When Abusive Parents Homeschool

Earlier today I talked a bit about some of the things abusive and neglectful parents might find attractive about homeschooling. Now I want to look at what happens when abusive parents homeschool their children. Sometimes these parents homeschool for the same reasons as anyone else—for religious or educational reasons, for instance—and sometimes they homeschool for other reasons—because they want to have complete control over their children, or to hide their abuse. Whatever their reasons, when abusive parents homeschool the results can be truly disastrous.

Roger Canaff, a legal expert and anti-violence advocate, puts it this way: “When the wrong parent or parents homeschool, the results can be far worse than ‘just’ a badly educated child. An abusive parent who homeschools has more than a captive audience; he or she also has essentially a caged one.”

Take for example a story that hit the news earlier this week:

Girl, 14, forced to become pregnant with donor sperm bought by mother

Judge describes ‘wicked and selfish’ motive of using daughter to provide parent with a fourth child

A mother forced her 14-year-old adopted daughter to inseminate herself with donor sperm to provide a baby for her after she was prevented from adopting any more children, it can be revealed.

The daughter, a virgin, is believed to have miscarried at 14, but went on to have a baby at 16 after regularly inseminating herself with sperm bought over the internet by her “domineering” mother because she was too scared to refuse.

The mother had already adopted three children as babies from abroad, twice when she was married and once as a single parent after her divorce. She had chosen not to give birth herself because of a health condition and had undergone an elective sterilisation.

But she was distraught when an attempt to adopt a fourth baby was thwarted when she was denied approval.

The mother, described as “highly articulate”, and who “loves the children and they undoubtedly love her”, had isolated the family. The children were schooled at home, and the adoptive father of the eldest two was deliberately excluded, did not know where they lived and had not seen them for 10 years. Neighbours and social services were kept at bay.

The daughter, who had no friends of her own age, later told investigators she was “shocked, pretty shocked” when her mother first asked her but also thought, “if I do this … maybe she will love me more”.

The judge also noted that no checks were made on the children regarding home schooling after the mother refused to allow an education welfare officer to visit. The only contact was by email, so “the approval [for] home education was given without anyone ever setting eyes on the children”.

I’m sure this mother would have been abusive whether she homeschooled or not, but the sad reality is that homeschooling made it easier for her to abuse her children. After all, the daughter in this tragic story had no one to go to, no one to talk to about her abuse, no one to trust. Isolating her children via homeschooling allowed this mother to give full reign to her abusive tendencies, and the results were horrific.

Next, excerpts from Jenny’s story, which she titled “Homeschool Abuse Survivor.”

My Mother began “home schooling” me when I was 8, and you could pretty much say that was not only the end of my education, but my childhood really, because as soon as she started home schooling me, she shut the both of us up in our house for good. My brother and father both had jobs, so they came and went, but not me and my Mother…she kind of went crazy I guess. She was supposed to be a housewife, but she stopped cooking or cleaning, going to the grocery store or anything like that…I mean we did not go outside at all…I literally went for months at a time without going outside,…I was not allowed to go out without her, EVER. I never got to see or speak to anyone my age.

And of course, she WAS NOT TEACHING ME, she had me enrolled in a catholic home school program, and for whatever reason, she herself completed all of the assignments and turned them in, she would not let me do anything except the math, which she did not know how to do, but she said that I was too stupid to do the rest of the subjects. And I guess I believed her. Also, she got tired of even doing the schoolwork herself by 8th grade, and discontinued the program. She told me I did not need a diploma, after all, she never got one.

She was controlling to an unbelievable degree, this is going to sound strange, but I was not even allowed to wash myself, she said that it was too dangerous, that I might slip and fall in the shower, and she had to be the one to wash me. Our house was in awful condition because of her made up illnesses, and she got to a point where she was sleeping on the couch so that she could just lay there all the time and watch TV and she did not even want to have to get up to use the bathroom, so she made my father get her a bucket to put in front of the couch so she could use that as a toilet. She kept it covered with a pillow and I still remember the stench of urine coming from it…my father had to empty it every few days, (yes, she did EVERYTHING in that bucket) and every now and then he would complain but she always made him submit to what she wanted.

Things got worse and worse, she started hating sunlight, and covered up the windows with trash bags, (don`t ask me why she didn`t just get my dad to bring her some curtains I`ll never figure that one out) And even though she was no longer washing her own clothes or mine, (dad and brother washed their own) I was not allowed to use the washer, (too stupid, too dangerous) so I had like two sets of clothes which I would wear for months at a time and rotate, and one set of sheets on my bed for so long that they wore through until they had huge holes that my legs would get caught in.

Don`t get me wrong, I know that my Mother is the type of person who likely would have done all that to me somehow even if it were not for “home school” but home schooling GAVE an INSANE woman the TOOLS to do this to me. And I lose sleep at night sometimes thinking that there are other kids out there going through something like this. I truly think home schooling should be illegal, or at the very least, MUCH more closely monitored….

And then, of course, comes Hana Williams’ story (read the full affidavit here).

She was regularly spanked and locked in a closet, and was forced to sleep in a barn and take garden-hose showers outside, according to an affidavit from the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office. The affidavit was based on information from the couple’s six natural children, another adopted child, medical experts and other family and friends. The interviews were conducted by detectives and investigators from the state’s Child Protective Services.

In 2009, Hana weighed 108 pounds, but over the past two years of her life, she lost 30 pounds, largely because her parents denied her food as punishment, the affidavit says. She was so thin she couldn’t retain enough heat May 12, the night she died. She had been outside with no clothes and died of hypothermia, an autopsy found.

After this comes Mary’s story, in which she describes how being homeschooled by her mentally unstable mother went downhill quickly, leading to an entire childhood of almost unbelievable abuse. Her story is written in first person.

I cannot sleep and I am trying not to freeze.

It’s sometime in January and Abby and I have been kicked outside for two days. We were wearing just our shirts, jeans and socks when we got kicked out and it is so cold outside that we can see our breath is the air. We didn’t try to ask for our shoes and coats because they never let us have them. We are walking and walking around the house over and over trying so hard to keep warm. This might not be so hard if my stomach would stop screaming. It’s been 4 days since we have eaten a meal. We tried sneaking out a snack earlier and got caught. That is why we are outside.

Before Mom sent us out, though, she gave us both a spoon full of ipecac to make us throw up. We threw up but nothing came up but stomach juices because we hadn’t actually gotten anything yet when she caught us.

I’m so hungry that I feel dizzy and faint. Abby can hardly walk. We finally get too tired to walk anymore and go huddle together in the corner of the porch and cover ourselves in the cushions from the porch furniture. We usually go huddle in the van to get out of the wind but Dad caught us there the last time and they made sure that it was locked tonight. We finally manage to fall asleep but I wake up so often because of my stomach and being so cold.

Sometime after devotions the next morning, Mom comes to the door to give us our chores for the day that will be outside chores since we have been sent out. We are actually glad to have something to do because it will help us stay warmer. The next night passes just like the first and finally we are allowed back in the next morning in time for devotions.

Next, here’s a story currently in the courts:

Three children adopted from foster care by John and Carolyn Jackson were allegedly assaulted with various objects by the adopters. The children allegedly sustained fractured bones, which no medical attention was sought for. Furthermore, the children were allegedly withheld food and water and were forced to to consume food that caused them pain and suffering, such as red pepper flakes, hot sauce, and/or raw onion.

One of the three children adopted by John and Carolyn Jackson died May 8, 2008.

John and Carolyn Jackson home schooled their children and claim the Department of Youth and Family Services persecute them for their religious beliefs. John E. Jackson is a Major in the U.S. Army.

Here’s a story from 2010:

Six children adopted by Anya James were physically abused by their adoptive mother.The children were confined in small rooms with alarms on doors and windows to alert James if they tried to escape. They had to use kitty litter buckets as toilets. James homeschooled the children and allowed only minimal contact with the outside world.The children were malnourished because James severely restricted their diets, police say. Their growth was stunted to the extent they didn’t go through puberty as teenagers, and some children had downy hair cover (Lanugo) due to starvation.

This story comes from the family of a homeschooling Christian pastor:

9-year-old Brian Edgar, died of asphyxiation after his mouth had been taped shut and something like a sock had been stuffed in it. According to the coroner, there were signs that Brian had vomited and that he had been bound around the chest with a belt. In addition, the autopsy showed Brian had been dead for several hours before being brought to the hospital. There were bruises on his cheeks and old marks on his wrists and ankles, suggesting he probably had been bound with a rope in the past.

He was punished by his adoptive mother for stealing cookies.

Neil and Christy Edgar, pastors of God’s Creation Outreach Ministry were also charged with abusing 3 other adopted children. Christy Edgar was referred to as a prophet, and reportedly claimed God told her to tie up children as a discipline method.

I could keep going—there are so many more stories—but I’ll stop here.

Yes, most homeschool parents are dedicated, responsible and loving. But when abusive parents homeschool, the consequences for their children can be absolutely disastrous. The public school can often offer children from abusive homes a reprieve they would not have if they were homeschooled. Further, the public school brings abused children into contact with mandatory reporters and gives them the opportunity to confide in teachers or other adults who may come into their lives, something children who are homeschooled by abusive parents are often without. Finally, public schools offer abused children access to food and, in some cases, basic medical care—things that are completely controlled by the parents in abusive homeschooling situations. In effect, when children are homeschooled by abusive parents, they’re caged.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • mary

    thanks for getting the word out. we have homeschooled for many years, and the quiverfull movement makes me sick. i have witnessed these so called seminiars by the control freaks at conventions. thats why we don’t support them anymore. i would be all for some type of regulation/registration for homeschooling. there is nothing wrong with some type of accountability, but with enough freedom to determine the method/curriculum. thanks again.
    mary

  • Lauralee Moss

    Isolation- the hallmark of abuse.

  • Jules

    I went to public school. My vision was normal, 20/20 until midway through 5th grade. I noticed that the chalkboard was blurry from my seat in the middle of the classroom, I was squinting to see things far away, and I was getting headaches from straining to see. I told my mother all this and she accused me of making it up and just not wanting to do my schoolwork. I went to the school nurse, and she did that basic eye test where you cover one eye and then the other and read the lines on the wall chart. She confirmed that my vision was worse than 20/20. She sent a copy of my eye test along with a note home with me to my parents, instructing them to take me to an eye doctor. They immediately did. The doctor confirmed the test, my vision was not 20/20 and I needed glasses. I got them, I could see the chalkboard in class, and my headaches disappeared. What if I had been homeschooled?

    • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

      i was homeschooled starting the 7th grade. after the 6th grade was over, my parents thought it was a good idea to get everyone’s eyes checked. 2 of my brothers wanted glasses. my older brother was going to be starting a sort of an apprenticeship soon. but unfortunately for my poor brothers, no one needed glasses but me. i didn’t want them. My mom tried to tell the optometrist that being a homeschooled girl, i didn’t have any need to see far, did i? mom didn’t want to buy me any glasses. fortunately the optometrist was pushy (look, lady. SHE CANNOT SEE). I got glasses – yay i could see! – but was afraid to wear them because mom didn’t think they were very necessary for every day use and i was afraid of breaking them during a time I ‘didn’t even need them’. by the next time i went to the optometrist, my prescription was much more drastic (oh, and my dad became the one who took me). now i wear glasses or contacts constantly, because i really can’t see far without them. I have several back up pairs. i do so love being able to read signs and recognize faces that are more than a few feet away.

    • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

      had it been up to my mother, i wouldn’t have had glasses. being homeschooled, had the optometrist and my dad not stuck up for me, no one would have even known.

  • Guest

    My vision was normal, 20/20 until midway through 5th grade, and this was in public school. I noticed that the chalkboard was blurry from my seat in the middle of the classroom, I was squinting to see things far away, and I was getting headaches from straining to see. I told my mother all this and she accused me of making it up and just not wanting to do my schoolwork. I went to the school nurse, and she did that basic eye test where you cover one eye and then the other and read the lines on the wall chart. She confirmed that my vision was worse than 20/20. She sent a copy of my eye test along with a note home with me to my parents, instructing them to take me to an eye doctor. They immediately did. The doctor confirmed the test, my vision was not 20/20 and I needed glasses. I got them, I could see the chalkboard in class, and my headaches disappeared. What if I had been homeschooled?

    • “Rebecca”

      I was homeschooled and I had terrible vision when I was a kid, and it wasn’t until a Sunday school teacher noticed me squinting at the chalkboard that anything was done about it. She even got the church to help pay for my glasses because we couldn’t afford them. My parents seemed really annoyed by the meddling but I was grateful to finally be able to see well. I feel bad for all the homeschooled kids who didn’t have an adult to step in for them like that.

  • luckyducky

    Giving my children the opportunity to connect with, have relationships with, and trust not only their peers but to adults who are unrelated or not otherwise connected via a (semi)-closed group like church is one of the PRIMARY reasons why I send them to grade school. I am highly suspect of any parent who opts for homeschooling because of some sort of mistrust of the “system” and the adults who run schools.

    Sure, people have bad experiences and there are bad teachers and bad administrators but the “system’s” or any given administrator or teacher’s ability to inflict that sort of damage if far less than a parent’s and there are checks and balances and time limitations (next year, you get a different teacher).

    I had a couple of teen girls who used to babysit for me. They were homeschooled despite living in the best school district in the state (so it wasn’t a “quality” issue). The older one wouldn’t walk the 1/2 block home at 9pm (after dark) in our exceedingly safe neighborhood at 18 years old and wasn’t “allowed” to watch kids any later than that. The younger one didn’t learn to drive and couldn’t take the bus (stop 3 blocks away with the bus going straight to campus) so when she started community college at 17, her mom had to drive her to and from campus daily. I have no indication that there was any physical abuse but I count that as emotional abuse — mom (and dad) passed on her (their) anxiety and paranoia without anyone to provide a check.

    • Sally

      I think the stories Libby Anne shared are horrific and I was absolutely stunned while reading them.

      I think if we start saying overprotective parents are emotionally abusive, then we lose focus on what Libby Anne is talking about here. I agree those homeschoolers were too controlling. But if we want more regulation to prevent abuse, it’s not this kind of overprotection we’ll be trying to prevent with regulation. To put it another way, the *state* would be too controlling if it were to somehow try to prevent parents from making their 18 year olds be home by 9:00 p.m. and not let them take the bus to college.

      I hear you that these parents were being ridiculous, but there really isn’t a kind of check that could prevent this or even should, imo.

      • alfaretta

        Ridiculous doesn’t even begin to cover it. Draconian, maybe. There really isn’t a check that should prevent parents from torturing and murdering their children? Really?

      • Sally

        What? I (Sally) was replying to LuckyDucky’s post about teens who had to be in by 9:00 p.m. and couldn’t ride the bus.
        Why did you say, “There really isn’t a check that should prevent parents from torturing and murdering their children? Really?” I never suggested there is no such check regarding torture and murder, so why the question?

        Did you think I was responding to Libby Anne’s stories? I wasn’t. I was responding to LuckyDucky’s post. You have to notice the indentations and the little arrow next to the poster’s name. The little arrow points to a faint listing of the name the person is responding to. If you don’t check that first, you’ll get really confused (and it still can be confusing).

      • alfaretta

        Sorry — you are right, I was confused. (And I’ve hung around here long enough to understand the “reply” hierarchy.)

      • luckyducky

        Sally, the solution to the problem is not that the state is going to regulate familial rules — that isn’t what regulating homeschool is about (IMHO it should have the outcome of substantially limiting it). The point is that homeschooling facilitates isolation and abusive (emotional, physical, or sexual) behavior. If you limit isolation through regulation, it limits the potential for abuse.

        Yes, based on the info I provided, there was nothing outside the realm of acceptable but there were a lot of little things I didn’t put in a single comment… and those kids may have developed a degree of agoraphobia and other anxieties regardless of their schooling. And even if the parents were compliant with the most stringent of homeschool regulations, the parents may have still been able to accomplish the same thing. There is no perfect regulation and some undesirable behavior is too costly (literally or figuratively) to regulate or enforce regulations.

        However, if it was too burdensome to comply with regulations or if regulations got them in more contact with peers and other adults, I am willing to bet they wouldn’t have been so extreme. Interacting (meaningfully) with others who aren’t part of the same isolationist subculture can do wonders for kids. The kids may have pushed for more independence or developed a more reasonable risk thresholds if they’d been subject to more peer pressure (it isn’t all bad) and adults who explicitly or by example encourage the kids to try new things.

      • Sally

        OK, with what you’ve added, I see what you’re saying.

    • Becca

      LuckyDucky, I’m pretty sure you were our neighbor and are talking about me and my sister, because if two families met that description exactly it would be quite a coincidence. I grew up in Saratoga, California, and you would have known me as Becky or Rebecca. We babysat for two neighbor families, so I don’t have an exact guess as to who you are. If you’re my neighbor, thank you for noticing what was going on and making better choices for your family. I would love to reconnect and be able to talk openly about my childhood and teens with someone who knew me then.

      • luckyducky

        Becca, no I’ve never lived in Saratoga, CA. I have long wished I known how to help those girls better. I hope you can reconnect with the families you babysat for.

      • fencerman

        I admit I’m a complete stranger in this conversation – but would you be willing to share any of your story on this site? It sounds like it’s relevant.

      • Cristi

        I might have known you. Can’t picture any Becca’s right now, but I was homeschooled in San Jose between ’85-’95. I’d love to swap stories back and forth. You can email me if you feel like it: lietofine at yahoo

  • Sally

    I am stunned and shocked by these stories. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. We all know, and yet hearing it brings the knowing to a whole new level.

  • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

    this is terrible. it is sick how fundamentalist teachings make parents think they truly do own their children, and homeschooling lets the worst of the bunch get away with abusing their ‘property’ easily. people can homeschool without being abusive but sheesh, those people need to recognize that abuse happens, and we should have regulation to protect children.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    The question is what can possibly be done? Is regular checksups with the school district going to stop these things? I’m doubtful. If people can fake it at church, ugh.

    • NeaDods

      Nothing will stop people like this… But regular checks will FIND them, hopefully before the children are permanently damaged or killed.

      • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

        I hope your right. Believe me, I do, but a friend of mine was physically abused for years. He killed himself. And still no one in our homeschool group or anyone at their church knows that 1) He was physically abused or 2) he killed himself. Someone coming over and checking? nope, they’d never be caught unless they were caught in action.

      • orangekitties

        Yes, yes, YES for regular checks, if only to make the parents feel like they are accountable to some other outside authority. Such insane, controlling behavior and educational or emotional neglect should not be tolerated! After all, it is the children who are hurt by the parents’ behavior- the parents should have to pass a test that proves they can provide a reasonable home education. Because if the children don’t learn, they cannot easily better their situation when they escape their parents’ influence and control.

    • Alix_A

      I think this is one of those cases where we don’t want the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Nothing will catch all abuse – determined abusers will still find a way, which is why, y’know, kids in public school still get abused.

      But some oversight will help cut down on some – probably a lot – of the abuse and neglect, and even if it never catches all of it, that still seems like a good and necessary thing.

  • Zhana

    Oh my goodness, this horrifies me on a really visceral level. When I was much younger, my abusive parents would routinely threaten to pull me out of public school and homeschool me if I ever misbehaved. It always worked, because I knew that if I was really homeschooled then I would basically never be allowed to leave the house or speak to anyone outside my family again. Enforced social isolation by parents is one of those things that doesn’t sound that bad but is really kind of a psychological torture.

  • Staceyjw

    Ever notice how many of these poor kids were ADOPTED? It makes me so mad.

    • The_L1985

      I know, right? With a natural birth, there’s always a chance that the child was an “accident,” but with an adoption, you are choosing, not only to have a child, but exactly which child you’re taking home. The implication there is, or should be, “I love you as much as I would a flesh-and-blood child of mine, because I picked you out from all the rest.” Not, “I wanted to have more notches on the Parenthood Post.”

      • kisarita

        clearly they did not love the adopted child as one of their own.

  • Michelle Kleinman

    Not to derail, but there is another danger. I homeschool my daughters. I am also a battered spouse. Many community resources for battered spouses are only available Monday-Friday, 9-5. I bring the kids, and there’s a danger that they could rat me out to their father (unintentionally). This has made it harder to escape. (I did get out.)

    • Sally

      I’m glad you got out!

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  • Jen

    I note that a common thread in the stories above is ADOPTION . . . since adoption is a highly regulated process, one wonders how these parents were allowed to adopt to begin with.

    • The_L1985

      Not all of the kids were actually legally adopted. That’s one of the “benefits” of adopting from overseas when you’re the nastier sort of home-school parent.

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