Breaking The Generational Cycle of Child Abuse

by M Dolon Hickmon

“How do you approach parenting in order to not replicate the abusive patterns of your past?”

This question was most recently posed to me by philosopher and Patheos blogger Dan Fincke, but as a father, who is also a survivor of- and an outspoken campaigner against religiously motivated child maltreatment, it’s a question that I am often asked. Or, rather, it’s the question that polite people should ask. Unfortunately, the sentiment is more often presented, not as an inquiry, but as a seemingly sympathetic statement: “You must feel very strongly about protecting your daughter from the horrors of your childhood.” 

The constraints of time usually prevent me from properly answering. 

I don’t want my daughter or any human being to suffer maltreatment. But the unspoken assumption that underlies such questions and statements is that survivors’ pasts exert an invisible pull that they must continually struggle against, lest they fall into the trap of behaving like their abusers. 

As a father, I have never struggled – not even a little bit – with that. 

Indoctrinate my daughter with the scary, demeaning religion of my childhood? Wouldn’t even consider it. Whip my preschooler until she pleads to heaven for mercy? Don’t even want to think about it. Allow my daughter to witness her parents verbally and physically abusing one another? Never going to happen. 

And that is why this essay is not about how I fight the undertow of my past, but rather about why I don’t have to…

Read the rest of this article by M Dolon Hickmon, Author of 13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession at Camels with Hammers.

“Child Training Murder” – Spanked to Death in the Name of Jesus

Shatz MugshotApril 11, 2011 - “spank him until it’s obvious he’s totally broken.” Chilling words from page fifty-nine of Michael Pearl’s controversial parenting guide, ‘To Train Up A Child’.  The book was discovered at the home of Kevin and Elizabeth Shatz, along with the battered body of their adopted daughter, Lydia, who died as result of months of abuse.  An older daughter required hospitalization for abuse related injuries, but survived.

According to testimony, the Shatz’s were following the written instructions of Tennessee pastor Michael Pearl, when they beat their daughters with a fifteen-inch length of plumbing supply line. Lydia died from a severe beating instigated by her failure to properly pronounce a word. The case marked the second time that Pearl’s book had been linked to a child abuse death in a matter of a few years. A third child was ‘trained’ to death by followers of Michael Pearl a few years later. An online petition to remove the book from Amazon.com currently has tens of thousands of signatures.

Both parents were sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to a litany of child abuse charges.

Explore Full Coverage of the Shatz case at Homeschooling’s Invisible Children

Darkness Beckons

Darkness Beckons

“Can I say that I was rooting for our killer all the way through this book?

“This is M. Dolon Hickmon’s first novel, and that is somewhat surprising, an incredibly well written and researched book.

There is absolutely no reference in this book to the book penned by Michael and Debi Pearl,’To Train Up a Child’, but it does not take a genius to see the correlations. The Pearl book advocates beating children into submission, beating children until you break their will, and then perhaps beating them some more to be certain. It states that you can pull your baby’s hair as a disciplinary measure and even advocates that you start beating your child from the age of 4 months old. There are people who have used the Pearl book as their child-rearing bible, a few of these people have beaten their children to death.”

- Read the entire review of 13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession by M. Dolon Hickmon

“entices you to read ‘just one more chapter’”

I F*cking Hate Facebook

“…the gravity of Josh and Chris’ situation comes into view in perfectly small chunks that entices you to read ‘just one more chapter’

“The story centers mostly around two child abuse victims: Josh and Chris. Josh, the singer of the band Reboham, of which Chris is a huge fan of, was the sort of test subject that helped his famous evangelical father write a book on child discipline. This particular book, for anyone familiar with the religious child discipline community, is very reminiscent of the book “To Train Up a Child” by Micheal Pearl, which advocates things like beating a child until it’s submissive, as well as carrying around 1/4 thick piece of rubber tubing to strike the child with…

- Read the entire review of 13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession by M. Dolon Hickmon

This Present Darkness: Homeschoolers Anonymous Review of 13:24

This Present Darkness: A Review of M Dolon Hickmon’s “13:24″

“I could not console myself by saying, ‘This is fiction.’ It isn’t, as anyone who has experienced child abuse will recognize.”

“The highest praise I can give M Dolon Hickmon’s debut novel is a trigger warning: While I believe that everyone everywhere needs to read this book, I must urge those with a history of physical or sexual abuse to approach this title with care. I personally had a nervous breakdown after I finished it; I couldn’t breathe because it felt like someone had punched me in the gut. And I could not console myself by saying, “This is fiction.” It isn’t, as anyone who has experienced child abuse will recognize.

Hickmon gives readers an uncommon gift: a brief look behind the curtain of tragedy, a fleeting chance to understand a little more than we did.

In his prologue, the author explains his intentional use of real-life parallels, based on his childhood experiences and research into religiously-motivated child abuse. Also examined are the intersections between child trafficking rings, physical and sexual abuse, and fundamentalist cults. Woven with fictional elements, these create the book’s complex, dark, and brutal narrative.

13:24 is the story of two young men: Josh, a rising rock star, and Chris, the neglected teenaged son of a drug addict. Their stories begin distinct and distant, but as the novel develops, their pasts—and futures—are revealed to be connected in ways that both shock and disturb.

The story opens on a gruesome murder. While the body count rises, questions multiply as a small-town detective chases Chris as a murder suspect. Along the way, readers encounter events and characters with uncanny real-life parallels: Josh has flashbacks of being abused by his minister father, who resembles Michael Pearl and advocates harsh physical punishment; in another thread, a controversial parenting manual is linked to a spate of discipline-related deaths, bringing to mind real-life cases, like those of Hana Williams and Lydia Schatz. Elsewhere, an imprisoned child abuser is freed through the efforts of a “homeschool legal defense fund”, reminiscent of the Home School Legal Defense Association. At the same time, an oily “Christian psychologist” heads a James Dobson-esque media empire, with tendrils in state and national politics.

13:24 may be fiction, but it describes the lives of any number of people I have known. In its imagery, I recognize moments that friends and colleagues have breathed and suffered through. That is what made this novel so hard for me to read.

The book exposes what many religious and homeschooled children experience every day. Readers witness their pain and hear their cries. We see their misery multiplied when it is justified in the name of God; we see their tragedies covered up to save face and preserve religious “freedom”. And unlike a Frank Peretti novel, there are no angels rushing in to the save the day. We must pick up the pieces and fight this present darkness.

Despite the darkness, 13:24 has a poetic beauty. That beauty is in the narrative symmetry: a murder begins it and a murder concludes it. While death marks where the story begins and ends, there is a profound shift in what those deaths mean. This is the power of Hickmon’s prose: he delves deep into pain, into what he has described in his subtitle as “faith and obsession,” and shows us the human faces behind news headlines’ “monsters.”

13:24 is not easy reading. It is neither uplifting nor redemptive. It will crack your heart open, set your blood on fire, and turn your screams into music. Most significantly, the characters’ actions are neither justified nor condemned by the author. He simply allows them to exist. In doing so, Hickmon gives readers an uncommon gift: a brief look behind the curtain of tragedy, a fleeting chance to understand a little more than we did.

- Read the entire review of 13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession by M. Dolon Hickmon

Salon.com article by Valerie Tarico, featuring 13:24 and author M Dolon Hickmon

“Bible-based” discipline has led to child abuse

Authoritarian parenting and abusive practices are all too common in some Evangelical households

By Valerie Tarico

“In 2008, Hana Williams was adopted from an orphanage in Ethiopia and brought to the United States where she died at the hands of her Bible-believing American parents. Their notion of Christian discipline required breaking her will, a remarkably common belief among conservative Evangelicals. To that end, they frequently beat her, shut her in a closet, and denied her meals. Ultimately, she was left outside where she died of hypothermia exacerbated by malnutrition. They were convicted of manslaughter this month.” Read the rest at Salon.com

“Disciplined” to Death – Did Pastor’s Advice Influence Child Murderer?

Michael Pearl TTUACSmithfield, NC - In 2008, adoptive mother Lynn Paddock was convicted of torture and murder, in death of her four-year-old son adopted son Sean.  Six surviving children testified at trial that they had been beaten  almost daily with flexible plastic rods, wooden spoons and other devices. A forensic pediatrician described the abuse as “ritualistic torture”, while Assistant Johnston County District Attorney Paul Jackson showed jurors the “whipping stick” Paddock used on the children, as well as photos of bruises on their bodies.

“This was soul murder,” Jackson said.

Testifying at trial, Lynn Paddock  said she and her husband decided to use discipline techniques they learned from the evangelical Rev. Michael Pearl,  who publishes books and articles on how to raise obedient  children.

“We liked Michael Pearl’s (system) because it was quick (and) it didn’t demean the child and bring their self-esteem down,” she said. As of 2014, the death of Sean Paddock is one of three confirmed deaths circumstantially linked to Pearl’s parenting guide, To Train Up A Child. An online petition to remove the book from Amazon.com now has tens of thousands of signatures.

Read Lynn Paddock’s Statement to Investigators (Courtesy of WRAL)