Circle of Hope School Sex Abuse Lawsuits Mount, Including Allegations of Forced Labor

The lawsuit claims obedient children were trained and forced to physically assault their peers, or faced beatings, discipline or sexual abuse themselves.

Two Missouri boarding schools face at least 30 lawsuits by former students, who indicate they were sexually, physically, and emotionally abused at the religious-based institutions.

Since September 2021, 30 lawsuits have been filed against Missouri’s Agape Boarding School or Circle of Hope boarding school, each indicating that former students of the affiliated religious schools were physically abused, tortured, starved, molested and assaulted, which the Missouri State Highway Patrol investigation says appeared to have been standard operating procedures at the private boarding schools over a period of nearly 30 years. Agape was a boy’s boarding school and Circle of Hope was a girl’s boarding school founded by former administrators of Agape.

Recent lawsuits have focused on Circle of Hope, the girls’ school, including a complaint (PDF) filed on August 12 by Maggie Drew, a former student who says she was not only sexually abused, but that the owners stole her inheritance money and forced her into illegal child labor.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri and names Boyd and Stephanie Householder, owners of Circle of Hope Girls Ranch and Boarding School and former directors of Agape Boarding School in Missouri, and Jeffrey Ables, director of Circle of Hope, as the defendants.

The Householders were directors of Agape for years before founding Circle of Hope.

In March 2021, the Householders were charged with 102 counts of felony abuse, neglect, endangerment, sexual abuse and other charges centered on their management of Circle of Hope.

Drew indicates she was only 15 when she was falsely accused of engaging in sex and drugs by a pastor, and then was committed without her knowledge to Circle of Hope after her parents believed her pastor over her. It was there that the abuse began.

Circle of Hope Child Abuse Allegations

“During her time at Circle of Hope Girls Ranch, she was subjected to physical, sexual, and mental abuse and torture,” Drew’s lawsuit states. “She was also forced into servitude and required to administer punishments to the children at the Circle of Hope Boarding School on threat of serious bodily injury.”

Drew notes new girls at the facility were assigned a guide, whom they had to stay within three feet of at all times. If they strayed more than three feet away, the guide was given permission to physically assault the girl, tackling her and holding the child down on the floor. Students would be trained to be a guide and given permission to physically assault and restrain other students as a reward for obedient behavior, Drew claims in the lawsuit.

“The Householders used the students as non-paid workers. The girls bucked hay for neighbors and the community, they cleared trees, and dragged brush while on their hands and knees. They weeded out rows and rows of gardens. They fed, watered, and otherwise cared for the livestock,” Drew says in the lawsuit. “Sometimes Boyd or Stephanie would require them to scrub the floors with toothbrushes.”

On top of the boarding school abuse, lawsuits also accuse the facilities of violating the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, by deceiving parents and concealing information about what was being done to their children. The lawsuits claim parents were told, incorrectly, that the schools did not use corporal punishment, or restraint positions, such as chokeholds, except in brief and extreme circumstances. The students and investigators say that information was false.

Missouri was one of seventeen states that exempted religious boarding schools from state child welfare and education authority regulatory oversight, which was granted under a 1982 law allowing religious organizations to claim licensing exemption. However, in July 2021 a new law in Missouri was passed, known as The Child Residential Home Notification Act, which requires all religious boarding schools to register with the state and mandate federal criminal background checks for all employees and volunteers, as well as adhere to fire, safety and health regulations.

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