Jim joined the Children of God when he was a teenager. It seemed to be the dream he had been looking for, but it became a nightmare. “These people were beautiful, and we lived together, we shared. We loved differently from the rest of the world, and it turned bad. It turned real bad,” he says, his voice breaking. “In the beginning, there was no wife swapping or sharing. When I finally landed a wife, I was in love with her … She stayed and is still there. My kids were held hostage in this group.”
His daughter, Kristi, stayed in the sect for 16 years and endured sexual and physical abuse from an early age. Her older sister, Nina, recalls her horrific past. “I was a victim of sexual, verbal and physical abuse while I was in the group that started when I was about 6. It went on until I was about 10 or 11,” she says.
Kristi adds, “They encouraged mothers and fathers to stimulate their children sexually and to actively encourage the children to stimulate themselves.”
Jim’s wife, Donna, left the country with their children when the kids were young. “When we first got to Thailand, I was 8 years old when I started being offered to other people outside of the group,” Kristi remembers. “I think when you’re abused over a long period of time, it all meshes together for you. There’s no beginning and there’s no end.”
Jim says he spent 15 years looking for his daughters. The girls escaped the cult when they were teenagers and tracked him down.
Kristi describes reconnecting with her father. “At age 16, I stopped communicating so much with my mother. After hearing from the outside point of view what this cult was like, it freaked me out,” she says. “That’s when I began to search for my father. I got his ex-wife’s number. I called her. She was like, â€˜Kristi he’s been looking for you for 15 years. Yes, he wants you.'”
The happy reunion didn’t last long. “I don’t think he ever wanted to be my dad. I think he wanted to be my friend. If I called him dad, he would be furious,” Kristi says. She also feels that her father’s intentions to reunite were financially motivated. Jim was writing a book on his experiences in the cult, and he wanted to interview his daughters for it. “His first question was ‘What was some of the good stuff that you remember?’ I stopped talking at that point because he had never made that big of a deal about the abuse, but he wanted to know the good stuff,” she cries.
Kristi and her father barely talk now, and she struggles to forgive him for the abuse she suffered at the hands of the cult. “He’s always said that this was the greatest experience in his life, having this experience with the group. Do you know how small that makes me feel?” she says, her voice quavering. “The greatest experience in my life was meeting my father.”
Addressing Jim, Dr. Phil asks, “How do you feel about what Kristi’s saying here?”
“I want my daughter back,” Jim says simply.
“That isn’t what you said to her on the phone,” Dr. Phil counters. “You said, â€˜I am doing this for you, and I’m doing it for every kid that’s been in this situation and abused.’ Isn’t there a point at which you say, â€˜Maybe we’ll get to that point, but how about now?’ Is that what you’re saying here?” he asks Kristi.
Kristi agrees. “I want to know how invested he is in this relationship with me. I feel that when he makes decisions, he has no idea of how that’s going to affect me. When I try to bring that to his attention that this affects me in a certain way, he tries to explain to me that this is for the greater good.”
When Dr. Phil mentions that Jim has been out of the cult for 30 years and that his daughters were left behind, Jim says, “Her mother took her and my other daughter Nina forcibly out of the country. I was fighting for custody of these kids.”
Dr. Phil reminds Jim that regardless of whose choice it was, his daughter stayed in the cult until she was 16.
“What is it you want from him that you’re not getting?” Dr. Phil asks Kristi.
She replies, “I want to feel heard in a relationship with him. I want to feel valid. That when he makes decisions, he realizes how that affects me. “
Dr. Phil walks Kristi through some of the painful milestones of her childhood: Her sexual abuse started when she was 2 and continued until she was 16 and left the group. “When you were 8, you were raped by a 40-year-old man.”
“Repeatedly,” she says.
Dr. Phil continues with the list of abuses: “You lived in a van from 5 until 8 years old. When you were in Thailand, they made you sleep with the guy who owned the house so y’all could stay there.”
Turning to Jim, Dr. Phil says, “You know that history. What have you done to help her and try to heal those wounds and experiences?”
Jim hesitates. “We went to counseling in the beginning. I got discouraged with it,” he says.
“What do you mean you got tired of doing the therapy?” Dr. Phil asks. “It seems to me that what you’re doing is interviewing her and trying to write a book to bring this to light for the second generation, and talking to her about these things, and she’s telling you, â€˜That doesn’t feel right to me. I question whether you’re really in this to help me or help anybody else, or whether you’re trying to take this and turn it into some exploitation for profit’ â€¦ She’s told you that, but yet you’re persisting in that, but you don’t persist in therapy â€¦ You obviously need help. Are you getting it? Are you reaching out for that help?”
“I did in the beginning and I got discouraged,” Jim reiterates.
“Tell me why you think he is trying to exploit the situation, rather than really reconnect with you as a daughter.”
Kristi explains that she recently ran into an older boy who molested her when she was in the Children of God. She chose to forgive him, instead of holding him accountable for the abuse. Jim got involved unasked, and told the people working with her former abuser that she couldn’t handle the situation because she was too “emotionally fragile.” Kristi says, “I was very, very upset, because I felt like I was finally starting to get some power for myself.”
“So you were making some choices. You were choosing to try and forgive this person. You owned it, and he took that away from you,” Dr. Phil clarifies. When Jim begins to explain his point of view, Dr. Phil counters, “Here’s what I’m not getting, Jim. Have you asked yourself, â€˜What does my daughter need right now?’ You did write the book. You did interview her about it. Did you not?”
“No. I didn’t interview her for the book,” Jim argues.
Kristi disagrees. “You were at a hotel room here before you left to Finland to go write the book. And you sat Nina and I down, and you said, â€˜I’m going to write a book, and I have some questions for you guys.’ The first question you asked was, â€˜What was the good stuff? What was the greatest experience being in there for you?'” she reminds him, breaking down. “Do you not remember that? Do you know how that made me feel? You finally want to say something about these people, and you want me to say what’s so great about them?”
“You’ve got to walk out of that history. You have to learn again what to trust, and what not to trust. And she does not trust you at this point,” Dr. Phil stresses to Jim. Turning to Kristi, he says, “And you don’t trust him, because you say, â€˜I see him trying to write this book that bothers me.'” Dr. Phil reveals that Jim also tried to talk Ricky Rodriquez’s widow into a book deal.
“It was a contract to the rights to the story. It wasn’t a book,” Kristi explains.
When Jim tries to explain that the contract was to protect Ricky’s family, Dr. Phil points out that the deal would have given Jim 30 percent. “And so you wonder, â€˜What’s his motive here? When do I get to be the top of the priority list,’ right?” he asks Kristi.
She agrees. “When does the idea of what these victims went through become the first priority, instead of the agenda to make money, or sell books, or sell stories, or anything else?” she says.
Dr. Phil tries to see Jim’s side. “One of your positions is, that by telling that story, and drawing attention to it, you do help people that have been through it, so they know they’re not alone. Maybe attention will be brought to it like Jay did with the Colorado City cult that wound up with it being smooth-out busted.”
Dr. Phil asks Kristi to give the relationship with her father another chance, and offers to get them professional help through the show’s aftercare program.
Jim and Kristi both agree to participate. “I want a parent who wants to be a parent. That’s all I’m asking,” Kristi says.