Were You Abused in a Little Family Cult? Nikki Tells Her Story and Wants to Connect With You.

Girl on a swing- Pexels.com

“In situations of captivity the perpetrator becomes the most powerful person in the life of the victim, and the psychology of the victim is shaped by the actions and beliefs of the perpetrator.”
Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror link


Nikki, the name she has adopted, contacted me and asked if I knew about the abuse that occurs in “little family cults.” I have to admit that I knew little to nothing about such groups and am grateful that Nikki reached out to me. Not only did she want to tell her story, but she is also interested in getting in touch with others who have experienced similar families. This story is about physical, sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse.

However, this was not a church or a community group. It wasn’t the Duggars with 19 children and TV cameras following them everywhere.  It was a small family with a mom, dad, two biological children, and two foster children(who did not stay in the family for long.) Nikki now refers to her father and mother by their first names: Mark and Susan. She has left that family and does not intend  to return.

Nikki said they had to have long hair. Unlike the Duggars, though, they didn’t have to wear long skirts because of the janitorial work they had to do. Let’s go back to the beginning.

The family

Mark and Susan had two biological children. Nikki was born in 1985, and her sister, Christy, was born in 1984. In the spring of 1991, Mark and Susan fostered Kimberly and Brandon.

Mark sexually abused Christy and went to prison.

In the fall of 1991, Christy was walking to school with Nikki. They were allowed to attend school until 4th grade. Christy told the traffic crossing guard that her dad had abused her. Thankfully, the traffic guard reported this. Mark went to prison for 5 1/2 years.


The foster children were removed from the family.

The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, excommunicated Mark.

The family had attended this church for a few years. Nikki went through the confirmation classes. She told me that she was glad the church responded in the way it did.

The sneaky way that Mark was able to come home after prison.

The family lived in a 5th wheel camper until 1999. Mark was allowed to live in a popup camper on the same land as the 5th wheeler. This was a rough living situation since they didn’t have electricity and water for some time. They got electricity but never had any water. Susan could truthfully say that Mark wasn’t staying in their primary residence.

In 1999, the family moved into a house together with Mark. They kept the registry for the 5th wheeler and reported that Mark was living there. This living arrangement would lead to further abuse.

Keep it in the nuclear family.

Sometime in 1998, the police received another call about Mark. Mark and Susan told the girls that they needed to keep silent about anything going on in the family., They told them that no one would want to take the girls together if they were charged. So, the girls, fearing the worst, kept silent.

Sadly Mark and Susan never shared the cards and letters from they received from their aunt who cared about them. It appears that they didn’t want family members to get involved with the children.

The family-owned a janitorial company.

When they were young, the kids were expected to work helping with the janitorial company. By 2000, Christey and Nikki, young teenagers, were running the company. Susan worked for a non-profit group that served families of prisoners… On the other hand, Mark stayed home to do the paperwork for the company. The girls worked very hard and kept long hours.

Mark told the girls that he had installed cameras around the house and he could watch them. This caused them to feel like they were being watched and controlled at all times.

Mark started a Bible study with friends from prison but had some odd beliefs.

Since Mark was no longer welcome at the Lutheran church, he started his own Bible study. Doesn’t this remind you of pastors who are forced to resign from their church and decide they will start their new church? It should come as no surprise that Mark would have some odd ideas regarding the Bible

He believed in celebrating a Jewish Sabbath. He was authoritarian and confusing in how he implemented his beliefs in the family, For example, he decided that scented candles should not be allowed in the house. He let the girls attend a Baptist youth group where they made friends. Mark would reject their friends by saying things like “She’s too evil to be around.” or “Don’t let the devil into your life.

Abuse of the girls allegedly continued.

Christy was abused in 2001 and ran away from home. From 2001-to 2003, Nikki was alone at home with Mark and Susan. Nikki said those years were filled with sexual, mental, and physical abuse. In 2003, their grandmother moved into the house, and the molestations of Nikki stopped.

Christy got married as soon as she turned 18. She and her husband moved into the campers. She wanted to come home to protect Nikki.

Nikki marries at 18 and found herself in another abusive situation

She married her first husband because he demonstrated that he wanted to protect her from Mark. He became increasingly controlling. For example, he would take away her car keys so she couldn’t go out. She returned home to Mark and Susan. Mark told her to go back to her husband. She would not divorce him until 2009.

From 2006 to 2009, Mark and Susan became even more difficult to deal with due to drug abuse.

Nikki began to work for the janitorial company once again.

She worked in the company from 2009-to 2012. When I asked her why she returned, she likened it to Stockholm Syndrome. Since Mark and Susan owed taxes on the business, they decided to transfer the company to Nikki. However, after they withheld her salary because they claimed “she owed them money,” she finally decided to make a clean break and quit. She eventually became a store manager for a national company.

Due to panic attacks, Nikki eventually left the area and moved near her aunt.

She remarried in 2009 and divorced again in 2012. At this point, she had 4 children. She moved to Michigan, became a home health aid, and is helping to care for her aunt. She remarried once more in 2014 after moving to Michigan. She now has four biological children from 2 marriages and one stepdaughter.

She is so grateful to be with her aunt, who truly cares for her. When I spoke with Nikki, her aunt was in the background, supporting her and helping her remember the dates in her story. She is a lovely person who wants Nikki’s story to be told.

Nikki wants to help others who have survived a “little family cult.”

Nikki no longer goes to church. She subscribes to the motto “Do no harm.” She knows that there are many stories just like hers that rarely get told since each family cult is an autonomous group. She wants to speak with others who have gone through similar experiences and has set up a contact email

familycultsurvival@gmail.com

Nikki is a thoughtful and kind person who went through a difficult situation. Imagine living with your parent who went to prison for molesting your sister? She is strong, brave, and loving. I cannot thank her enough for being willing to share her story and point out a forgotten group of survivors.

I would be interested in posting other stories from folks who grew up in similar circumstances. Please contact me at dee@thewartburgwatch.com.


Comments

Were You Abused in a Little Family Cult? Nikki Tells Her Story and Wants to Connect With You. — 38 Comments

  1. “Legal Grounds” by Ava Aaronson has a similar story… where “Honor your father” is the incest commandment in a church-active family. It is a framed story within a small town mystery.

    Certainly the DV and Clergy Abuse or CSA stories covered here at TWW merit our care, concern, and attention.

    However, IMHO, there are two types of cases that are particularly destructive and particularly heinous crimes:

    1-incest, and even worse in the name of God and under the umbrella of protection by churches. A child is born a victim of predatory criminal parents. Only by the grace of God do these children stand a chance at a normal life. But they do, survive and thrive and live to tell.

    2-violation of minors, boys or girls, by pastors (what was done to Jules Woodson and Anne Marie Miller, AND what was done to boys at that Kooky Kristian Kamp K-something, for examples.)

    Thank you, Nikki, for sharing.

    Thank you, Dee, for your work.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  2. “Little Cults Everywhere” and I mean EVERYWHERE. They can be family based, but not always. And they can be religiously-based, but again, not always. For an example of the former, family based with some religious elements, I’d point to the Turpin family from the Inland Empire region of California. An example of the latter, not so much family based and not religiously based was a very small British political cult called “the Workers’ Institute” and also described as the “Lambeth slavery case”.

    And then there’s the story I read last week in El Pais (Spanish news site) where an elderly woman (aged 85) in Rio de Janeiro was removed from the family she had lived with for the previous 72 years. It turned out she was not related to that family in any way, but had been given as a slave to the now-elderly woman of the family back in 1950. Her entire life had been spent caring for the woman, the woman’s children and grandchildren, with no pay, no holidays, no nothing. She’d been moved all around Brazil over the ensuing decades. This type of situation is apparently a known thing in Brazil (where slavery has been illegal since 1888 but still going on) and there is a public campaign to identify people who are being enslaved like this, and a neighbor reported the situation to the police. The family tried to claim she was part of the family, but the woman did not have custody of her own identity papers. The family had them.

    So yeah, Little Cults Everywhere.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  3. The family-owned a janitorial company.

    So did the Christian Fellowship/Shepherding Group/Not-a-Cult that I was mixed up in during the Seventies.
    Even had their own Cult Compound in Whittier (two older houses with enlarged basements and one fourplex).

    What is it with Cult Compounds and Janitorial Companies?
    (Even if the Cult Compound consists of one fifth-wheeler and one popup camper or one house and one fifth-wheeler.)

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  4. d4v1d,

    Agree.

    2 Corinthians 5.17 “If anyone is in Christ, old things have passed away; all things are become new,” is apropos for children growing up out of these family situations. Walk away and embrace a new life. Look to God Himself, not the church, to help build that life.*

    Luke 3.8 and Acts 3.8 and the account of Zacchaeus are apropos for the predator: fully confess, repent with a 180 in behavior, and then do the fruit of repentance – repay x 4 the harm you have caused.*

    If a predator does not do the fruit of repentance, they remain a predator with no place in church and among vulnerable people, potentially more victims.*

    *All the “great” name brand so-called theologians, teachers, writers, conference speakers, churchy authorities, seminary professors, and religious bigwigs don’t put this out there. They are useless in this regard: simply wasted words for the child-to-adult coming out of this situation.

    But God has this covered. God is greater and mightier than the violation of a child by an adult monster predator. What the locust has eaten, God will justly restore, even as God will crush the locust, the thief, the violator.

    When church says, “Touch not my annointed,” while supporting a predator pastor or leader or father, church has it backwards.

    The predator pastor leader or father should not touch the innocence of a child. God has annointed children to be raised with innocence. God has never annointed men to violate minors.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  5. Ava Aaronson: God has annointed children to be raised with innocence. God has never annointed men to violate minors.

    And God has never annointed women to look away, ignore, support, tolerate, submit to, or be silent about predators of children.

    Wives of (even pastor) predators, grow up, stand up, and speak up, or know that you, in supporting a monster, are also a monster, complicit, driving the getaway car.

    No getaway with our Father in Heaven, though. Our God is loving and JUST.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  6. The low response on this post brings to mind the reaction of the supposedly salt of the earth church leaders when asked to advocate for victims, minors, of church predators, in Court, no less:

    “No, I can’t get involved. A girl and her father? That’s a domestic affair and I don’t get involved with those “He said, she said” types of affairs.”

    Oy-vey, uff-dah, oh-my-stars … etc.

    The girl is a minor, or it all started when she was a child, and the predator guy is an active church leader, but even the “good guys” churchmen will not advocate for her. Yikes!

    Real.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  7. Ava Aaronson: The low response on this post…

    I don’t know how much to read into the number of responses on any particular post. Not too many years ago most posts here got several hundred comments. The largest I remeber was over 1600. Lately it has been in the dozens. I refrain from commenting when I don’t know how to add anything that will make a difference, or if I don’t have experience with it, or if it is too emotional for me. The easiest posts to comment on are the ones mainly about theology, or where there is opportunity for banter. This post is a very serious and sad topic.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  8. I think the word cult may suggest the wrong thing to people.
    They aren’t what the word cult makes people picture but there are families who are deeply religious (not necessarily Christian) and deeply abusive. They may have involvement with churches or other groups outside the family, but their interpretation of their religion will be very eccentric and usually outside the mainstream of their religion?
    I think there are quite a lot of them but the only people who get to know much about them are health and social care workers who can’t say much.
    If these kind of families are included I’ve come across a couple, one with many children, all taken into care.
    I suspect many readers will have come across families like this?

    Fewer comments can be caused by burn out – as you spend years talking about abuse with nothing changing it can be very demoralizing. I’ve just reached the point (elsewhere online) where I literally keep saying it and tell them I’ll stop saying it when they stop trying to silence me.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  9. Sharing stories like this can be so very hard, for the writer and for the one sharing the experiences. I’m so glad you made it out, Nikki. And I’m so glad you spoke up. Those who band together find strength in that. You are living a life that gives hope to others who have lived that horror and to any who, all forbid, may face it going forward. You are a light I’m proud to see shining in our world today.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  10. Ava Aaronson: The low response on this post

    This post is not about “Calvinista” SBC leaders, so hence the low response rate. I suspect that the flat format of comments instead of the kind that Throckmorton has where you can nest and actually follow comment chains instead of having to read hundreds of responses to see if anyone respond to your last comment means that this will never go where it could. This is something I pointed out years ago, so it is not my problem, it is not my blog. Yet, people hate it when I try to helpful so I will shut up now…

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy: So did the Christian Fellowship/Shepherding Group/Not-a-Cult that I was mixed up in during the Seventies.
    Even had their own Cult Compound in Whittier (two older houses with enlarged basements and one fourplex).

    What is it with Cult Compounds and Janitorial Companies?
    (Even if the Cult Compound consists of one fifth-wheeler and one popup camper or one house and one fifth-wheeler.)

    Janitorial services provide invisible labor. Those providing these services are without status and often overlooked. My guess is that’s why the connection, to enforce the “you’re invisible and easily overlooked” feeling.

    (As a full-time caregiver of young children who also provides invisible labor that is often overlooked, I’m not saying this as a judgement of an individual’s worth, rather a commentary on what society seems to say.)

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  12. A child born to a criminal predator and his complicit wife is dealing with crime on a grand scale from the moment they are born.

    The fact that church people with their church theorizing, (brains and brouhaha about absolutely nothing, in other words, religious talk being the favorite activity of Evangelicals) label what this child faces as domestic or the child’s problem or not the church’s affair NEGATES their Gospel. Their gospel is then irrelevant.

    The Good Samaritan is the true Gospel Christian.

    Dee responds with her blog.

    I wrote a novel to illustrate the inside story.

    Each of us can do our little part from our little corner, to shed Gospel light on the child criminally assaulted from birth.

    Jesus loves this child. We should, too, in action as so guided by God’s Holy Spirit. Blog or book or extra bedroom or listening or advocacy or education or Bible study that addresses this horrible situation or encouragement, etc.

    God reaches out to the child with a new life and never drives the getaway car for the predator, reinstating predation. It is impossible to support both the child and predation. There is a clear divide, a choice for each one of us.

    The Good Samaritan teaching of Jesus clearly sets the divide.

    Our pastor had preached such a sermon one Sunday. We felt God’s guidance to reach out to one high school girl. Turns out, she was suicidal. Our family walked with her to a better life.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  13. In the past month in my city we had an uncle, grandfather, mother and the church pastor arrested in the death by “exorcism” of a three year-old. They belong to a small church where almost all of the members are related to each other. The child was brutally beaten to “get the devil out of her.” So sad.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  14. Linn: death by “exorcism” of a three year-old … The child was brutally beaten to “get the devil out of her.”

    I repeat my earlier comment: “Hell is hot and Hell is long.”

    “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:22-23)

    “Whoever harms one of these little ones, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  15. Mr. Jesperson: This is something I pointed out years ago, so it is not my problem, it is not my blog.

    I think the current format works better for a blog like this because it’s much easier to find the latest comments. Your preferred approach makes it easier to follow a particular comversation, but much easier to miss updates on other conversations. This format also is better for keeping the main topic the main topic. If a vote is needed, I recommend keeping it as is.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  16. Max: “Whoever harms one of these little ones, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

    Sex with a minor, IOW statutory rape, is harm.

    A pastor rapes a minor on the floor of his church office. Harm.

    A dad in bed with his daughter is harm.

    Supporting these predators is harm.

    Silencing or ignoring the victims is harm.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  17. A “house fellowship” I attended in my late teens, away from home for a year, asked me intrusive questions (which sounded chic at the time).

    We volunteered to turn a shop into a bookshop (which no longer is that, 49 years later) and I did a couple of hours with a paint brush which didn’t seem onerous for me at the time.

    I did get told later the boss had got heavier and heavier with more and more people so it broke up.

    Branches of the “new apostolic associations” can in my observation be based mainly on a handful of families with shaky ideas of theology and organisation.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  18. Ava Aaronson: Sex with a minor, IOW statutory rape, is harm.

    A pastor rapes a minor on the floor of his church office. Harm.

    A dad in bed with his daughter is harm.

    Supporting these predators is harm.

    Silencing or ignoring the victims is harm.

    Thanks for just saying it. And continuing to say it. And the millstone verse is one I have never heard from a pulpit or small group study. Come to think of it I’ve never heard about Zaccheas’ 4 fold act of amends either, from the pulpit, a chosen step by Z, as it’s written IMO, surely influenced by what he was experiencing with Jesus. If children are taught to sing the song to remember Z and how he was changed, surely that is worth pulpit material, especially the 4 fold pay back part.

    I hope that there is a lot more going on, than I know about, to help victims of abuse outside of the public church domain. In terms of victims banding together for support, I think there’s more that could be done. There’s a book written by a woman of another faith who escaped to Belgium when she was going to be married off at a young age and it wasn’t something she wanted. I haven’t read the book, just an overview of it where she credits Belgians for helping her connect with education and growing to be able to write about it to help others. There’s an “Under Told Stories” or NPR story about a female pastor (not Baptist, I don’t recall the denomination) who started a program for DV or other abuse victims. All the victims in the news story were female. I know not all victims are female. These victims had trained small group support and therapy, education and a safe place to live and grow to a more stable environment and work life where they could support themselves. This seemed like a banding together with “scaffolding” and interaction provided by a Christian leader/pastor and others that the pastor drew in for support and interaction.

    This thread also brings to mind the echurch talk about forgiveness where Miroslav Volf was speaking. The presupposition of the whole forgiveness process, he said, is that there is agreement about what happened. It would be helpful if a “great” Christian leader/s said more about cultivating the landscape for this presupposition, or what to do (like get to a safe place, if needed), with permission and supportive encouragement for self care and encouragement not to accept anything crazy, with often repetition on these points to help clarify an important concept.

    Silencing (multiple ways to do that) or ignoring victims, reminds me of Elie Wiesel’s quotes on this subject, especially the one about indifference.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  19. Ella: The presupposition of the whole forgiveness process, he said, is that there is agreement about what happened. It would be helpful if a “great” Christian leader/s said more about cultivating the landscape for this presupposition, or what to do (like get to a safe place, if needed), with permission and supportive encouragement for self care and encouragement not to accept anything crazy, with often repetition on these points to help clarify an important concept.

    Yes, the presupposition of [forgiveness] [repentance] is the whole truth and nothing but. No excuses. No projection. Followed by restitution x 4. (Victims can forgive but a predator repenting is a whole ‘nother deal.)

    Yes, it’s my observation, too, that there are good people helping victims get out and thrive, in quiet corners and without fanfare.

    Yes, education and practical life skills play big roles.

    “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover gives such an account of the tremendous challenges of overcoming a completely bent childhood (that was done by her parents in the name of God).

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  20. Ella: Come to think of it I’ve never heard about Zacchaeus’ 4 fold act of amends either, from the pulpit,

    From the pulpit, the bar is set so low, that satan and his henchmen take a flying leap and hop right into Christian fellowship, embedded, easy sleazy.

    Then the predator in the pew writes his check and puts it in the passing offering plate, sealing the deal for his free reign among the faithful.

    Oh my, pastor can’t afford to offend anyone in the pew with what is real repentance. Can’t afford to lose the predators’ tithes as pastor builds his dynasty.

    Now, according to @RobDownenChron the pulpits, too, are heavily populated with pastor predators. Guess the pedo-types have all found church to be user-friendly as their hunting ground, pulpit and pew.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  21. Ava Aaronson: “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover gives such an account of the tremendous challenges of overcoming a completely bent childhood (that was done by her parents in the name of God).

    Yes, I’ve read this book and discussed it with a friend. Thank God for the brother that was the one to encourage her to pursue education and other supporters that helped her in that path, along with her own determination to work toward something that made better sense to her than the family of origin home life. I watched an interview and Q&A of her and some extended family members who were there, I think, were very proud and acknowledged that they were helped, I think, in gaining a better perspective of their own situations from knowing Tara’s story and seeing her accomplishment.

    It is particularly bad when abuse is done by someone claiming their actions are God’s Will. When children are infants and toddlers, the adults caring for them, or not, and guiding them, or not, and delighting in them, or not, are God, from the child’s perspective, whether the parents claim to be acting in the name of God or not.

    I’m re-reading Marilynne Robinson’s book, “Lila.” I first read it after watching an interview of her with Bill Moyers in 2016. It seems related to this topic, too, although it is fiction.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  22. Ava Aaronson: Oh my, pastor can’t afford to offend anyone in the pew with what is real repentance. Can’t afford to lose the predators’ tithes as pastor builds his dynasty.

    Yeah, and out of the other side of their mouth they say they want “revival.” Isn’t one of the factors for the inspiration for revival real repentance and sincere love? Oh wait, wrong model, they’ve got the business model going, growth without depth. The only changes measured are growth and book sales. No real depth, no revival, eventual diminishing returns.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  23. Ella: No real depth, no revival, eventual diminishing returns.

    When a pastor’s livelihood depends on keeping the church swimming in shallow water, he will never exhort the people to pray, repent, and pursue holy living. The reason we don’t have much holiness preaching in the American pulpit, is that there aren’t many holy men of God occupying them.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  24. Thank you all for your comments and thoughts. This was very hard for me to talk about since these are the people that raised me and my sister is still wrapped up with them. When you are raised in a family cult, which is a real thing, you are all alone when you get out. There is no one else who has been through what you have. I have an aunt that truly believes that Mark is a “chosen one of God”.

    There are no support groups for people that have been through what I have been. There is help for people escaping cults, sure. But, not family cults. When you are told that no one but your immediate family is to be trusted, it takes years to understand that you CAN trust. I was and am lucky since I have an amazing extended family that stepped up and have my back. But, many don’t have that. Please, if you know anyone that needs help let them know they are not alone. Stockholm Syndrome is no joke and they can get through it. We can do it together.

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

  25. Ella: Come to think of it I’ve never heard about Zaccheas’ 4 fold act of amends either

    A Jewish contact from long ago (Lee Gold of LASFS) once told me that “paying back fourfold” was prescribed in Torah for theft of property that deprived the victim not only of money or property, but the means of making a living. Like stealing the tools of a carpenter or metalworker. (Or the car of a gig-economy Uber or delivery driver.)

      (Reply & quote selected text)  (Reply to this comment)

Leave a comment - Click here for our commenting rules

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *