Wanting to Date, Being Told to Wait: Adah’s Story, Part Three

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Pearl” is a pseudonym. Other names have been changed to obscure identities.

Content Warning: Descriptions of emotional, physical, sexual, and religious abuse.

Part Two

Part Three: Me and My Dearling

I am one of the fortunate females in the fundamentalist/patriarchal culture to have attended college, albeit under my parents’ watchful eye.

In school I had caught the attention of one of my classmates who refused to leave me alone. Despite giving him the cold shoulder, Dearling decided to be my friend, no matter what it took. He was irresistible, and in a good way. He understood me and my background, and he had the most enduring patience I have ever encountered. I didn’t want to have a romantic relationship with him though. I was deathly afraid of what my parents would do this time. I had met the man of my dreams, but I was paralyzed.

Slowly but surely, Dearling melted my heart from the inside out. I tried to break up with him preemptively multiple times, but we couldn’t stay away from each other. I told my parents he was just a friend. They made it clear that he better remain that way. When they realized that we were more than friends they tried to break us up. They put impossible rules on us that even by courtship standards would be seen as ridiculous. I was their daughter, and they were not about to let me be wooed by my Dearling.

We tried to keep the rules to show a spirit of cooperation. Instead, seeing that the rules were failing to make us hate each other, my parents made them worse. So we got engaged. But we kept it a secret because I was still afraid, living under my parents’ constant scrutiny. I lost weight and became borderline anorexic. I lied to be with my Dearling but I was dying inside.

I had to choose between my parents and my Dearling.

I thought choosing my parents was they only way to obey God. I had been guilted into obeying my parents by a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible so many times that I didn’t know I had true choices as an autonomous adult. I was at a breaking point. I tried to give the ring back, by my Dearling’s love for me overcame my fear. We told my parents. They played nice for a while, but then things started getting much, much worse. After a few more months of hell—verbal, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse, I moved out. Not with my Dearling, because that would be wrong, according to what I believed at the time.

Finally, we could date and love each other they way we had been longing to for months. And then we eloped.

My Dearling and I have been married for a while now. I don’t talk to my family anymore. I can’t do it without extreme anxiety and panic attacks. We tried to reconcile with my parents but they never could see what they did wrong. They just tried to manipulate us more and more. So we had to close the door.

Maybe one day they’ll see that they didn’t fail in raising their children just because they rejected their version of “right.” Maybe they’ll learn, like I have, that consent is important, that individuals have autonomy and are not owned by anyone else, that love is a choice and cannot be stopped or force, that feminism and birth control are not inherent evils, that it’s okay to ascribe to different brands of religion, and that at the bottom of good relationships is one thing: respect. My Dearling and I respect each other and we are happy. We dated, wouldn’t be forced into courtship, and we are okay.

In fact, we are more than okay, we are ecstatically happy.

End of series.

Wanting to Date, Being Told to Wait: Adah’s Story, Part Two

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Pearl” is a pseudonym. Other names have been changed to obscure identities.

Content Warning: Descriptions of emotional, physical, sexual, and religious abuse.

Part One

Part Two: Failures—Mark, Elisha, and Brent

I met a guy in NCFCA. Let’s call him Mark.

He was a bit older than I was and his family was in ATI too. He was cute, but the best part for me was that he was “sooo godly.” We chatted online a lot, and I developed a crush on him. In other words, I didn’t “guard my heart” like I was supposed to. I went on a Journey to the Heart (IBLP speak for going to the woods and learning how depraved you are and what you need to do to be acceptable before God for ten straight days). I convinced myself that this crush was wrong and I need to stop talking to Mark. I took a “vow” of single service for a year, until I was 18. Then I would be “old enough” to get married and it would be okay to have feelings for a guy.

Of course, Mark, who still had a crush on me, didn’t take this very well and we still ended up talking a lot. He wanted to come to visit and meet my family. They told him no. He was going to ask to court me.

Eventually I got over him, but not before he called my dad and apologized for “stealing my heart.” That just proved to me how perfect he was. Now I realize if I had married him I would probably have several children by now and would still be part of everything that I now eschew.

I guess I have my parents to thank for that.

A couple years passed. I had a few crushes but nothing substantive, and I had yet to hold a guy’s hand. Then I met Elisha. I dated him for six months behind my parents’ backs. As soon as they found out, they forced us to break up. I was heartbroken, so we kept in contact…a little here, a little there. In reality, even though he said he loved me, he just wanted to see what he could get out of me. He preyed off my innocence.

A few months after the forced break-up, I went back to him, and he raped me.

He raped me, and I didn’t know it was rape because he used his finger. I bled for days and I didn’t know it was a crime. He told me never to come back because I’d refused what he wanted. I didn’t realize that I shouldn’t feel guilty. I thought it was all my fault, so I suffered the trauma in silence.

A few months later I found out Elisha was a pimp. He was a pimp who abused and manipulated me, and I had no idea. I thought it was all my fault. I felt guilty for something that would never have happened if I’d been taught to recognize abuse instead of living in it. I felt guilty when I should have been feeling free for finally being away from him. I was drowning in despair because I thought I was worthless to any other man because of what I’d done with Elisha, even though I had never consented to any of it.

But I wasn’t taught consent, so I didn’t know any better.

After Elisha I met Brent. Ours was a long-distance relationship and my parents controlled every second. They wanted to know about every text and phone call so that things wouldn’t “move too fast.” But then when I wanted to go visit him, they insisted on meeting him too. Instead they scared him off by their intensity and he broke up with me in an email. My parents had interfered with my past three relationships.

Surely once I turned 21 they would let me be an adult and make my own decisions.

Part Three >

Wanting to Date, Being Told to Wait: Adah’s Story, Part One

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Pearl” is a pseudonym. Other names have been changed to obscure identities.

Content Warning: Descriptions of emotional, physical, sexual, and religious abuse.

Part One: Background

I am the youngest daughter of a homeschooling family.

Somewhere around my tenth birthday, my parents joined ATI. Up until that point, we were a pretty typical evangelical family. However, in the last few years, my parents had seen their older children rebel and walk away, and they didn’t want that to happen to the younger ones. They wanted guaranteed success stories, and they fell hook, line and sinker for the polished picture of bright-eyed obedient children becoming perfect adults. What my parents didn’t realize was that none of us would ever turn out like they wanted. Their dream family has fallen apart.

I’m not blaming them for how things turned out, but at the same time, they do bear responsibility for what happened under their roof.

I had a special relationship with one of my brothers. We were pretty young, so everything that happened was pretty innocent. I loved my brother and wanted to marry him and do what married people do. I found comfort hugging him for long periods of time. I liked to hid in the pantry or the attic and fondle his private parts. One day my mom found us hugging in the laundry room and, after much prying, convinced us to tell her everything we had done together. She put all the responsibility on my brother and wouldn’t let us near each other. She made me feel ashamed of what I had done and afraid of my brother. Not once in all this time did I realize that it was impossible for either of us to feel any sort of sexual pleasure because we were both prepubescent.

I simply wanted love and was desperate to feel close to someone.

My mom stayed at home and homeschooled us, but much of the time we were left by ourselves. My dad was a workaholic, and my mom, still undiagnosed, suffers from major depressive disorder and is possibly bipolar. She was emotionally manipulative, and would proclaim her love, feign sadness, or even disappear for hours or days in order to get what she wanted. In our house, it was always about making mom happy.

Another one of my brothers would act out so severely that even as a teenager my dad would whip him with a belt. I don’t know how severe it was because I usually managed to avoid whippings, although the wooden spoon still got used with frequency until I was thirteen. So, my brother, who was constantly angry, would often be left in charge whenever my mom went out. Then the brother I loved and I would be the subject of his abuse. My brother and I still have scars from what he did to us. We never said exactly what happened to us when my parents were gone, but we did tell them that we didn’t want him in charge because we were afraid of him.

I always wonder why they never pursued finding out what he had done, but I suppose it’s just their way.

And so, my abusive upbringing continued. I got a purity ring when I was sixteen, but never received sex education. I read all the “right” books: I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Passion and Purity, The Bride Wore White, Before You Meet Prince Charming, Captivating, etc. I was told to “stay pure,” whatever the hell that meant.

I would soon find out.

Part Two >

A Little Girl’s Screams for Help: LJ Lamb’s Story


Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “LJ Lamb” is the pseudonym chosen by the author.

Content warning: descriptions of physical and sexual sibling abuse.

Mum had these weird beliefs about Christianity. She believed that when you became a Christian you gave up your human rights. I’m going to let you think about that. Stop, re-read that, and let it sink in. My mother believes that no Christian has any human rights. None, zero, zilch, nuda. Feel free to grab your spew bag now.

One of my older brothers had a particular thing for beating, bullying, destroying, and even killing anything and everything he could get his hands on. Everyone younger than him was petrified of him. It only got worse as he got older.

I remember telling one of my younger brothers off – I think for making a mess in the kitchen and not wanting to clean it up. My older brother, hearing the argument between my younger brother and I, suddenly entered the room. He cracked his belt and threatened to whip my younger brother because our fight had disturbed his afternoon nap.

I pleaded with him to let me deal with it and not hurt our younger brother.

Another time he took some things that belonged to me. I ascertained to the family members there that taking something from someone without permission was stealing. Mum agreed, until she heard that it was her little ‘angel’ who did it. Allegedly she prayed about it, and God told her that I needed to learn to give up my rights.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, when he worked out how to get into my bedroom and my bed so that I couldn’t kick him out without making a fuss to mother (who would of course side with him all my experience told me) despite me feeling desperately frightened and dirty. I was certain I must be displeasing God, but believed with all my heart that if I went to mum she would punish me and turn me over to the wolf.

So I didn’t scream.

I didn’t fight.

I did the best I could. I tried to amuse him every other way under the sun. I knew he wanted sex. I was so frightened of him. What he would do to me if I as much made a peep. I kept putting my clothes back on. When at the end of the day mum finally came to put me to bed that night and found him in bed with me, his instant reaction was to blame me.

It was my idea. My fault.

By this stage I had already started blocking memories, so I couldn’t even remember what happened earlier that day. I was too frightened to speak. But I felt so dirty. I have no idea what he told my parents later, as I begged out. I pleaded to be smacked instead. After all, we were taught that beating makes atonement for wrong. Beatings were the only way to be worthy of God’s forgiveness. I intended to later get a belt and whip myself or get my younger sister to do it as a favour to me. It still makes me sick to think of it.

I knew what happened that day wasn’t right. I just didn’t realise for years that I had been conditioned to it and groomed for abuse. I didn’t realize it wasn’t my fault. God wasn’t choosing not to forgive me because I was too evil. He didn’t see me as having sinned in the first place. He saw me as the hurt, not the hurter. And He loves the scarred and hurt girls as much as the ones who weren’t abused.

Several weeks after that, the family was at the beach (minus dad). My brother tried to murder me by drowning me when no-one was looking. I couldn’t understand his behaviour and asked him why he was doing this to me. I will never forget the dark look in his eyes when he told me he was going to kill me, because he hated me.

I desperately tried to swim away, but I was quite young still, and couldn’t swim very well. In moments he was on top of me again, holding me under, willing me to drown.

I wasn’t sure why he let go.

Maybe I struggled too much at first. Maybe the waves knocked him about, because it was choppy. But I remember looking up at one stage realising the shore was too far away, and there was no way I could get back in because I was losing my strength to fight. And when I went back I can still hear that little girl’s desperate screams for help, realising she was about to drown at the hands of her own brother, and no-one would know why.

Then there was the terrible moment when I realised that nobody heard, because the wind dragged my voice away.

We were too far from the shore. Nobody saw us, and in my heart I knew that nobody was coming to my rescue.

My brother again grabbed me and held me under (over 8 times now), but this time something happened. Mum suddenly saw what happened, and called for him to come to her. (I didn’t see this of course, I heard about it afterward.) All I knew was that he let go of me, as a waves went over me, and I popped up into glorious air. And he was somewhere else, out of reach of me, and mum was calling him. He was in big trouble. I was much closer to shore than I was before he pushed me under the last time and I was able to catch a wave in.

He ended up being barely punished for the incident, because mother felt sorry for him. I should have told her what happened, but I didn’t. She wouldn’t have believed me over him. She never did.

It was only recently I was able to go back and unpack that memory in counselling. One thing it confirmed for me was that God did hear that little girl’s screams for help, and He didn’t abandon me in my darkest moment. As petrifying as it was to go back, I was comforted by that. Because God still loved me and was looking out for me, even then.

To this day I know the only reason I am still alive is because God spared my life that day.

I Still Blame Myself: Shyla’s Story


Content warning: descriptions of sibling physical abuse, sibling sexual abuse, and corporal punishment.

My 2 brothers and 4 sisters and I were homeschooled from k thru 12.

I have a brother that is a year and a half older than me. We were not exactly close growing up and have very little contact now, even though he has apologized profusely. My parents believed firmly in spanking, they spanked each one of us until we left home. I was 20 when I finally got married and moved out . The spankings were always done in the living room with the whole family watching, which could be very embarrassing.

Out of the seven kids I was probably the worst at taking the spankings to be honest.

I have always had a very low threshold for pain. My brother who I mentioned earlier (I will call Andrew) noticed this. One day when I was 8 and he was around 10 he overheard me and a friend talking and using foul language. He waited until my friend went home and he told me he was going to tell our parents that I was using foul language. I begged him not to tell.

He said that he wouldn’t tell if he would be the one to spank me.

I was very scared of my parents and allowed him to do it. We lived in a rural area and went out to the large area of trees past our backyard. He found a tree stump and sat down and told me he was going to do this like mom and dad did. He made me take my pants down and bend over his lap. He spanked me with his hand.

It hurt and was embarrassing, but not nearly as painful as mom and dad doing it.

Little did I know that this would go on for 7 more years. Typically once or twice a month he would catch me in a “sin” and we would have a secret session in the woods again. Some of these sessions became more brutal as I matured.

He frequently started using a switch along with his hand.

When I was almost 16 I got tired of being hit by him and started telling him I didn’t care if he told Mom and Dad anymore. I threatened to tell on him and he became very nice all of a sudden. I did end up confiding in my grandmother and she told my parents even though she told me she wouldn’t.

My brother was in a lot of trouble and got a severe beating. But I got also got in trouble for letting my brother see me with my pants down.

I was shamed quite a lot and spanked as well.

My brother has tried over the years to apologize and make amends. My parents are also trying to heal the rift between us. I feel he took advantage of me and derived some type of sick pleasure from spanking me. He used my fear to coerce me into some very humiliating situations.

I still blame myself for not being strong enough to stand up to him.

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: Aza Vidinhar

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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.


Aza Vidinhar

In May 2013, 15-year-old Aza Vidinhar from West Point, Utah was babysitting 2 of his younger brothers, aged 4 and 10. When Aza’s mother returned home, she found the younger brothers dead, stabbed to death by Aza.

In May 2013, 15-year-old Aza Vidinhar from West Point, Utah stabbed 2 of his younger brothers to death while babysitting them.
In May 2013, 15-year-old Aza Vidinhar from West Point, Utah stabbed 2 of his younger brothers to death while babysitting them.

The Vidinhar family had 6 children, 4 of whom were adopted. Aza’s father was an engineer for the Air Force. They lived in “a wonderful neighborhood” where “kids are usually outside playing.” Aza was enrolled as a 9th grader at West Point Junior High as a member of the track team; in the school he was an honor student. However, his mother homeschooled him for other subjects. Aza was a quiet kid who had a speech impediment, was “socially awkward,” and kept to himself. Neighbors described him as “different” and said he was once found “throwing dozens of rocks over a fence.” While he was quiet and awkward, neither he nor any family members had a history of mental illness. Two years prior in 2011, Aza was in the news for running away from home.

On the day of the attack, Aza’s mother left him home alone with two younger siblings, Alex (10) and Benjie (4), while she took his other siblings to a dance recital. (Their father was away in another state.) Upon returning home, she found the dead bodies of 1 of the children. (Police later found the second body.) Aza was nowhere to be seen. He was later found (either by his adopted brothers or the police; reports differ) wandering miles away from home with traces of blood on his clothes.

Officials hesitated at first to charge Aza, though they arrested him and placed him in the Farmington Bay Youth Detention Center. As of August 2013, officials were determining whether Aza was fit to stand trial. In November 2013 he was charged with two counts of felony murder. On July 18, 2014, Aza pleaded guilty “in both juvenile and adult court to intentionally and knowingly stabbing his two younger brothers to death.”

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.

Nightmare in Navy and White — Experiencing the Dark Side of ATI: Selena’s Story, Part One

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Nightmare in Navy and White — Experiencing the Dark Side of ATI: Selena’s Story

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Selena” is a pseudonym.


Trigger warnings: graphic descriptions of sexual abuse and sibling abuse.


Part One: A Childhood Destroyed

It was the early 1990’s. My family was fairly happy, and attended a church full of vibrant, hopeful people excited about Christ. Everything felt so alive. Even as a child, I never felt like church was drudgery, and every service was full of excitement with a very down-to-earth approach to Christianity that made everyone feel right at home. When I remember those days it is shocking to see how much has changed. How did we get this far? Where did it start?

It’s difficult to answer that fully. I was so young, I only remember the little things. I remember my mother and father having meetings with other members of the church. Quiet meetings – sad meetings. I remember my mother crying. As I was told years later, they were having trouble in their marriage and looking for any answers to keep this family together. My mother was hospitalized after having a breakdown, and for a time, we were sheltered at my grandmother’s house, kept safely unaware of the strange trouble that had befallen our home – circumstances nobody has really spoken of since. I remember someone telling my parents about a ‘seminar’ that seemed to give them hope. I remember the desperation in my mother’s eyes.

I remember when my parents came home with arms full of books and papers – and then, what seems like a short time later, they announced that we were going to start homeschooling.

The transition was difficult. My siblings and I were yanked out of school without any real explanation, and told never to speak of it to anyone, not even other family members. Our house immediately turned into a prison. Suddenly we were watched more and more closely if we played outside. It felt like the whole world collapsed into just the square of our yard, and everything outside of that suddenly became terrifying. It all happened so fast, but felt like a train wreck in slow motion. And it was just the beginning.

I don’t remember when my father took a turn for the worst, exactly; it was a progression more than a singular event.

When we were little, he had a remarkable temper – in an instant he could go from calm to screaming. He’d threaten to beat us, to leave us outside, to kill us; over time, though, the threats and behavior got stranger and stranger, more and more disturbing. Specifics on how exactly he’d kill us and make it look like a hunting accident; strange punishments, like being told to pick up a piece of wood swarming with fire ants and carry it around; working beside him and being left without relief or hydration in temperatures over 100 degrees. Throughout all of this, the teachings of Bill Gothard were being fed to us non-stop. We jumped in headfirst, and my father was quite happy to take the role of Umbrella over us – the hammer that pounded us into submission and into a “diamond” for Christ.

Around those early days, my father began sexually abusing me. He had hand-picked a few verses from the Bible that he felt gave him the permission to do so. He’d had a revelation from God, that it was his right, perhaps even his duty. Several nights a week, he would take what he thought was his. I learned how to keep my eyes open at bedtime, and started throwing fits (even if it meant being called ‘rebellious’) until a light was left on in the hallway – his shadow appearing in my doorway would stir me from sleep and give me enough time to try and turn over. I started staying awake at night, for hours on end. Sometimes I even put things haplessly in front of my door to make it more difficult for him to enter, trying to make it look like an accident or just a messy room.

Most days I had precious little sleep.

And if it wasn’t terrifying enough that my father was doing this – it was worse to think of an angry God who would send misfortune, curses, danger, even demons from Hell to torture me if I dared step out from under my father’s tyranny. I was told that this was what God, omnipresent, infinitely powerful, wanted.

How could I ever dream of escaping that?

My mother worried about her daughters. She was, perhaps, nearly as much of a victim as we were. She knew she was expected to submit to his will, and they, too, had left behind most of their friends. In retrospect, I believe she put on a brave face and tried to help us when she could – until she, too, became brainwashed into believing she was inferior, that she must answer to my father and to Bill Gothard’s angry God. I don’t believe she knew about the sexual abuse; if she did, she certainly never spoke of it. And, truth be told, I don’t think she would have stopped it if she knew – at the time, she was as much under my father’s iron fist as we were. She became quiet, sad, afraid – and then, she painted on a big vacant smile, and forced a cheery laugh.

We were expected to be cheerful, after all. Enthusiastic!

By the time I was about 11 years old, I had developed the best system I could think of to try and gain some semblence of safety from my father. I would come up with an issue, any issue at all, just before bedtime (after all, we were taught never to let the sun go down on your anger – always resolve all issues before bedtime!), and try to drag it on into the night. I’d make it as dramatic and urgent as I could; I needed prayer and I needed it now! I was bitter and really really had to confess something! Hey, maybe we can pray a hedge around the house! As long as it kept my father awake well past his bedtime, to the point of all but cursing at me – it sometimes meant one more night safe from his sexual advances.

Still the guilt burned inside me that I was going against God’s will by trying to keep my father at bay.

I was torn between guilty shame, and desperation. Some nights desperation won out, and my act would resume; I would sleep safely, but worn down by my guilt. Other nights I would accept my fate, even going to bed early in the hopes it would be over with soon. Unfortunately, he got downright vengeful about trying to break me down in response, often calling family meetings or trying to humiliate me in front of everyone. I was too afraid to tell anyone what was going on and he certainly didn’t mention it, so the only thing they got out of it was that I was the trouble child who had a real problem with the almighty patriarch of our family.

It was a daily war between myself and my father, and he usually won out.

I was the youngest in our household. Under Gothard’s strict sense of hierarchy, and because of my efforts to stave off some abuse and their interpretation as ‘rebellious’, my family readily interpreted these teachings to mean that I was the very bottom of the totem pole. As such, when I was about 7 or 8, my two older sisters began to abuse me as well. The middle sibling was hesitant, sometimes going along in fear with the oldest, and other times secretly trying to protect me. Quite in fact, she taught me how to open my eyes just a little bit so that it looked like they were closed but I could keep an eye out. She taught me places to hide, what to say, what to do. She tried to stop me from fighting it so hard, feeling that it was better to play along than to create problems and receive more abuse. She would often shush me or try to rein me in. She made fun of me when others were around, but in secret, she was my best friend and ally.

Caught literally in the middle, she took it all quietly and kept it all inside.

The oldest of us tried to stay out of the house a lot, but when she was home, she did a lot of her own abusing. I think her way of coping was to feel powerful by abusing those she saw as being beneath her, while claiming to be their best friend to keep them close. Using her rank as the oldest, she would order us to humiliate ourselves, perform sexual acts, or tell her embarrassing details of our lives, or divulge inappropriate details of her own sex life and make us swear to secrecy, all the while laughing and pretending it was all a joke or a game or just normal girl talk. She babysat frequently and turned the same pattern of abuse outward onto those children as well.

She liked to get others to gang up with her on her abuse – so when the middle sibling didn’t want to go along, she pressured me into going with her to babysit.

I was far too uncomfortable to join in on teasing and bullying the kids while pretending to be a nice person…it gave me a sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach. I usually stuck to the corner of any given room and quietly whined that I just wanted to go home.

Since all three of us slept in the upstairs portion of the house (a portion often neglected by our parents), most of this went on up there where they were blissfully unaware. I believe Gothard’s teachings of authority gave my oldest sister the feeling that she, too, had the right and perhaps even the duty to treat us in this way.

Every year, our family attended Knoxville conferences religiously. We would make it into a family trip, veering off into Colorado for a while (our other favorite vacation spot) or just sightseeing along the way. Each time we returned home, for a while we were high on Gothard’s teachings and on our best behavior. The abuse would sometimes stop for a while, but other times seemed to be worse. Knoxville was something I simultaneously dreaded and anticipated.

The Knoxville conference in either 1998 or 1999 really changed everything for us. During the side-seminar reserved for fathers, Bill Gothard revealed what I can only guess was some kind of new teaching about the dangers of demonic attacks. (I don’t really know much – my father was very secretive about any material reserved for men-only or fathers-only.) A checklist was handed out to each father. If your child exhibited a certain number of traits, the fathers were told, it was safe to say they were being targeted by Satan. There were specific steps to take, of course, to rid your home of these demonic influences – most notably, burning possessions.

That night, my father was wearing a big grin on his face.

He reached for his binder and pulled out the checklist. He described the teaching in brief, went through each item on the checklist, and then sat back looking at me over his glasses as if to say, “What now?” I was floored. I started to cry. Well on my way to being brainwashed, I wasn’t even sure what scared me worse: That demonic influences had taken over my soul, or that my father made a vague promise to bring ‘big changes’ into our house after we returned home. What was he going to do?

As soon as we returned home, my parents went to work. They started burning dozens and dozens of things in our home. About half my possessions were taken and burned, my sisters’ left virtually untouched; I was forced to watch the few shreds of joy I had go up in flames. Even a couple of my favorite shirts – just polos I liked – were burned away. I was prayed over. There were exorcisms with the help of the leader of the local fathers’ meeting and some local church and ATI members – hands laid on me, men shouting, my mother weeping for my soul. I shook in terror. My whole world was collapsing around me.

I felt something from those hands pressed on me, but it wasn’t love. It was hate and fear and punishment.

Weeks stretched into months that passed in a blur of numbness. It was October 1999. Y2K was looming, and my father had sunk into paranoia, vowing to prepare us for the worst. We were almost completely stocked with foodstuffs, guns, supplies. I stopped my attempts at safety; it was reduced to the occasional weeping reluctance to go to bed, and nothing more. I had been broken. The night of October 4th was one of the few nights I put up a fight. Dad had picked me up from basketball practice and driven me home, and when bedtime came, I sat at the top of the stairs saying I wouldn’t sleep. He looked up at me in disgust from the bottom of the steps, shook his head, sighed and went to bed.

I wasn’t even worth it anymore. Finally, I went to sleep in relative peace.

I woke to the sound of my mother calling tearfully up to me and my sister. She frantically told us to come downstairs, “your Dad’s not breathing!” She said she was afraid he might be having a heart attack, and she’d called the paramedics. She tried to assure us, and gathered us into a circle where we clasped hands and prayed. I looked up into her eyes, screwed shut and full of tears, and somehow I knew we would never be the same again. I knew Dad was never going to wake up. He was gone.

At the hospital, the news finally came. They couldn’t revive him, and he had passed away. My mother and sister wept. I sat there in stunned silence. Was it really over? That night we returned home, and for the first time, I broke down completely. Years of emotions and trauma came rushing to me at once, and I spent the entire night crying and violently sick.

After that, things were very different.

What little activities we did outside the house were clamped down. My mother received direct help from a few members of the ATI board of directors at Bill Gothard’s direction. I still don’t understand how it happened – she just received a phone call one day and that’s how it began. My best guess is that it had something to do with Bill Gothard’s teachings about caring for the “fatherless” and “widows”. The idea that a family would be without their powerful patriarch was almost taboo – we were more open to sin and Satan’s attacks, they said. The tone people took was one of pity, but often condescending.

It felt like we had become second-class members of ATI.

Part Two >

Sibling v. Sibling — Giving the Child the Rod: Libby Anne’s Story

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on March 8, 2012.


Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.


I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point early on my mom handed me the rod. She told me I was to spank my younger siblings if they misbehaved or broke any rules and she was not in the room. The rule was that I could spank any sibling at least five years younger than me. This meant that at ten I could spank my five-year-old sibling, and all those younger than him.

This breaks my heart because now, years and years later, my younger siblings tell me they saw me as a bully, that they resented me, that I “lorded it over them.”

I may have been all that, and I definitely was far from perfect. Perhaps having this sort of power over them brought out the worst in me. But I was ten, twelve, or fourteen, and at the core I did what I did because my parents handed me the rod and told me to do so.

As to why my parents did this, the answer is not that difficult. With so very many children, my parents could not watch and discipline each of us individually. So they did what all Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy parents do: they outsourced.

They outsourced their discipline method to me, and that method was the Pearls.

I was told that loving parents – or, er, siblings – discipline their children, and that the only way to make a child into a happy, healthy adult is to spank him. I was taught that children must have their wills broken and must be forced to submit. I did not generally spank my siblings out of malice (though I’ll admit to my shame that I sometimes did). I spanked them because I had been told to and did not know any better. I did not realize that as I spanked I was building a wall of resentment between me and my younger siblings.

I wish for all the world that I had been allowed to be a normal sister to my younger siblings. Instead I was put up as a second mother, an authority figure, a clone of my parents and their methods. I spent an enormous amount of time watching my younger siblings, both when my mother was in the house but occupied elsewhere and when my parents were away. I was expected to act as parent, not as sister, to my siblings.


Sixteen-month-old Faith reaches for a glass bowl on the coffee table.

Faith, no, don’t touch that.

Faith touches the glass bowl. *pop* I slap her hand. She looks startled.

I said no.

Faith reaches for the glass bowl again. *pop*


Her little hand reaches out once again, her lower lip trembling. *pop*


Faith whimpers and looks like she’s going to cry, and I sigh. I gather her in my arms.

Faith, it’s okay, but I said no, and that means no.

She looks up at the glass bowl with pain and confusion in her face.


This scene repeated over and over and over again.

I learned to never give in to a child’s crying, and that even a baby could rebel. I learned to house proof the baby rather than baby proofing the house. As for slightly older kids, I frequently spanked four, five, or six-year-old siblings for “disobedience” or “insolence.” Obedience was expected to be immediate, completely, and without complaint. Even talking back was to be punished, often with spanking.


Judah, I told you to take this trash bag out.

I don’t want to!

I don’t care. You have to take it out or get a spank and take it out.

But I did it last time!

Alright, that’s it, you’re getting a spanking.


Why was I made to be an authority figure to my siblings instead of a sister?

My heart breaks because I inflicted pain on them. It hurts worse that I never questioned these things, never asked why, never said no. But what did I, at ten, twelve, or fourteen, know? What did I understand? I had never seen anything different from what my parents taught and modeled at home. My parents handed me the rod and told me to spank. And I regret it with all my heart. And now, all I can say is I am so so sorry.

I am today working on repairing my relationships with my siblings, relationships I unwittingly and unintentionally sabotaged all those years ago.

As for the future, I will never, ever put my children in this kind of situation.