Former Hephzibah House Students Continue to Raise Abuse Awareness

Former Hephzibah House students continued to raise awareness of their allegations of abuse at the home for troubled teens in Winona Lake, IN, on Friday, Oct. 17. Using the medium of the internet, about 80 former students have reconnected and shared their stories. Many are attempting to speak out and stop the school from continuing practices former students feel are both physically and mentally abusive.

To aid in that goal, a task force of former students and concerned citizens has been formed. Presently, institutions such as Hephzibah House are not under any type of governmental regulation and have no accountability for their actions. They are virtually free to do as they wish as long as they can spin a convincing tale to parents and church supporters. Those who are ignorant of the mechanics and mind-games of abuse are unable to see through the machinations of master manipulators who have been doing this for decades, and the publicity spin sounds perfect if you don’t know better. However, once you have seen the inside of the system, you can see the buzz words for what they are and it is very obvious.

For example, there is one incident in this story which should make every reader of the article a believer. I will quote the article directly.

It’s a story Gabriella Fleury says she knows all too well. She says the treatment she endured made her feel violated.

“A man came in, he was never introduced us. We weren’t put in a gown and given a proper exam. We were in dresses. Our dresses were forced up and we had to undergo a physical, invasive vaginal exam right there at the facility,” she recalled.

This is a school full of teenaged girls. This is not a medical facility. There are no doctors or nurses present. In the incident mentioned, there is no medical exam taking place in the context. This is just a moment when a man walks into a room (where, obviously a girl and another staff member are present during some sort of interview), and the girl is forced to have a vaginal exam, apparently without adequate explanation. This is at the very least a physically abusive incident because it takes place outside any medical context, and I would say that for a teenager who is a virgin it is a sexually abusive one! There is no context under which this incident is acceptable, period. It is absolutely abusive.

Perhaps you want to think it is an isolated incident; ill-advised. And maybe the director of the school would say that they have thought better of such a practice and would never do such a thing now. Here is a greater truth. The attitude and heart that would allow such treatment of the girls is a heart of disrespect. It is a heart that thinks of these girls as worthless things that need to be beaten into shape because they are disgusting trash.

If you read more about how these girls were treated, this is, in fact, the attitude with which they were treated across the board. The setting of the entire institution was one of dehumanization and humiliation, extreme and frequent punishment, with reward for complete and absolute compliance, and sacrifice of all personality and humanity. If you can still find the founder’s writings about parenting and his attitude toward the formation of children’s character (once people began to find it online he removed it; I wish I had copied it when I first found and read it) you will find that is his attitude toward children in general. This is not a man I would trust to raise a dog, much less have the molding of my troubled teenager. In fact, he might be arrested for treating a dog the way he treats children. The ASPCA would certainly be picketing at his doorstep.

In case readers cannot tell, on this issue I am by no means unbiased. I know without a single doubt this institution is abusive. I wish these former students all success and hope they never give up as long as there is a single girl in residence at Hephzibah House.

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Sticks & Stones: Why Verbal Abuse Kills, III

Sticks and stones
May break my bones,
But words could even kill me…

What’s in a name? That nursery rhyme (original version) says “…names can never hurt me…” But I think names can do a world of damage.

While it seems fundamentally obvious, the thing about names is that a name tells who you are. A name is your identity. Whether it is the name your parents gave you or whether it is a “modifier” screamed at you in anger or calmly hurled at you in a quiet diatribe, a name is an attempt to identify who you are.

I used the word “modifier” in its English grammar meaning. A modifier is a word that describes or quantifies another word. It is a name that identifies another word specifically — for instance, the red car, the windy weather, the unsubmissive wife, the demon child son.  A modifier ascribes value to another word.

When a name is used to describe a person it strikes at that person’s very center of being.  This is why name-calling is more powerful than just words.  When a husband or father (or mother/wife) calls their spouse or child names they are ascribing value to that person – they are ascribing a lesser value to that person.   It doesn’t matter if you attempt to say the names don’t hurt, they do – especially when they are spoken by someone closest to you, who is supposed to know you best, is supposed to love and protect you, and is supposed to be “one” with you (as your spouse) or is supposed to be your primary influence (as a parent). 

It also doesn’t matter how the name-calling is phrased.  If an abuser says, in screaming rage, “you are acting like a demon child” – it is no different than saying “you are a demon child” because the spirit, the rage, the violence behind it gives it the same intention.  Splitting hairs by saying “you are acting like” does not give someone a pass on the intention. 

Words can also “call names” through strong implication without saying the actual name.  When an abuser has a pattern of the calm diatribes, carefully and constantly describing, in detail, why you are a failure, wrong, have poor judgment, etc. he is describing you – your worth, value, acceptability, etc. 

For instance, Gary frequently launched into long diatribes about all manner of things about me.  One was about me liking white rice with butter/salt/pepper as a side dish with a meal.  He wondered how I could possibly eat white rice and described in detail all the reasons why it is worthless, bad for you, tastes bad, etc., etc.  He did this everytime rice came into his sphere of reference — could be in a restaurant, could be if I fixed rice, if he fixed rice, if someone else fixed rice, if the rice came up in a casual conversation with strangers — he launched into the “how can my wife/you like white rice because…”  Yes, he did this — about me — to other people in casual conversation if rice was mentioned.  What he was communicating was that I was so stupid I couldn’t make a rational decision about my taste for rice.  I ended up being unable to eat rice for several years and I still struggle with it.  The strong negative emotional connection to rice is very powerful.  There were dozens of things like this that warranted long diatribes toward or about me.  Water temperature in the shower, the direction of washing dishes (left to right sinks vs right to left), theological or political sub-points, favorite colors, styles of clothes, preferred recreation, types of books I liked to read, types of TV programs I enjoyed — the list is practically endless.  There was always something to rant about – literally daily.

 The reason these take a toll is because they “call names” even non-specifically.  These rants quantified who I was as stupid, illogical, unreasonable, unsubmissive, rebellious, un-spiritual, non-Christian (literally), etc., etc.  They communicated that I was not worth respect, and they communicated that he did not respect me because I was not worthy of respect.  While he said he respected me if he was directly asked, his constant way of life said otherwise.

Name-calling, in any form that describes value, is powerful because it assaults who the person is at the most fundamental level.  When the person calling names is in a position of authority or in the position of protector/provider his words hold that much more power.

Abuse Visuals

One of those who commented on my “No Bruises” post, Lynn, included a link to duluth-model.org. I am posting the link here because their Wheel Gallery is excellent. These are some powerful tools. I recommend you take a look.

God Answers Prayer in Abusive Marriages

Spending 20 years in an abusive marriage had a profound affect on my theology.  I believe I learned things I would never have learned were it not for that crucible.  The things I believed, based on years in church, Bible college, academic Bible study, etc. were tested in real life.  This is where theology matters.  Many people spend entire careers becoming experts on theology and stand as “voices of truth,” proclaiming dogmatically their theology is Biblically accurate.  But if it doesn’t stand the test of life, it is worthless.

One thing I believed for many years was that God would answer my prayers for my marriage, my husband and my children.  I believe in God’s sovereignty, I believe He is all-powerful, and I know the abuse in my marriage was not His will since it was totally unrighteous and utterly antithetical to His nature.  Since God answers prayer, and I believe He does, and abuse is a violation of His nature, He would certainly answer my prayers to change my husband’s heart, right?

Wrong.  Actually, right answer, wrong question.  God does answer prayer.  But many times He does so after changing the question.  I have learned He is more interested in turning our erroneous paradigms inside out so we learn the right prayer to pray.  Then He is able to answer our prayers. 

After years on my face with God I realized He would not force my husband to change against his will, no matter how much I prayed for this to happen for the sake of my children and me.  He created man with a free will.  His is able to force man to change his mind, but He limits Himself to the perameters He gave man as a unique creation.  It would not be free will if man could not tell God ‘no.’  (A first strike against my Calvinist theology.)  Rather, God shows His amazing sovereignty and creativity by accomplishing His purposes in, through, and around the choices man makes.

When in a prolonged impossible situation like I was in, I finally got to the point of being willing to ask God to change my understanding, even if it meant completely changing my paradigm of reality.  Because I was willing to get to this point, I am where I am now.  And I hope other people can be helped as a result.  Over the course of the years there were several times when God completely overturned my understanding of reality, with its attendant theology.

Various erroneous theological points have a domino affect on others once they are toppled.  When I understood that God would not violate Gary’s free will and force him to change, then I had to ask the question, “So does God abandon wives and children in abusive homes?”  This one took a LONG time for me to understand. 

There are church leaders who hold so rigidly to the point of not separating marriages they literally teach it must be God’s will for wives and children in abusive homes to stay there and “suffer for righteousness sake.”  This is easy theology for someone who doesn’t have to live in it every day.  But eventually I came to accept this theology cannot be correct because it is a fundamental violation of God’s nature and of Jesus’ stated purpose in coming to earth.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. — Luke 4:18,19

In fact, this is what the Word says is the gospel (the definition of the word “gospel” is a sacred cow I’ll tip another day). It cannot be God’s will to abandon wives and children in abusive homes.

So once I understood it was not God’s will to abandon my children and I in our abusive home and He would not force Gary to change, I was left with the question, “how does God intend to save us from this situation?”

The next understanding was when I realized that legally I would be considered liable if Gary were accused of child abuse and I knew about it and had done nothing. The Word tells us to submit to civil authorities. You can’t pick one part of the Word to obey to the exclusion, or direction violation, of another. The sanctity of marriage is not more important than obedience to civil authorities. Since abuse is a criminal action and we are required to comply with the authorities and not protect, hide or aid abusers. The church has a responsibility to obey the law. When the church tells women and children to remain in an abusive home, they violate both God’s law and the laws of our country.

As a woman in an abusive marriage I had a responsibility to stand against that abuse. But I still wasn’t completely confident that stand went so far as divorce. At the two times I felt there was an imminent chance the children could be taken by DFCS because of the abuse (and the first time I was also afraid for our lives) I took the kids and left him. But I didn’t want to give up on our marriage or on Gary if there was any hope. While I realized his behavior was abusive, I didn’t understand the nature of abuse well enough to grasp its pervasive nature or the significance of non-physical violence. My eyes were completely on the physical violence until I left him for the final time. I tried to remonstrate with him about the verbal abuse and reason with him. I always thought if I could only get him to listen to reason I could get him to see what he was doing because it was so obvious.

Ultimately, I came to understand I had two choices – and the choice was up to me. I could stay in my marriage, allow my daughter to grow up in an abusive home and accept the fact I would physically die. The consequences of violence is murder and death. That’s in the Word.  The Word also says death and life are in the power of the tongue.  It means that literally.  My immune system had shut down due to the constant stress and I got cancer. My body would take no more. 

While I was recovering from chemo I realized every time Gary started yelling or started into one of his tirades I had an automatic, uncontrollable “fight-or-flight” reaction.  God made our bodies that way.  Our bodies release adrenalin in preparation to either fight or run.  When that happens excessively or constantly it will destroy the human immune system, leading to any auto-immune or stress-related disease there is.  These diseases can kill.  God won’t get in the way of the consequences we choose when we fail to obey the rest of His Word.

So, I could leave my daughter with an abusive father and die.  Or I could dare to trust God outside the box. God’s Word says I have a responsibility to obey civil authorities, I have a responsibility to stand up for the afflicted in my own home, including myself. God’s Word even says we are to separate ourselves from people who act the way Gary did – I dared to believe that meant me too. God says more about divorce than “I hate divorce” (subject for another day).

Bottom line, God wanted to answer my prayer to save me and my children from abuse. I merely had to trust Him enough to be proactive in my obedience, instead of passively waiting for a rescue boat when He gave me two feet to walk away. It was the hardest thing I have ever done but the fruit has shown it was the right choice.

So yes, God does answer prayer in abusive marriages. But perhaps not the way you are expecting. His answer may be to turn your theology upside down and ask you to step up to the plate and take active responsibility to save yourself and your children.

Discipline: When is it Abuse?

To me, this was probably the single biggest behavior question that clouded the situation of our home life.  Gary believed that all his physical actions against the children were “discipline.”  He never could see that discipline was training in right behavior.  It is not punishment (punative action) for personally irritating childish behavior.  He didn’t look under the skin to his own motivation.  For him, actions that warranted discipline were ignored.  The actions he “disciplined” for were the ones that irritated, bothered, embarrassed, or inconvenienced him.

Gary watched violent martial arts R-rated movies with the boys starting when they were about 3 & 5 years old and every time I tried to reason with him about it he became angry.  (Interestingly, now in his new marriage he is upset that the father of his new step-children watches R-rated movies with them; they are 9 and 12.  I guess it was OK for him but not for anyone else.)  If anyone interrupted his TV show, he erupted in rage and would hit the offender if they were within reach.  If a boy running through the room tripped over Gary’s feet, he would scream at him and kick him as he ran away down the hall.  He excused this as discipline because the kids shouldn’t be running in the house.  However, it didn’t matter that they were running until one of them tripped over his feet and almost made him spill his drink.  And that child was the only one “disciplined.”  But putting children to bed on time, calmly insisting a child remain in bed after bedtime, keeping dangerous tools out of their reach, having them clean up their messes – none of these things ever crossed his mind.  In fact, he consistently undermined my efforts to do these types of child-training activities, thought I doubt he was consciously aware of it.

But when I tried to reason with him about his behavior and explain the difference, he never “got” it – actually the fact that I questioned his behavior was inconceivable to him and made him angry.  Notice too, that phrase — it made him angry.  His anger, as always, was my fault; caused by me. 

I am still mystified to this day.  I spend hours sometimes trying to understand.  Gary feels very deeply for his children.  I can’t find any tiniest crack in that.  He genuinely believes he is a wonderful, godly father.  But he also apparently believed however he “disciplined” his children was completely acceptable, even commendable.  If his actions were in response to an action by his children those actions were discipline.  There was nothing else.  When he hit me early in our marriage, he believed he was “disciplining” me.  He tried to tell me he was “spanking” me (never mind the strikes were anatomically inappropriate for “spanking”).  When I told him firmly that I was not his child and if he hit me again I’d call the police, he believed me and never tried it again.  But with his children nothing I could say made any impression.  I was undermining his authority and destroying our family.

I believe the line between discipline and abuse is in motivation more than in the how and how much of physical action; though the how and how much are also relevant.  Definitely, I believe there are also specific actions that qualify as abuse.  But discipline is about training, not punishment.  Discipline understands that there is age-appropriate behavior that sometimes a child is too young to alter (crying when hungry or tired) or that the child needs to be taught to change (how to make the bed, how to politely get a parent’s attention when the parent is on the phone, etc.)  To punish a child in any way for age-appropriate behavior is wrong. 

But even more important, when it comes to abuse, “discipline” because a child has caused personal irritation, interruption, embarrassment, etc. to the parent is abusive because of the motivation.  Spanking a child because they interrupted your TV show is excessive — and in our house it never stopped at spanking.  It’s not spanking if you swing to hit whatever you can reach.  And punching a child is always abuse.  Full adult-strength slaps across the back, shoulders, head, etc. is always abuse and inexcusable.  Slamming a child against the wall, kicking them, throwing them across the room – even if it’s onto an upholstered chair or sofa, is always abuse.  It is not discipline in any way, shape or manner.  Screaming, targeted swearing directed at a person,  and name-calling are abusive.  There is no excuse for this behavior.

 Counselors we went to, and the court system during our divorce, could not or would not distinguish between the common way anyone occasionally blows off steam and abusive rage.  Yes, we would all do well to control ourselves at all times.  But we all miss the boat from time to time.  I know that profanity is common for many people and swearing when you hit your thumb with a hammer is not an abusive act.  That’s what everyone assumed I was talking about.  I could not make anyone understand the difference between the screaming rages, accompanied by the worst profanity Gary knew (from the man who says profanity is sin and was extremely offended by his sons’ use of profanity when they were mad; surprise!) and vile name-calling; as opposed to the garden-variety loss of composure.  Bottom-line, this behavior is abusive and inexcusable.  It is never a disciplinary tool and it exceeds the perameters of “loosing my cool” because it’s been a long day and the kids won’t quit fussing and irritating each other.

“Discipline” is abuse when it is motivated by relieving personal angst.  It is abuse when it “punishes” rather than trains for age-appropriate behavior.  And, legally in most states, it is abuse any time it passes the boundaries of a couple reasonable, controlled swats on the buttocks – period, without exception for “extreme provocation.”

No Bruises = No Abuse?

One of the things that made our abusive family life so difficult to concretely validate was the lack of bruises.  It is possible my sons just don’t make bruises easily (I’m that way, so it is possible; I get bruises but they are rarely visible).  But for some reason, Gary always managed to hurt himself visibly, not the kids.  Prior to our first separation, he regularly ended up in an arm/wrist or leg/foot brace or spint because he’d torn ligaments or sprained something hitting or kicking one of the kids, or punching holes in the walls.  He always had excuses for everyone outside the family.  And I was afraid to tell the truth because I was afraid of DFCS.  I knew it would sound “worse than it was” since the kids weren’t “hurt” – but actually it would have sounded just like what it was.  At that point, I was still in serious denial.  I finally realized there was a name for what we were living with right before I left Gary the first time, at 10 years into our marriage.

After that first separation Gary got a good bit smarter.  He almost killed himself in one of his rages (the “last straw” event that precipitated our first separation) and after that he was a lot more selective about how he struck people, and he entirely quit punching holes in the walls so he wouldn’t hurt himself.  (That’s a story for another time, I think).  

But the fact that there were no bruises made our life that much harder for all of us.  When we did go to counselors, or in relating with the social worker, it was just my word against his.  You have to understand; I lived with this man and I still believed him even when I saw things happen with my own eyes.  Well, not entirely, but to a large degree.  He was so very, very, very good and utterly believable.  I doubted myself constantly.  He would tell me to my face I was lying about him punching holes in the walls, and he believed himself, when there were holes in the walls and his hand was torn up.  And I’d wonder if I could possibly be mistaken even though I had watched it happen – he was that believable.

But does the lack of visible bruises mean the abuse was any less real?  For a long time I thought it did.  I know for many years I thought it wasn’t that bad since other people have it so much worse.  Now, especially as I saw the way the whole package worked together – verbal abuse, anger, rage, violence, in one escalation/crisis/relief cycle package – I know this is not true.  I know there are people who say verbal abuse isn’t “as bad” as physical violence.  There are people who say verbal “abuse” isn’t abuse.  How little do they know. 

Abuse of any kind breaks its victims on the inside, regardless of whether there are visible bruises.  I think it can even be worse than physical abuse because visible bruises are clear-cut and undeniable (yes, I know the abuse is still denied, but it’s harder).  People will live a lifetime with verbal abuse and think it “doesn’t really matter” and “words can’t kill” when, in fact, words do hurt and they can, literally, kill.  I’ll talk about that more eventually as well.

Abuse is more about the attitude of the abuser than it is about the actions used to express that attitude.  A lack of visible bruises should never be used as an excuse to deny abuse.  We need to look deeper than physical bruises.

“He Taught Me How to Fly” – How Abuse Affects a Child, Part 2

I’ll never forget how sick I felt the first time I heard my oldest son, J, verbalize his memories of his early childhood.  I had wondered what he remembered and hoped he didn’t remember the specifics.  But when he was a teenager he finally told someone what he remembered.  He was speaking to someone else, I can’t remember who now, and I was listening.  I had never spoken to him about the details because I didn’t want to color his memories, just in case he didn’t remember. 

This is what he said:

I remember being kicked into the closet.

I remember being slammed against the walls.

I remember running down the hall to get away from him and pushing the crib behind the door so he couldn’t get into the bedroom to get me because I was so afraid.

My dad taught me how to fly [spoken with heavy sarcasm].  He threw me across the room when he was angry.

While most of these could have happened at almost any age, the one about the crib occurred before he was 4 years old. 

It was also revealing, and just as heart-breaking, what he didn’t bother to mention. He never mentioned the slaps (open-handed, full-strength strikes to any body part) and punches, or being hit with whatever object was closest to his father’s hand at the time. These went on all his life, though after he was reported to DFCS “Gary” stopped hitting first. Instead he would provoke J until J flinched first. Then Gary could justify bringing out the fists in the name of “defending his manhood.” (So for the last 4 years we were together I couldn’t ever say Gary initiated physical violence – thus he and everyone else, including the judge in our divorce, thought he was a changed man.) J also never mentioned all the times his dad called him “demon child” or some version of that in his frequent rages. These things were so “normal” they didn’t even rate mention.

As I’m writing this my insides are trying to climb out of my skin. Why, why, why would no one ever believe me? Why was the answer always “submit more,” “have faith,” “remain faithful,” etc.? None of those answers even touched the question, “What about the children?”  Both of the first two times I left him it was about his abuse of the children.  When I asked for help I was betrayed, denied and disbelieved. When I left Gary he convinced everyone I was lying or it was my fault. And because those voices were so loud and so unanimous I kept believing them.

 I was afraid of the authorities because the fundamentalist system in which I was raised painted the government, and especially family and children’s services, as evil people who couldn’t wait to take away the children of Christians, abuse them and turn them against their faith. When Gary was finally reported to the authorities I trusted them. The church had failed me; the authorities were supposed to protect us and they were supposed to be able to recognize abuse.

But Gary convinced the DFCS case worker I was teaching J to disrespect him and he was only responding to J’s taunts and rebellious mouth. Everytime I talked to her she threatened to take the kids away from both of us because Gary was violent and I was teaching the children to disrespect him. She scared me to death.

Later our Christian counselor (the one who didn’t believe me and didn’t approve of our separation) also said my actions were teaching our children disrespect.

The accusation of disrespect came because every time Gary became angry I got between him and the kids. I tried to reason with him. In the moment I had two choices. Walk away and let him mistreat the kids or get in the middle and try to reason with him and get him to stop. By necessity, these arguments (because that was always what they became) happened in front of the kids. There was no opportunity to take them out of the room – Gary wouldn’t cooperate with that. But they did serve the purpose of turning his anger onto me and off the kids. That action on my part was “disrespect.” And yes, I was angry in those times. But I never raged and I never got physical. I never screamed and I never used profanity – which was his modus operandi. (To be absolutely honest, I did scream at him twice while I was on chemo – and immediately apologized and took myself out of the room. It was because my meds were out of balance and getting them balanced fixed the problem.)

Two voices both said I was teaching the boys disrespect of their father — I believed them both. I apologized to the boys. And I tried to be even more reasonable. I learned to never engage in anger; to remain calm and reasonable. I still got in the middle because I couldn’t just walk away and let him treat the kids that way. And every time J mouthed off to his dad I also talked to him about his disrespect and his responsibility to do what was right no matter the provocation.  These conversations took place in private.  Gary frequently accused me to “buddying up” with J in these conversations and taking sides with J against him, which was not true at all, but no one believed me. 

Of course, the fact that I didn’t get angry back at him only made him angrier. Previously, when I did get angry, he excused his rage saying it resulted from my anger. When I didn’t get angry anymore he said I was treating him like a child (disrespect again) and it excused his rage. Somehow if I said anything, his rage was my fault. He could get angry about anything and was both entitled and excused; I was not allowed to ever be angry about anything – not his lies, not when he put us in danger with his choices, not when he abused our children.

At that point, J had never initiated physical violence toward his father and didn’t for another couple years after that. Not until he was physically larger than his father. Let me ask the question no one else seemed to be able to see — why was it OK for Gary to punch his son in the abdomen hard enough to leave marks I could still see a couple hours later, no matter what came out of his mouth? On the other hand, why was Gary excused for everything that came out of his mouth because we “provoked” him – by being too loud, or interrupting his TV show (a common offense that resulted in physically violent rage), by doing whatever he found annoying at the time? Why, why, why????