Anderson Cooper Of CNN recently reported on four decade long allegations of abuse at Hephzibah House, a religious reform school for “troubled young girls.” Thanks to Gary Tuchman for his investigation and effort.
The survivors of Hephzibah House are the only one’s who deserve the credit for this being aired on CNN~Anderson Cooper 360. The victory rests solely on these ladies tenacity and bravery.
Many of these former students were allegedly abused in many horrific ways. The reports of abuse ranged from brutal beatings to forced vaginal exams performed by male personnel in a closet, to students being forced into wearing diapers because of denied permission to use the bathroom facilities. Many of these former students are offering statements of abuse throughout their stay at the Fundamentalist Baptist-based school.
The Hephzibah House is a Winona Lake, Indiana boarding school for troubled teenage girls usually committed by their parents and recommended by Baptist pastors. The school/home does not fit any category for a state license. A private religious school does not require state certification. In other words, there’s not much the state government can do about the abuse of former members unless the laws are changed. As mentioned in Tuchman’s interview, according to current Indiana law there needs to be a complaint while a student is a current student. Girls rarely, if ever leave the compound the entire time they are at Hephzibah House. Phone calls to the girls parents are listened in on by a staff member on an extension. The girls are told they can only talk about positives at Hephzibah House on these calls. Letters home to parents are censored. If the letter does not pass the censor, the letter is given back to the girl to be re-written.
What is written above, are not isolated incidents. The former Hephzibah House ladies have been telling horrifying, very similar accounts for nearly 4 decades.
Below is the CNN transcript from September, 2, 2011
Aired September 2, 2011 – 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Tonight a Special Report: ungodly discipline. For weeks we’re been investigating deadly collision of faith and family. In the hour ahead, you are going to meet some parents who believe that the bible commands them to spank their children, even very young children, toddlers. Spank them so hard that it hurts, that they cause physical pain. They call it spiritual spanking, and they believe it’s god’s will.
Lydia Schatz’s was just 7-years old when she was beaten to death in the name of God. She allegedly mispronounced a word during the home schooling session. That was her so-called sin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard the phrase death by a thousand lashes. That’s basically what this was.
COOPER: Lydia’s parents pleaded guilty and were sent to prison. But Michael Pearl, the man whose teaching they followed, is still spreading his gospel through a book he wrote with his wife to train up a child. Formerly, more than a million companies have been sold. The Pearl wrote it as a blueprint for raising children they said the way the bible commands.
MICHAEL PEARL, AUTHOR, TO TRAIN UP A CHILD: It says if you spare the rod, you hate your children. But if you love him, you chase him timely.
COOPER: The Pearl say they’re not to blame for what the Schatz’s has did, but spare the rod, spoil the child is a message many Fundamentalist Christians and their preachers embrace. You’ll hear from some of them tonight. You will also hear from a woman whose parents followed the Pearl’s teachings when she was growing up. Her calls it biblical chastisement, she calls it abuse.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a systemic form of brainwashing of these children.
COOPER: Our investigation also led us to a corner of Christian fundamentalism that operates on this entirely beyond the reach of authorities. Fundamentalist Baptist Homes were so-called trouble teens. They say they build character and help wayward young Christians find thirty paths back to God. Some formal residents describe them as houses of horror.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When they just bodily man handled me to the floor, and he hit me with a board as hard as he could. And I was shocked. I had been paddled my whole life and never was hit like that. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have nightmares about it all the time. Like very vivid dreams trapped inside of this house again and can’t get out.
COOPER: Accusations of abuse both physical and emotional all inflicted in the name of God. You’ll hear their stories ahead. You will also from the pastor who runs the home.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people complain they’ve been abused at your house. Can you give us a comment about that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I would rather not.
COOPER: He wasn’t happy to see us, but he did answer some questions. That’s ahead.
We begin though with a case that put Michael and Debbie Pearl’s popular Christian parenting book on the defensive. It’s a book familiar to many fundamentalist Christians who rely in his teachings to help raise their kids. So, now it didn’t get much attention outside those circles, but that’s changing now that a little girl has died. Here’s part one of Gary Tuchman’s report.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The small town of paradise, California. Where these children lived with their parents in a fundamentalist Christian home. For the nine children life in paradise was anything but. We cover up eight of their faces because they’re the survivors, survivors of a violent form of discipline practiced by their parents, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz’s. The one face not covered is their 7- year-old adopted daughter Lydia. She was killed by her parents.
Mike Ramsey is the district attorney of butte county in northern California.
MIKE RAMSEY, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, BUTTE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: We’ve heard of the phrase “death by a thousand lashes.” that’s basically what this was.
TUCHMAN: This is where the family used to live. The children’s sandbox is still here, so is their slide and their tree house, but the surviving children are now in foster homes and the parents are in prison.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Violated section 273 a (inaudible).
TUCHMAN: They pleaded guilty to killing Lydia and seriously injuring her 11-year-old sister Zariah who almost died. Authorities say Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz beat their children regularly because they believed god wanted them to do. The district attorney said the Schatz’s believed.
RAMSEY: Spare the rod will spoil the child. And if you can train your hours and you can train your dog you can train your children.
TUCHMAN: The 7-year-old Lydia suffered terribly supposedly in the name of God, but authorities say this was torture and murder by parents who were supposed to love and cherish their child. Inside this house they found important evidence, the so-called biblical rods Schatz’s had inside. What they were 15-inch long plumbing supply tubes used to beat the children and also important? A book was found inside. A book that appeared to light the fuse to the deadly brutality.
The book is called “to train up a child.” Its author is this man on the tractor, Michael Pearl and his wife, Debbie. They consider themselves observant Christians who run an organization called No Greater Joy Ministries from their Tennessee farm.
MICHAEL PEARL: Well, I’m a preacher, minister of the gospel.
TUCHMAN: Their book and others they’ve written stacked in a warehouse on their farm. All of them guided, they say, by the teachings in the bible.
MICHAEL PEARL: It says if you spare the rod, you hate your children. If you love him you chase in him timely.
TUCHMAN: A rod according to the Pearls’ manual can be anything from a tree switch to a spatula. In the book they describe the rod as a magic wand. God would not commanded parents to use the rod if it were not good for the child. The Pearl say parents should stay in control and not act as extreme, but they also declare any spanking to effectively reinforce instruction must cause pain.
Let’s say a 7-year-old slugs his sister.
MICHAEL PEARL: He would get a 7-year-old would get 10 or 15 licks, and it would be a formal thing. In other words, you maintain your patience there, you explain to him what he’s done was violent and that that’s not acceptable in society and it’s not acceptable in the home. And I would take him somewhere like into his bedroom and I would tell him I’d give him 15 licks.
TUCHMAN: With what?
MICHAEL PEARL: Probably a belt with that boy. I probably use the belt that would be handy. I might use a wooden spoon or a piece of, like, plumbing supply line, a quarter inch in diameter, flexible.
DEBI PEARL, AUTHOR, TO TRAIN UP A CHILD: Something flexible.
TUCHMAN: So, what I’m saying here is, why not use your hand instead of all the material things?
MICHAEL PEARL: Let me show you something. Does that hurt?
TUCHMAN: Doesn’t feel good.
MICHAEL PEARL: Look what it’s doing to your whole body. Your hand so something is a karate chop.
TUCHMAN: So, what you’re telling me now that when you use this material that it can’s cause a permanent pain?
MICHAEL PEARL: My children never had marks left on them.
TUCHMAN: Look at the body of Zariah, the daughter seriously injured by her parents. These are just some of her wounds, other wounds and bruises on her body and on the body of her sister Lydia who died are too graphic for us to show. Lydia was so severely beaten she died with a condition usually associated with earthquakes and bombings.
What do you think influences the Schatz’ to beat, terrorize and torment their children by them?
RAMSEY: A book by Mr. Pearl. There’s no doubt about that.
TUCHMAN: Lydia was beaten for seven continuous hours, interrupted by short prayer breaks on the day she died. The sound of the police siren was recorded by a paradise police officer racing to the house. When he arrived he tried to save Lydia with CPR with both of the parents present.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She’s swallowed a lot of vomit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was like really tired and her eyes, her vision was blurry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, baby.
TUCHMAN: And listen later in the day to the seriously injured Zariah.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where do you get spanked? Just on the arms and your back?
ZARIAH SCHATZ, DAUGHTER, KEVIN AND ELIZABETH SHOTS: On my bottom and on my back last night, too. Underneath my feet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Underneath your feet? Zariah, I’d like to take you to the hospital, OK?
ZARIAH SCHATZ: I probably need to bring a pot because I might throw up again.
TUCHMAN: At the sentencing hearing the 11-year old Zariah who is still recovering from a serious injuries, had the courage to address her parents in open court about her deceased sister. She said “why did you adopt her? To kill her?” It’s a heart-breaking story.
Kevin pleaded guilty to murder and torture and will be in jail for at least 22 years. Elizabeth for at least 12. Do you think if the Schatz’ did not read the pearls’ books there would be a good chance Lydia was alive?
RAMSEY: I believe there would be.
MICHAEL PEARL: We reviewed the case and we tried to find out what happened to see if there was blame pointed at us so we looked into it.
COOPER: When we come back, has the death of little Lydia Shot caused the Pearls to rethink their parenting advice. Gary gets a lesson in language.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL PEARL: No, I don’t use the term hitting.
TUCHMAN: What the word?
MICHAEL PEARL: Spanking.
TUCHMAN: Is there a difference?
MICHAEL PEARL: Absolutely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It will explain that ahead. Also, had Gary investigates some really disturbing allegations of harsh abuse and even brainwashing at a fundamentalist Baptist home for so-called troubled teens. For special report “ungodly discipline” continues in a moment.
COOPER: We started working on tonight’s special report “ungodly discipline” after hearing about a little girl in California who was beaten to death by her parents. That’s the little girl there. That in itself is a horrifying story. But the fact that her parents believed God wanted them to beat their daughter made the story more disturbing.
Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz now are serving prison sentences. They kept a controversial parenting book in their home, a book that says good wants parents to spank their children with rods and switches even rubber tubing. And that the spanking should be hard enough to cause physical pain. The couple who wrote the book says they’re not to blame for the Schatz’ did. The district attorney sees it differently. Once again, here’s Gary Tuchman.
TUCHMAN: Michael Pearl is a competitive knife and tomahawk thrower. He never misses the target. But it’s just a hobby. His life’s work is preaching. He targets what some might call extreme discipline of children.
MICHAEL PEARL: I’ve never met any well-trained emotionally secure, happy, creative children that weren’t spanked. TUCHMAN: Pearl is a minister of the gospel, a devout Christian. He and his wife are best-selling authors that have written many religiously themed books. But their most popular and most controversial is a book called “to train up a children,” in which they write about the need to inflict physical pain.
MICHAEL PEARL: I don’t use the term hitting.
TUCHMAN: What’s the word?
MICHAEL PEARL: Spanking.
TUCHMAN: Is there a difference?
MICHAEL PEARL: Absolutely. A hand is hitting. A little switch is spanking. A wooden spoon or a spatula, rubber spatula that is spanking.
TUCHMAN: In the book the Pearl’s that live in rural Tennessee declare the rod as a gift from God, use it as the hand of God to train your children. They say any spanking to effectively reinforce instruction must cause pain.
This couple believed in the Pearl’s, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz parents of nine children read their book. As a matter of fact the book was found in their house and put in an evidence bag after the California couple pummeled one of the their daughters for hours. 7- year-old Lydia Schatz, who has been adopted from Liberia, died after suffering horrific injuries all over her body. Mike Ramsey is the district attorney in butte county, California.
RAMSEY: What we’re talking about and as we charged torture over hours.
TUCHMAN: This past spring the Schatz’s pleaded guilty to the killing of their daughter Lydia and seriously injuring her older sister, Zariah. These are photos of some of the sisters’ wounds, the marks left by the rods. Many of the images are too gruesome to show. The Schatz’s said they regularly beat the other children. We’re covering the faces of the survivors to protect their privacy.
RAMSEY: That the book was there. It was there and underlined and underscores.
TUCHMAN: There’s no question in your mind this book by the Pearl’s influenced the Schatz’s to beat, brutalize and terrorize the children?
RAMSEY: None at all.
TUCHMAN: No question?
RAMSEY: No question.
TUCHMAN: But the Pearl’s feel differently saying their book rejects parents losing control and acting out of anger. TUCHMAN: So, you’re not accepting any blame?
MICHAEL PEARL: Absolutely not.
TUCHMAN: How scared were you that there would blame pointed at you?
MICHAEL PEARL: I don’t think I was scared at all. There’s never been a suggestion by anyone that someone’s lost control because of what they read in our book.
TUCHMAN: The district attorney clearly disagrees and puts blame on the Pearl’s for the tragedy. He acknowledges that’s about as far as he can go.
TUCHMAN: Was there ever any consideration at exploring legal charges against the Pearl’s?
RAMSEY: Not really, because they have a first amendment right to say awful things.
TUCHMAN: The Pearl’s say they feel badly for the girl who died, but are unapologetic. They’re not shy about using props and humor.
MICHAEL PEARL: I’m going to spank this CNN man.
TUCHMAN: To show how they believe God wants parents to spank.
MICHAEL PEARL: Rubbing the spaghetti all over your head. You shouldn’t have done that at seven years of age.
TUCHMAN: OK. That hurts, and I’m 50. I mean, I -
MICHAEL PEARL: Are there any marks on you?
TUCHMAN: No. But you would hit a 5-year-old like that?
MICHAEL PEARL: Yes, sure.
TUCHMAN: The Pearl’s say you can never be too young for some physical pain. For example, when a baby bites during breast feeding?
DEBI PEARL: I would gently pull their hair gently but enough to make them let go.
TUCHMAN: The spankings with various objects say the Pearl’s are actually done out of love. The Pearl’s appear to be staying prolific with their writings and preaching’s. They say they’re simultaneously writing four new books. There’s no indication that any controversy slows them down.
Why should it say the Pearl’s? They say it worked for their children, and most importantly this is what God wants.
MICHAEL PEARL: We don’t punish our children, but we sometimes need to get their attention. TUCHMAN: The eight surviving Schatz children are all in foster homes. They and their sister, Lydia, certainly got our attention.
Gary Tuchman, CNN, Paradise, California.
COOPER: Harsh discipline in the name of God. It’s not just happening inside private homes like the Schatz’s and the Pearl’s. Just ahead, what we uncovered by a fundamentalist Baptist home for so- called troubled teens. A facility that operates outside of the oversight of regulators because of its religious affiliation. Also ahead, a woman whose childhood was filled with beating, she says all in the name of God. Her father was a pastor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These pastors are advocating a very systemic form of punishment that outside of their community would be referred to as abuse. Inside the community it’s called spiritual spanking.
COOPER: The case of Lydia Schatz, a 7-year-old girl beaten to death by her parents raises the question whether some parents are using the bible to justify their own bad parenting or misinterpreting things. But before the break you heard from Michael Pearl, Christian minister and author of the popular parenting book “to train up a child”. His book tells parents that God wants them to spank their children with rods and belts and switches and spank them hard enough to cause pain. Now, many fundamentalist preachers agree with Minister Pearl. One example is Roger Voegtlin, leader of the Fairhaven Baptist Church in Indiana. Here’s part of an audio recording of the recent sermon he gave.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER VOEGTLIN, LEADER, FAIRHAVEN BAPTIST CHURCH IN INDIANA: This evening I’d like to preach on spanking according to the bible. Now, this is not a new subject here at Fairhaven Baptist Church.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: He then talked about the proper way in his opinion to administer discipline.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOEGTLIN: What is a rod? I don’t know it’s I don’t think it’s a ball bat. I don’t think it’s a club or whatever the parent can grab at the moment. The rod in scriptures never carefully define, but it’s obviously some kind of a stick or a switch, and it’s designed to give a sharp, unpleasant pain. If that isn’t the result of your spanking, then you’re failing. A sharp, unpleasant pain!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Fairhaven is part of the network of independent fundamentalist Baptist churches. Jocelyn Zichterman grew up in the independent fundamentalist Baptist Church. I spoke to her earlier.
COOPER: What was your upbringing like? You underwent what I think is called biblical chastisement. What did that actually mean?
JOCELYN ZICHTERMAN: Yes, that’s right. There are large network of churches as you mentioned known as the independent fundamental Baptist and we use the acronym IFB as a very simplistic way to explain the group. But the IFB believes in something called breaking the will of a child.
So, my father was an IFB pastor. He currently is an IFB pastor and he practiced this form of discipline that Michael Pearl is advocating in his book you know “to train up his child.” And that could mean that our spanking sessions and I refer to as beating sessions could last 15 minutes to several hours at a time because basically these pastors believe that a child needs to have no will of their own. So they continue to administer discipline until a child is completely docile in a way that they show no negative emotion. That’s the goal in the discipline session.
COOPER: But all the pastors say we’re not calling for abuse of a child. We are not calling for you know, this can be misused by bad parents out there that who act out in anger and are irresponsible, but that’s not what they’re calling for?
ZICHTERMAN: Michael Pearl says he does not advocate anyone spanking a child in anchor or being out of control, and that’s what really difficult to explain to the outside of the IFB. Because the IFB pastors are not advocating losing control and beating a child to death. These pastors are advocating a very systemic form of punishment that outside of their community would be referred to as abuse inside the community it’s called spiritual spanking. So that’s – it’s a matter of semantics. They would say you shouldn’t lose your temper. You shouldn’t be out of control. When we hear of parents that kill children in our country, we think of parents that lost control completely, and then it ended in the death of a child. But these parents are making a conscious decision to beat a child for several hours at a time because of something that’s embedded within their belief system in the IFB.
COOPER: You run a Web site called freedomfromabuse.net where you try bring together people that were victims of abuse from the hands of parents who believe they were falling biblical ruling. But I mean, plenty of parents believe in some form of corporal punishment?
ZICHTERMAN: Yes, that’s right. When you think of corporal punishment in our country, I think most people would say or I think majority of people at in the point in time would say you know at a time or two, I swatted my 2 or 3-year-old on the butt you know when they were running out into the street. That’s not what’s being promoted within this group.
This is a systemic form of brainwashing of these children, to again, to break them completely of a will. We were to be completely submissive. So, here’s how I would explain it. When you can imagine a 3 or 4-year-old being spanked, the parent is laying the child down, they’re spanking them, and you know if you’re a 3-year-old you’re going to squirm during a spanking session like that. And that squirm is a revelation to them that the child is exerting their will, and that will needs to be broken. So the parents continue to spank. So in the Lydia Schatz’s case I believe they interpreted any kind of bodily movement of Lydia’s as a willful spirit that they needed to break, and so that’s why the session lasted as long as we’ve heard of seven hours.
COOPER: I guess, though, there’s clearly abuse, and in the Lydia Schatz’s case I don’t think anyone would – I don’t think anybody in this church would say that was acceptable. They will all say that was horrific. It seems like I mean is it fair to be casting aspersions against an entire you know church organization as supposed to just bad individuals who clearly abuse a child?
ZICHTERMAN: Well, I think that, that’s where the history of the IFB has come into light now. ABC “20/20″ did a documentary on April 8th called shattered faith in which they took a whole year to do an investigative journalistic piece on this culture. And the findings were yes this is what’s being taught from the pulpits of these IFB pastors.
COOPER: I should point out we called the church for a response to talk to the pastor, and did not get a response. We look forward to continuing that discussion. Thank you very much.
ZICHTERMAN: Sure. Thank you.
COOPER: We reached out a number of times to Roger Voegtlin to request an interview or statement, and he declined and sort did the Fairhaven Baptist Church. Our invitation is still open.
Just, to add in our special report “ungodly discipline”. What’s really going on inside this fundamentalist Baptist home for so-called troubled teens? Disturbing allegations from former residents are making and the special protection the law gives religious group homes.
Gary Tuchman investigates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: We have had a lot of people complain they’ve been abused at your house. Can you give us a comment about that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I would rather not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, there’s a network of religious affiliated reform schools that cater to fundamentalist Baptist churches. These group homes can be traced back to Texas radio Evangelist Lester Roloft who founded the Rebecca Home for girls in 1967. He used the girls singing group called the “Honeybee Quartet” to promote the home.
His home for girls faced allegations of abuse, and now decades later another home that grew out of the same tradition is facing similar allegations. Once again, here’s Gary Tuchman.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): I’m about to meet a man who I know doesn’t want to talk me. We know that because Don Williams and his father, Ron, had already told us in an e-mail they would not comment about abuse that has allegedly happened for many years on the secluded property in the northern Indiana Town of Wynonna Lake.
The Hepsava House is a self-described fundamentalist Baptist boarding school and church for adolescent girls. The allegations are so disturbing. We felt we needed a face-to-face meeting with the father or the son in charge. We found the son in a parking lot.
(on camera): We’ve had a lot of people complained they’ve been physically, emotionally, mentality abused at your house. Can you give us a comment about that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would rather not.
TUCHMAN: Our conversation did not end there. But first let us introduce you to Susan Grotte who is now, 45 but spent two and a half years there starting when she was 15.
SUSAN GROTTE, FORMER HEPZHIBAH HOUSE STUDENT: It was going to be gardening and crafts and singing and just a chance to heal.
TUCHMAN: That’s what your parents thought this school was going to be?
GROTTE: That’s right.
TUCHMAN: Was it in any way correct?
GROTTE: No, no. I knew that the minute the door shut behind me.
TUCHMAN: On her first day in this house, which was the facility used back then, Susan said she was accused of having a bad attitude while cleaning the ceiling. So two staff women grabbed her and Don William’s father administered what she said was known as godly discipline.
GROTTE: This bodily man-handled me to the floor, and he hit me with the board as hard as he could. He’s a very big man. I was shocked. I had been paddled my whole life and never been hit like that. TUCHMAN: Me’chelle Dowling is 20 years old. She just got out of the Hephzibah House a few years ago. Her parents thought the strict religious curriculum would make her a better Baptist.
ME’CHELLE DOWLING, FORMER HEPHZIBAH HOUSE STUDENT: They told me that, you know, it would be good for me and I’d make good life changing decisions.
TUCHMAN: Me’Chelle was only 12 and brand new in the house when she says two staff women told her to take off her clothes and forced her into a closet where a man would give what Hephzibah House claims is a medical examination.
DOWLING: They hold both my legs and both my arms down and let him do this to me. Stuck a speculum inside of me, and I was scared. I was screaming. I didn’t want him to touch me. There was nothing I could do.
TUCHMAN: Both women talk about being forced to eat a lot of food, sometimes not being given any food, being forced to drink a lot of water. Susan says 28 girls shared three bedrooms on the upper floor of this house. There was one toilet. But –
GROTTE: If I stood up to go to the bathroom, no, you can only go to the bathroom when you’re told.
TUCHMAN (on camera): These are big girls you were with?
TUCHMAN: What would happen if you went to the bathroom without asking?
GROTTE: You would be paddled, yes.
DOWLING: I would wet the bed every single night I was there. They made a spectacle of you like you were this horrible person for doing that. I ended up having to wear pull-ups every night. Would watch me put it on every night, and they’d make me show it to them when I would take it off in the morning.
TUCHMAN: It’s been open a long time, lots of people have complained about getting beaten, emotionally tormented, and mentally tormented in the name of religion. And as a lot of us were very religious, we don’t believe in hitting people, tormented them and having to wear diapers and making them drink and making them eat things they don’t want to. I want to know why you do that?
DONALD WILLIAMS, HEPHZIBAH HOUSE: I prefer not to decline, sir.
TUCHMAN: But why can’t you comment if you believe in what you do? This is your chance to tell viewers.
WILLIAMS: I understand that, but I prefer not to.
TUCHMAN: If you could tell me why? WILLIAMS: I’m respectfully declining.
TUCHMAN: Don Williams is also the pastor at the church on the Hephzibah House grounds. A former church-goer gave CNN a CD sold by the church in which Williams is apparently preaching his views about who is to blame when a male whistles at a female.
WILLIAMS: If you girls are walking down the sidewalk and some fellows drive by and they whistle, you better stop and think about that. What drew that whistle? Was it the way I was walking or maybe the way I was dressed or whatever? Did I do something to defraud those men?
TUCHMAN: Hephzibah’s web site features pictures of girls who have attended and claims there are no spankings or any out of the ordinary punishments. This facility has been around for about four decades. It seems to be a thriving enterprise.
As you can see the people in charge don’t particularly want to answer my questions. We’re not alone. They don’t really answer government either.
In Indiana group homes operated by churches and religious ministries are exempt from licensure. So nobody in the government even knows what’s going on behind the closed doors. The women say their parents also had no idea what was going on there.
(on camera): In the 15 months that you were in this house, how many times did you leave the grounds to go somewhere else?
TUCHMAN: The Indiana governor’s office says there’s nothing it can do. The attorney general’s office says it doesn’t have jurisdiction and the same thing with the Indiana Department of Education.
(on camera): Notably though the Indiana Department of Child Services said it could investigate providing there was a current complaint and not from someone who already walked out of door.
We talked to a dozen women who say they were victimized at Hephzibah House, and they said they could never make any private phone calls or send uncensored letters while on the inside.
(voice-over): Hephzibah House is not the only facility of its kind. Across the country, victim advocates say there are an unknown, but large number of similar programs.
DOWLING: I have nightmares of it all the time. Like very vivid dreams like I’m trapped inside this house again and can’t get out. That’s like the only thing I want is to run out a door, and for some reason I can’t.
GROTTE: I think I fantasize about suicide those first years out.
TUCHMAN: We wanted to give Williams one last chance to answer the allegations.
(on camera): Is it true or is it not — this is a yes or no question?
WILLIAMS: It’s not true.
TUCHMAN: So they’re lying to us?
WILLIAMS: I’m — see, that’s where you’re trying to get me backed into a corner. It’s their word against mine.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): We were not permitted to take video on Hephzibah House property, but we did walk up the front steps and ring the bell. We saw a girl hustle back inside the home. We saw girls through the windows, but nobody would answer the door.
COOPER: Gary joins us now. Why would the school use food and water as discipline?
TUCHMAN: Authorities at these institutions, they have a laser- like focus on discipline. They feel it’s very important to make the children who attend these schools submissive and then they’re disciplined.
COOPER: They’re saying these are problem kids coming there, and you can’t deal with them necessarily through regular means?
TUCHMAN: I mean, not all these kids are problem kids. A lot of parents are problem parents. They don’t want to take care of kids as symptoms of this institution. That’s not exactly true.
COOPER: Is Indiana really powerless to do an investigation of the school?
TUCHMAN: No. I mean, if the governor — this particular school has been open for 40 years. If any of the governors over the last 40 years wanted to make this a cause or attorney general, they could lobby the legislature. There seems to be no incentive to do anything about it.
COOPER: And if the federal government, I mean, is there any rule of the federal government getting involved?
TUCHMAN: Yes, there is. Three years ago a bill went to Congress that would put more oversight over private boarding schools to help prevent child abuse. It passed the House, but it died in a Senate committee and never came back.
COOPER: Fascinating report. Gary, thanks. After Gary talked to Don Williams, Hephzibah House reached out and offered to put us in touch with another former student who was willing to talk about her time in the facility.
Her name is Lucinda Pennington. Her family sent her to the school when she was 15. She stayed for three years. She joins me now.
Thanks for being with us, Lucinda. You went to this house in 1988 when you were 15. You say you liked it there. Why?
LUCINDA PENNINGTON, FORMER HEPHZIBAH HOUSE STUDENT: I did. I felt safe and secure there. It was a place for me to be able to get back on track.
COOPER: You came from an abusive family situation, and they were very supportive at Hephzibah House?
PENNINGTON: Yes, very supportive. They helped me get out of the situation that I was in and helped me in taking care of what needed to be taken care of.
COOPER: Were you ever beaten at Hephzibah House?
PENNINGTON: No, I was never beaten. I did receive a spanking, but never beaten.
COOPER: What sort of a spanking did you receive?
PENNINGTON: I had cheated on a test, and even though it had been several days, they had to wait and get contact with my parents first before they could spank me.
They took me upstairs, explained to me how it was done. I had to lay down on the floor. They held my hands and my feet and put a chair across my back. I don’t remember anything sitting on it. Granted, this was 23 years ago. I got three swats, and I was let up.
COOPER: Swats with what?
PENNINGTON: I think it was just a regular paddle. Then I was let up and sat on the couch, and we prayed and talked about, you know, I shouldn’t be cheating. Cheating is lying and then I — within the three years I only received two spankings. So it wasn’t like, you know, I got them all the time or anything like that.
COOPER: We’ve heard from other girls who were there who obviously describe what they call — refer to as abusive situations. They refer to like having to drink a lot of water and the not being allowed to go to the bathroom, being made to wear diapers. Did you see that? Did that happen to you? Why would that happen?
PENNINGTON: No. In the three years that I was there, there was only one girl that was made to wear a diaper. The situation was she had just gotten there. Hadn’t been there maybe a day, and these girls were not angels that arrived there. This girl was determined that nobody was going to tell her what to do, when to go to the bathroom. Because we did things on a timetable, on a schedule, especially during school hours, we would have breaks and recess.
She said, you’re not going to tell me when to go to the bathroom. She refused to use the bathroom. A few minutes later she asked to use the bathroom. They said no, you had the opportunity to use the bathroom.
When they told her that she needs to go when all the groups went, she said well I’m going to stand here and pee in my pants. They said that’s fine. If you do the consequence is because you won’t go to the bathroom when you’re supposed to, you’ll wear a diaper for a day.
She said I don’t care. She did it out of rebellion and spite. When they followed through with what they told her what would happen, it only took one day that she actually wore the diaper because the next day she did what she was supposed to.
COOPER: Why do you think so many girls are giving strikingly similar accounts of being abused, if that’s not what really happened? Do you think they’re lying?
PENNINGTON: I think for them some of the things were traumatic for them because they had never been in a situation where they had been told what to do. So for them to be told when to eat, when to sleep, you know, not have the freedom to do as they pleased.
Yes, they think they were abused, I guess you could say. Do I agree with that? No. I came from a situation where I knew the difference between a spanking and beating. If someone’s never been spanked, then, yes, somebody may say I was beat.
COOPER: Lucinda Pennington, I appreciate you being on and giving your perspective. Thank you so much.
PENNINGTON: All right.
COOPER: Still ahead, when faith and law collide. If your religion tells you that God demands you spank your child, who is to tell you otherwise? Under the law where is that line between spanking and abuse? We’ll be right back.
COOPER: Today, we’ve shown you how faith and family sometimes collide. Within their own homes, parents set the latitude in how they discipline kids. but exactly how much latitude, when does it legally become abuse, and what about outside the family?
Before the break, we showed you Gary Tuchman’s report on faith- based homes for so-called troubled teens that have long faced allegations of abuse, but because of their religious affiliation, they have a lot of freedom from oversight. Joining me now is Bruce Feiler, the author of “Walking the Bible” and “Generation Freedom.” Also joining is me senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Bruce, I think the idea of corporal punishment for kids is probably a lot more common among Evangelical Christians than a lot of people realize?
BRUCE FEILER, AUTHOR, “WALKING THE BIBLE”: Evangelical Christians are about say 15 percent of the country right now. I’m actually in Georgia right now, and I spent last weekend at a Christian marriage seminar in Nashville where 1,000 people spent six and a half hours inside a church on a Saturday afternoon listening to the biblical point of view on marriage, on family, on parenting, on sex.
What was striking to me about this conference is for many people in this country, many parents who are anxious about how to discipline their children, what’s too much, what’s not enough, they turn to what?
They turn to science. They turn to studies and therapy, things like this. For a lot of people in this country, particularly Evangelical biblical based Protestants, they turn to the bible. On this matter the bible is not particularly vague.
Several times in proverbs as we’ve been hearing all hour, it says very clearly if you spare the rod, you hate your children. If you want to discipline your children, you would be aggressive. So I think for these people there is comfort in the bible and, of course, what we know in America is sometimes the people that put their faith in the bible come in conflict with people that put their faith in science or, of course, the law.
COOPER: And of course, you know, how far does the discipline go and how do you define it? Gary Tuchman detailed alleged abuses, girls denied going to the bathrooms for hours and hours, force-fed and starved, abusive-sounding stuff. If it’s true, how can they be justified?
FEILER: Well, I think it’s hard to justify based on religion. Let’s put it that way. Remember, these are extreme people who are cutting themselves off taking an extreme view of religion. For most people who do support corporal punishment and as Jeff knows far better than I, almost half the states in the country it’s still legal at this point in time in American history.
Most of the people like focus on the family, which is a very conservative Evangelical group they say do it rarely, do it judiciously and do it gently. Even the people that support it go nowhere near these extreme cases we’ve heard in your reporting tonight.
There is a difference between what is occasional discipline of some kind and this clear open crossing the line into abuse and in some cases murder.
COOPER: Jeff, it’s an interesting legal issue because there are folks that say this is part of my religious relief. This is an extension of what I’ve read in the bible. This is my interpretation of it. Where does the law stand on, you know, hitting your child or hitting a student in a school?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Unfortunately, the law is very easy at the extremes. No one is going to get arrested for a spanking. If God tells you to rob a bank, you can’t rob a bank.
But when you get to these — the corporal punishment that is more than a spanking but less than a broken arm, the police struggle with these cases and the laws vary by state.
Most of the time the police don’t get involved in these, even though — the sad truth is most victims of murder, children who are victims of murder are children that are killed by their family members.
COOPER: Bruce, you make the point that the bible mentions a lot of things that aren’t accepted anymore?
FEILER: Well, look, in the 19th Century, I wrote about this in the book I wrote about the influence of the bible in American history few years ago called “America’s Prophet,” the bible openly supports slavery, and many people in the south used a biblical defense saying don’t trust me if Abraham had slaves, Moses had slaves and Jesus did nothing to stop slavery.
On the matters of family, the bible is not a parenting textbook. It’s not the Dr. Spock of the ancient world, and these attempts to take biblical passages and apply them are very dangerous.
Most mainstream Protestant group, the Methodist Church, for example, a few years ago have openly rejected this idea. My personal opinion about this is if you’re going to argue with people who are using the bible as a defense, you can’t use the law in a lot of ways.
You can’t use mainstream society or science don’t reject this. You’re almost better off making a biblical argument, which is to say this is a very fringe idea in the bible. It’s mentioned a few days in the book of proverbs, which is vague, poetic language. The larger theme of the bible, the first thing God says is have children and multiply.
Many people have argued against this from the biblical point of view has said this is against the idea of the bible. It’s against specifically the teaching of Jesus, which is to be sensitive to those vulnerable in society and who is more vulnerable than children?
So the way to argue in my view it’s not the law. It’s to say this is against the main theme of the bible.
TOOBIN: And let’s be clear. There is no such thing in an American courtroom as a biblical defense. You can make persuade a police officer not to arrest you, but once you’re in a courtroom, no judge is going to say, well, it’s OK if you bible says it’s OK. COOPER: But as Gary pointed out in his report, it seems like there’s very little regulation or oversight of homes or schools in Indiana.
TOOBIN: No, very little. Again, it varies by states. Private schools in general are outside the supervision of the state. That’s why you have a private school as opposed to a public school, but they still have to maintain a certain minimum standards.
You still have to have sprinklers for fire safety. You still have to have a certain number of hours a week of instruction if you’re a private or parochial school.
How many those rules are enforced varies a lot, and a lot of times religiously oriented schools have a lot of political power. They use that power to keep government supervision to a minimum.
COOPER: Interesting. Jeff Toobin, appreciate it. Bruce Feiler, always good to talk to you. Bruce, thanks.
FEILER: My pleasure.
COOPER: That’s it for our special report “Ungodly Discipline.” Thanks for joining us.
SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I’m Susan Hendricks with the “360 Bulletin.” Tonight, the Gulf Coast is bracing for Tropical Storm Lee. It is expected to hit land this weekend bringing strong winds and almost two feet of rain. A state of emergency is declared in Mississippi and New Orleans.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is urging residents in his state to get ready.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: We remind our people, you hope for the best and you prepare for the worst. The primary challenges for Louisiana will likely be a combination of heavy rainfall in combination with the rising tides. You’re going to see flood watches, flash flooding especially in coastal areas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENDRICKS: Half of oil production in the gulf is shut down ahead of the storm. In the Atlantic storm Katia has strengthened to a hurricane. But it’s still too early to tell whether Katia will make landfall here in the U.S.
A dark cloud over Wall Street today. Stocks take a tumble before Labor Day weekend. All three indices dropped more than 2 percent, the worst day in three weeks after a new jobs report showing zero new jobs were created in August. The worst report since last September. Casey Anthony’s attorneys back in court today. Prosecutors want Casey to pay more than $500,000 for the cost of the investigation into her Caylee Anthony’s disappearance and death. Casey’s attorney say the fines are accepted and prosecutors have, quote, “sour grapes” over their client’s acquittal on murder charges.
“PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT” starts right now. I’m Susan Hendricks.
More of the the survivors stories by survivors of the Hephzibah House here.