In Which HSLDA Conducts a Child Abuse “Investigation”

HSLDA's Scott Woodruff. Source: http://homeschooliowa.org/2009dayatthecapitol.html
HSLDA’s Scott Woodruff. Source: http://homeschooliowa.org/2009dayatthecapitol.html

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?

The Twelve Tribes, Child Abuse, and Michael Farris

The village of Klosterzimmern near Deiningen, Germany is home to the "Zwoelf Staemme" (or, "Twelve Tribes").
The village of Klosterzimmern near Deiningen, Germany is home to the “Zwoelf Staemme” (or, “Twelve Tribes”).

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on September 11, 2013.

Last week, German authorities removed 40 children from the Twelve Tribes sect.

Police raided a Christian sect in southern Germany, taking 40 children into foster care on suspicion they were physically abused and seizing sticks allegedly used to hit them, authorities said Friday.

Members of the so-called “Twelve Tribes” sect acknowledged that they believe in spanking their children, but denied wrongdoing.

The Twelve Tribes sect, founded in Tennessee in the 1970s, boasts 2,000 to 3,000 members and has faced child abuse complaints and the removal of their children in the past. In Germany, they have run up against both the country’s ban on spanking and its ban on homeschooling. Last year, the Twelve Tribes community there, which resides in its own compound separated from the surrounding community, founded its own private school to get around the ban on homeschooling; within the last couple of weeks, that school was shut down when it was found that it did not employ the required certified teachers. Accusations of abuse cropped up at the same time, and last week Germany authorities removed the children.

Several days ago Jörg Großelümern, who runs Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit (Education Freedom Network) in Germany and is listed on HSLDA’s Germany page as one of two contacts for German homeschoolers, posted a link to the story on Michael Farris’s facebook wall along with some explanatory text. Michael Farris responded (for those who don’t know, Farris is the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association—HSLDA—and is probably the most prominent spokesperson for homeschooling in the United States). You can see the exchange as follows:

germany1

Later that day, one of Farris’s followers posted another link, voicing her dismay, and Farris again responded. You can see the exchange below:

germany2

Today, the full extent of the charges against the Twelve Tribes group have come to light. And guess what? They have it all on film. [Trigger warning for abuse.]

The little blonde-haired boy is about four years old. He simpers as a middle aged woman drags him downstairs into a dimly-lit cellar and orders the child to bend over and touch the stone floor with his hands. Another little boy watches as the woman pulls down the first boy’s pants and then draws out a willow cane.

“Say you are tired!” commands the woman in an emotionless voice. The swoosh of the willow cane is audible as it strikes the screaming child’s bottom three times. The little boy refuses to say he is tired so he is hit again and again – a total of ten times – until, in floods of tears, he finally says “I am tired.”

Within the space of a few hours, six adults are filmed in the cellar and in an underground school central heating room beating six children with a total of 83 strokes of the cane. The graphic and disturbing scenes were shown on Germany’s RTL television channel last night.

They were filmed by Wolfram Kuhnigk, an RTL journalist equipped with hidden video cameras and microphones, who infiltrated a 100-strong religious community run by the fundamentalist “Twelve Tribes” sect in Bavaria earlier this year. Kuhnigk claimed to be a lost soul to gain entry. “Seeing this systematic beatings made me want to weep, it made me think of my own two children,” he said. He collected 50 beating scenes on camera.

Samantha, a fellow homeschool graduate, posted the link to the article detailing the filmed abuse to Farris’s facebook wall, and again he replied. Here is the exchange:

germany3

Farris should have waited for the facts before speaking—and he really needs to find more reliable sources.

To be honest, one of my biggest concerns about Farris is that he seems to always give the parents the benefit of the doubt and to assume that abuse allegations are false (invented by vengeful authorities with corrupt motives, of course). Assuming that parents are innocent before even looking at the evidence means that abused children go unnoticed and ignored. (Not coincidentally, speaking before having the facts is how HSLDA attorney Scott Sommerville ended up calling child abuser Michael Gravelle a hero. Oops.)

The default should not be to assume that the parents are innocent and the charges drummed up by vengeful authorities and lying children. The default position should be to take immediate steps to protect the children and then remain cautious and wait for the facts to come in. Somehow I don’t find it surprising that Farris places the interests of the moment above its children.

#HSLDAMustAct: History and Related Media

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April 17, 2013

On April 17, Love Joy Feminism’s Libby Anne — a former homeschool student, former attendee of Patrick Henry College’s summer camp on Constitutional Law taught by Michael Farris, and now-parent of two children; also, one of HA’s blog partners — began a five-part series looking at the relationship between HSLDA and child abuse. Of particular concern to many people who have read this series is that HSLDA has slowly but surely moved from homeschool advocacy to — by their own admission — reform of child welfare laws, including opposing anonymous tips, mandatory reporting, and mainstream definitions of child abuse. The five parts to this series are: (1) HSLDA and Child Abuse: An Introduction; (2) HSLDA’s Fight against Child Abuse Reporting; (3) HSLDA’s Stonewalling of Child Abuse Investigations; (4) HSLDA’s Defense of Child Abuse; and (5) HSLDA and the Deregulation of Homeschooling. Part five of the series was published on April 24.

April 20, 2013

The blogger from the Eighth and Final Square, inspired by Libby Anne’s series on HSLDA and child abuse, writes a post about her own homeschooling experience. It is entitled, “we were taught to fear the people who could help.” The author says she, too, was “instilled with a fear of CPS.” As a survivor of abuse herself, she says, “I wonder what would have happened if HSLDA wasn’t around, and the kids had been allowed to talk to CPS workers alone.”

April 22, 2013

Homeschoolers Anonymous started crossposting Libby Anne’s series on HSLDA in conjunction with a week of personal stories that explored the relationships between homeschooling, HSLDA, and the CPS: fears of the CPS, failures of the CPS, and how the CPS could have actually helped those who suffered abuse in homeschooling.

April 23 – May 2, 2013

After finishing her series on HSLDA and child abuse, Libby Anne continues to focus on issues of homeschooling, abuse, and HSLDA. She creates a legislative alert about one of HSLDA’s legislative alerts, urging people to counteract HSLDA’s efforts to stop SB 32, a bill “designed as a way to monitor and protect the well-being of children who are known to be at risk for child abuse or neglect based on prior incidences.” She argues that it is “simply false to suggest that there is nothing about homeschooling that might be attractive to neglectful or abusive parents.” She cites a plethora of horrific stories to explore the idea that, while “most homeschool parents are dedicated, responsible and loving,” “when abusive parents homeschool, the consequences for their children can be absolutely disastrous.”

May 6, 2013

On May 6, Libby Anne writes a post entitled, “HSLDA: Man Who Kept Children in Cages ‘a Hero.'” In this post, she points out that Scott Somerville, an HSLDA attorney, called Michael Gravelle, a man charged with molesting his biological daughter, putting his adopted kids in cages, and later punching and shaking his own wife, a “hero.”

Later that day, someone posts Libby Anne’s article on HSLDA’s wall:

Picture 12 May 7, 2013

The very next day after someone posts Libby Anne’s article on Somerville’s hero comment on HSLDA’s Facebook page, HSLDA chooses to respond via a Facebook status:

Picture 13

The full text of their response is as follows:

It has come to our attention that HSLDA has recently been accused of condoning child abuse. HSLDA does not and will not ever condone nor defend child abuse. 

HSLDA receives hundreds of calls each year from parents who are under investigation by CPS, often based on false, anonymous, trivial, or malicious reports. The vast majority of these are determined by CPS or a court to be unfounded and are dismissed. Because of this, we do not immediately assume that everyone who is the subject of an investigation is guilty of child abuse or neglect. 

As a service to our members, we help homeschool families navigate the legal landscape in the early stages of an investigation before all the facts come to light. This could include helping families know their constitutional rights, helping them understand the legal process, or referring them to a local attorney. If the allegations include homeschooling, we generally will either assist their local attorney to defend homeschooling or represent the family on homeschool matters.

Of the three examples mentioned in a recent article, we did not represent two of the families and in the third we were involved on the question of homeschooling alone after the other issues were resolved by the court. 

We believe that every child deserves a healthy upbringing and that parents have the high honor and duty to meet that child’s needs. For 30 years we have been zealously advocating for the right of thousands of parents to responsibly homeschool their children. To the extent that any statements we may have made could be misunderstood to suggest that we condone the abusive actions of some we repudiate them wholeheartedly and unequivocally.

Libby Anne promptly responded to HSLDA’s response: “I’ve Had Enough: My Reply to HSLDA’s Response”.

Also in response to HSLDA’s response, R.L. Stollar, co-creator of Homeschoolers Anonymous, issued a challenge to HSLDA on their Facebook page: “HSLDA, will your leaders take a public and universal stand against child abuse and launch a public awareness campaign for your members on how to recognize and report child abuse in homeschooling?”

Stollar’s challenge to HSLDA was quickly mirrored by others. Heather Doney, one of HA’s blog partners, wrote, “Demanding an Answer from HSLDA,” where she says, “We deserve to know where the HSLDA stands. We deserve to know that they are thinking about this issue and that they are doing something about it. I, for one, am requesting an answer. Don’t make us wait too long, HSLDA.”

May 7 – 11, 2013

Homeschoolers Anonymous officially launches the #HSLDAMustAct campaign on May 8.

Rebecca Gorman, a former homeschooler, creates the official Change.org petition for the #HSLDAMustAct campaign.

A new website, Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, was launched by former homeschoolers to “to raise awareness of the horrific abuse and neglect that can take place when unfit caregivers use homeschooling as a cover for criminal child maltreatment.”

On May 9, HA announces the official petition in the post, “25 Reasons To Sign The #HSLDAMustAct Petition.”

Here is a full list of posts from bloggers covering the whole Libby Anne/HSLDA issue and the #HSLDAMustAct campaign since May 7:

Wide Open Ground: “Dear HSLDA and Homeschool Parents, What About My Friend Who Died?” and “HSLDA: Discourse Problem Between Fundamentalist and Outsiders”

Anthony B. Susan: “The HSLDA and Abuse: More Denial and Deflection”

Becoming Worldly: “S***t HSLDA’s Homeschool Parents Say”

Ramblings of Sheldon: “HSLDA: We Would Rather Stand Behind Abusers Than Their Victims”

The Home Spun Life: “Homeschoolers, Christians, HSLDA: We Must Do Better, Kids Are Being Abused”

No Longer Quivering: “Petition: HSLDA Address the Problem”

ThatMom: “HSLDA accused of turning blind eye to child abuse: you decide”

Kathryn Brighbill: “HSLDA and Child Abuse” and “Of Fundamental Rights, HSLDA, and Homeschooling”

Anonymous Wonderings: “On Homeschooling”

On May 10, the Christian Post took on the issue but framed it only as a Libby Anne vs. HSLDA issue: “Home School Legal Defense Association Accused of Protecting Child Abusers.” The Christian Post did not attempt to contact Libby Anne; they tried to contact HSLDA, but HSLDA did not respond. They also did not mention the petition.

May 12, 2013

As of Sunday, May 12, the #HSLDAMustAct petition has over 300 signatures from around the world. The signees are almost entirely from the homeschooling community itself. Former homeschool students, former and current members of HSLDA, and former and current homeschooling parents have all signed it. Signees are from everywhere from California to Louisiana to Pennsylvania, from the U.S. and Canada to Germany and Spain.

Also as of Sunday, May 12, HSLDA has still not responded to the #HSLDAMustAct campaign.

Conclusion

We will leave you with these thoughts from Lisa from The Home Spun Life:

“I have been a financial supporter of HSLDA for many years now and I am asking that they become more transparent with how they practice law, how they defend homeschooling, AND how they protect children in a homeschool that is abusive.

I know children are abused in a variety of types of homes. From poor to wealthy, from Christian to atheist, from public school to homeschools. Abuse happens. It’s tragic! We can’t only speak up about abuse when it happens in a public school. We have to speak up no matter where it happens. And we have to learn how NOT to respond to abuse allegations in the homeschool community.

Defending our freedom to choose our children’s education should never trump their freedom to live in a healthy and safe environment.

To the HSLDA,

As a supporter of yours, I am asking for you to clarify your mission to defend homeschool freedom. I am asking that you inform us and SHOW US how you are defending this freedom WHILE defending children in an abusive homeschool environment. HOW do you separate the defense to protect homeschool freedom WHILE NOT enabling abusive parents to further their abuse under your “protection”? HOW are YOU holding abusive parents accountable? HOW are YOU cooperating with local authorities to HELP victims?

We must do better. We must speak up.”

25 Reasons To Sign The #HSLDAMustAct Petition

25 Reasons To Sign The #HSLDAMustAct Petition

Please sign the #HSLDAMustAct petition on Change.org!

Yesterday we issued a challenge to HSLDA to commit to taking concrete steps to address child abuse in homeschooling. Specifically, we called for HSLDA, the public face of American homeschooling, to launch a public awareness campaign to fight abuse within our homeschooling communities.

We have an official petition hosted on Change.org. Please sign it and share it with your friends in person, through email, and via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

You might wonder, why should I sign this petition? To answer this question, we would like to share 25 reasons for doing so that were publicly posted on our petition’s page by signees. They come from all over, from California to as far as Germany. They are former homeschoolers, former employees and members of HSLDA, and homeschooling parents. These voices are growing by the day and they need to be heard.

So without further ado, here are 25 reasons to sign the #HSLDAMustAct petition:

*****

Sarah, UNIVERSITY CITY, MO:

This is important to me because I too was an extremely neglected and physically and emotionally abused homeschooled child.

Emily, APO, GERMANY:

As a former employee of HSLDA I am disheartened and sickened to hear of the child abuse cover ups and ignorning blatant neglect of children. This is deeply saddening to me.

Julie Anne, RICHLAND, WA:

Because it’s the right thing to do!

Jessica, BONNY DOON, CA:

I am a survivor of childhood abuse and worked in the field for years- My care goes deep, esp. when children are manipulated about the soul’s deep need to have a relationship with spirit, True Nature – God – by parents, ministers etc who use this need to abuse and distort children’s relationship with themselves, with God or no God.

Samuel, HUNTSVILLE, AL:

As a former homeschooler who did NOT deal with abuse firsthand, I DID witness how the “homeschool community” worked together to hide abuse that was occurring in families within its midst.

Ryan, SPRINGFIELD, OR:

Abuse happens everywhere, and this includes homeschooling families. HSLDA, the public face of homeschooling in the U.S., should make a public and principled stand against it.

Wesley, GRANADA HILLS, CA:

As a homeschooler who befriended children of two abusive homeschooling families, I know that these problems exist and must be addressed. Child abuse, both physical and (perhaps predominately) psychological, is a major problem in homeschooling circles and must be addressed. Parents who abuse their children do not deserve to be legally shielded from the state.

Matthew, COLORADO SPRINGS, CO:

I was a homeschooler, and I’m against child abuse!!!

Alessandra, ROANOKE, VA:

As someone who was homeschooled through highschool, and involved in HSLDA growing up, it’s important that whilst preserving the ability to homeschool, those involved in it not turn a blind eye to abuse and neglect. Fixing that problem needs to start from within the “homeschool movement.”

Mari, WATERTOWN, SD:

I was homeschooled which gave my parents numerous opportunities to abuse me. Homeschooling could be a great thing — but ONLY when it is done in a public manner and ONLY when parents are held accountable for their actions.

Sarah, OVERLAND, MO:

I am so torn about this. As someone who was homeschooled K-12 and homeschools my own children, I am a huge advocate for homeschooling rights and the ability to choose our own curriculum and such. But as a foster parent, I’ve seen abuse. I have friends who have suffered abuse. We cannot protect any abuser, and while I believe in “innocent until proven guilty”, we should not be allowing child abusers to continue homeschooling their kids when we would be fighting for removal of these kids for any other parent. I’ve seen abused kids going back to their abusers. I can’t imagine how it would feel if they were also allowed no escape from the abuser to even go to school. This is a very slippery slope as CPS is called for things like not vaccinating, but it does worry me when people don’t do basic doctor visits under the guise of “autonomy”. I know from experience that most cases of abuse are discovered at school and at dr visits. If we have nothing to hide, then we cannot be defending abusers.

Kierstyn, FREEPORT, ME:

As an ex-homeschooler raised in an abusive family who *are* still members of HSLDA, I’m tired of abusers being defended in court because “homeschooling” couldn’t possibly have anything wrong with it.

Chandra, FESTUS, MO:

It is morally repugnant and hypocritical that an organization that claims to defend parents right to educate their children (predominantly for religious purposes), will not address nor speak to the atrocities and abuses that occur because of the lack of oversight on parents who chose such an option. HSLDA, though in their statement has said, “We believe that every child deserves a healthy upbringing and that parents have the high honor and duty to meet that child’s needs;” will not define abuse, nor have they ever in their 30 year existence ever condoned or supported a piece of legislation that would provide protections for children and thereby recognizing that there are abusive (and even deadly) cases that have occured in the name of home schooling. In a country whose very freedom HSLDA touts, will not grant these same freedoms to the youngest and most vulnerable citizens of this great nation. It is time for a change. This is a human rights issue, and we will not be silent until we have seen such change take place.

Catherine, ALEXANDRIA, VA:

My parents abused me emotionally, physically, and spiritually for 18 years. Because I was homeschooled, they were able to do so constantly and could control every detail of my life. I’ve stayed silent for far too long, and there are many others who want to have a voice, but they are being silenced by their abusers–their parents. It’s time to shed some light on the dark side of homeschooling.

Hannah, MURRAY, NE:

As a former homeschooled student K-12 who was abused, I felt no protection and was told I should not report abuse to authorities, because my parents were told never to talk to CPS or the police by HSLDA. Now a mother, I realize the necessity of accountability for parents, including myself.

Kathryn, GAINESVILLE, FL:

As a homeschool graduate, I believe that it’s high time that HSLDA stop covering for abuse and neglect. It’s time for them to develop an abuse prevention program and to stop pretending this is not a problem.

Cheryl, ALEXANDRIA, VA:

I have spent the last 10 years of my adult life recovering from being given a tool box that does not fit in the world we live in. Scripture should never be used to oppress or to shield abusers. Stand up for the innocent, the children. It’s what Jesus calls us to.

Jai, CHARLOTTE, NC:

I was raised homeschooled. My parents were long time HSLDA members and all of us suffered severe spiritual abuse as well as mental abuse and the problems of the Quiverfull movement. I support this petition and ask that HSLDA school members in the definitions of abuse, child rights, and put forth a system for stopping it and reporting it when it occurs.

Shaney, AUSTIN, TX

As a former homeschooler, I’m appalled at HSLDA’s willingness to ignore, and even indirectly promote, child abuse. This needs to stop.

David, BEAVER FALLS, PA:

I was homeschooled and while I certainly did not live in fear of abuse, I also believe it’d be easy for negligent and abusive parents to go under the radar.

Scottie, TULSA, OK:

I have several friends and even family members who work with Child Protective Services. The information and advice HSLDA spreads in a nominal attempt to help homeschooling families defend their rights in reality only hurts their cause in the long run. Fighting CPS at every turn gives homeschoolers a bad name and makes it extremely difficult to investigate cases of actual abuse. HSLDA should be working WITH CPS and similar agencies to help root out ACTUAL cases of abuse whenever present, refuse to defend or speak well of parents who DO abuse their children, and recognize and communicate that some families SHOULD NOT homeschool their children, at least not without significan oversight and accountability.

Rachel, BLOOMINGTON, IN:

As a homeschooled child growing up, I bought the HSLDA line that Child Protective Services were out to take me and my siblings away from my parents because they were Christian homeschoolers. As a teen I read Michael Farris’s book, Anonymous Tip, which only cemented this fear. Teaching children that those who want to help them are actually out to hurt them is actually a tactic child abusers use to keep their victims under their control, and yet that is the message HSLDA gives to homeschooled children. For shame, HSLDA. For shame.

Naomi, FULTON, MO:

Even if 99% of homeschooling families were functional and happy, HSLDA must do something about the 1% where children are neglected and abused. To do otherwise is to be complicit with the crime and to send a message that HSLDA cares more about power than it does about children.

Scarlettah, LOS ANGELES, CA:

There are growing numbers of former homeschoolers telling of their abusive experiences enabled by the lack of internal and external awareness of and interest in keeping kids safe. There is a vacuum created when parental rights are preserved and elevated to the exclusion of children’s rights. Please work to protect these children, not just their parents.

Rebecca, LOS ALTOS, CA:

As a homeschooled student, I experienced and observed this problem first hand. My parents (and the rest of my homeschooling community) knew of at least one homeschooling family that had rather extreme abuse, but didn’t dare report it because of the message they received from HSLDA not to involve the government, lest it bring any additional oversight of homeschooling families. I believe that every child deserves to have their humanity respected and honored. HSLDA, stand up for children and stand up to abuse.

*****

Thank for your support thus far. Please continue to bring awareness to this crucial matter. Make your voice known on HSLDA’s Facebook page. Tweet HSLDA at @HSLDA with the tag #HSLDAMustAct.

Together, we can make homeschooling better.

Fighting Abuse Together: #HSLDAMustAct

Fighting Abuse Together: #HSLDAMustAct

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Please sign the #HSLDAMustAct petition on Change.org!

Homeschoolers Anonymous is made up of a diverse group of people. We don’t really have a “thing” that we all agree on other than this: we have seen or experienced harm within the conservative Christian homeschooling movement and we think those stories should be told. The truth should be known.

The people involved with HA are not homeschooling’s worst nightmare. Rather we are its internal whistleblowers. We are all intimately aware of the problems in homeschooling because we were there. We’re former homeschool kids, former homeschool parents, and even current homeschool parents.

We know how unpopular it is to say, “Hey, I have some problems with homeschooling,” but we care about raising awareness so people can address the issues, make things better, and begin to heal. The first step is recognizing that a problem exists.

The Homeschool Legal Defense Assocation (HSLDA) made a decision yesterday. That decision was to respond via Facebook status (screenshot is here) to criticism from a former homeschooler who has been researching the impact and goals of HSLDA advocacy. This former homeschooler, Libby Anne (a blog partner of HA), came to the conclusion that HSLDA has not handled the issue of child abuse within homeschooling environments appropriately. Instead of responding to allegations of child abuse responsibly, HSLDA passed off these abusers as wrongly “persecuted” Christian homeschoolers.

These allegations are serious. When talking about Michael Gravelle, a man charged with abusing his biological kids and then putting his adopted kids in cages, Scott Somerville — an HSLDA attorney — called him a “hero.” This fact was documented by the Akron Beacon Journal and the Journal article has been preserved.

As if this was not enough, before this abuse case with the cages, Michael Gravelle had sexually molested his biological daughter, who ran away from home at age 16, which she personally disclosed in an interview. After the abuse case, Michael Gravelle punched and violently shook his wife. He was charged with domestic violence. Then a warrant was issued for his arrest because he failed to show up to his court hearing. Then Michael and his wife (not surprisingly) filed for divorce.

A man who molests his own daughter, puts his adopted kids in cages and shoves their faces in toilets as punishment, and then beats his wife is a “hero” to an HSLDA attorney?

With heroes like this, who needs villains?

Somerville made a massive error in judgment in calling this man a hero. If HSLDA does not condone child abuse, they should 100% condemn what Somerville said, and as directly as possible. At the very least. However, HSLDA said, “Any statements we may have made could be misunderstood to suggest that we condone the abusive actions of some we repudiate them wholeheartedly and unequivocally.” This does not cut it.

Perhaps Scott Somerville misspoke or truly did not realize what he was dealing with, but HSLDA is now trying to pass Somerville’s mistake off as a statement that “could be misunderstood.” At the very least HSLDA should have said “Scott Somerville was wrong to call Michael Gravelle a hero” rather than saying that such a comment had instead been “misunderstood.” If HSLDA cares about the well-being of homeschooled children, they should issue  a statement saying what homeschoolers should do when they suspect abuse within the homeschooling community.

Here’s the thing with abuse, people: it’s disgusting, it’s sickening, and we need to stand up to it. Abuse happens everywhere. As homeschooling advocates are so eager to point out, abuse happens in public and private schools. Absolutely! It happens in Christian homes and non-Christian homes, nuclear families and nontraditional ones. It happens in homes of every religion and race and — for all I know — hobby type. We help no one when we just point our fingers at the “others” and not take a good, hard look at ourselves in the mirror.

Abuse happens everywhere. Which means it happens in homeschooling families. It is time to stop whitewashing this fact. It is time that we in the homeschooling community join together and fight abuse in our own communities.

This is why I issued a challenge to HSLDA yesterday on their Facebook page:

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Text reads, “HSLDA, will your leaders take a public and universal stand against child abuse and launch a public awareness campaign for your members on how to recognize and report child abuse in homeschooling?”

My call for HSLDA to launch a public awareness campaign against child abuse in homeschooling was quickly mirrored by others:

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It has now been over 12 hours since a number of us former homeschoolers have issued this challenge to HSLDA. HSLDA has not responded and made no effort to unilaterally condemn Somerville’s calling a child abuser a “hero” or commit to taking concrete steps to address child abuse in homeschooling.

But.

But HSLDA did have time to post this instead:

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It is time to stand together — within and without the homeschooling community — and demand that HSLDA, the public face of American homeschooling, launches a public awareness campaign to fight abuse within our communities. Make your voice known on HSLDA’s Facebook page. Tweet HSLDA at @HSLDA with the tag #HSLDAMustAct.

Whatever you believe about homeschooling, whether you are pro-regulation or anti-regulation, this is your moment. If you believe in self-policing, this is your time to prove it. If you believe in activism and making homeschooling better for the next generation, here is your spotlight.

We are going live with #HSLDAMustAct.

Together, we can make homeschooling better.