KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Four civil lawsuits filed by former Circle of Hope Girls Ranch students who alleged that the owners of the Missouri school physically and sexually abused them have been settled.
“We were successful in settling all of our cases,” said attorney Randy Cowherd, whose Springfield firm represented the plaintiffs. “The settlements are confidential as to (the) amount.”
The lawsuits, filed in Cedar County last September and October under the names Jane Doe I through IV, came weeks after about two dozen girls were removed from the southwest Missouri Christian boarding school in mid-August during an investigation into abuse allegations.
All four suits named Circle of Hope and owners Boyd and Stephanie Householder as defendants. They now face 100 criminal charges including statutory rape, sodomy, physical abuse and neglect. Both are being held without bond in the Vernon County Jail in Nevada, Missouri.
The plaintiffs had requested jury trials and sought an unspecified amount in damages.
According to the lawsuits, the former students alleged they were subjected to extreme physical and psychological abuse. They said they were routinely assaulted, manhandled by being thrown against walls and to the ground, and hit and slapped. Others were restrained, the lawsuits alleged, while some said if they didn’t finish their meals they were forced to eat until they vomited.
Many of those examples were detailed in a 2018 Highway Patrol investigation and in the criminal charges the Missouri Attorney General’s Office filed against the Householders in March.
The first lawsuit, filed under the name Jane Doe I, said the teen — who now lives in Texas — arrived at Circle of Hope in December 2014 when she was 16. While there, the suit alleged, she was physically abused by Boyd Householder and “sexually abused, assaulted, molested and raped” by a Householder relative who was a teenager at the time.
The lawsuit also alleged that Boyd Householder attacked the teen and threw her into a wall and onto the ground and that she was restrained for more than an hour. The girl lost 40 pounds in the two months she was at Circle of Hope, the lawsuit alleged, “due to Defendant’s policy of starving residents that they felt were overweight.”
The second lawsuit, filed under the pseudonym Jane Doe II, said the girl arrived at Circle of Hope in 2015 at age 15. Eighteen months later, the lawsuit alleged, Boyd Householder appointed her as his secretary. Over a six-month period, it said, he isolated her from others on the premises, forced her to perform sexual acts and repeatedly raped her. The young woman currently lives in Washington state.
Boyd Householder’s actions, the lawsuit said, were “part of a long-standing pattern of sexual abuse occurring at Circle of Hope that was known to the Defendants and staff members of Circle of Hope.”
The third lawsuit, filed under the name Jane Doe III — who is now an Oregon resident — alleged that she arrived at Circle of Hope in the summer of 2012 when she was 14. At 15, the lawsuit alleged, she was sexually assaulted by Boyd Householder. After she was there about a year, Boyd Householder appointed her as his secretary, the suit said. Soon after that, he began giving her extended hugs and groping her breasts and buttocks. That progressed into inappropriate touching and then repeated sexual assaults in various areas of the premises, the lawsuit said.
The suit alleged that Stephanie Householder was aware of the pattern of sexual abuse by her husband but did nothing about it.
The plaintiff in the fourth lawsuit — Jane Doe IV, who currently lives in Michigan — was a resident of Circle of Hope from November 2014, when she was 14, through December 2016.
While at the boarding school, the lawsuit alleged, she was “sexually abused, assaulted, molested and raped” by a teenage relative of Boyd and Stephanie Householder. After she told them about the repeated sexual assaults, the lawsuit alleged, “Boyd and Stephanie Householder told Jane Doe IV that they did not believe her and took no corrective action.”
After that, the lawsuit said, Jane Doe IV “continued to be sexually assaulted and/or raped” by the Householders’ relative.
All four lawsuits also alleged that around 2009, a male employee was arrested for sexually abusing minor residents of Circle of Hope.
“Despite their knowledge of prior sexual abuse, Defendants took no corrective action to ensure such activity would not continue and failed to change its policies or implement reasonable safeguards to protect residents of Circle of Hope,” the lawsuits said.
The Householders assured parents that their daughters would be provided counseling and treatment for the issues that prompted them to send their girls to Circle of Hope, the lawsuits alleged.
However, the lawsuits said, “no employees of Circle of Hope had qualifications to provide counseling or treatment and the program was in fact designed through systematic abuse to emotionally and physically break the residents rather than provide effective evidence based treatments.”
Circle of Hope’s “treatment” program, the lawsuits alleged, “consisted of an abusive and strictly regimented boot camp environment where every detail of the residents’ lives were monitored, manipulated, and controlled. An effect of Circle of Hope’s program was to enforce the residents’ compliance with all demands of the Defendant Boyd Householder, including sexual demands, by causing residents to be fearful of punishment in the manner set forth below if they failed to comply.”
The abusive policies and procedures at Circle of Hope, the lawsuits said, “were designed to physically and psychologically intimidate, terrorize, and ultimately mentally break the residents.”
Circle of Hope was not accountable to any state agency, the lawsuits alleged.
“As a so-called religious based organization,” they said, “Circle of Hope was permitted to forgo State licensure and was at all times completely unregulated by Federal, State, or local agencies and such lack of regulation permitted the Defendants to implement their abusive program without oversight.”
Allegations against the Householders prompted state lawmakers to hold hearings and ultimately pass legislation that for the first time implements some oversight over Missouri’s unlicensed Christian boarding schools. Gov. Mike Parson signed the measure into law last week, and it became effective immediately.