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Horror Stories From Tough-Love Teen Homes
December 8, 2011 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Kathryn Joyce looks at unregulated Christian homes for troubled children.
posted by reenum (39 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Desperate for a way out, she'd attempted suicide—many of the girls did, she added nonchalantly, if only for the chance to get taken to a hospital and beg for outside help.

I was sent to a fundamentalist Christian boarding school, albeit not one for "troubled" teens. I hated it so much that at one point I stopped eating for a week. I weighed about a hundred pounds and already wore size "0" clothes from the "5,7,9" shop at the mall. The school nurse sent me home when I got badly dehydrated, which had been my goal all along.

I got home and ate like a horse, and was sent back after a few days. Why I wanted to go home, I'm not sure, since at least at school I wasn't beaten. I think it had to do with being watched all the time. At least at home I could scoot out on the farm and be out of sight for a while. At school you were constantly watched.

Weird punishments at school included "social". If you were caught touching a boy's hand (I don't think anyone ever got caught doing anything worse), they put you on "social" where you could talk to the boy for a week.

Other than just being a shitty place to live with shitty food, and religious services every day, and twice on Friday and Saturday, no tv, nothing that played music allowed in the dorms, no caffeine and no meat, no dancing and no dating, it wasn't too horrible.

We did have to work three hours a day, unpaid. That sucked. Technically we got "paid" but they paid less than minimum wage and none of us were allowed to get so much as $5 a week. The money, all of it, was applied directly to our room & board & tuition bills, which were huge.
posted by thelastcamel at 11:50 AM on December 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


21st Century Magdalene homes^?
Oh, wow, found one that appreciates none of the irony.
posted by dhartung at 11:52 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cynically, I can't help but imagine that 1/4 of these kids would have been getting the same treatments at home. The other 1/4 of the parents probably knew what was going on, but couldn't stomach doing it themselves. "Tough love" is a big concept in conservative christianity, there's just some variance in what people think that means. And different rules always apply to difficult children. Once again, what's considered difficult varies. Just being mouthy, irreligious, or unsubmissive counts in most places.
posted by thelastcamel at 11:52 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


it was really unnerving during a recent bout of Situations to hear how readily people would sign off on one rehab or another because "they're christian". "christian rehab" makes me think of places like this but apparently it does not ping horror sensors among the squares.
posted by beefetish at 11:53 AM on December 8, 2011


It never ceases to amaze me the "sins" that are ignored when they are done in the name of religion.
posted by Leezie at 11:58 AM on December 8, 2011 [13 favorites]


Er, make that couldn't talk for a week, not could.
posted by thelastcamel at 11:59 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I kinda see parallels here with the TV talk a few threads down--the hardline problem with Law and Order is being "soft" on the accused criminal by suggesting there might be a murderer who isn't the person on trial. To a certain sort of person, the fact that this testimony of abuse comes from former "troubled kids" renders it unreliable, whereas the testimony that the homes are lovely places with horseback riding and hugs comes from pastors! Who must be trustworthy!

I think the truth is that people, unchecked, have a tendency to become monsters. Regulation is not infringing on the rights of human beings; it's the thing that makes sure we all *are* human beings. Anything that happens behind a curtain should be suspect. (Which describes a lot of IFB stuff in general, actually. The way some of those churches are run is not markedly different to, say, North Korea.)
posted by gracedissolved at 12:00 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


To these people in the article: Christianity, you're doing it wrong.

It's unexcusable and sadly, it's probably impossible to get the current legislature, here in Missouri, to act on the matter. You could try having a public referendum create law, but the legislature has already shown a willingness to directly contradict the will of the majority and neuter such attempts.
posted by Atreides at 12:16 PM on December 8, 2011


Holy crap. I begged my parents to send me to New Bethany. I begged and begged and begged. I remember the girls came and sang at evening worship one Sunday night, and one of them stayed overnight with me and I thought, "These are the nicest girls I've ever met." They were beautiful, all of them, and sang like larks, and seemed holy in this unearthly way. The one who stayed with me had red curly hair and I thought she looked like Anne of Green Gables, and I remember thinking the girls at New Bethany would understand me.

Probably because they, like me, were being abused. Awful.

I've said this before, but I think religious orthodoxy creates an environment where systemic abuse is easily hidden, even fostered. It's the system itself that is rotten, because it creates and feeds on fear.
posted by brina at 12:24 PM on December 8, 2011 [19 favorites]


The scariest ones are those that ship your child off to some sketchy country for "experience" where they can /really/ keep them from escaping the abuse. It's like foreign CIA jails for the unthinking devout.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:24 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


In March 2010, the House passed the Keeping All Students Safe Act, a bill that would have banned the use of seclusion and physical or chemical restraints by any school that benefits from federal education money. (It, too, died in the Senate.) Andy Kopsa, who covers abusive homes in her blog, Off the Record, noted that GOP members whose districts host tough-love schools rallied against the act.
WHAT. WHAT WHAT.... WHAT.

One of these places, according to Google Maps, is literally 33 minutes from where I am right now. Sickening. Makes me want to organize a breakout.
posted by odinsdream at 12:27 PM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Sounds like a perfect example of 21st Century Christian Living to me.

"Honor thy father and thy mother." Period. No exceptions. And honor those who your parents hire to beat the crap out of you.

If you don't like it, stop calling yourself Christian, because it is NOT YOUR RELIGION.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:30 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I remember the girls came and sang at evening worship one Sunday night, and one of them stayed overnight with me and I thought, "These are the nicest girls I've ever met." They were beautiful, all of them, and sang like larks, and seemed holy in this unearthly way.

When I viewed the photos of the singing groups of girls in the photos, I was struck by how happy and healthy they looked. But I guess they were cherry-picked for their looks and if you know you'll get the crap beaten out of you if you don't put on a convincing show of being happy, you find your acting chops really quickly.
posted by orange swan at 12:41 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


House Resolution 911 (...) proposed giving residents access to child-abuse hotlines and creating a national database of programs that would document reports of abuse and keep tabs on abusive staff members.

Hephzibah House's Ron Williams and Reclamation Ranch's Jack Patterson urged supporters to fight the bill. In an open letter, Williams argued that it would "effectively close all Christian ministries helping troubled youth because of its onerous provisions."


Well, it would certainly make business of running them much more difficult, after all, how do you discipline children if you can't hire thugs to beat them up?
posted by hat_eater at 12:59 PM on December 8, 2011


When I viewed the photos of the singing groups of girls in the photos, I was struck by how happy and healthy they looked.

And the number one smart abuser rule? Don't leave marks on the face. Christian girls who are never allowed to wear shorts or sleeveless blouses...well, that covers a multitude of sins.

Looking back at photos of certain family members, 3/4s of the photos show smiling, pretty girls. In only about a quarter, you notice there's a creepy, haunting tension about the eyes. A wary look. Grief. But their smiles want so much. Children are remarkably resilient. They will smile or laugh under the worst conditions.

I noticed all the photos you mention were taken from rather far away. They show girls with meat on their bones, shiny hair, and appropriately upturned mouths. None of these things mean anything other than they were well fed and socially trained.

Growing up I was always amazed at how easy it was to keep private, and how little the people who did know cared. For practical reasons, in part. If children are taken away, nine times out of ten they end up in situations that are just as bad, or they won't be removed and the abuse will escalate. People often know this, and no one wants to get involved in something that complicated. At best if children are removed from homes, older kids are shuttled around with no stability and people who don't actually love them. They best they can hope for is detached, kind, and fair, and for a kid that detachment is often as bad as being beaten by someone who does love you. If a child is very young, with no health or behavioural problems (what are the chances of that?) and are attractive, adoption into a decent, stable home is possible. But that's rare.

My sister's best friend was a religious nutbag who adopted kids and beat them (even the hemophiliac kid...which is extremely dangerous) because god wanted her to make them better. Someone else I know went mad and started adopting children and neglecting them. She ended up with something like thirteen, living in filthy conditions. She was reported to DHS, and they warned her before they came to "inspect." She's been reported several times, to no avail.
posted by thelastcamel at 1:01 PM on December 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


I went to one of these in Missouri. Kids huffing gas to get high, a pregnant girl forced to carry the child to term and then give it up for adoption, and more. I didn't realize there was something special about the state laws till now.
posted by No1UKnow at 1:05 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is so upsetting. There's a similar phenomenon in NYC with houses that serve people who have been incarcerated/detox/homeless etc. It is so terrible that these places are able to hide behind "helping" and avoid regulation because they swaddle themselves in religion and the ones they are abuse are so marginalized. It's terrible that these teens are doubly traumatized by not bein believed when they do come forward because they've been branded "troubled".
posted by fuq at 1:07 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


The solution is not have the state clean up the messes. They should keep trying, but they do such a shitty job of it. I've had an insiders view for a long time. They fuck things up on a regular basis.

1)The best solution is education. Educated people are less likely to have children, less likely to have many children, and more likely to use birth control and abortions intelligently. (2) Birth control and abortions should be free. Our taxes should pay for them. And if a woman wants a tubal ligation before she has kids, doctors should not be allowed to refuse.

(3)Social workers should be paid twice what they're making now. At least twice. And the state's budget needs to double. They need to have people investigate, really investigate prospective foster families.

Trust me, the state already has protection laws in place, and they already don't enforce the.

My parents beat me, and they beat my siblings. My mother at one point sent my sister away because she thought my father was going to kill her. One of my sisters ended up in the hospital with a concussion. And the state gave them foster kids. And this is not an isolated incident. I personally intimately knew two other families who should never have been giving foster kids or allowed to adopt.
posted by thelastcamel at 1:08 PM on December 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


If some folks have a hard time understanding why the words "faith-based" make many of us gag, this is part of it.
posted by Legomancer at 1:12 PM on December 8, 2011 [21 favorites]


A kid I went to high school with was sent off to a tough-love camp in American Samoa when his parents found out he'd been doing Adderall. (wtf? really? adderall? so tame.)

A friend ran into him last year, he said they locked him in a basement and beat him with sticks. Apparently the place was run by a former pro football player.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:29 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, Christians. That's not what "suffer the little children" means.
posted by rdc at 1:43 PM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Stories like this always fill me with cognitive dissonance. None of the christians I know, even the ones I don't like because they are overly preachy, would ever see this as anything but vile. I sometimes think that I live on a different planet where Christian means something very different.
posted by selenized at 1:49 PM on December 8, 2011


I can't help but think if the Christian concept of heaven and hell is right, there's got to be some puzzled looking dudes by the pearly gates. "No one today, again?"
posted by maxwelton at 1:49 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's hard to understand it, but faith-based is just taboo for regulation," says Matthew Franck

Ugh. I think this is the worst part of having Freedom of Religion-- we allow adults the freedom to choose their own religion but as a consequence the children are forced into whatever madness the parents follow. It is too bad we cannot enforce a Freedom From Religion for everyone.

When I viewed the photos of the singing groups of girls in the photos, I was struck by how happy and healthy they looked.

One reason the Duggars (stars of TLC's 19 Kids & Counting) are so idolized is because all 19 children are always smiling and cheerful, "so the parents must be something right." Actually their religion requires it of them (and punishes them for not smiling.) Yes, the Gothard principles by which they live their lives teaches that children should always be cheerful because it is the best way to recruit others to the movement.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:51 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just so we're clear, these people are not Christians. These are people calling themselves Christians. Let's not paint with the broad brush here.
posted by schleppo at 2:10 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


They do get certain priviledges from being at least associated by name and a common sort of symbolic language with Christianity.
posted by fuq at 2:29 PM on December 8, 2011


Oh, come on. There is no universal definition of Christian.

These people might say Quakers are just people who happen to call themselves Christian, but they'd be wrong. Everybody cherry-picks scripture to justify whatever they want, from gay Christians to Pat Robertson.
In the end, the only good definition of Christian is, indeed, that one calls oneself Christian.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:46 PM on December 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


Makes me wonder what happened to Vito's kid from the Sopranos. We never did hear from him again....
posted by Afroblanco at 2:59 PM on December 8, 2011


The solution is not have the state clean up the messes.


I don't know. A lot of the people described here have records of convictions or complaints that would make it impossible for them to get any job with children if they came to the UK, but seem to be doing quite nicely by simply crossing state lines within the US.

In particular, placing the burden of proof on institutions to show that they should be allowed to care for children, rather than the other way around, seems vital. If you want to run a business with children, you should bear the cost of proving that you can be trusted to do so.
posted by howfar at 3:08 PM on December 8, 2011


None of the christians I know, even the ones I don't like because they are overly preachy, would ever see this as anything but vile.

Just so you're aware: most people who abuse children are good at hiding it from their trusting friends. Not saying your pals are like this, but how would you know?

Just so we're clear, these people are not Christians. These are people calling themselves Christians. Let's not paint with the broad brush here.

No true Scotsman Christian etc etc...

There's a similar phenomenon in NYC with houses that serve people who have been incarcerated/detox/homeless etc. It is so terrible that these places are able to hide behind "helping" and avoid regulation because they swaddle themselves in religion and the ones they are abuse are so marginalized. It's terrible that these teens are doubly traumatized by not bein believed when they do come forward because they've been branded "troubled".

I was homeless a few times when I was younger. Every time I went to a shelter for a meal there was a sermon that followed. You didn't have to stay for that, which was fine. But I never slept in any of those places because I realized that as far as the rules and expectations went they were essentially prisons. It was safer to find someplace to sleep outside.
posted by clarknova at 4:48 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Just so we're clear, these people are not Christians. These are people calling themselves Christians. Let's not paint with the broad brush here.

Actually, let's do. These people are Christian in the same way that the Muslims who tried to force that poor Afghan girl to marry her rapist are Muslim. Are they not true Muslims?
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:54 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I remember reading a few books written back in the eighties by a man who, with his wife, ran a home for troubled girls in the state of New York. He wrote a series of formulaic novels about these girls. As I remember each book had the name of the main character and was written in the first person. Girl is from troubled home, girl runs away from home, girl takes up with drugs/prostitution/theft/bad news boyfriend, girl gets arrested, girl winds up in this actual home for girls in New York state and totally turns her life around with the help of the couple who ran the home. The girls all called the couple who ran the home "Mom B. and Dad B.", and the couple's last name began with a B. The man's first name was John, I think. Ring any bells? I'd rather like to do a little googling and find out if this home was actually the decent place the man writing his novels claimed it was.
posted by orange swan at 8:53 PM on December 8, 2011


The stories reminded me very much of the school in Midnight Flight. Except that was fiction. Scary that it wasn't so far off from real places...
posted by SisterHavana at 9:46 PM on December 8, 2011


The stories reminded me very much of the school in Midnight Flight.

I was thinking The Talisman myself.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:28 AM on December 9, 2011


You know, I was thinking about what the proper response would be, but this sort of shit gets brought out in every post about how crazy religious fundamentalism can be. So the only thing I can think of is Fuck Off.

Seems I touched off some anger here. That was not my intent and there was no call for telling me to "Fuck Off". My comment was simply offering a counterpoint to the sentiment that if these "Christians" are doing this, then all Christians must be like this from comments up-thread (see legomancer and rdc).

dunkadunc may be right that there is no universal definition of Christian, but these people and their actions do not fit MY definition.
posted by schleppo at 6:13 AM on December 9, 2011


My comment was simply offering a counterpoint to the sentiment that if these "Christians" are doing this, then all Christians must be like this

Actually, the argument might be more accurately characterized as "if Christians are doing this, then there must not be any real value in being a Christian". No, not all Christians are insanely abusive assholes who run concentration camps for teenagers. Some are fine people. Some are average people. In fact, on the whole Christians really are just like everybody else. Statistically Christians show the same range of behaviours that the rest of the population does: they go to jail and/or rehab just as often, they go bankrupt just as often, they get divorced just as often. If there is any value in being a Christian, if it really makes a difference to have a personal relationship with Jesus and to try to lead one's life the way God wants, why doesn't it show up in the statistics?
posted by orange swan at 6:46 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Actually, the argument might be more accurately characterized as "if Christians are doing this, then there must not be any real value in being a Christian".

Again, a generalization. Amended statement with which I agree: "if people professing themselves to be Christians are doing this, then there must not be any real value in pretending to be one.

No, not all Christians are insanely abusive assholes who run concentration camps for teenagers. Some are fine people. Some are average people.

So you understand my point.
posted by schleppo at 11:19 AM on December 9, 2011


I think the issue about "Christians doing this" is exactly the issue brought up by the article--when you argue for and create public policy predicated on the inherent moral goodness of the Christian religion; when you carve out exceptions to minimum safety standards predicated on the argument that "we dont want to restrict Christians who want to do this work" --- you don't get to call these people out as "not really being christian".

Lawmakers in favor of these exceptions for Christian organizations didn't create a rubric for determining which ones were trustworthy Christian organizations. In fact, their WHOLE POINT WAS TO GUARANTEE THAT THERE WOULD BE NO RUBRIC. The exceptions = the busting up of a rubric that would establish who the good guys are and who the bad guys (ie, bad christian groups seeking to establish residential child are facilities).

They specifically went out and said "anyone calling themselves Christian is trustworthy, and how dare you require that they establish that they are trustworthy."

Sorry folks -- that is a codified means of declaring bad apple Christian groups to be automatically moral and good and CHRISTIAN.

BTW: one could argue that there are exceptions for all religious groups--not just Christian groups--except all the lobbying and arguments in favor of exceptions pandered to Christian groups. None of the politicians stood up and said said "I'm voting this way to protect the rights of Muslim organizations and Jewish organizations to run residential programs" and none of the Christian lobbyists did either.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:36 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


"if people professing themselves to be Christians are doing this, then there must not be any real value in pretending to be one.

I doubt many of the people who identify themselves as Christian are "pretending". Certainly almost all of the people I know who profess to be Christians seem to be sincere in their beliefs. I like C.S. Lewis's definition of a Christian, which is (if I remember correctly) that a Christian is someone who believes in Christ and in his teachings, regardless of how much or how little she or he demonstrates benefit from or practices those teachings. And I don't know how you can just claim the "good" Christians are actually the fruit of Christianity.

It's as though you claimed that you know of a wonderful school that is better than all the other schools around because the curriculum helps its students improve themselves and their lives and sets them apart from the graduates of all other schools, because the teachings of the school are superior to all others and the graduation ceremony involves a mystical transformation. And so I point out that the graduates from your school don't do any better in life on average than any other school graduates, and that further some graduates are using your teachings to justify horrible behaviour, and you say, "Oh no, but those who don't do better than average or the ones who do horrible things aren't really our graduates — they're just pretending.

If this mystical "graduation" or conversion process really worked, it would at least work on enough of those who believe themselves Christians that it would be reflected in the statistics.
posted by orange swan at 12:45 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


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