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Jan 20 2013

Parents tried to “exorcise” their daughter

In Sweden this time, not in London.

The couple, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, “think their daughter is a witch and reject the accusation” of abuse, Daniel Larson, a prosecutor in the western Swedish town of Boraas, said on Friday.

Which is the problem with thinking people are “witches” – then abuse isn’t abuse, because witches have to be cleaned out, kind of like a sewer. It gets a little rough, but that’s not abuse.

The girl, who claims she is not the couple’s biological daughter though the parents say otherwise, was allegedly beaten unconscious and forced to drink a concoction made up of a cleaning product and her own urine, according to the charge sheet.

Social services removed the girl, born in 1997, from her parents’ custody in 2008 and she has since been living with a foster family. The girl only recently opened up about the alleged abuse “once she felt safe,” the prosecutor said.

She was 9 when she was rescued.

17 comments

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  1. 1
    grumpyoldfart

    I’m surprised that the witch hunters are never told (by the voices in their silly heads?) that the demons can be exorcised by giving the child an icecream and doubling her allowance. The voices always (ALWAYS) tell them to beat the shit out of the child and make her do disgusting things like drinking piss.

    Could it be, do you think, that maybe they are not so much interested in exorcising demons as they are in performing sadistic acts for their own pleasure?

  2. 2
    johnmckay

    Make false accusations of witchcraft a major felony. Before they can exorcise the child they must have her examined by a licensed witch-finder. Only license Unitarians.

  3. 3
    didgen

    Such a sad start to life. I hope she is happy now, and her “parents” get some of what they deserve. She is right, they are not her parents no matter the biology. Your parents love you, these people possibly birthed her, but they have done nothing of the work required in my opinion that it takes to parent. Abuse is a disease that religion is guilty of both codifying and celebrating.

  4. 4
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    She was 11 when she was reduced, right? Or is the quoted passage incorrect about her birth date/ the date she was rescued?


    As for grumpy old fart, yeah, I hear ya. It’s cynical, but prob accurate.


    didgen
    Okay, now you’re making me cry.

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    I can haz arithmetik?

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    Yes those sad starts in life. Like the adopted child near here (Sedro Wooley?) who was kept out of the house much of the time, and died of exposure, her mouth filled with mud. She was adopted from somewhere in Africa, I think. Welcome to your new country.

  7. 7
    Gordon Willis

    They “think” their daughter is a witch…Are they prepared to consider that they might be mistaken, and if not why not?

  8. 8
    Ophelia Benson

    Yes, from Ethiopia. Hana Williams. It was Sedro Woolley.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/07/us-adopted-abuse-homicide-idUSTRE7966A220111007

    October 7 2011

    A couple accused of starving their adopted 13-year-old Ethiopian-born daughter and locking her outside in the cold, where she died from exposure, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to homicide and child abuse charges.

    Although investigators found the Washington state couple adhered to a harsh child-rearing regimen prescribed by a controversial Christian parenting book, the prosecutor said Thursday that religion was not relevant to the criminal case.

    Hana Williams, adopted from Ethiopia by the couple in 2008, died on May 12 after she was found unconscious outside shortly after midnight, in temperatures hovering around 40 degrees, authorities said.

    Investigators say the abuse she endured included beatings, starvation, being forced to sleep outside and use an outdoor toilet, and that she had lost a significant amount of weight since her adoption. Prosecutors said the 10-year-old brother was similarly mistreated.

    The parents kept the family isolated from non-relatives, home-schooled the children and followed strict religious principles described in the Christian parenting book titled “To Train Up a Child,” investigators said.

    According to court documents, their 16-year-old son told investigators that Hana “was kept in a locked closet and the only light switch was on the outside of the closet. He stated that his mother would take her out every other day to walk and exercise. They played the Bible on tape and Christian music for her while she was locked in the closet.”

  9. 9
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    John McKay

    You say that like being a witch is a bad thing…

  10. 10
    Erin (formerly--formally?-- known as EEB)

    Could it be, do you think, that maybe they are not so much interested in exorcising demons as they are in performing sadistic acts for their own pleasure?

    I have to disagree. At least in some instances. I’m sure there are parents that are just sadistic and looking for excuses to hurt their kids. They might even be able to lie to themselves so well that they even think they are acting in the child’s best intrests, when really, they are working out their sadism. (Yes, this is just a guess, but I think that’s what happened in the Hana Williams case. I think the parents were frustrated, the girl became a perfect scapegoat and outlet because she was adopted and different–and she may well have had behavioral problems, though that of course wouldn’t justify her abuse at all–and they were able to rationalize abusing her in their own minds. Which is why books like the Pearls are so dangerous, but I digress.)

    But my parents allowed an “ex-gay” therapist to perform an exorcism on me, when I was 14. Granted, it wasn’t nearly as abusive as what these parents did, but it was still traumatic. They did it because they loved me and wanted the best for me, and were convinced that homosexuality was a sin. Really, causing your child some discomfort in order to save her from eternity in hell is not a difficult choice for a lot of parents, and what looks like abuse from the outside could be motivated strictly by love. (Well. And fear. Fear is a big part, too.) I’ve known several other kids who had exorcisms performed on them, as well, and we’ve had a few conversations about it. Experiences range from “unpleasent” to “still has PTSD 15 years later” (I’m in the middle, honestly), but one thing we all agree on is that our parents did what they did out of love. Now, we do have different opinions about the ministers…some of us thought that the pastor/therapist/whoever was likewise motivated by love and a desire to help, while others of us believed that he or she was genuinely sadistic and enjoyed putting us through a painful, scary experience.

    That’s why false beliefs are so dangerous. I really like what J.T. says in his “Dear Christian” talk. False beliefs can kill. False beliefs can make loving parents hurt their children.

  11. 11
    Gordon Willis

    @ grumpy

    Could it be, do you think, that maybe they are not so much interested in exorcising demons as they are in performing sadistic acts for their own pleasure?

    Yes, actually, probably. Religion licences an awful lot.

  12. 12
    Gordon Willis

    EEB, there’s a lot in that, and many harsh parents sincerely believe that they are doing their best. But it is also true that methods become ends in themselves, and it is very easy to persuade oneself that cruelty is love. Another parent who has the same religious beliefs might prefer teaching and example. What are the presuppositions on which parental choice is based? And what are the individual tendencies that influence the choice?

  13. 13
    Erin (formerly--formally?-- known as EEB)

    @ Gordon Willis

    Honestly, I think peer pressure has a lot to do with that choice. Example: my parents, when I was growing up, were big fans of the Ezzos and Dr. Dobson. So, very strict, with physical punishment. My father, also, had grown up with a very physically abusive mother, and that was the only way he knew how to parent. I would describe a lot of their discipline as crossing the line into abuse, in those early years. But both of my parents (my mother first, then my father) realized that what they were doing was wrong. So while I and my oldest brother remember being terrified of our father when he got a certain look, the way his tongue would curl right before he started hitting, my younger brothers have no memory of ever being spanked. And that makes me very happy. (My parents and I have long since healed our relationship, btw.)

    Mom says that she heard God speaking to her, telling her to stop with the extreme physical discipline. (I would say it was her own conscience and basic human empathy and kindness, but whatever.) And she stuck to that conviction, even when all the parents around her at church, even the pastor, told her that she was doing the wrong thing. They said that it was loving to hit us, that if they “spared the rod” we would be unmanageable, walk away from God, end up doing drugs and getting pregnant, all types of horrible things (no, not exaggerating). After I came out as a lesbian, along with the list of reasons why it was my Mom’s fault (she worked, so I didn’t have a good understanding of gender roles, she usurped my dad’s authority at home so I couldn’t respect men) my parents were told that I didn’t understand the fear of God, and only saw God as a neutered loving figure, because I never learned to fear and obery my father. No lie. And it was said with a “So you better start disciplining your other children before it’s too late!” attitude.

    I’m proud of my mom for not wavering, but a mom who was more insecure? Who maybe didn’t feel as confident in her relationship with God so she was more inclined to listen to spiritual leaders ahead of her conscience? A new mother that was scared and uncertain of how to parent her children? A mom who felt she had made lots of mistakes herself, and was desperate to make sure her children didn’t rebel like she did?

    Yeah, I think peer pressure plays a large part in making that choice. When copies of the Pearl’s books are given to each new mother and she’s told, “If you follow these steps, your kids won’t go to hell or end up pregnant and on drugs, guarenteed,” that is a big influence. And I think it can overwhelm even their innate instinct to protect their children, if they really truly feel like they are protecting their kids from eternal torment!

    (Or maybe I’m being too generous, here. I don’t know. I’m still trying to reconcile a lot of what happened to me when I was younger with the parents that I love now. It’s hard.)

  14. 14
    Bill Openthalt

    Beliefs about the world pour into us when we are kids. Older, we desparately look for the world we created in our childhood. My parents believed that creating an intellectual and cultural home environment and pretending their kids to be geniusses would result in them being real geniusses. When we failed at ‘varsity, it had to be caused by mental illness – so with all the best intentions we were ferried to mental institutions and diagnosed as schizophrenic; only a few of us came out unscathed. We were never hit. We were loved, to death and destruction. Because of well-meaning beliefs that early Mozart, thousands of books and an elite education would make use brilliant; because of beliefs that people with mental disease need professional care. It took me years of internal struggle to accept that even though I would never write the next great American novel, I was not a total failure. I am one of the lucky ones, but until this day, I don’t know if I am really sane…

    I grew up in Africa, a truly magical place where nothing happens without a reason. A place where one’s ancestors are alive, a place where witchcraft works. You don’t get that unless you’ve been a child in Africa. What we truly believe in becomes reality. It is so real we think those who don’t experience it are deluded. I would be amazed if these people were anything but honest about witchcraft. If your child is ill, someone put a spell on it. When you need a new job, you pay a witchdoctor to cast a spell for good fortune, or the spells cast for others will give them the job. Holding on to the post of prime minister is a sign of powerful magic. If you need advice, your ancestors will advise you.

    Experiencing the conflict between the christian belief system of my parents and the Bantu belief system of my friends freed me of both, but left me with tremendous respect for the honesty of believers, and the realisation that my own worldview — one that I try to base as much as possible on real knowledge — is in part also a belief, with the scary realisation I am not capable of determining where my beliefs take over and leave rationality behind.

    Poor child. Poor parents. My heart aches.

  15. 15
    trazan

    I’m swedish but hadn’t heard about these cases before. It would take more time to get a grasp on it. Local newspaper articles are short, racist websites call it voodoo, tabloids confuse the details. I found the following about the earlier case.

    These people are christians with a congolese traditional belief in witchcraft. The 11-12 year old girl was abused for a year, held isolated, called “witch” instead of her name, was starved, burnt with a hot knife and forced to confess. The parents had books and video clips about exorcism. A local pastor (earlier head of a pyramid scheme, tricked an old lady to give her house property to the church) and a pastor in Malmö were involved. She is now ok, considering circumstances, and should be 15 this year. The procecutor says there are likely more cases like this, considering two found in Borås, a municipality with about 100 000 inhabitants.

    Verdict:
    The parents and the pastors were aquitted. There will be a trial in a higher court this year. The verdict says religious freedom includes practices that can be percieved as strange and offensive in a secular society. It is only natural that children follow the religion of their parents. Non-physical abuse isn’t illegal and exorcism probably isn’t rare in swedish churches outside the (former state) Church of Sweden or internationally in the RCC.

    I found two christian newspaper websites that say something I actually agree with.

    A spokesman for Swedish Christian Council (sveriges kristna råd, an umbrella organisation for churches), says he’s surprised over this choice of words, exorcism is very rare in swedish churches. He says that violence against children cannot be justified with reference to religious freedom and that violence is never acceptable in christian practice.

    http://www.dagen.se/opinion/ledare/religionsfrihet-inget-argument/

    The editor says religious freedom shouldn’t be used to justify systematic violations. She goes on to wonder if a native swedish family would be judged differently, if so, that would be racist.

    So the christians can more easily see that this is wrong, this isn’t what we do. The non-religious are so busy to appear tolerant, open-minded and non-racist, that they deny a child her rights.

  16. 16
    Ophelia Benson

    Wow. Thank you for that, trazan. That’s…shocking. “Strange and offensive” don’t quite cover what was done to that girl!

  17. 17
    Bill Openthalt

    (Organised) religion used to define morality, and wordly rulers got their authority from god. This was no problem when there was only one religion per state (but it did lead to religious wars), but in a multicultural, multi-religion society the secular norms trump the religious norms.

    We don’t accept FGM, we rightfully start to question religiously motivated circumcision, and we should not tolerate practices such as exorcism or faith healing. The Swedish ruling shows the danger of giving too much status to religious practices, especially when these involve minors. Parents don’t get special rights over their children because of their religion, or the whole idea of individual human rights is voided of substance.

    It is one thing to recognise the honesty of the believers (they are not bad people), and another to fail in our duty to protect the powerless, especially the children. Thumbs down to the Swedish court.

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