My Memories of Christian Child Abuse In The Hands of The House Church Movement
by Jessica Hammel
I am writing this biography both in order to release and empower myself as well as to alert and inform others.
I was born into the church and my parents were very much involved in many areas of it. My dad was a church elder and as a baby I traveled with them doing missionary work in many different countries particularly in Africa and India (I don't remember it though). He was also involved in the running of the church school and nursery which I attended from the age of three.
As soon as I could talk I was preached the evangelical word of God and it was made clear to me that God was very much a thing to be extremely afraid of, and a being who liked harsh discipline but rewarded total submission. I was taught that Satan was in all things just waiting to trick me into wrong-doing. I learned to read and write with the aid of children's bible stories and I was told that the way of our church was the only true way and the outside world should be viewed with mistrust and suspicion. For the first seven years of my life I knew nothing outside of this extreme evangelical Christian world.
My siblings and I were regularly told that it said in the bible "spare the rod and spoil the child". We were told that other children were naughty and out of control because their parents did not hit them. We were told that physical punishment was vital in God's eyes to keep us in order and obedient, keep out evil spirits, and that a child must be "broken".
To begin with my mother would slap me around the legs or on the hands and feet - sadly quite normal for many children. My dad would take off his shoe and beat my back, bum and legs with it because "God" told him to. He would twist my limbs around in awkward positions that were extremely painful and hold me down on the ground, saying I must learn to be "submissive".
The church school I went to told us constantly that God was watching everything we did, that we must be obedient and do as the adults told us or God would punish us. Children who didn't behave were caned or belted by the head teacher if they'd been really naughty, even though physical punishment had been banned in mainstream schools by then. For lesser disobedience the class teacher would pull down children's trousers and smack their bums with her hand in front of all the other children, or hit your hands with a ruler. All the reading and writing etc we did was bible related and instilled great fear in us of the wrath of God.
I was so afraid that once I forgot how to spell my surname and had a panic attack because i thought God was going to punish me.
It was preached to members of the church that corporal discipline was what God wanted and it was a requirement of the church that members physically punish their own children.
They recommended hitting the buttocks, back and upper thighs as any marks left would be hidden.
Any defiance should be met with more harsher physical punishment until the child was "submissive". I learned fairly quickly never to argue. But I still seemed to make my Father very angry at times just by the look in my eyes. I remember my Dad repeatedly hitting me, perhaps a hundred times until I "wiped that evil look off my face". My younger sister was much more defiant and came off the worst physically - she would not stop screaming and crying and shouting and the more she kicked up a fuss, the more they beat her.
I remember being told not to talk to anyone outside the church about being hit - I was told that the outside world did not understand and because they did not know God they didn't understand the importance of discipline. They would try and take children away from their families and away from God. This, we were told, was why Christian children were well-behaved and other children were "naughty" - their parents did not inflict pain on them to teach them right from wrong. They said the lack of physical discipline and religion in early lives was what caused all of the problems and demons in today's society.
At some point before the age of seven, perhaps even from birth - abuse within the church began. Laying of hands and ecstatic experiences were encouraged with all sorts of frightening emotional outbursts from people.
Church services were a very confusing experience for me. Some of it involved jumping around and dancing and laughing ecstatically. People would randomly start speaking in tongues, which I didn't understand. Then all of a sudden people may start screaming or crying or collapsing in some kind of emotional fit. They might have uncontrollable spasms and writhe around on the floor. I did not understand this and it frightened me. When this happened people would lay hands on the afflicted person and pray for the devil to leave them and the Holy Spirit to enter them.
Some parts of the service involved very sad music playing where an elder would preach about how we were all bad, we were all sinners and how bad we should feel for the wrong we had done and how we must repent and accept punishment. People would come forward and confess things and then the congregation would pray for their deliverance. Many people would cry and beg the lord's forgiveness.
In the main church services people often prayed in a sexual manner - speaking of making love with the Holy Spirit, becoming married to Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit being "orgasmic", the Holy spirit touching you intimately etc. It even went as far at times as people laying on the floor and touching themselves, or several people touching the intimate parts of a person being prayed over. I remember once the Holy Spirit spoke to an elder and told him that women and children must shed their clothes and stand naked before Jesus, to show the lord they were open to him and had nothing to hide. As a child, it didn't occur to me that this was abnormal. There were a few women that would often shed their tops and bras and dance during services as an expression of their openness to the Holy Spirit.
Many people were restrained against their will during deliverance, sometimes violently. I remember many occasions of people - mostly women but some men and children - being forcefully pinned down as they screamed and were painfully restrained or even hit until they stopped struggling and "submitted to the holy spirit".
There were times when I had panic attacks in the church services or cried because I was afraid and confused. I would be prayed over and people would speak in tongues and say I was afflicted by an evil spirit which they would try to drive out of me through chanting, praying and laying hands on me. This terrified me and I would thrash about and scream - more "proof" in their eyes that I was possessed. They would restrain me until I stopped struggling.
My Dad sexually abused me from a very young age. My parents were members of different house-church groups and they would go to other's houses and other's would come to ours. It was in this setting that the religious sexual abuse started by my dad and his friends. I remember only flashes of it. I remember being on my back on a cold table with a blueish coloured light on. The men were praying for me and laying hands on me but I was naked and they were touching me in a sexual manner. They then turned me on to my front and that is where my memory goes blank. It took me a long long time to realise that things like this were sexually/physically abusive and not just a normal part of a religious upbringing.
I remember in a children's service in front of all the children in the congregation being tied up to an 'altar' and a scary man saying God had told him to sacrifice me on top of a mountain. I honestly thought I was going to die because God was angry with me and I was crying because the man had a knife. However, at the last minute he said God told him to stop and instead he pretended to sacrifice an animal. Afterwards he explained that he was 'acting' out a story from the bible which taught us that we must do what God says even if it seems wrong. But that didn't change the fear I felt at the time when i thought what he was doing was for real, didn't understand what was happening and really thought I was going to die. He said acting it out helped us to imagine what it must really have been like.
There were other times where in the youth groups we were told to act out parts of the bible, these included us pretending to be adults 'laying with' each other. I really can't say more about that because I haven't got my head round it myself and I'm not sure I ever will as I was so young.
At home, my Dad started coming into my room at night and molesting me. He pretended to be a monster or demon, or to be possessed by satan. He (as the demon) told me not to tell my Dad or anyone else that he had been possessed or I would be punished and so would they. He said if I told anyone they would become infected with an evil spirit also. This caused me great confusion because I felt I was a sinner and it seemed that whatever I did I would be punished - either by God or by Satan. I used to pray to God for hours that he would protect me from the evil spirits that were invading my dad and me. I would recite bible verses obsessively and slept with a copy of The Good News Bible. I thought if I kept my hand on the bible then satan would not come to me in the night.
When I was about six my Dad got involved with an argument to do with some sort of church politics and this caused him a lot of stress. He began drinking a lot and becoming increasingly violent. Once he threw me down the stairs.
As a result of this argument my parents decided to move cities and go to another church. For a few months before we moved we stayed with some other elders from the church. It was in that house, on the evening of my seventh birthday, that my Dad first fully raped me. This time instead of pretending to be possessed he told me that God told him to do it and that God said we must keep it a secret and if I told anyone God would know because God was always watching me even in my sleep and in the bathroom. I was terrified of God so of course I never dared tell anyone and I became extremely afraid of sleep and bathrooms...
We then moved to a new city and a different church. My Dad was no longer an Elder and was cautious about getting involved with church life because of his problems in the old church. We went to a new school which was strange. Although it was Christian, it was very different to my old school. The kids were not hit for a start and things were allowed that I'd never been exposed to before - magic for example (magic was seen to be evil in the old school/church and I wasn't "exposed to" My Little Ponies dolls, Care Bears, Barbie dolls, all those and more which were considered satanic). Some activities at school - like anything to do with magic or witches, my parents wrote in instructions for me to sit out and do a different activity. So many times while the other kids enjoyed their Halloween activities or projects on fairies etc I would be sat in the corner on my own doing something very boring. Because of this I didn't really fit in at school (and I wasn't allowed to play with many toys others were allowed to play with or watch the same TV shows. I was also dressed in cheap second hand falling apart clothes despite my parents being fairly well-off!).
To control my Dads violence, my parents decided they would purchase a big cane. The idea being that instead of just lashing out in rage, he would have time to calm down and think about whether what we'd done was worthy of being hit for whilst he went to retrieve the cane. I remember the conversation explaining the cane to us very clearly. We were told that as it was an object it would separate the discipline from my parents emotions. It would also stop any evil spirits escaping us from infecting them. We were told that although my father hit us, at least he didn't punch us. Punching was bad and abusive. My dad was not "abusive" because he didn't punch us and we were very lucky that he didn't. Never mind that the back of the hand, the foot, the elbow, the knee can cause just as much pain and just as big a bruise.
The idea of the cane didn't work to calm him down. He'd just run to where the stick was and beat us all over with it 'til we were covered in welts, saying we were evil children and influenced by satan. If we pulled away from the stick we were hit again. If we didn't show pain we were hit again. If we screamed or cried we were hit again - we couldn't win. Once he smashed my sisters head into the corner of a table and she cracked her skull - but they didn't take her to hospital. She still has a big dent in her forehead from where he did that. She also has a scar on her face from where he slammed a door handle into it because she was disobeying him by standing in the wrong place. My mum told us it was the Christian thing to forgive him and try to understand that he was under stress and it wasn't his fault, and that he was like that because he never had a father figure to look up to when he was growing up. When we were distressed, she would feed us prescription sedatives. I never went to the doctor ap art from my innoculations despite many injuries and repeated urinary infections.
my Dad started teaching me how to masturbate, he said it was a natural spiritual expression. He said sexual feelings could be a route through which the Holy Spirit could enter you. My Mum walked in on me doing it in front of him on the couch. She sat me down on my own and told me that it was a natural thing to do in your own home and with people you trust in private but not in public places. I felt so ashamed.
My mother developed a strange obsession with food. She felt that God would think we were ungrateful if we threw anything away or wasted anything. So, there were times when the milk in the fridge went sour and so off it was lumpy, but we were forced to drink it because otherwise we were not being thankful to the Holy Father. This would sometimes make us ill. My little sister struggled with this and used to refuse to eat. If she didn't eat the food, it was put in the fridge and she was not allowed anything else to eat until she'd eaten the off food. Sometimes she'd end up going for days without eating anything. Sometimes she would have a mouthful of food and because she was so upset she had difficulty chewing and swallowing it. My parents would hit her with the stick until she swallowed.
For a while we lived with relatives who were part of the same church. They used the same disciplinary methods on us, particularly my aunty, who was a very sadistic and cold hearted woman.
My cousins of a similar age to me coped with what was happening by re-enacting the abuse on me and my sisters, restraining us, hitting us and sexually abusing us.
My Dad continued raping me and sexually assaulting me. He said that it was the Holy Spirit moving through me and he made it out to be some kind of spiritual thing and that it was somehow special and secret. He also told me that I had to endure a certain amount of pain and suffering or bad things would happen to me and the people around me, so by hitting me he was doing me a favor and punishing me for my sins so God wouldn't have to and he was saving me from going to hell. He said I needed to sacrifice myself for the sake of people around me and that like Jesus, I could suffer for their sins so that they could be saved from damnation. He said he disciplined me out of love and it hurt him more than it hurt me.
There were times when he would hit me with the cane between my legs. Sometimes he would lose his temper and throw me around or shake me, but then almost immediately became remorseful and blamed the influence of evil spirits. He would send me to my room after his rage, then follow me up there and cry and apologise, sometimes sexually abusing me as he did so.
In the Sunday school of our new church I was also sexually abused. They had the other children crowd round me, put their hands on me and pray, restrain me and touch me. This was to deliver me from evil spirits. I only remember this happening a couple of times.
We left that church and went to another church. Again, similar things happened but in different ways. A couple of the men there groped me - I never told anyone, I didn't even know it was wrong.
My Dad kept falling out with people and so we left that church, too. By that time he'd become very angry with the church, I never knew why, and they decided we'd hold our own church services at home. this just consisted of us sitting at home reading the bible, praying and singing songs and him preaching to us.
We moved back to the city I was born in when i was eleven and I went to my first non-religious school. We also went back to the first church we had been to. It had calmed down considerably since we went there before but it was still very charismatic and practiced deliverance and laying on of hands, talking in tongues etc. We were less involved than we used to be. My Dad continued abusing me at home and by the time I was thirteen I began to realise that this wasn't right and became very disturbed mentally. After spending New Year of the millenium being sexually abused by my Dad and one of his church friends I began harming myself by cutting and burning my arms. I also started to rebel against Christianity and started listening to music i was banned from (Rock/grunge music) and made friends with some people who weren't Christians (this was really frowned upon). I hated going to the church so would play up hoping I wouldn't have to go. I'd swear at church and wear nirvana t-shirts under my jumper then ta ke my jumper off when we got there! I'd sulk for the whole service and glare at everyone.
During this period my Dad was extremely angry with me and my "disabordination"/"demonic behavior". His sexual abuse became more violent and demeaning. He punched me in the face causing black eyes - that's when it really hit home that this WAS abuse. He injured my wrist by forcing me to the floor but didn't get it treated. Ten years on it is still broken, unable to be fixed because it wasn't treated at the time.
Because of my behavior the church considered I'd formed evil "soul-ties" with the people at my school and was told God wanted me to cut my ties with them. Of course I didn't. So I was accused of being taken over by Satan and corrupted. I was accused of forming soul-ties with my younger sister that created a channel for demons to go from me to her. She was encouraged to have as little to do with me as possible and other young people in the church were warned away from me, told I dabbled with the occult, or were asked to pray for my deliverance. Many people prayed for me and laid hands on me trying to deliver me from these evil spirits. I honestly thought I was possessed but I didn't care, I was so full of hatred for all the people who hurt me.
When my mum found cuts on my arms she accused me of practicing witchcraft and being in a satanic cult. This angered me because all my life I'd tried to be a "good Christian" and had suffered so much because of it and yet I was being called a witch. So I decided I hated God for what he put me through but I hated myself even more. I didn't want to be a Christian any more although I struggled with immense guilt over this. I was rejected by the church and so felt God had rejected me also. I simultaneously didn't believe in God and was terrified of his wrath because I was such an evil, horrible person. I swung between hating and cursing God and spending hours praying and fasting and begging for mercy.
This led to me becoming mentally ill, hearing the voice of the devil, thinking I was cursed or possessed, leading me to harm myself more as a way of driving out the evil spirits and punishing myself so god didn't have to, and eventually I tried to take my life when I had just turned 15 by taking an overdose. I tried overdosing several more times and slit my wrists, then I was admitted to a psychiatric unit. My little sister became anorexic, while my older sister suffered with bulimia and ran away from home as a young teen. Obviously rather than take responsibility, my parents blamed rock music, witchcraft, demonic influence, "the wrong crowd".
When psychiatrists and social workers got involved, the abuse mostly stopped. My parents acted like they had done nothing wrong. I told social workers I needed help and had been abused, but I was too afraid to tell them who it was or that it was still happening, so they could not help me. My Dad stopped raping me but carried on doing sexual things with me because he "loved" me, thought I was "gorgeous" and "sexy" and "special".
I left home when I was seventeen. I got a job and moved into a flat and tried to ignore what had happened. I still kept contact with my parents and played happy families.
I had very low self-worth and was extremely spiritually confused and felt so lost in the "normal" world. I resorted to taking drugs to help me escape my feelings. I moved to a different city when I was 19 to distance myself from my family, then when I turned 20 I confronted my Mum about my chidhood. She told me I'd imagined it, was just confused. I haven't spoken to her or my Father since.
When I was 21 I gave up drugs and started to try and move on with my life. I reported my Dad to the police but as is often the case there was not enough evidence for a conviction. They could prove I'd been abused, but they couldn't prove who did it - it was my word against his and my mothers. My sisters were too afraid to speak out and the church through loyalty and fear of a bad reputation covered for him. Now one of my sisters is considering making a statement, if she does, it's possible it could go to court.
That brings me to where I am now. Much better than I was previously but still struggling to cope every day with the physical and psychological effects of the abuse inflicted on me. Every Christian religious holiday is an emotional ordeal for me, as is my Birthday. I still sometimes fear demons and hear voices. I haven't been able to work for a year due to my wrist deteriorating and due to mental health problems.
Many people believe ritualistic child abuse is something that occurs only in Africa by tribal people or by satanic cults. This couldn't be further from the truth - this kind of abuse isn't happening on rare occasions in satanist or voodoo groups, this is happening right under our noses under the guise of Christianity in all denominations. Most Christians do not abuse but it is certainly not rare especially in evangelical churches in my experience - religion is an easy thing to warp and use as a weapon to control, silence and manipulate children. And in many cases when abuse is revealed, non-abusing members of the church are quick to forgive and cover up for the abuser.
I hope that by relating my experiences it will help others who have also suffered to come forward and empower themselves.
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