I wish to address how people who survive aggressive thought reform and physical abuse can have different perceptions of past events, applying it to survivors of Hephzibah House. When one individual claims something glowing and wonderful and nearly 100 others describe specific and corroborating conditions of abject abuse spanning nearly four decades, perhaps that one dissident has some issues with false memory as a coping mechanism which allows them to transcend the abuse they suffered themselves. (These are issues will be explored in upcoming posts after a review of Doctrine Over Person. The reader may also find a recent series posted on Overcoming Botkin Syndrome concerning gaslighting to be helpful, as gaslighting is also a means by which a manipulator can pressure a person to relinquish their personal history and perspective.)
The Saga of the Ingram Family (summarized from Dominic Streatfield's book)
In the summer of 1988, a young woman named Erika Ingram ventured off to Black Lake Bible Camp, returning there as a counselor to the Heart to Heart camp held by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, though she'd previously attended previous events as a camper. (Jack Hayford is a commonly known pastor with the Foursquare Church, a Pentecostal denomination founded by Aimee Semple McPherson.) The evangelist who addressed the crowd allegedly received a specific and personal, prophetic word of knowledge of a terrified little girl (attending the gathering) who was hiding from her father, giving specific information about the environment she envisioned. Immediately, several girls jumped up and came forward, stating that they had been abused, and one burst into tears and ran from the room. Many campers admitted to being abused by their fathers before the end of the service.
Erika Ingram wept and sat on the floor in the meeting room after the service concluded and the group dispersed. The evangelist, Karla Franko, states specifically that other concerned camp counselors called her back to the meeting room where she delivered a message specifically to the emotional Erika which echoed the general message she gave in during the service. In what Pentecostals and Charismatics understand as divine knowledge imparted by the Holy Spirit to someone who operates in prophetic gifts or the “charismata,” Franko tells Erika that the Holy Spirit has revealed to her that God acknowledged that she was abused as a child by her father, and that the abuse took place for years. (This technique, when used to manipulate, demonstrates another of Lifton's criteria called mystical manipulation. Read even more about the phenomenon and watch a short video clip HERE.)
Shortly thereafter, Erika's younger 18 year old sister named Julie exhibited odd and emotional behavior at school in the Fall. A teacher encouraged Julie to write about whatever it was that was troubling her because she could not get her to talk. By October, Julie began to produce notes for this concerned teacher that started out benign but eventually claimed that her father would molest her during the night, describing the same type of scenario presented by the evangelist, Karla Franko, at the Black Lake/Heart to Heart camp. These descriptions progressed, and Julie eventually claimed that her father's poker buddies would also molest her. She claimed that her sister, Erika, slept on the top bunk in their shared room and was not subjected to the abuse because the men were obviously afraid of breaking and collapsing the bunk, or so she reasoned. Julie was referred by the teacher to abuse counselors who were appalled to learn that the girl claimed to have also been burned and cut.
Soon Erika would meet with her mother to tell her mother about being abused by not only her father and the poker buddies, but also by her brothers. Erika's sister, Julie, confirmed the story with her mother, as did the pastor who heard about Erika's admission at the camp that summer. They claimed that the abuse started when Julie was in the fifth grade and stopped about five years ago. The abuse counselors reported the claims to the Thurston County Sherriff, and Julie was questioned. Julie reported to the sex crimes investigator that her father would threaten to kill her. Eventually, this story changed, and she claimed that the last rape took place in 1987 because at that time, her father gave her an STI and then took her to San Jose for anonymous treatment. Then, after the questioning, Julie delivered a note to the police claiming that she became pregnant and that her father forced her to have an abortion.
On November 28th, Paul Ingram, the father of Julie and Erika, awakens and vomits due to anxiety. He's taken in for questioning and read his rights. Then Paul Ingram makes an odd and nebulous admission that he “has a dark side.” Twenty years later, the officers who arrested him recall the strange nature of the comment because no one accused of such a crime ever makes such an admission. Ingram can't recall ever raping his children, and repeats that “I can't see myself doing this,” while in the next utterance would repeat that “I taught the kids not to lie.” Then he tells the sheriffs that though he's never contemplated such a thing, but in the event that he was guilty, he asked them to make sure all the firearms were removed from the home. What do you think that the police are thinking? This man sounds bizarre, probably seriously deranged, and guilty.
Eventually, he confesses that if he did molest the girls, he would have done such and such. Eventually during the intensity of the interrogation, Paul Ingram changes those “would have's” to confessions of “I did.” He would then go back into the mantra of “My kids don't lie.” He also made statements that these things “must have happened” as the girls recalled, though he couldn't think of any specifics. Then he started agreeing with the specifics that his daughters shared with the police. In custody, Ingram would pray to Jesus to “give him a picture” of the events because he couldn't remember the details but just “knew” that they had to be true if his daughters claimed that they were.
A minister came to the prison for a “deliverance” session with Ingram to cast the devil out of him. Ingram then confesses that he recalled events that were similar to a chain of murders in the Seattle area, and for a time, the police evaluated him for long periods of time concerning a string of serial killings, wondering if Ingram had participated. Ingram focuses on the idea that if he is in jail, there must be very good reasons for it and he must be a guilty man. After intense sessions of prayer to remember events and after long sessions of interrogation, Ingram claims to have been involved with witchcraft and ritual killing. He begs God to release his memories so he can fully repent of the terrible evil he must have committed. He then claims that he sacrificed his daughter's babies, his own children, in satanic rituals. When the family members are questioned, and though such details were never included or recalled in their initial accounts, they magically begin to think that they remember details that corroborate elements of their father's many new ritual abuse stories. Eventually, Ingram would go on to claim that one of the chief investigators in his case had been one of the poker buddies and was guilty of violating these young girls. . .
The long and detailed account continues in Streatfield's book, Brainwash, which makes for very interesting reading on this subject of manipulation in Evangelical settings and how people who are conditioned to respond to shame and guilt react to this type of pressure. I've glossed over a much detail in this short summary.
It turns out later that the girls were given cause to be angry with their father, immediately before attending the camp in 1988. As the book notes, the sex crimes chief notes,“That camp was noted with Thurston County officials as having an extreme number of unsubstantiated or unprovable accusations” (pg 313). The Ingram Family were not the only people to come forward over the years, repenting and accusing others of abuse. When the authorities searched for medical records of the abortions and other medical treatment for the specific abuse that the girls claimed, they could find none. When both girls underwent GYN exams, both girls were virgins and had also had none of the clinical signs of prior pregnancy. (In addition to the external factors, the presentation of the cervix changes after pregnancy, and the manifestations of pregnancy versus delivery of a term infant are also different from one another which permitted physicians to make such a determination.) There were no scars from the burns and the cuts they supposedly suffered during their molestations and satanic ritual abuse.
Paul Ingram spent almost 15 years in prison for a crime that he NEVER committed. He was told that it would all make sense after his confession, but not in the way that he expected. He is not permitted contact with his family.
He states that when the interrogators finally left him alone, he felt impressed with a specific message from God – that he knew the truth in his “heart of hearts.” He had committed no crime. He tells Streatfield, “And at that point, I knew that none of it was true. I had suspected it all along, and I couldn't figure out how it had all happened, but now I knew.” He knew that it didn't happen and trusted his own perceptions, though he believed that his confession would bring him release and comfort. All it did was buy him 15 years in prison. Streatefield states that Julie admits privately to friends that she now doubts the accuracy of her own memories.
I often end up repeating like a broken record that the brain is not as adept and talented at realizing things. The brain's great ability really shows through in its ability to ignore that which we find unpleasant. We tend toward confirmation bias, the ability of the mind to keep us optimistic and functioning when we are overwhelmed by the pain of reality, and a gift that can protect us when that pain is too great for us to bear. It can also be a curse, for if we get stuck emotionally or mentally, we can use this ability to ignore the truth, choosing to believe fantasy over the truth.
In this example of how powerful the manipulation of emotions and ideas can be when under social pressure or when experiencing the dissociative effect of derealization and depersonalization in response to a terrifying situation, how much easier would it be for a person to choose to believe a more positive message? The Ingram Family was conditioned to be dutiful and to respond to authority with compliance and agreement (a common trait in people anyway), something that may have been a pressure in their church. It definitely manifested through the emotional stimulation created when interrogated by the police.
Imagine that a more impressionable, traumatized person who has been grossly mistreated for as long as they can remember might experience this same kind of effect, but rather than filling in the gaps with negative ideas, they keep up their sense of optimism by imagining an unrealistic history that is glowingly positive. This also draws on an element of denial which also helps the person cope with their tremendous emotional stress. This kind of thinking is called a primitive ego defense mechanism. People tend to employ this type of mental strategy and outlook in order to survive horrible experiences, retain the will to persevere and go on to have a meaningful life.
How could one woman remember one thing, and another 100 girls remember something entirely different? Please think about it for awhile. This question will be explored in an upcoming post after more discussion of Doctrine Over Person and confabulated memory.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES and INFORMATION
Please listen to all of the Jocelyn Andersen's Blog Talk Radio episodes about Hephzibah House
- Hidden Abuses in the Baptist Church Part I: The 20/20 Episode (introduction to Hephzibah House)
- Hidden Abuses in the Baptist Church Part II: An interview with Susan Grotte (a 29 month resident in the early 1980s)
To learn more about Hephzibah House, please link to these additional resources: