooling community, and my parents bought into it completely. In fact, in a recent conversation on the topic with my mother, she insisted that social workers today do in fact take children away from their parents for nothing more than homeschooling. That she still says this today says a lot about just how high fear of social workers was in our home when I was a child.

In fact, my parents walked us children step by step through what we should do if a social worker came to the door when they were not home. We were not to let a social worker in the door under any circumstances, and we were to call the Home School Legal Defense Association and get a lawyer on the line immediately. My mom had the phone number on the inside of a cupboard by the phone.

I’ve spoke to others raised in the same background as me who actually had drills that involved them hiding in the attic, or in a basement. While we didn’t do this, I well remember hearing conversations about the horrible things social workers do—strip-searching children to search for bruises or interviewing children without their parents present. The homeschooling literature I read was full of references to the evils of social services.

When I was a teen, I read a novel by Michael Farris titled Anonymous Tip. In it the main character’s daughter is taken away from her based on a false tip called in by a malicious ex. When the social workers realize that the tip was false, they fake evidence to keep the little girl away from her mother. One of the social workers was a Wiccan, and her boyfriend worked for the ACLU.

The novel helped cement my fear and dread of social services.

I think to really get across what we’re talking about here I’m going to have to share a story of a terrifying event that took place when I was about fifteen. In fact, this moment may well be the most scared I’ve ever been in my life.

I was home alone with a few of my siblings while my mom and the others were at a friend’s house. I tried to call the weather phone number to get the forecast, but our phone was old and not all the buttons went through. I had dialed 911 without realizing it. As soon as the 911 operator came on, I hung up because it was a person rather than the weather recording I had expected. And then I realized too late that I had just hung up on the 911 operator.

I called my mother in an absolute panic. I was incredibly afraid. I knew that there was a strong likelihood that a police officer would come to our house to check if everything was alright, and there I was home alone with a few of my siblings. Looking back, my fear was entirely misplaced. My mother assured me that it would be fine, that I should simply tell the officer what had happened. I don’t think she realized the depth of my fear, or where it was coming from. The fear I was given of social services bled over into this experience.

As it happens, everything was fine. Two police cars did make their way up our driveway that morning, and a police officer got out and talked to me at the door. I told him what had happened—that I had dialed 911 on accident and hung up as soon as I realized I had the wrong number—and that was enough. But a police officer coming to the door to ask me questions and check the situation out while my parents were away was too similar to a social worker doing the same for me not to be terrified.

Fear—we’re talking real, visceral fear.

So far, this blog post could well be titled “How Not to Talk to Kids about Social Services.” My parents and the homeschooling community taught me to see social workers as the enemy and to fear social services in such a visceral way that it made my stomach hurt. This is how not to do it. Is social services perfect? No. But social services is set up to protect children from abuse and neglect, and it does a lot of good for a lot of kids. Social services should be seen as an ally, not an enemy, and teaching children to fear an agency set up to help protect them serves to prevent children who really need help from seeking it or speaking out—and result in a lot of unnecessarily frightened children.

Tomorrow I will write about how I talk about social services today with my own children. Is it necessarily to talk to children about social services? Maybe not, but given my background and the fact that my parents are a part of my children’s lives, I would rather give my children a positive foundation for understanding these things than leave them with a vacuum.

Part Two >

Then She Stood By the Brave

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate Truth. It was originally published on April 8, 2014.


**DISCLAIMER: the situation you are about to read about is in good hands and I ask that you not try to contact any of my siblings. They are safe and things are being taken care of.

About a month ago I got a phone call letting me know one of my siblings was being admitted to the mental health ward. All I could think was when it is going to be enough, how many more of my siblings are going to suffer.

Their story is theirs to tell, not mine, but I want to tell you about a story that has continued to unfold over the past few weeks.

Phil and I went to visit my sibling in the psych ward, and I saw my sibling relaxed, a little medicated, but they were relaxed, peaceful, and they were safe there and they knew it. We brought one of my other brothers in to visit our sibling and I found out that he had been faithfully visiting his sibling the whole time during their psych visit. This brother is the one I have had my spats with growing up, and in fact, thanks to him I have a nice numb spot on my hand from one of our fights. This brother is also the one I see holding one of the biggest, caring hearts I have ever seen. The fact that he would purposefully take time out of his day to go visit his sibling in the psych ward every day they were is a huge indicator of just how big his heart is.


I am now barely 2 months away from having this child of mine.

I am becoming more and more aware of how important it is to stand firm with my boundaries when it comes to my mom and my dad. I somehow found myself in a position last week where I was asked by my mom to “draw out” my sibling who had been in the psych ward. My sibling had been asking to be admitted again that morning and wouldn’t talk to mom or anyone else about what was going on. Inwardly I knew my sibling was only going to talk to me and that’s why my mom was pushing me to talk with them. After spending awhile chatting, I knew what I needed to know and just let my sibling know that I was there whenever they needed me. The rest of my visit over there ended in me putting my foot down and being completely blunt with my mom. I told her my exact thoughts on how her staying with my dad was at the expense of the kids and how he wasn’t changing, how I didn’t believe her when she said he was, and just watched her shut down as I refused to let her screwed up logic change my stance.

In that moment I realized I have changed.

I am no longer blinded by the manipulative logic my dad uses to control those around him.

I could see right through everything my mom said and was able to see things I had known were there but had never been able to put words to. I am stronger, I am clear headed, I have changed, and yet, it became painfully obvious she hasn’t changed. She is still toxic to me, she is still clinging to some delusion that my dad is changing, and until she can let go of that and actually protect her children from that man, I have to be careful to keep boundaries in place.

It was encouraging to see how therapy has really worked and I have been able to break so many chains that had previously greatly bound me. I am also in a position now where when a sibling needs help, I’m one of the first people they call, and hell, I’m out the door before they can even coherently say anything other than to beg me to come get them. Which is what happened recently, and which included a visit to my siblings’ school counselor who after hearing our story immediately called Child Protective Services to make a report. I have proven to my siblings, the ones who need it most, that I am not the mean, evil older sister my dad makes me out to be. I am who I say I am and I will drop everything for them if they need me.

I sat in that office and watched my siblings find their strength as they stood up to the abuse they have personally suffered from our dad. My heart bursting with pride, I backed up their stories, and watched as they willingly gave information that will hopefully make a difference. I watched my siblings make very brave and bold decisions despite the possibility of facing retaliation. They are doing what I wish I could have done years ago, they are brave enough to stand up and say enough is enough and it hopefully will truly be enough.

The little girl inside of me wept as I proudly stood by my brave siblings.

I felt like I watched my childhood come full circle. The shame of not being “strong enough” to stand up to my dad was put to rest as I stood there being my siblings’ support. I went through what I had to so that I could be there for my siblings when they needed me. I am stronger now, I have the strength they needed to be able to be brave themselves. I can validate their fears and tell them they’re not crazy despite what the man at home will say. I don’t know about you, but that’s quite a good reason to have gone through what I have if only to be the support my siblings need.

I’m feeling hopeful, I am full of pride, and so relieved I can be there for the siblings who call for help and I can be there to lift up their voices.

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel 

When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Brandon Warren

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.


Brandon Warren

On July 26, 2001, 14-year-old Brandon Warren from Kenly, North Carolina shot and killed his 13-year-old brother Bradley and his 19-year-old sister Marnie Rose. He then turned his gun on himself and committed suicide.

On July 26, 2001, 14-year-old Brandon Warren from Kenly, North Carolina shot and killed his 13-year-old brother Bradley and his 19-year-old sister Marnie Rose.
On July 26, 2001, 14-year-old Brandon Warren from Kenly, North Carolina shot and killed his 13-year-old brother Bradley and his 19-year-old sister Marnie Rose.

All of the Warren children — Bradley, Brandon, Marnie Rose, and their older brother Ellis (21) — were homeschooled by their parents, Boyd and Nissa Mae. The family had a history of interactions with social workers due to dysfunction and the children having visible bruises. In fact, in just the 2 months prior to the murder-suicide, social workers talked with the parents 11 times but “the Warrens routinely turned them away, forcing them to get a court order for each visit.” Their house reportedly had “rotting food, animal feces on the floor.” Shortly prior to the murder-suicide, Social Service inspectors had “warned the parents that if they didn’t clean up their home, they could lose their children.”

The Warren family’s troubled state, however, went back a decade. In 1991, the parents were convicted of child abuse in another state, Arizona, where they also homeschooled. After the conviction, the family moved to their current home in North Carolina.

On the day of the attack, Brandon accessed his mother’s .22-caliber rifle and used it to kill his siblings and then himself. A motive was never publicly stated. However, Nissa Mae’s reaction to losing three of her children was chilling: she told a detective that she would “rather God had them than Child Protective Services.”

While Brandon was ruled to have murdered his siblings and then committed suicide, Brandon’s parents were also charged in the case due to squalid living conditions. Boyd and Nissa Mae were both charged “with misdemeanor child abuse and storing firearms in a manner accessible to a child.”

Homeschool advocates immediately dismissed any connections between the Warren family murder/suicide and homeschooling. In April 2002, Jeff Townsend — president of North Carolinians for Home Education — said he “didn’t see any connections between home education and the teens’ deaths.” But in 2003, the case received heightened media attention due to a CBS report entitled, “A Dark Side to Home Schooling.” The report, which prominently featured Brandon Warren and his family, received the attention mainly because its title provoked a huge backlash from homeschooling communities. Later that year, Rep. Todd Akin — himself a homeschooling father from North Carolina, most recently known for his “legitimate rape” commentsspearheaded a signature-gathering effort and recruited 33 Congress members — 32 Republican, 1 Democrat — to publicly denounce the CBS report.

View the case index here.

When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Joseph Hall

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.


Joseph Hall

In May 2011, 10-year-old Joseph Hall shot his father Jeffrey at point blank range with his father’s own gun. The murder made national headlines not only because of Joseph’s young age but also because the boy’s father was a Neo-Nazi and a regional director of the National Socialist Movement, a white separatist group.

In May 2011, 10-year-old Joseph Hall shot his father Jeffrey at point blank range with his father's own gun.
In May 2011, 10-year-old Joseph Hall shot his father Jeffrey at point blank range with his father’s own gun.

Joseph’s home life has been described as extremely troubling. His parents divorced when he was young and their custody battle raged for years. He experienced years of abuse, being beaten regularly by his dad. Child protective services were called to his family’s home 23 times, beginning when Joseph was only 3 months old. Unfortunately, no abuse could be substantiated.

He began experiencing behavioral and emotional issues and learning challenges in pre-school. His father indoctrinated him into his white supremacy beliefs. Both in public school and at home, Joseph lashed out. He reportedly “hit his sisters and his stepmother, stabbed classmates at school with pencils and once tried to strangle a teacher with a telephone cord.” With “a history of severe aggressive behavior,” he was kicked out of nine schools. Joseph was ultimately withdrawn from public school to be homeschooled. His father was the one to homeschool him, despite having only completed 11th grade himself.

Jeffrey Hall, the father, was part of the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Jeffrey educated his son on how to “patrol” the Mexican-American border and how to operate guns.

Joseph decided to murder his father because he thought his father was going to divorce his stepmother and break up their family. After the murder, while he was being interrogated, Joseph said that, “I didn’t want to do it. It’s just that he hurts us.”

In 2013, Joseph was found guilty of murder. He was sentenced by the Riverside County Superior Court to 10 years in a state juvenile correction facility.

View the case index here.

Ignorance is Safety?: Christina’s Story

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Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Christina” is a pseudonym.

Trigger warnings: the following story contains descriptions of physical and sibling sexual abuse of a child.


“I know a bad word.”

I was seven, standing in the bathtub and my mom was washing my hair.

“Tell me what it is.”

“I don’t want to say it.”

“Tell me what it is or else I’ll spank you.”

I was petrified, my heart was racing a mile a minute. I couldn’t tell mom; I was afraid of being punished for even knowing the word. I was shaking and crying. My mother took out the hot-glue stick that we were regularly beaten with and proceeded to spank me there in the bathtub. Between each swat she would order, “tell me!” until, sick with fear and pain, I told her.

The dirty word: Bra.

Hello, my name is Christina. My purpose for writing this today is to help those who have gone through something similar to me and to spread awareness to those who haven’t.

Growing up, my mother told us nothing about sex. Nothing. As girls, she didn’t educate us about having your period, bras, body changes, nothing.

I was introduced to sex when my brother molested me on Christmas day when I was eight years old. He was only eleven at the time and I write this with his permission. In the last year my brother told me stories of what led up to that day. He was only four years old when our mother would “spank” him until bruises formed for “touching his penis”. Other than these beatings he had received no sexual education at all when he stumbled across pornography on the internet. He didn’t even know the word pornography when he described to me what he had seen. I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was wrong. I was too scared to tell anyone what happened on Christmas, so I kept quiet for four months. In the meantime my brother had molested my little sisters as well, and I knew about it. I told my brother not to hurt my sisters anymore, so when it didn’t stop I finally got up the courage to tell my older sister.

My sister told my mom, who called our youth pastor for help.

Our youth pastor called Child Protective Services, and my brother was removed from the home.

He lived in foster care for a year and we weren’t allowed to see him during that time. When he finally came home things were awkward between us for a while, but when we were willing to open up to each other he was able to apologize, and we were able to talk openly about what happened. If I wasn’t terrified to go to my mom for help, the whole situation might have been prevented. My mom was not a person I could go to with my fears and questions. She never talked about sex, and never made us feel that we could talk with her about whatever we needed to talk about.

I thought I had cancer. I was eleven and scared to death. After weeks of worrying I built up the courage to talk to my mom. I told her I was developing these lumps.

Her exact words were, “welcome to adulthood.” Nothing else.

I lay awake that night and put the pieces together. I wasn’t dying after all. In the months that followed I stole my sister’s bra, and on three separate occasions I shoplifted bras from stores. During that time I kept dropping hints to mom, but she made it awkward, and I was so nervous. My mother never made herself available for any serious conversations. Even when approached, she would make the conversation as short and surface as possible. Finally, at age thirteen, I got up the courage to confront her. I told her how I had been shoplifting and taking from my sisters and her reply was, “why didn’t you tell me I needed to take you shopping?” I told her that she made it hard for me, but she wouldn’t listen. She waited seven months before she took me bra shopping for the first time.

I began to watch pornography regularly when I was eleven.

I don’t know how to tell you why. I would go to great lengths to be able to access a computer with internet. I began to masturbate. It was an unsaid rule in our household that anything sexual outside of marriage was evil. Because of this, I felt guilty for masturbating, I felt like I was defying God. I prayed to God, promising that I would never masturbate again. The next day I broke that promise. I felt like shit, like I had let God down. I was weighed down with a load of guilt. I felt I deserved death.

I was prepared to hang myself; the only thing that kept me from tightening the rope was the thought that if I left them, my little sisters will go through exactly what I did, and I want to be around to prevent that from happening.

When I was fourteen I tried to be open with my mother. I told her what I went through as a pre-teen and a teen, and her response was to send me to therapy; she didn’t want to handle me herself. One day on the drive home I was trying to explain to her how she wasn’t there to help me as a kid going into my teenage years, but she refuses to listen. We start talking about masturbation, and she tells me anything sexual outside of marriage is wrong. There I was, opening up to my mother and sharing how I tried to hang myself as an eleven year old because I felt so guilty, and she contributes to my guilt, telling me that what I did was wrong. No comfort, no empathy, no help. Just guilt. I ask her, “from a biblical perspective, how is it wrong?” She can’t answer me.

I pushed the question, and she finally told me, “you need to move out. I don’t want you around your little sisters.”

I am no longer living with my mom. I feel free to talk about masturbation, sex, and gender expression with my siblings, something I never felt I could do before. My brother and I have had conversations I never saw us having. Today I am inspired to help others, and I feel more confident about how I want to raise my children. My mother lost custody of my younger sisters in August and I know that they have a brighter future ahead of them.

I am so grateful that they will never experience what I did.

My sister has also written about her sexual education, the link to it is here.

In Which HSLDA Conducts a Child Abuse “Investigation”

HSLDA's Scott Woodruff. Source:
HSLDA’s Scott Woodruff. Source:

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on January 6, 2013.

I recently came upon something posted on HSLDA’s site some years ago that I found interesting, in light of what I have written about HSLDA in the past. HSLDA releases stories of the cases it handles in various states, partly to keep its members apprised of what it does and partly to encourage people to stay members. Anyway, this incident happened in Kentucky. Here is how it starts:

Coming home at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday this summer, the Wall family were puzzled to see a sheriff’s car and another car parked in their driveway. As they exited their car, a social worker asked, “Are you James Wall?” After the father acknowledged he was, the social worker said, “We have received a call about possible child abuse in your family.”

The shocked parents gathered their family together immediately and prayed. Afterwards, they had their 15 year-old son take their 5 year-old daughter into their home.

The parents asked the social worker about the allegations. She refused to reveal them. The parents decided it was time to call HSLDA.

The family called our after hours phone number, and moments later HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff was on the phone. Though she had refused to tell the family the allegations, she told Woodruff that the hotline said the son had bruises on his neck and arms and was being locked in his room.

This is how this sort of thing usually works: Someone sees suspicious bruises or other cause for concerns and calls child protective services.

Child protective services determines whether the report sounds credible and then sends someone to investigate. What Woodruff should have done at this point is simple. He should have said, “Thank you, I wanted to ensure that it was not a homeschooling issue, and it appears that it is not. You may proceed with your investigation, we will not interfere. Have a good day!” Is that what he said? Let’s take a look!

Woodruff then spoke privately to the family and found there was absolutely no truth to the allegations.

I’m less bothered by the fact that HSLDA stayed involved even when they learned that the allegations had nothing to do with homeschooling than I am by the fact that Woodruff felt that, with no training whatsoever, he could determine, over the phone, almost certainly speaking only with the parents, whether or not there was abuse occurring.

I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Woodruff: “Is there any truth in the allegations?” 

Wall: “No.” 

Woodruff: “Okay, I thought I’d ask.

If this is all HSLDA thinks is involved in determining whether or not child abuse allegations are true, just imagine what life would be like for abused kids if HSLDA were in charge of child protective services. A social worker would show up at the door, knock, and then say “We have a report that Johnny has suspicious bruises and are worried that you are beating him. Is there any truth to this?” Then the parent would say “No, that’s not true,” and the social worker would say “Okay, thanks! Have a nice day!” and leave.

But you’re probably wondering what happened next in the saga of the Wall family of Kentucky. And so, now that HSLDA has conducted its own “child abuse investigation” and determined that the charges are false, let’s move on.

He [Woodruff] advised the family to not permit the social worker to come into their home and not permit her to question their daughter. Instead, the family should allow the social worker to see their daughter and to ask the parents questions, and the son questions, in their presence, but only questions relating to the two allegations.

The family accepted this advice, and the social worker was soon convinced the allegations were groundless. Woodruff stayed on the phone until the social worker and sheriff had left the premises.

How do circumstances like this actually allow a social worker to conduct an effective investigation? 

Children very rarely disclose abuse in the presence of their parents, and in this case the family did not even permit the little girl who was the subject of the report speak with the social workers, even in their presence. It is of course completely possible that there was nothing to the charges, but bruises on the neck are not something that generally occur by accident. These charges involved a thorough investigation, and that is not what they got, thanks to HSLDA’s interference.

Do you all remember this?

Scott Somerville, an attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association in Virginia, said he talked with Michael Gravelle before the story broke in the media, and he believes this is a family trying to help special children.

When a social worker visited the house last week, there was no resistance to an inspection, said Somerville, whose organization represents home-schooling families on legal matters.

“They had nothing to hide,” Somerville said. “He told me why they adopted these children and told me the problems they were trying to solve.

“I think he is a hero.”

Here is another case where an HSLDA attorney deduced from a phone conversation that allegations were false and there was no abuse. And guess what? There wasabuse, and lots of it. The children were kept in cages rigged with alarms at night, and had their heads held under water in the toilet as punishment. There was additional physical abuse, too.

Interestingly, these two cases took place in the same year—2005. The odd thing is that Somerville here uses the fact that the family let social workers into their home as evidence of their innocence, even as Woodruff told the other family to bar social workers from their home, never considering that by his colleagues on criteria this might indicate that they had something to hide. It’s interesting to note that while HSLDA urges parents not to let social workers into their home, they also interpret a family’s willingness to let social workers in as a sign of innocence.

That seems rather contradictory.

Now, Somerville didn’t talk to Gravelle until after social workers had investigated and gained entrance. What would have happened if Gravelle had talked to Somerville when the social workers arrived at his door, and Somerville had given Gravelle the same advice Woodruff was dispensing? Gravelle would have barred the social workers from coming inside and would have refused to allow social workers to speak with his children, the subjects of the report. If Gravelle had talked to an HSLDA attorney, that attorney would very likely have sent the social worker away without allowing him or her to effectively investigate the charges. In other words, if HSLDA had been involved at the beginning rather than after the fact those children might still be living in cages.

HSLDA claims they don’t defend abusers.

But given the way they conduct their own “child abuse investigations,” how would they even know if they did defend an abuser?