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NEWS

Victim advocates call on Missouri officials to hold religious boarding schools accountable

Ryan Collingwood
Springfield News-Leader
Longtime victim advocate David Clohessy stood with three alleged victims Tuesday urging the Missouri Attorney General's Office to step in to help prevent similar abuse at private Missouri boarding schools.

Bursts of torrential rainfall soaked a group of victim advocates in front of a federal courthouse in Springfield on Tuesday, each holding a sign relating to abuse they said they endured at Missouri boarding schools.

The paper was drenched but their message was clear: If you see something, say something.

Three women, alongside former Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) leader David Clohessy, urged state officials to thoroughly investigate Christian boarding schools amid multiple reports of abuse at facilities throughout southern Missouri. Many have in resulted in criminal charges and lawsuits.

They want action from Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey but said they have had little success in their pursuit of accountability and more regulation.

Their frustration was palpable.

"I'm asking the state of Missouri to do something because I find that myself and many others basically lost our childhood to this state," said 33-year-old Amanda Householder, who attended the now-defunct Circle of Hope Girls Ranch in Humansville. "My heart breaks knowing there are still kids out there trying to escape these kinds of places."

Householder's parents, Boyd and Stephanie Householder, owned the boarding school before it was shut down amid a litany of sexual assault reports from several girls. Boyd and Stephanie Householder were arrested in 2021 on 100 criminal charges and are set for a November trial.

Reported victims of the Householders have alleged they used handcuffs, whipped them with belts, taped their mouths shut and struck them for misbehaving. Their daughter, Amanda, made national headlines for suing her parents and aiding the criminal investigation.

Clohessy said while it may sound like 100 charges is a "slam dunk" for justice, it often isn't.

"These are shrewd predators," Clohessy said. "They hire shrewd lawyers, they exploit legal technicalities, and other people with information or suspicions get complacent."

Braving Tuesday's pouring rain, Amanda Householder, right, was among the three women who have urged Missouri Attorney General's Office to step in to help prevent similar abuse at Missouri boarding schools.

The more people come forward, Clohessy said, the better chances of stifling similar abuse.

ABM Ministries' Lighthouse Christian Academy in Piedmont was shut down earlier this year amid abuse allegations. Aralysa Baker, who attended the school several years ago, said her life was upended by what happened to her there.

"As I stand here today, there are still children trapped in these facilities," said Baker, who lives in Oklahoma. "They don't have a voice. Their voice has been taken from them along with everything else that makes them a human being, because at these places they strip you of your humanity."

State law previously allowed religious boarding schools to operate mostly unchecked, but stricter regulation has been enforced in recent years following an abuse scandal at Agape, a boys boarding school in Stockton, which closed its doors in 2023.

Clohessy stood in front of the Springfield federal court building in October on behalf of Jason Britt, a former Agape student who reported sexual abuse at Agape before dying several years later.

On Tuesday, he mentioned other places.

"Please, if you saw something, or you suffered something, at Circle of Hope, ABM Ministries Lighthouse Academy or Ozark Trails Academy, pick up the phone," Clohessy said.

Ryan Collingwood covers a wide range of topics for the News-Leader with an emphasis on public safety. He can be reached by phone at 417-258-8174 and email at rcollingwood@news-leader.com.You can also follow Ryan on social media at .