Another sad case of dominionist child abuse
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Thu Apr 13, 2006 at 10:13:36 AM EST
From the Florida Sun-Sentinel, there's been yet another case of religiously motivated child abuse--this, too, being "deliverance ministry" related, and one that is all too common.  Your very author has been in a similar situation to what I am about to describe--and with less help from child protective services in my city.

I will warn that what I am about to post may be upsetting; if you were a victim of religiously motivated child abuse yourself, you're warned that the following may be triggering.

From the following article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
When Michael Bilodeau couldn't be there to see his 12-year-old daughter stripped and whipped with a belt, he made sure to listen in on a speakerphone from his Coral Springs home, according to police reports.

She deserved it, he told investigators, because she was a liar and "it is stated in the Bible that it is OK to spank your children," the reports said.

Bilodeau, 48, was arrested Saturday in Port St. Lucie on charges of aggravated child abuse and neglect. He has since bonded out of jail. He did not return messages left at his home and cell phone Tuesday.

Reportedly according to police reports, the child had multiple bruises in various stages of healing; the child has been removed to a care facility by the Department of Human Resources.

Lest anyone doubt this is yet another case of dominionism-related child abuse:

Bilodeau, who is listed as running a Fort Lauderdale office furniture business, lives with his wife and two sons in Coral Springs. Three years ago, he and his wife decided they couldn't take care of their daughter, so they sent her to live with a couple they were friends with in Port St. Lucie, he told police. He made sure the friends had similar religious beliefs.

He allowed them to punish her like he did: strip her naked, put her in an awkward position and strike her repeatedly with a belt or a stick, according to Bilodeau's arrest report. The punishments came in response to the girl not using proper English, not finishing her homework, lying, or "not accepting Jesus into her heart," police have said.

(Bolded emphasis mine)

Yes, you read this right--this apparently is very similar to cases involving use of dominionist baby-beating manuals by the Pearls, one of which is linked to the death of a child; it's also similar to the tactics promoted by Tedd Tripp, another dominionist "baby-beating" manual author.  Both books promote the use of "chastening rods" made out of wood or PVC pipe, and both also have heavy emphasis on "deliverance ministry" and the general concept that all children are born with "spirits of rebellion" which must literally be beaten out and that the will of children must be broken completely to "save" them.

The article continues:

Police discovered the situation Saturday when the girl was reported panhandling at a Port St. Lucie Walgreens. When police found her, she told them she ran away because she was afraid of being spanked again by her caretakers. They found numerous bruises and cuts on her legs, buttocks and back, reports said.

The girl had been missing since Thursday, the police report said, but neither Bilodeau nor the girl's caretakers reported her missing.

Police said Bilodeau admitted to punishing the girl by striking her with a belt and a stick.  According to the police report, he makes his daughter strip naked "because he wants her to feel the pain."

(In other words, had the girl not escaped and been essentially a "throwaway", it's extremely likely the abuse would have continued.)

I have emphasized, again, two bits--one where he admits to use of a "chastening rod", and the other being a point I have seen brought up repeatedly even in James Dobson's "The Strong-Willed Child"--that a child must be made to hurt if a punishment is to be "effective" and (in the more blatant "chastening" manuals) recommendations of whacking on bare buttocks.  (In fact, at least one dominionist church's guide on "child training" specifically recommends whacking on the bare bum, and another dominionist guide (which promotes use of belts for baby-beating) even states "stripes are necessary"--in other words, if it doesn't leave marks, it's not a proper "chastening".)  

Somewhat shockingly (and of grave concern), two children remain in the household:

Coral Springs police, along with child welfare investigators, visited the Bilodeaus' Coral Springs home earlier this week but did not remove either of the two children from their mother.

"They didn't see, at that time, any reason to remove the kids here," said Capt. Rich Nicorvo, spokesman for the department.

Bilodeau was the only person charged in the case as of Tuesday, but more charges are expected, Vega said.

"It's something we're looking into right now," he said.

This case hits particularly hard at home for me.  Whilst I wasn't shuttled to another household, I myself experienced similar abuse (whacking with a belt or a "switch" until the whack-ee cried) and for similar reasons--and I, too, considered running away at age 12 to escape.

When I finally did tell someone about it--at age 16, when I finally started realising the behaviour was abusive--the social worker was told by my mother that I was an "out of control child", we were mandated to attend family therapy (despite my having told the social worker that I was extremely afraid of physical punishment or being shipped to one of the dominionist-run "tough love" facilities (like the ones reported on by International Survivor's Action Committee on a regular basis) if I spoke out against my parents in family therapy), and as a result (I didn't speak up in family therapy--I was too afraid of what would happen, including the threats of involuntary exorcisms, to dare it) not only was I largely isolated from my one source of support (a friend and her mother) but was actually told that if I attempted to go to the local runaway shelter to escape I would be returned to my parents.

As a result I stayed in that situation about ten years longer than I would have if social workers had been aware of religiously motivated child abuse, if I myself had taken it upon myself to run away as a 12-year-old, etc.

Some of what I was whacked about over (and subjected to two-hour Biblical haranguings, impromptu "exorcisms" where my mother smeared Wesson oil on my forehead and screamed things like "DEMONS GET OUT OF THIS CHILD IN THE NAME OF JESUS" and ranting in tongues and in general doing quite the "God Warrior" act, etc.) were statements as simple as expressing my concern that the church we attended was going too much in the direction of TV preachers--and after being told not to judge a man of God, giving my honest opinion (based on the fact that about 90 percent of them were being busted for being frauds or using church funds for hiring prostitutes, etc.) that I had serious doubts about televangelists in general being men of God.

Abuse like this is traumatic even for kids not being whacked; my sister (who, like myself, has been in therapy for the abuse we suffered) has noted she would beg me to cry so the beatings would stop.  (She also recounts I reportedly told my folks they could beat me till their hands fell off but I wasn't going to cry to satisfy them--at age four.)

Unfortunately, there are a lot of practical problems in stopping this sort of abuse:

a) Most social workers are unaware of religiously motivated child abuse among "Bible-based" groups (sadly, I know this firsthand--as I noted, after finally reporting what went on growing up to an adult, they made complaint to CPS only to eventually have the case dismissed and even working to make it practically impossible for me to escape before I turned 18--one reason I have very little trust in "the system" so to speak).

b) many walkaways only report abuse as teenagers or adults, a time when (sadly) they are less likely to be believed--partly because they may not even realise that their treatment as children was abusive (I didn't know till I was 16, and my sister literally didn't know till she entered therapy in her late 20's-early 30's; I'm really only now learning just how broken things were).

c) dominionists are increasingly going to "parallel economy" resources such as dominionist-friendly doctors and "Christian counselors" and either dominionist-run private schools or "homeschool" correspondence-course education at home--thus making it far less likely that a professional outside of the dominionist community will see signs of child abuse and report it under mandatory reporting laws.

Examples of typical policies are at this link which has links to handbooks for various "Christian" schools across all fifty states.

d) in many cases, dominionists are being increasingly "coached" on how to avoid prosecution for child abuse.

One example (outside of the Pearls' books, linked now to the death of a child) is listed in this guide--geared towards dominionist parents who are correspondence-schooling disabled children, yet!--on how to specifically deal with visits from social workers re complaints of child abuse with "homeschooled" youth.  This same writer has worked with HSLDA (the major group promoting dominionist "homeschooling" and who is actively working to strip existing child abuse laws).  Another example is from a dominionist group seeking to gut existing child protection laws.

e) in many areas of the country, parties investigating religiously-motivated abuse may themselves be sympathisers and dominionists (this is not uncommon in the midwest US, where they may see this as merely "tough love" discipline and in some cases people have been recommended to send their children to coercive "boot camp" facilities like Love In Action or the WWASPS facilities).

One of the most blatant examples is the DPS chief in Missouri--this is the head of the agencies who would be doing initial investigation of most child abuse.

Not only that, but in areas with large dominionist influence the existing laws on the books either have large enough loopholes to sail the HMS Queen Mary II through or are extremely laxly enforced. An example is the following list of Tennessee Department for Youth and Families intake records where it was specified in section D(1)(b) that "developmentally-appropriate, discipline-related marks and bruises on the buttocks or legs" of children over 5 should not be regarded as evidence of abuse.  Another document, this from the state of Colorado, states that whacking adolescents with the metal buckle of a belt used in flogging is permissible.

f) dominionists are attempting to gut the present child-abuse laws (usually claiming these laws interfere with the ability of parents to "discipline their children as they see fit") thus making it actually easier to hide dominionist child abuse--in fact, part of how "homeschool" correspondence-schools are sold to dominionist parents are because (increasingly) public schools are abandoning corporal punishment and that in a correspondence-school program one can spank or beat children.

In fact--and this is something that should shock every American--the United States is the only country in the world that is presently not a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. (Formerly, the only other country not a signatory was Somalia--and this was because the country was until very recently in a de facto state of anarchy. The provisional government for Somalia has now approved it, and (even though not recognised by the UN) Somaliland's government has also indicated they will give approval.)

The reason that the US is the solitary country that has not signed on is because dominionist groups have been fighting approval tooth and nail--claiming that its provisions that state that children have a fundamental human right not to be abused would prohibit them from "disciplining their children as they see fit". One of the major groups, in fact, which has fought ratification has been the major group promoting dominionist "homeschool" correspondence schools whilst shutting out inclusive homeschooling. Other dominionist groups in the US have given similar objections and in fact dominionist groups in Australia have even claimed almost identical objections (notably, Australia ratified it anyways).

(Of note, they probably DO have legitimate fears--James Dobson's "The Strong Willed Child", which I've partly quoted from above, could be seen as promoting child abuse under a 2004 Canadian Supreme Court decision.)

In Canada, dominionists have passed a law--S.43--that potentially gives a legal defense to dominionist parents using abusive childrearing techniques; a group called Repeal 43 is working to repeal this.  Many state legislatures do have a similar out to S.43 that have been specifically lobbied for by dominionist groups; this site notes this in partial context of use of objects like "The Rod" and an S.43-style law in Texas.

An example of a website run by dominionist groups working to gut existing laws in the US is Family Rights Association; another is Child Protection Reform which links widely to dominionist groups (and in fact, one is blatantly blatantly Christian Reconstructionist). One of the example bills that the latter promotes is here.

g) Tools for beating babies (and children, and teens) are readily available. (We're not talking swatting with the hand here, I should note; quite a lot of dominionist "child training" manuals specifically recommend "chastisement" be given with rods or switches or belts, not with the hand--making it far easier for a "spanking" to cross the line to a beating.)  Not only do the Pearls promote the use of PVC rods to beat kids (easily available at your local Home Depot or Lowe's), but dominionist groups even sell them and give them away for free complete with instruction on how to use them without leaving marks. (In fact, Stop The Rod was founded in an effort to get the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban the marketing of these devices.

h) Dominionists in court cases inevitably claim that restricting their right to knock hell out of their children (literally, so they believe) is an infringement of their right to freedom of worship.  (In fact, dominionist legal associations often will defend parents in these cases--Alliance Defense Fund among them.)

Unfortunately, this is a particularly hard nut to crack--especially as there's legal precedent in many cases (such as the right of Christian Scientists to refuse medical treatment for their kids, or Jehovah's Witnesses to refuse blood transfusions for their kids; generally the courts have given very wide latitude for parents to claim they have a religious basis for either harsh discipline or denying necessary care).  

The pictures from that site are - in an understated way - bizarre to me.

I've seen the effect of paddling on the development of child personality. It's not beneficial.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Apr 14, 2006 at 12:53:47 PM EST

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