The “Abuse Rabbit Hole” is one of many rabbit holes women get caught in when trying to make sense of why they lost custody or were not able to protect their children in Family Court. The “Custody Crisis Rabbit Holes” series reveals the most common ways women get sidetracked from understanding and fighting the core cause of the Custody Crisis. It is important to recognize these rabbit holes divert from what is really going on in contested custody cases, because it is only by attacking and eliminating the root cause of the crisis, systemic male entitlement, that women will be able to stop the rampant switching of custody to abusive and self-serving fathers.
The Abuse Rabbit Hole is by far the most populous, in part because most contested custody cases involve reports of abuse, so abuse appears to be the fundamental issue. Also, because women whose cases involve abuse are much more likely to join groups or become activists due to the serious nature of their situation. But in large part because many organizations, groups, professionals, and activists have misled mothers into believing the crisis is essentially about abuse, i.e. that the problem is “judges giving custody to abusers”, rather than “judges switching custody to fathers”.
MISIDENTIFICATION OF THE CENTRAL ISSUE
The main problem with the abuse rabbit hole is the fundamental issue of the custody crisis is misidentified as abuse. However, abuse cannot be the core issue because it is not the common denominator in all Custody Crisis cases. Approximately one quarter of cases do not involve reports of abuse, yet judges still switch custody to fathers, many of whom want to avoid child support, maintain control, or seek revenge. The only common denominator, in fact, is power, the power fathers are granted to take children after divorce and abuse them if they so choose, and the power mothers are denied to maintain custody or protect their children.
Abuse groups also misidentify how and why the crisis is happening as well. They endorse the false narrative that judges disbelieve mothers’ reports of abuse and believe fathers’ denials due to lack of education or training. In fact, judges don’t disbelieve women; they discredit them. And they don’t believe fathers; they credit them. Judges routinely falsely find women to be liars, alienators, mentally ill and emotionally abusive, when the facts and evidence clearly do not support that; and they commonly disregard and conceal abuse by fathers.
ABUSE IS GENDER NEUTRAL
A major problem with the abuse perspective is that it is essentially gender neutral, since, of course, abuse is bad regardless of whether fathers or mothers commit it. But that deflects from the fact that in contested custody cases, the only injustice happening in epidemic numbers is good mothers losing custody to abusive and self-serving fathers. In the relatively rare cases in which a judge takes custody away from a good father and switches to an abusive mother, it happens for different reasons. Conflating cases involving mothers who are being discriminated against, with fathers losing custody because of a bad judge, leads to confusion and division, and diversion from an effective solution.
Although some abuse groups acknowledge gender bias occurs, it is usually attributed it to individual judges’ unconscious biases or ignorance, which can be remedied through education or new laws. This misses the crux of the issue: that it is the system itself that is the problem, with its underlying agenda to keep the father entitled and empowered in his family after divorce, so training and laws will not work.
A major problem with gender neutral abuse groups is that they often include fathers’ rights activists [FRA’s] who claim their ex-wife has made false allegations of abuse against them, often accusing her of “parental alienation” [a convoluted Rabbit Hole]. FRA’s morphed into gender neutral “parents” and “family” and “children” focused groups after failing to prove systemic discrimination against men. They now assert generic Family Court corruption, i.e. the “divorce industry”, is the problem and mandatory equal parenting, which is harmful to women and children, is the solution. This gender neutral approach also sows confusion and division and will be discussed in the “Gender Neutral” Rabbit Hole.
OFFSHOOTS IN THE ABUSE RABBIT HOLE
There are many offshoots within the abuse rabbit hole. Some “abuse groups” focus on child abuse, some on spousal abuse or domestic violence, and some are inclusive of different forms of abuse. Some prominent abuse groups focus on sexual abuse, narcissistic abuse and Child Protective Services.
A substantial percentage of cases involve reports of sexual abuse, so it’s not surprising women get detoured into groups opposing pedophilia, organized sexual abuse or ritual abuse. Some activists contend “sex trafficking” is what is occurring, which comes under the “children as commodities” explanation. Although some court officials do profit from sexual abuse, and all custody cases, financial incentives do not explain all cases. [The “Money Rabbit Hole” discusses the financial motivation theory in depth.] It is important to recognize that the vast majority of custody cases involving sexual abuse consist of otherwise upstanding fathers simply abusing their power over their own children.
The narcissistic abuse rabbit hole is also quite populous. It is safe to say that anyone who would launch a custody battle from hell and deprive children of a loving mother likely has narcissistic traits, if not full-blown narcissistic personality disorder. So most mothers in Family Court are battling narcissistic exes; hence, it’s a popular place for women to relate, vent and commiserate. However, mothers are being misled into thinking the crisis is caused by judges not understanding narcissism, and educating them is the solution.
Another branch of the abuse rabbit hole is occupied by Child Protective Services [CPS] activists, as many mothers blame CPS for their loss of custody. Either social workers didn’t do a proper investigation of abuse by the father, didn’t substantiate abuse, or, worse, reported falsely that the mother was abusive. The fact is, CPS rarely does decent investigations or substantiates abuse by middle to upper class fathers who want custody. They simply shunt those cases into family court, fully aware judges ignore or minimize abuse by otherwise respectable fathers. And, while some mothers get involved in “legal kidnapping” or “forced adoption” advocacy, where CPS removes children into foster care, it’s important to recognize that dependency cases are different than contested custody cases and require different solutions.
Misidentification of the central issue of the crisis as abuse has led to advocacy for ineffective solutions, which is apparently one reason why, for decades, nothing has changed. Two main categories of solutions pursued by abuse groups are: training/educating judges and court-affiliated professionals; and enactment of new child protection and domestic violence laws. Education won’t help, as evidenced by judges’ deliberate disregard and suppression of credible evidence of abuse by fathers, and the fabrication of negative evidence about mothers. And new child protection/DV laws won’t help, because Family Court judges can violate laws and rights with impunity. Mothers commonly cry, “Judges need more oversight/accountability!” But there is no way to hold judges accountable within the Family Court system: that is the point. They have been bequeathed virtually unlimited discretion, i.e. nearly absolute power, which is used to keep men empowered in their family.
Hopefully, an understanding that the Custody Crisis is not being caused by judges unwittingly giving custody to abusers, but by judges deliberately switching custody to fathers, will help women escape the abuse rabbit hole and unite to fight the core cause of the epidemic: systemic male entitlement. Since the Family Court system is designed so judges can empower fathers and disempower mothers, the only way to end the crisis is for women to unite as a class, as half the population, and demand a new system. The Child Custody Act codes for a new system in which women’s right to due process and equal protection, and children’s right to safety and wellbeing are safeguarded.
Join The Women’s Coalition and help raise awareness and fight for the Child Custody Act.
We hereby petition U.S. Senators to permit Coral Anika Theill and other former members of People of Praise to testify at the confirmation hearing of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court of the United States.
Coral's request to U.S. Senators detailing her abuse:
Ms. Theill must be allowed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the public about the gender discrimination, subjugation and crimes committed against her in Amy Coney Barrett's sect. By being a leader in the sect, Judge Barrett is complicit in the subjugation and oppression of women and even of crimes, as Coral bravely details in her letter to Senators requesting to testify.
Judge Barrett declared, “A legal career is but a means to an end, and that end is building the kingdom of God.” This, along with statements supporting her destructive stance on women’s issues, makes it clear that Barrett’s ideology will influence her rulings and set women’s fight for equality and autonomy back a century.
We know from experience that patriarchal influence in our judiciary has very real, negative effects, as women are routinely discriminated against in Family Courts across the country. Judges are taking custody away from women in epidemic numbers and placing children under the control of abusive and self-serving fathers. A judge took Coral’s 8 children away from her, including a nursing infant, and allowed the father to turn them against her.
The California Judicial Council acknowledges, “Family Law is an area in which gender bias is rampant in the courts.” This form of discrimination is causing incalculable harm to countless women and their children. Women will never be equal or free until they have the power to maintain custody and protect their children after divorce.
If we mean to fix persisting sexism in our State and Federal courts, and we should, we cannot allow anyone who supports patriarchal control of women to be on the highest court in the land. In the name of gender equality, we take the stand that such serious allegations of complicity in the oppression and subjugation of women against Barrett must not go unaddressed or uninvestigated.
We need the truth of Amy Coney Barrett's involvement in her sexist sect to be debated in the public arena, in full view of voters. For that we need testimony of Coral Anika Theill.
For more information on the custody crisis:
October 8, 2020
Dear U. S. Senators,
My name is Coral Anika Theill, aka Kathryn Y. Warner (nee Hall). I legally changed my name in 1999 to Coral Anika Theill when I entered a state address confidentiality (protection) program for safety from my ex-husband, Marty Warner, i.e, V. Martin Warner, Independence, Oregon.
I would like to testify at the confirmation hearing of Judge Amy Coney Barrett as to the oppression, abuse and crimes that I and other women were victims of in the People of Praise sect, to which Amy belongs. Although men have ultimate authority in the sect, women leaders, like Amy, are complicit in the subordination and mistreatment of lower status women like me.
I became a member of the Vine and Branches sect in 1979 in Corvallis, Oregon. It was formally absorbed into People of Praise in 1982 and I escaped the group in 1984. My abuse became more severe after we became a People of Praise Community.
The entire time I was there, I was under the control of men and subjected to psychological abuse, including undue influence, threats, shaming, and shunning by leaders and my husband. Coercive persuasion was used on my children to turn them against me. My husband and community leaders used coercive control, isolation and intimidation to strip me of my personhood, safety and freedoms guaranteed to me as a United States citizen. They also launched a smear campaign when I finally got the courage to leave.
The actual crimes committed against me in the sect were: marital rape, false imprisonment, kidnapping, and illegal interrogation. I did not know these were crimes at the time. I believe these crimes are still occurring in People of Praise communities and need to be investigated.
The People of Praise Community that I was forced by my husband to join, was founded in South Bend, Indiana in 1971. I met and attended meetings with the founder, Paul DeCelles and attended a retreat which his wife, Jeanne DeCelles, led. They teach that men have total authority over their wives. Their policies are based on the domination of men and submission of women. They assert that men’s power is absolute and instill fear in women that great harm will come to whoever questions and/or defies that power.
I was told I had to obey my husband, who was my “head”. I was required to be a "helpmeet", which is a biblical term for a wife’s duty to “help” her husband, i.e. do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. This was a main reason my husband wanted to join the group—to give him complete control over me. I had to ask my husband if I could leave the house, go to the store or anywhere else. I was not permitted to do anything without his permission, even go to the store or the doctor. My husband instructed me in what kind of clothes I could wear, how to style my hair, whether I could wear make-up or not, when and what I could eat or drink. Even bodily functions were monitored.
He told me what books I could read and destroyed books if he disapproved of them,
including a favorite of mine, Our Bodies Ourselves: A Book by and for Women, by the Boston Women’s Health Collective. His comments toward me were consistently insulting and demeaning. I couldn’t do anything right in his eyes.
I was not allowed access to money or knowledge about our finances. I was forbidden to work outside the home or attend college classes. I was allowed to buy groceries and I purchased most of the children’s and my clothes and household items at second-hand shops. My husband read my incoming and outgoing mail. I was not allowed to read a newspaper.
I was forbidden to take birth control and was even accompanied by my husband to OBGYN appointments. I was required to submit to my husband's demands for sex at any time - even immediately after giving birth. My husband could rape me at will and that was fine with the leadership. The most serious crime committed against me while in the People of Praise were continuous marital rapes.
I had to attend weekly meetings, retreats, mandated women’s meetings and ministry meetings. Little time was left for family or self. The male “heads” of the sect, those in highest authority, were the main force in controlling members’ actions and thoughts. “Headship” involved matters such as the discipline of children, how to deal with a wife, how to help one’s wife see and deal with her problems, whether to have another baby, what kind of car or home to buy, etc. Husbands sometimes sought help by their own “heads,” on how to get their wives to fall in line—obey.
Each week I was forced to endure a “headship” meeting with my husband who would “correct” me and the children. He would remind me that I set an example for the children by obeying him in all things, and this was a direct correlation to how they would respond and obey him. My husband reported to leaders in his own “headship” meeting any comments I had made that questioned his absolute authority. He kept a black book and listed each of my infractions.
When I tried to share my feelings with my husband and the leaders, my feelings were dismissed. I was told how I should feel. They were the authorities and that fact gave them the right to rule over my emotions. I was required to tell my innermost thoughts and emotions to a woman leader called a “handmaid”, who reported what I said to the male leaders who then reported them to my husband, who could then “correct” me in our headship meeting.
When I dared to question or use my own reasoning processes, I was called a rebel and mentally ill and told I had to atone. The threat of being put in a mental institution was added to the litany of humiliations. I was subjected to exorcism and put in “special counseling” with Father Charles Harris, the People of Praise Community leader.
I was forced to attend a People of Praise Community women's retreat where the other women shunned me. They were not allowed to speak to me or look at me. I was often forced to sit on the floor, outside of Community meetings where members would pass by and shun me. I was an outcast, yet not allowed to leave the Community because my husband still was a member.
I was not permitted to see outside friends or relatives. My father died in 1984, during the beginning of my fourth pregnancy in 1984. My husband did not permit me to visit him in the I.C.U. at the hospital the night he died.
When my husband was out-of-town, he assigned other men in the community to “check-up” on me or leaders would enlist members from the Vancouver branch to "watch" me in my own home so I could not leave, call friends or escape.
I lived under the constant threat by my husband and the leaders that great harm would come to me if I didn’t obey them, including taking my children away. After I left, Family Court did their bidding and took custody of my children away from me and allowed my husband to alienate them from me. I was threatened they would put me in a mental institution if I did not submit to their authority. I now understand this was a crime: false imprisonment.
One example of the oppression I endured is that after my second miscarriage and D & C surgery in the spring of 1984, I was required to attend the mandatory People of Praise women’s meeting. I was still bleeding heavily and was weak from the surgery. The women wished to go on a shopping excursion that evening. I shared I would be unable to go shopping with them and walked out of the meeting. The “handmaid” of the women’s group, Connie Hackenbruck, immediately called my husband and reported my disobedience. My husband called another member, Bruce Bernning, to watch our three children and as soon as I arrived home, I was forced into a car and driven to the home of Ed Brown, my husband’s “head.” He told me that some people (like me) couldn’t “cut the mustard”—the narrow walk with Jesus Christ. I told him I was tired and wanted to go home but it was only after several more hours of interrogation, I was finally allowed to leave.
Because I was brought and kept at Ed’s house against my will and he used insults and threats during the interrogation, I believe this fits the crimes of kidnapping and illegal interrogation. The next day the members in the community were instructed to shun me – not to speak to me. I was considered “poisonous” and a danger to the community’s well-being, but still forced to attend meetings and women’s retreats. Shunning is a cruel and inhumane practice within many church groups and cults, a form of silent ridicule. My crime: I was in disobedience to the leaders.
I experienced much depression and anxiety as a result of all of this abuse. I still suffer from PTSD.
Head coordinators and their wives from South Bend, Indiana, Amy’s group, would visit our Community periodically presenting at retreats. Paul and Jeannie DeCelles and Bud and Sharon Rose were frequent speakers. Bud and Sharon Rose eventually moved from South Bend to live in Corvallis for a year, so there was much coordination and interaction between the two communities.
One of People of Praise’s first leaders, Notre Dame professor Adrian Reimer, confirms that the husband is always the “head of his wife" and the wife must “submit in all things”. He said a "married woman is expected always to reflect the fact that she is under her husband’s authority.” In his book, Not Reliable Guides, Reimers describes how a married woman in the People of Praise is "expected always to reflect the fact that she is under her husband's authority…This goes beyond an acknowledgment that the husband is 'head of the home' or head of the family; he is, in fact, her personal pastoral head. Whatever she does requires at least his tacit approval. The wife, as a good member of the community, has a prima facie obligation to obey her husband as the bearer of God's will. In practice, this means that the two do not—indeed, cannot—relate as equals." The "subordinate role of women to men is a fundamental cultural premise" for the group, he wrote.
People of Praise has released a statement to the media saying they were unaware of any abuse, but that is not true. They were actors in the abuse I suffered. There are numerous individuals who witnessed the abuse I have reported, some of whom are willing to testify. I documented the abuse I suffered in my published memoir, BONSHEA Making Light of the Dark, in 2003 and 2013. No one has refuted my claims or sued me for defamation. My memoir has been used as a college text for nursing students at Linfield College, Portland, Oregon and has been cited in many articles and books.
At her nomination party at the White House, Amy deflected from accusations of the gender discrimination in her sect by saying she and her husband share domestic tasks. First of all, she is a leader in the community, so she has a much better life than most women who are expected to stay home, keep having babies, even when it is unhealthy or dangerous, and take care of children themselves, as I was forced to do. But the more important point is that there is not equality or autonomy for women in the sect, instead a serious imbalance of power between men and women.
It should be concerning to members of Congress that Amy did not disclose her membership in the sect to the Senate, while information about her involvement and leadership in the People of Praise Community has been scrubbed from the internet. It appears that she—and the male leaders she is beholden to—are trying to hide her leadership in the community; however, a Washington Post source has provided documentation supporting she is (or was) a handmaid and a top woman leader. The public has a right to hear about her sect’s commission of crimes and abuse of women.
I believe crimes and abuse against women are being committed systematically and methodically by People of Praise under the cover of religion. But this is not about religion. It is about power men are given to keep women under their control.
I have witnesses who can corroborate my abuse and know former members who can give written testimony (and perhaps in person) as to the abuse and subjugation of women in the People of Praise sect. The confirmation hearings should include this testimony.
I would very much like to testify to the Senate in person as I believe the public should hear first-hand about Amy Coney Barrett’s support of patriarchal ideology and resulting oppression of women. This should be a disqualifier for the highest court in the land.
Coral Anika Theill
Aka Kathryn Y. Warner (nee Hall)
Author, Advocate & Military Reporter
Memoir: BONSHEA Making Light of the Dark
Contributing Writer for Leatherneck Magazine, “Short Rations
For Marines” & “RECLAMATION: A Survivor’s Anthology”
Cindy Dumas, M.A. has been researching, writing, and raising awareness about the Custody Crisis since 2003, when she was unable to protect her children from their abusive father. She fled into hiding when Family Court failed her and was tricked into returning home, when her children were given to their abusive father.