At long last, the Christian founders of the “Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch and Boarding School” in Missouri have been arrested on 102 criminal charges of abuse. It’s about damn time. All it took was the founders’ daughter leading the charge against them on TikTok, victims willing to share their stories publicly, and an attorney general willing to take action.
Since 2006, the “school” has been home to hundreds of girls who were sent there because their personal behavior or life circumstances required them to go somewhere with more discipline and oversight.
An archived version of the website shows how this place, started by Boyd Householder and his wife Stephanie, was marketed as a place with Christian values:
We use the BIBLE to teach them that they are to obey their Parents and the authority over them.
We understand the The LORD JESUS CHRIST is the ONLY answer and the ONLY HOPE that these girls have to change their life and have a different future. That is why we have them read their Bible EVERY morning, we have devotions and prayer time with them every evening and attend Berean Baptist Church in Springfield, MO every time the doors are open.
But last September, according to Tyler Kingkade of NBC News, numerous complaints about the place regarding physical and sexual abuse forced the place to shut down:
… Parents and former residents said they reported that Boyd used physical restraints as punishments, placing girls face down for as long as an hour, while he pressed a knee into their necks and other residents were forced to squeeze the target’s pressure points. Boyd, 71, and his wife, Stephanie, 55, withheld food as punishment or if they thought a girl was overweight, and forced children to stand and stare at a wall for hours at a time for days in a row if they didn’t follow the ever-changing rules, the parents and former residents said.
The Missouri Department of Social Services said there were four reports of misconduct at Circle of Hope since 2006 that the agency substantiated: one of neglect, one of physical abuse and neglect, and two regarding sexual abuse.
The reason this place was allowed to remain open for so long was the utter lack of regulation in Missouri, where private schools like this one are able to create their own rules. Without solid evidence of wrongdoing — as opposed to anecdotes — there was nothing law enforcement could do. The state couldn’t shut them down. So the abuse continued.
It was only when Boyd and Stephanie’s daughter Amanda — who hasn’t spoken to her parents since 2016 — began speaking out publicly about her parents’ abusive ranch that the story finally started getting traction. She posted video after video on TikTok featured her own memories and the stories of other victims (seen below), and quickly accumulated tens of millions of views.
It’s sad that it took a viral social media channel to draw the proper attention to this Christian abuse, but the floodgates finally opened after that.
… The Cedar County Sheriff’s Department and the state Department of Social Services opened an investigation, which is ongoing, and in August the state removed two dozen girls from the ranch, effectively closing it. The Householders decided this month not to reopen their school rather than deal with the government.
On Wednesday [in September of 2020], two former residents, both anonymous, filed lawsuits against the Householders: One accused Boyd of raping her as a minor multiple times in 2015 and said that Stephanie was aware of the abuse and did nothing to stop it. The other alleges that Boyd threw her into a wall and to the ground, and the Householders fed her so little that she lost 40 pounds in two months when she was placed there in 2014. The suits did not state whether the alleged abuse had been reported to state or local authorities.
Court records show Boyd Householder, 71, faces 79 felony counts and one misdemeanor, including charges for child molestation, sodomy, sexual contact with a student and neglect of a child. Stephanie Householder, 55, faces 22 felony charges for abuse or neglect of a child, and endangering the welfare of a child. The alleged incidents occurred from 2017 to 2020.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt told reporters at a news conference Wednesday his office has identified 16 victims “so far,” and that he considers this to be “one of the most widespread cases of sexual, physical and mental abuse patterns against young girls and women in Missouri history.”
Those charges include these graphic details:
Counts 1 through 22 in Boyd Householder’s felony information document allege repeated statutory sodomy, statutory rape, and sexual contact with a student, detailing multiple incidents where Boyd Householder had oral and sexual intercourse with a victim under the age of 17, as well as several incidents where Boyd Householder placed his finger(s) in the victim’s vagina.
It’s unclear what the former attorney general, Josh Hawley (now a pro-insurrection U.S. senator), knew about this situation or if he ever investigated the matter.
Schmitt’s office told NBC News that the TikTok videos spurred them to do a thorough investigation, leading to today’s arrests.
Earlier today, Amanda posted another TikTok saying how she was overwhelmed but she also “celebrated” the arrests because it meant there would finally be a reckoning.
As I’ve said before, the whole story is a reminder that Christianity is not synonymous with goodness. It’s very often the opposite. In this case, it was nothing more than a cover story for two people who used their power to hurt children.
(Large portions of this article were published earlier)