Baptist Girls’ School Circle of Hope Hit With Sex-Trafficking Lawsuit

·8 min read
The Kansas City Star via AP
The Kansas City Star via AP

When Maggie Drew was 15, her family’s pastor in Oklahoma falsely claimed that she was getting into sex and drugs and secretly instructed her parents to send her away to a Baptist boarding school in Missouri. Shortly after, in October 2007, her father and stepmom told her they were going on a family road trip to an exotic petting zoo.

But they dropped her off at Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch instead.

“I was very confused whenever I first got there,” Drew told The Daily Beast of the day she arrived at the school, which shuttered in September 2020 amid a criminal investigation against its founders, Boyd and Stephanie Householder. “The fear set in pretty quickly. When they told me I was going to be staying there I was immediately terrified.”

How I Got My Own Parents Charged With Abusing Teen Girls

Over the next several years, Drew says, she survived an environment where she was sexually abused, beaten, and brainwashed—and forced to administer punishments to fellow students at the religious school.

Drew details these accusations in a new lawsuit filed this week which accuses Circle of Hope and the Householders of sex-trafficking and racketeering.

This is the first time the couple, who is awaiting trial on more than 100 charges related to the alleged sexual and physical abuse of teen girls in their care, is being sued in federal court and accused of violations of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 and the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Since 2020, the Householders have faced eight other lawsuits from ex-students, including their estranged daughter Amanda, who alleges they beat her and her brother with golf clubs and whips and pummeled her for their own sexual gratification.

According to Drew’s complaint, the Householders forced her “into performing sex acts and/or allowing Boyd Householder to perform sex acts upon her by means of force, threats of force, fraud and/or coercion” when she was under 18.

Rebecca Randles, Drew’s lawyer, told The Daily Beast that she expects more former students to accuse the Householders of sex-trafficking in the coming months. Like Drew, many Circle of Hope pupils came from out of state. And the federal court system allows other alleged victims the ability to seek justice after Missouri’s statute of limitations for organizations and employees accused of facilitating child sex abuse.

“I think that’s what was happening, and I think that is the greater picture of it: sex-trafficking and slavery,” Randles said of the accusations against Circle of Hope.

Boyd, Randles added, “was bringing children to Missouri and then sexually abusing them there, but there were others that knew that he had been engaged in improper behavior with the girls.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Circle of Hope and its founders defrauded Drew and her parents of “substantial sums of money” while she lived at the facility until January 2013.

Drew claims the Householders coerced her into forced labor, cut her off from her family after her father died of suicide in 2009, and falsely told her “that they were her guardians and/or adoptive parents.” The couple then allegedly siphoned her Social Security benefits and pocketed the $25,000 her grandfather left her for college.

An attorney for the Householders, who couldn’t be reached before press time, didn’t return messages seeking comment.

The couple previously denied the abuse accusations against them and, in September 2020, told the Kansas City Star that alumni of their Humansville school were lying. “They feel like they’re victims, and they just want to take their anger out on somebody,” Stephanie told the newspaper, adding, “These girls, they have serious problems.”

Six months later, the Householders were arrested following a sex-abuse probe by Missouri’s Attorney General. Boyd is charged with multiple counts of statutory sodomy, statutory rape, and sexual contact with a student, while both he and Stephanie face charges of abuse or neglect of a child, and endangering a child in a ritual or ceremony. Their trial is scheduled for late 2023.

The Householders opened Circle of Hope in 2006, after working at an all-boys Baptist residential facility called Agapé Boarding School, which has grappled with high-profile accusations of abuse and neglect of its own across nearly two dozen lawsuits.

Drew’s lawsuit describes Circle of Hope as a “​​sister institution” to Agapé and names the boys’ school and its late founder James Clemenson as defendants, arguing that they “aided and abetted the abuses of the children” at the girls’ ranch. Pastor Jeffrey Ables, a former director of Circle of Hope, is also a defendant in Drew’s complaint for allegedly failing to report “suspicions of childhood abuse to proper authorities.” (Ables didn’t return messages.)

Ex-Students Reveal Abuse at ‘Christian Torture Compound’

John Schultz, a lawyer for Agapé, told The Daily Beast: “Maggie Drew was never at Agapé. There is no basis for Agapé to be included as a defendant in that case.”

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Drew said the abuse at Circle of Hope was almost immediate. As soon as she walked through the door, she watched girls doing dozens of pushups. She asked her “guide,” or the student tasked with overseeing her, what was going on, and the girl replied, “Well, they messed up, they’re doing pushups.”

Days later, Drew was ordered to do the exercise too after answering someone with “yeah” instead of “yes ma’am.” In her first two weeks at the school, Drew was given more than 600 pushups.

She remembered thinking, “I’m going to do what I have to do, to make sure I get out of this with the least amount of injury. Jump through whatever hoops they put my way.”

During her time at Circle of Hope, her lawsuit says, she was “subjected to physical, sexual, and mental abuse and torture,” especially from Boyd Householder.

The complaint alleges that Boyd Householder took a particular interest in her and “began grabbing her buttocks when he passed by,” and “putting his hands across her breasts and touching her when she was in the office.” The filing adds that Boyd “would kiss her and fondle her whenever they were in the office together alone.”

Drew says that when she reported this abuse to Stephanie, she was punished.

“He knew exactly what was going on, and his wife knew exactly what was going on,” Drew told The Daily Beast. “I was almost shocked that her immediate reaction was to punish me instead of lash out at her husband, who was the aggressor.”

“I did notice him taking an interest in other girls at certain points when I was there, before it started happening to me and after, and I did my best to intervene in the ones that I could, as soon as I realized what was going on,” she added.

Her lawsuit portrays the school as a place not where girls went to learn, but to do unpaid labor for the facility and the community: bucking hay, clearing trees, and caring for livestock.

It was also a place with a disturbing pattern of discipline. According to the complaint, the punishments involved beatings, restraints, withholding of food, and being placed “on the wall,” meaning students were required to stand in front of it and read the Bible, leaving only to use the restroom or go to bed, as long as they had permission.

Sometimes girls would be forced to walk with a Bible on the back of their neck, and face worse discipline should the book fall down, or “squat and walk like a duck, quacking, until the pain became excruciating,” the complaint alleges. The suit also says Boyd would cut girls’ hair off if they displeased him, and that Drew witnessed girls being force-fed until they vomited.

“The girls were denied feminine hygiene products; they were not allowed to wear undergarments inside the house; they were not allowed to wear sleep pants and could only wear skirts at any time,” the filing continues.

The complaint later clarifies that Drew and “other staff members were required to monitor the girls’ use of feminine hygiene products” and that “the girls were required to show that their pads were bloody before they would be issued a new pad.”

“The girls were mentally abused, being told consistently that they were shameful, nobody loved them, and no one would ever care for them,” the filing states.

Her complaint says the Householders “normalized” her alleged abuse, “essentially brainwashing her into believing that they were the only people in the world who cared for her and that she would be unable to care for herself if she left the premises.”

Drew told The Daily Beast she’s haunted by what she experienced at the boarding school and often remembers the punishments, the work crews, and girls being screamed at and abused by the Householders and their staff. “Things like that never leave you,” she said. “I don’t think anyone deserves to deal with that.”

She is speaking out in the hopes that parents will research religious schools before sending their children to them and that authorities will crack down on facilities rife with abuse.

“There was no state oversight,” Drew said of her stay at Circle of Hope. “There was no one who could come and check up on us, and that was a really scary place to be in. Even though we reported it, nothing would happen.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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