Two children escaped from what is now being called a “House of Horrors” last week in California — a home in which they and their 11 siblings were allegedly held captive and abused for years by their own parents. After escaping, one of the children turned back in fear, but her 17-year-old sister succeeded in placing a call to 911, police say. That call led to the discovery and removal from the home of all 13 children and the arrest of their parents, who at this writing are being held on $12 million bail each.
As the news media began covering the story, it was revealed that the Turpin children were homeschooled. For some, that fact immediately became the story. The “House of Horrors” father, Daniel Turpin, had registered the home as a private school under the name Sandcastle Day School. California law provides for no regulation of private schools. Here, then, was the problem. If only the state of California had laws in place requiring the inspection of private and home schools, this would have never happened.
Or so the argument goes. But what such arguments conveniently ignore is the epidemic of cases in this country involving public school workers abusing the children they are supposed to be educating and caring for. If state and local governments can’t protect the children in their own schools, the ones over whom they have been given custody for eight or more hours a day, what makes anyone think they can protect children in home schools or private schools that they are only going to inspect once a year?
Consider just a few of the recent instances of children being abused by their teachers in government schools.
In 2013, elementary schoolteacher Mark Arendt pleaded no contest to 23 counts of lewd contact with children in a South Los Angeles school district. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Documents made public as a result of civil lawsuits filed against him by his victims show a 32-year history of complaints against him, going back to 1983.
In 2017, Deonte Carraway, a teacher’s aide at an elementary school in Prince George’s County, Maryland, was sentenced to 100 years in prison for 23 charges of sexual abuse of minors. The sentencing followed a previous 75-year sentence for recording boys in the school engaged in sexual acts. A lawsuit filed in November by one of the victims against Carraway, the Prince George’s County school board, and the principal of the elementary school describes the school as “an unchecked breeding ground for sexual abuse,” alleging that the district did not respond adequately to multiple expressions of concern about Carraway’s interactions with students in the school.
In 2016 USA Today published a harrowing report on “schoolchildren across the nation [who] continue to be beaten, raped and harassed by their teachers while government officials at every level stand by and do nothing.” The investigation discovered “more than 100 teachers who lost their licenses but are still working with children or young adults today.”
Yet we are supposed to believe that public employees who can’t keep children safe in government-run schools will somehow be able to do so if we give them greater oversight of private and home schools. I reject that argument. The problem is not lack of government control and intervention. The problem is evil and our reluctance to confront it, even when it is staring us in the face.
The sisters of “House of Horrors” mom Louise Turpin have come forward to describe years of odd or disturbing behavior on the part of their sister and her husband. Elizabeth Flores, one of Louise’s sisters, recounts that when she lived with the Turpins for a while as a college student, Daniel Turpin made a habit of coming into the bathroom to watch her while she showered. She also expresses her frustration at rarely being able to see her nieces and nephews, as she says the Turpins eschewed most family contact. Louise’s father says he tried to visit but was turned away. Louise’s aunt, Brenda Taylor, reports that Louise did not attend the funerals of either of her parents when they died. Various neighbors of the Turpins describe similarly reclusive and worrisome behavior.
The Turpins apparently succeeded, for years, in hiding the life they were living from neighbors, friends, and family in much the same way school abusers too often succeed in hiding their behavior from their coworkers and the parents of their victims. In neither case is the school setting the determining factor. Instead, the determining factor is evil people who want to harm children, combined with people who through either blindness or choice don’t see the warning signs, and imperfect systems that can’t promise no child in the world will ever be harmed.
The answer to child abuse is not more government control and intervention. The inability of public schools to prevent abuse within their own walls proves as much. Instead, the answer to child abuse is that there is no perfect answer. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try with all our might to protect children. But we live in a messed-up world with evil people who will always be lurking, looking for an opportunity to victimize the most vulnerable and innocent among us.
If you are a parent, be vigilant in talking to your children in age-appropriate ways about the dangers that exist. If they attend school or stay with a caregiver, ask them at length about their day and what it consisted of. Closely observe those in whose care you place them. Go ahead and be a “helicopter” parent; it’s not a bad word.
If you are not a parent but have children in your life that you care about, be alert to signs of neglect and abuse. Hillary Clinton got grief for saying “It takes a village,” but she was at least partly right. Her error was in how she defined “village.” The “village” is not the government. The “village” is everyone but the government: neighbors, friends, church members, extended family, and yes, teachers. If you suspect a child is not being properly cared for, don’t shrug and look the other way. Ask questions. Try to help.
Yes, there are bad homeschooling parents. But there are also bad public-school parents and bad public-school teachers, not to mention bad neighbors and doctors and pastors. Evil exists everywhere. Instead of pitting homeschools and traditional schools against each other, blaming the environment when something goes terribly wrong, let’s blame the evil people who use whatever environment is at their disposal to get away with their evil acts. Then let’s work harder to prevent it from happening again.