“I was born into the group. I have anger, frustration, sadness, and bitterness toward the group,” says China, a second-generation ex-member. She and her husband, John, are still trying to adjust to life outside the cult.
John says it was difficult to let go. “Me and my four siblings were brought to The Family by my father. It’s hard for me to call it a cult because those are people that we grew up with,” he says.
As a child, China was aware that her lifestyle was unusual. “Nothing was normal. I didn’t go to school. I didn’t meet friends. Everybody that I knew was in this big home. I didn’t know of any other life,” she laments. “When I was 5 years old, that’s when the sexual abuse started, and it went on until I was 14 years old. It was anywhere between nine to 12 men that I was abused by … I had no idea that it was wrong. I thought it was a way of life. I thought, â€˜Oh, this is sex. This is how you’re supposed to be introduced to it is adult men trying to touch you and you basically had to keep your mouth shut. And if you said anything, you’d be punished.'”
John was also sexually assaulted as a youth. “I had a date set up with me and another adult lady. She was 25. I was 9. I look at my son right now and he’s also 9 years old. I can’t even think about putting him into that position,” he says.
China wants a normal life for her family, but says that it was hard adjusting to life on the outside. “John and I left the cult because there was no way that I wanted my son to have to live through what we did. I didn’t want him to have that lifestyle. I was so scared to leave,” she reflects. “I had no idea how we were going to support ourselves. I didn’t know how to open a bank account, how to write a check, nothing.”
She still feels a lot of anger toward the cult. “My mother is still in the group. In fact, she is not only in the group, but she’s quite a big leader. She knew about the abuse that happened to me, and she has not done a single thing about it. My oldest brother is still in the group. He’s 29. My second eldest brother passed away; it was a suicide. My brother’s death is a result of him being in the group. Why, mom, why? Why did you have to drag us into all this?” she asks in rage. “Your son died. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
China believes that there will be more suicides if an intervention doesn’t happen soon. “Why should people like us ” the second generation ” suffer for the lifestyle that the first generation lived while in The Family?” she questions. Turning to Dr. Phil, she says, “Do we forgive and forget, or do we prosecute our parents?”
John tells Dr. Phil how hard it was to adjust to life outside the cult. “The life they build around you is very restrictive. We weren’t allowed to have friends on the outside world, so the bubble that we lived in was strictly what they created.”
Turning to Dr. Frank Lawlis, chairman of the Dr. Phil advisory board, Dr. Phil says, “What’s the biggest challenge? What does Jim need to do, and what do you call the process that needs to go on with Kristi at this point, and with John and China?
“What these people are often suffering from is what we call Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which has to do with the fact that they have been in a horrific situation. They have been terrorized. They have a lot of anxiety,” Dr. Lawlis explains. “What they have to do is, basically, look to the future. This is called re-socialization.”
Dr. Phil elaborates. “In the years that you guys were there, all of your contemporaries, all of your peers, are learning life skills and you’re not. Then when you’re thrust into the world, you see a lot of the frustration that goes into people’s lives,” he says.
Turning to his son Jay, who helped expose the alleged abuses in the Colorado City cult, Dr. Phil says, “There are 20,000, 30,000 children that, now with the cult being busted, what happens to all of those children? What happens to all of those women?”
Jay agrees with Dr. Lawlis, saying that the fragmented families need to be re-socialized. “The kids that I saw have no exposure to the outside world, and now they’re being thrown back into regular society, and it’s like, â€˜Somebody tell me what to do.'”
Dr. Phil adds, “When you were talking to the Attorney General in Utah, I think one of the things he said was the system doesn’t have the resources to handle all of these people, all of these women that went to the first or second grade and were forced to stop their education, all of these children. He’s saying the state doesn’t have the resources to deal with these things.”
Jay explains that in the Colorado City cult, women were taught to be entirely dependent on men. “Now you have these women with very limited earning capacity and they’re going, â€˜How do I now support these children?’ That’s what Utah and Arizona are dealing with and having to find a solution to at this point.”
“We invited members of The Family to come to the show, but they declined. The Family says that some young people were hurt by inappropriate sexual behaviors by adults, but in 1986, they banned all of that kind of conduct,” Dr. Phil explains. “Spokesperson Clara Borowik issued a statement saying: â€˜Our goal is that these incidents of harm should never occur, and we’re very sorry, and have apologized for any cases that may have occurred in the distant past.'”
Addressing China’s question about whether or not to prosecute her parents for the abuse she suffered in The Family as a child, Dr. Phil says, “I’m going to tell you guys that you need to be selfish for a period of time, because when you ask the question â€˜Do I prosecute these abusers?’ My rule is always this: Your goal, any time you have trauma in your past, is to try to get emotional closure? What you do to get that closure is what I call the minimal effective response. What is the least thing you can do that allows you to get that closure. You need to do whatever it takes for you to say, ‘I am walking out of my history. I will not live in this another minute.’ And we’re going to get you some professional help and counseling and you can discuss that, and go through the options at that point and make a studied decision about what’s the best thing for you and your family at this time.