Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
The LA Times reported that the Senate Health Education Labor and Pension committee will have a hearing on child abuse brought on by the horrific sexual abuse scandal at Penn State:
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension subcommittee on children and families, called the Dec. 13 Capitol Hill hearing, saying that she and others in Congress have been “troubled and distraught about the child sexual abuse allegations” coming out of Penn State. A list of witnesses was being prepared.
There has yet to be a post on the Senate HELP committee website but it will likely come soon.
Although this hearing was spurred by the egregious crimes at Penn State, it is an opportunity to push for a hearing on H.R. 911 which has been introduced anew as H.R. 3126 by Rep. George Miller. H.R. 3126, The Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act, (READ full text here) would make strides toward regulating not only teen boot camps or juvenile facilities but abusive Christian boarding schools.
H.R. 3126 was introduced on 10/6/2011. It was subsequently referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Calls to push for a committee hearing can be made here. So far, there is no hearing scheduled. The companion bill in the Senate is S. 1667 (READ full text here) sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin. Harkin, as fate would have it, is the Chair of the Senate HELP Committee (contact info for HELP at bottom of page).
I wrote extensively about this last year, started a petition to get HR 911 a hearing and hand delivered letters and the petition to several legislators. I was contacted by numerous survivors of these abusive Christian homes who were good enough to share their stories with me. Cat Givens and Teresa Frye were the first survivors to share their stories with me in my post History of Violence:
Cathy “Cat” Givens, another New Bethany survivor, shares her experience in an email to me. Cat was at New Bethany from March through December of 1974 during which time she experienced and witnessed her share of abuse. She had her mouth stuffed with soap, accused of lying by Brother Mack Ford, to the point of vomiting. Sick to her stomach, she was then forced to eat dinner – she did so for fear of what may happen if she didn’t. Cathy, her gut and mouth still full of soap couldn’t help but throw up her meal. For this offense, she was switched on the calves as punishment. This is just one of several humiliations Ms. Givens endured and observed during her time at the home.
Teresa Frye, now a 42-year-old mother of four is a survivor of the New Bethany Home in Arcadia, Louisiana. ”It took me 20 years to start talking [about New Bethany] and when I found the message board, I realized what I had been remembering was real.”
The survivor websites – Teresa’s “message board” – are posted to regularly by former residents of New Bethany and practically every account reads the same: memories of torture, abuse and demoralization at the hands of Mack Ford, Olen King and other New Bethany staff. There are harrowing stories of kids that managed to run away from New Bethany like the one by James, escaping through a Louisiana swamp, and the horrifying account a young man named Guy beaten severely with a golf club.
Teresa was raised in what she refers to as a strict, fundamentalist Baptist church, with “red-faced preachers, hellfire and brimstone,” but Teresa says New Bethany was one-hundred times worse.
Before she was sent to New Bethany Teresa remembers Mack Ford and his girls choir performed at her family church. ”They were a choir of angels to me, the girls’ testimony was so uplifting, I don’t know how to describe it,” said Frye of her first encounter with Mack Ford, years before she would become a resident at his New Bethany School. A traveling girls choir is nothing new in the Fundamentalist arsenal. Lester Roloff devised a handpicked and disciplined girls’ choir as a fundraising and recruiting tool for his original homes.
In addition to singing, the girls gave testimonies — often coached — of their salvation for the hard sell. “They were once drug users and bad kids and going wrong – but they said New Bethany and Mack Ford saved them, we all believed them.” Teresa told me this, trying to help me understand how parents could possibly have been fooled and why her parents had no idea what they were sending her into. “Everything looked so good on the outside.” Teresa and her friends talk on the message board about their “who had the reddest and blackest butt” contests back in the day.
And they were just the first to come forward. Here are a few comments made by signers of the petitions and survivors of abuse at the hands of these good Christians:
Kim Bowen, Arkansas
As a child I attended Lester Roloff’s church in Texas where boys, girls, men and women were housed in non-licensed “christian” group homes. There was an abusive environment, the food was deplorable, and many of these teens were abused mentally and physically. They attended church a minimum of four times a week. They had to enter the auditorium and sit in reserved seating where they were not allowed to talk to anyone but had to keep their eyes averted and read the Bible. These were not bad kids. Just in our religious background you were considered rebellious if you did not go along with the church indoctrination. I believe that many sent to these homes did not need to be there. There must be more accountability in these church “homes.”
Dee Rapier, Texas
I at one time taught at the Longstreet Home . We were under Mac Ford . I made many mistakes and have ask tobe forgiven. My x husband was an overbearing person. He was abusive to me and my two boys. He also was abusive the some of the boys. I can only hope and pray that God Has forgiven me. Dee2:21
Teresa Boss Marsh, Oregon
Hello, This issue is very important to me because I a survivor of abuse at an unregulated facility. I attended Victory Christian Academy, in Ramona California in 1989 where I was the victim of abuse along with witnessing daily abuses of others girls during my stay. This was at the hands of a monster who still opens and operated unregulated facilities in Florida and Iowa. He and his wife are prohibited from working with children in the state of California so he has moved his predatory sadistic schools to other states that don’t require the facilities to be regulated by the state. Why would anyone oppose state regulation? They are put in place to protect our children. I am 37 years old and it has been over 21 years since my horrible life-changing experience at VCA and I often still wake up form nightmares drenched in sweat as if it were yesterday. For the sake of our children who really are our future, please please I beg you to take this issue seriously and help make this bill a LAW. Sincerely, Teresa Boss Marsh
Jodi Hobbs, California
I have created a website for the girls of Victory Christian Academy who attended either the school in Ramona, San Diego or Jay Florida. Some of the girls have shared their stories on the website. I urge you to take a look. Many still suffer, 20 years later. I wanted these girls to finally have a voice and to feel comfortable to share their experience. I also wanted a place that we all could come together. If you would like to read some of the stories please visit https://girlsofvictorychristianacademy.com
Jonathan Ziv, Canada
Spent two years in the Elan School in Poland Springs, Maine. There was constant psychological abuse and physical abuse. Not sure how the Elan School has been able to stay open all these years when there are so many who have and are willing to tell their stories. For more information about the Elan school visit http://theelanschool.tumblr.com/ or the “I went to Elan school” group on Facebook.
David Hatfield, Oregon
My step daughter went to a therapeutic boarding school. She has nonverbal learning differences and some depression. We wanted to find a school that would help her with these things. The school where we sent her said that they thought they were a good match. After five months we withdrew her from the school because we felt the school was hurting more than helping. If she had reasonable access to unsupervised calls we probably would have withdrawn her earlier. If HR 911 had been in place and we had seen a list of previous violations and fatalities, we would not have sent her in the first place. Thanks for your consideration.
Simone Jones, Kansas
When I was 14 years old, I was in a home called “New Bethany home for girls” I am now 42. I can’t even begin to explain the pain and torture I was forced to endure, during my 2 1/2 year stay there. First off, the staff members are not required to pass any type of criminal background check. Where do they come from?? I was abused daily. When I say abused, I mean it literally. Beaten and broken. Left to heal without the care of any medical professional. I had no rights as a human being, let alone a young, scared child. All contact with the outside world was gone. All privacy was gone (yes, even in the restroom, and shower) Not only is physical, emotional and spiritual abuse a problem in these types of places. Sexual abuse is rampant. As children we are told to tell if someone hurts us. Who may I ask are we supposed to tell, if there is no one listening? Children are to be loved, cherished and protected. No battered, broken and forgotten.
And finally, the national media began to take notice. 20/20 ran an expose on Fundamentalist Baptist homes called Scarred Childhood: Whatever Happened to Tina Anderson. Survivors have organized the first annual Survivors of Institutional Abuse convention in February 2012 (information here). Multiple Facebook groups have sprouted up and flourished under the power of the collective survivorship.
There is another petition that you can sign to get H.R. 3126 a hearing and urge its passage. You can also contact your local Senator (link) or Representative (link) and The Senate HELP Committee (link). I also encourage you to contact the individual member of the HELP committee:
Tom Harkin (IA)
Barbara A. Mikulski (MD)
Jeff Bingaman (NM)
Patty Murray (WA)
Bernard Sanders (I) (VT)
Robert P. Casey, Jr. (PA)
Kay R. Hagan (NC)
Jeff Merkley (OR)
Al Franken (MN)
Michael F. Bennet (CO)
Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)
Richard Blumenthal (CT)