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‘Asking the state of Missouri to do something’ — survivors of ‘boarding school abuse’ plea for public awareness, more action from state attorney general and lawmakers

Aralysa Baker, David Clohessy, Amanda Householder and Maggie Drew demonstrated to bring awareness to "boarding school abuse" in front of the federal courthouse in Springfield, Mo. on May 14, 2024.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
Aralysa Baker, David Clohessy, Amanda Householder and Maggie Drew demonstrated to bring awareness to "boarding school abuse" in front of the federal courthouse in Springfield, Mo. on May 14, 2024.

In Springfield on Tuesday, three women who say they survived severe child abuse at religious boarding schools in Missouri staged a small demonstration. Along with an advocate with Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, they hope to raise awareness about boarding school abuse in the Ozarks and around the state.

Aralysa Baker, Maggie Drew and Amanda Householder all attended Christian boarding schools in the state of Missouri.

And all three posted up in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Springfield on Tuesday. They were there to argue that religious boarding schools in the Show-Me State operate in what they see as a lightly regulated environment that’s ripe for adults to abuse students.

Checking state and federal court records, KSMU found at least 23 civil lawsuits related to accusations of boarding school abuse, all filed since 2022 against just two Christian boarding schools in southwest Missouri. Each has been extensively covered in the news for allegations of physical, emotional and sexual child abuse: Agape Boarding School in Stockton and Circle of Hope Girls Ranch in Humansville.

Both schools are now reportedly closed. But they’re not the only Missouri boarding schools to attract scrutiny.

Baker talked about her former school, saying, “I don't really have a whole lot of news for my school yet, hopefully. They've been charged one count of kidnapping each. And I'm hoping that there will be more charges in the future.”

Baker is 31 and lives in Oklahoma. Like the other women who staged a brief demonstration in the middle of a spring downpour Tuesday afternoon, she says she was abused by adults at the school she attended as a child. But Baker says she’s too old to sue under the statute of limitations.

Baker’s school was ABM Ministries Lighthouse Christian Academy in Wayne County. It’s now closed. The married owners, Larry and Carmen Musgrave, were arrested two months ago on kidnapping charges. Preliminary hearings in their cases are expected next month. KSMU left messages with their attorney Tuesday evening.

Maggie Drew is also 31 and also lives in Oklahoma.

Drew said, "I was sent to Circle of Hope Girls Ranch and boarding school October 28, 2007. I was stuck there until I was nearly 21, almost 21 years old. I was six months shy of turning 21 before I finally escaped and found some sense of normality. It took a long time for me to finally gain traction as far as anybody listening about Circle of Hope, and that was severely devastating for me — as it was severely abusive and traumatic for all of us that were there.”

In front of a handful of southwest Missouri news reporters at the Tuesday demonstration, 33-year-old Amanda Householder opened up as well. She now lives in California but — like Drew — she formerly lived on the campus of Circle of Hope Girls Ranch in Humansville.

Unlike Drew, Householder’s parents owned the school. She sued Boyd and Stephanie Householder two years ago. In court papers, Amanda Householder alleged her parents made her perform forced labor, beat her for their own sexual gratification and forced her to punish other Circle of Hope students.

She said her lawsuit has now been resolved and added, “I stand here still to this day, feeling like I'm asking the state of Missouri to do something, because [...] myself and many others have basically lost our childhood to the state.”

Circle of Hope Girls Ranch closed in 2020 after Amanda Householder started spreading the word about abuse allegations online. This October, Householder’s parents will go to trial on 99 felony charges and 1 misdemeanor. Authorities suspect they committed offenses including child molestation, statutory sodomy, sexual contact with a student and endangering the welfare of a child in a ritual or ceremony. KSMU left messages with their attorney Tuesday evening.

The three women were joined in their courthouse demonstration by a St. Louis man, David Clohessy. He's the former executive director of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. Clohessy said he hopes to make people aware of boarding school abuse in hopes that more abusers can be brought to justice.

He also wanted to put Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey “on blast” — those are Clohessy’s words — for not doing enough to address boarding school abuse, in SNAP’s view. Clohessy and SNAP recently delivered a letter to Bailey’s office calling for actions including a statewide investigation of religious boarding schools. But Clohessy thinks Bailey could do more.

“Plenty," Clohessy said. "For starters, he could just use his bully pulpit and hold news conferences like our group does, and warn parents, you know, think twice before you send your kids to one of these unregulated, private, controversial facilities.”

Clohessy says even just being heard by someone in authority can be tremendously healing for abuse survivors.

KSMU reached out to Bailey’s office and asked about SNAP’s recent letter. A spokesperson shared a written statement saying Bailey’s office has three full-time prosecutors on the case against the former owners of Circle of Hope.

In response to SNAP’s demand for a statewide investigation of religious boarding schools, the statement said Missouri’s attorney general “does not have original jurisdiction to prosecute criminal cases, including those of sexual abuse and trafficking."

The statement said in a typical situation, when a local prosecutor asks for state-level help, the governor may appoint the attorney general to handle the case. Or a court could make an appointment in case of a local conflict.

Drew and and the demonstrators urged anyone aware of suspected boarding school abuse to speak up. They say you should report suspected boarding school abuse to local law enforcement or the state highway patrol.

"I really do hope that everybody just pays attention, if you see something that looks questionable," Drew said.

Check on children, Drew says. Abuse survivors can connect with support resources by calling the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests at 1-877-SNAP-HEALS or 1-877-762-7432. And Amanda Householder says she connects survivors with helpful resources if they contact her by email. The address is MyCircleOfTruth@gmail.com.

Clohessy says later this week they’ll hold similar demonstrations in Jefferson City and Kansas City, and hand out flyers in small towns where boarding schools are located. In part, they want Missouri lawmakers to take up their cause in the last few days of this year’s legislative session before it ends on Friday.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.