Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Teen Challenge : EPIC FAIL - Dangerous Cult/Group Litmus Test


One of the many purposes for a "Separation of Church and State" in the United States of America, is to protect vulnerable citizens from becoming the victims of unregulated leadership who would use religion or faith as a pass for what would in any other setting be considered unethical practices.  Federally funded organizations like Teen Challenge, who OPENLY REJECT MEDICAL SCIENCE, promote falsified success rates, and foster abuse-prone environments all with no government regulation or outside accountability, are in violation and in defiance of the ethical separation of Government and Religion.  

Although Teen Challenge receives substantial Federal funding, the organization also rallies interdenominational support from within the Christian Church by organizing fundraising events and soliciting donations from individuals and congregations.  Unfortunately most donations come from well meaning, good people who would never knowledgeably support the abuses and negligence affiliated with the Teen Challenge programs.  

Please JOIN US in boycotting monetary and non-monetary support of Teen Challenge  until they acknowledge the abuses that have taken place and furthermore submit to outside accountability and regulation. 

 Teen Challenge currently receives funding from the Federal Government.  

Tell your congressman that you DO NOT want YOUR tax dollars supporting these abuses!

Lets compare the Teen Challenge program to a list of patterns exhibited by DANGEROUS CULTS throughout history to see how it lines up!  Yes means that Teen Challenge meets this cult criteria, and No means that it does not.  Hint: Here Yes is bad.

LITMUS TEST: Red Flags/Warning Signs of a CULT

  1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.Yes

    When a student begins their stay in a residential program, Teen Challenge immediately seizes control over every aspect of the their life in a way that is to say the least, oppressive.  No contact with the outside world is allowed, even immediate family are barred from contacting their minor children.  Furthermore, Teen Challenge is not accredited or regulated by any Federally recognized third party organization.  The organization is allowed to operate with NO ACCOUNTABILITY to outside regulation, despite the fact that TC is supported by Federal funds.  Meanwhile, numerous allegations of abuse, negligence and even RA go unacknowledged as TC continues with business as usual, of course behind closed doors.
  2. Unaccepting/Intolerant of questions or critical inquiry.Yes

    Our research from numerous case studies shows that Students who question or respectfully challenge TC's methods, or use of scriptures to justify their practices are met with denigration, and reprimand.  Continued criticism, even if approached respectfully is well known among students and staff to be a quick path to expulsion.  Transparency and communication is necessary in order to educate youth and those in need.  No Christian or Christian organization should endorse such stifling of information.  We want them to ask questions.  How else will they learn?
  3. Promotes unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.Yes

    Radical Oppressives that we see within the Christian Church, teach that the world itself is a thing to be feared.  This includes everything that is "of" the world, not just the things that are or can be sinful.  It can be a bit difficult for an outsider to understand, especially if he or she has had no experience with the Christian church and it's diverse differences in teachings among denominations.  This is a misinterpretation of the verse that states we should "be in this world, but not of this world."  You can see how this verse can be contextually misinterpreted by cult leadership as an all too convenient justification for seclusion from the outside world.  Of course seclusion and control for a radical religious organization NOT HELD ACCOUNTABLE is a very dangerous thing, and time and time again, victims speak out against this organization, but no changes have been made (Big political players in TC's pocket).  We intend to change that.
  4. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.Yes

    An individual who is ejected from the Teen Challenge program is usually cited as not abiding by TC rules and regulations.  While this is most likely the case in many situations, we have received stories from those who have been unjustly expelled from Teen Challenge and are likewise upset about it, and we empathize sincerely. However, we would remind everyone that rehabilitation programs exist aplenty, and
    many are actually based upon sound medical knowledge; run by professionals, unlike Teen Challenge, which will promote graduated addicts/students to positions of staff if they succeed and exceed expectations within the program itself.

    Self perpetuation and self-education, by the law of nature is bound to lead to further degeneracy of the environment and standards that Teen Challenge keeps.  In the meantime, abuses and ethical violations go unacknowledged and unchanged by the TC program.
  5. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.Yes

    One need only refer to our blog archive, or do a simple internet search to find a small sample of the numerous stories alleging Teen Challenge abuse and negligence.  The stories told by former students and staff alike do share heartbreaking commonalities and recurring themes. 

    We encourage former students and staff of Teen Challenge who have experienced these kind of abuses to tell their story to us so that we can share it with others who need to know exactly what they are getting into.

    Simply email: challengingteenchallenge@gmail.com  Do not be afraid. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Sharing your story with others could save someones life!
  6. There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.Yes

    Closely related to Test Pt. 5, there have been numerous reports and articles from credible news sources questioning, if not denouncing the unethical methods and teachings of Teen Challenge.  There has been a range of controversy surrounding the organization for multiple reasons including TC's Federal funding grants, their quest to "cure" homosexuality as sexual "deviance", abuse and negligence of minors, unsafe housing conditions in residential programs, degrading verbal abuse of struggling students, and the list of controversies goes on and on.  Again, only a simple internet search is needed to find this information, despite multiple lawsuits (for which we have affidavits) by TC to prevent such articles from being publicized.
  7. Followers feel they can never be "good enough".Yes

    Among the reports we receive and have seen are those of verbal abuse, and denigrating language used toward students within the program.  Participation in all aspects of the program is required, so students being verbally abused are literally held captive to such abuses without any form of recourse or appeal.  Students are made to feel powerless by their surroundings, often leaving a lasting negative impact on their self esteem and outlook on life.

    As Teen Challenge staff are NOT therapists or 
    counselors, they usually DO NOT have any education in regards to rehabilitation or human resource management.

    Without the proper education to handle difficult situations where a therapist or counselor might know how important encouragement is, the reports we see show it seems that often negative incentive, threats, or attack on the student's character are being used instead.  A tragic, yet strong example of this is the story of James Voss who recounts how TC beat and denigrated him emotionally, simply because of his differing views, and genetic inclination.  

    It is true that the Biblical teachings used by the TC program include, "There is none righteous, no not one.", and another, "For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God."  However, these verses do NOT justify unethical treatment of students, by TC staff, for even they are sinners themselves by the very same teachings.
  8. The group/leader is "always right" mentality (MY way or the "High"way)Yes

    See test point 2 and 3.  There is no room for inquiry or criticism from students, once they have been admitted into the program.  To expand any further upon this point would simply be repetitious information which has been covered in previous points.
  9. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing "truth" or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.Yes

    This is true for Teen Challenge in every sense.  Teen Challenge openly rejects Medical science (blatantly says so on their site) in the field of addiction and drug rehabilitation, psychology, etc.  for their own brand of pseudo-science which they claim to be based off of scriptural teachings.  This is without a doubt one of the strongest cult indications of those we list here .   Cult teachings usually ask their followers (in this case students) to disregard scientific truth, with little more than a vague explanation, necessitating blind faith in the superiority of their own "truth" in comparison.  Those who would misuse or misquote the Bible, using it's vague references inappropriately to claim pseudo-wisdom or knowledge of all things are simply a fraud.   Though the Bible can provide wisdom for the ages, it cannot tell us what color socks Aunt Matilda was wearing last Thursday and it was never intended to be a medical reference guide.

    Offering itself inappropriately as a solution to vulnerable people with a very desperate need.  This is again one of the more common points of mutuality Teen Challenge has with other well known cult organizations throughout history.
  10. Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.Yes

    When someone says they are a Christian or part of a "Christian organization", many people instantly trust them just a bit more, even if it really isn't true.  Our culture has raised us to show respect for those of faith, which is a good thing, as long as we remember to
    look out for those that would misuse faith as a shadow over their own misdeeds.  This is very common in the Church and faith based organizations, partly because the Christian faith teaches that becoming a Christian offers "sinners" a safe and convenient way to "wash their sins away", without any true penance or consequences regardless of those whom they may have hurt along the way. Of course we don't believe that the teachings of this faith are intended to shelter the dirty habits of pedophiles, sex offenders, addicts, or any other destructive habitual behaviour, but the structure of the system lends itself to this corruption of thought.
  11. Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader.Yes

    See test point 1.  Upon admission to the Teen Challenge program, minor children are not allowed outside contact, even with immediate family.  This kind of isolation tactic is incredibly dangerous as illustrated by the death of Nicklaus Ray Ellison, who was discharged from TC by staff who claimed that he was under the influence of alcohol.  They later stated that they could tell something was wrong with him and had dropped him off in a hospital parking lot instead of a bus station.  Later it was determined that Teen Challenge had LIED about the circumstances, when Nick's dead body showed a toxicology report with no alcohol whatsoever.  It's hard to tell why Nick died, because the circumstances are so shady around every corner.  It's no wonder why TC keeps their staff and students isolated.  With a simple statement, even though it was later discovered to be untrue Teen Challenge may have easily just gotten away with negligent homocide.  Because Nick couldn't contact his mother, someone else consequently found him in the streets, and shortly thereafter Nick died.  This could all have been avoided if Nick had been allowed to contact his REAL support system, his family.  Isolating someone from their family is bad enough, but doing it in an UNACCREDITED  facility/program WITH UNEDUCATED STAFF is exponentially worse.  What have they to hide that they should keep these children from speaking their own parents at all!?  It should be noted that most TC facilities DO in fact have working landline phone service.

    Phone calls for minors to their parents should be protected by law, especially when there is no other resource for the child in need.

Overall Test Results: FAIL
An organization that truly intends to empower and enrich lives, especially in the field of addiction treatment, should operate with integrity, compassion, transparency, and accountability.  Teen Challenge has created a network of programs with no accountability or credibility which operate as radical Right Wing Christian cult recruiting programs rather than faith based rehabilitation facilities as they are self proclaimed to be.  While there may be well intentioned Teen Challenge leadership that truly care about helping people, we do not see THEM representing this company; we see rather a leadership that cares more about conversion rates and fundraising from the government and the church.  Hypocrisy reigns in cult organizations like Teen Challenge and time after time, we see these red flags and allegations of abuse, negligence, rape, assault, and degrading humiliation tactics surface around this program.  It's time to put it to an end.  It is all of our responsibility to do whatever it takes to STOP ABUSE IN THE NAME OF GOD.  So start a blog, write your congressman, print flyers, signs and make some noise!  If you know someone who is considering supporting or enrolling their child in a Teen Challenge facility or program, please urge them to reconsider.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of negligence or abuse by Teen Challenge, please email challengingteenchallenge@gmail.com.  Share your story so that others may be spared. Your story could save someones life!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Teen Challenge : NEGLIGENCE Responsible for Death of Young Man?

 by pixel8Pixie

Cheri Martin Spivey, wants as many people as possible to know what happened to her son, Nick. She is incredibly strong and brave to speak out. If you are on facebook, please like and share her page. I'm posting her story below for peeps who aren't on fb.

Nicklaus Ray Ellison
Nick was born August 30, 1990 @ 9:29 am. He weighed 8lbs and 9oz. He was born after four short hours of labor. He had light brown hair and blue eyes. Nick and I had a connection from the time he was born.  On Oct 20th 1990 Nick was dedicated to the Lord. Nick got his first tooth on January 20, 1991.

His first sentence was "I can't talk" because I always listened to the song "I can't dance" by Phil Collins. From that moment on Nick never stopped talking. Nick was very bright from early on. He loved to work puzzles and to be read to. He started school right before his 5th birthday, and for years it was just Nick and me and we were very close. I remarried when he was almost five and had another child, a daughter when he was six.  When he was almost 8 we moved to Ringgold GA, where I had another son.

Nick was in church from an early age and knew the Bible quite well. I was Nick's 4th grade Sunday school teacher and also Team Kids leader for his age group on Wednesday nights, along with his step father Bruce.

Nick's biological father was not a part of Nick’s life nor were his paternal Grandparents. Nick probably saw them a handful of times. No financial support to help with the rearing of Nick and not so much as a card for Christmas or his birthday. This ultimately caused abandonment issues. When Nick was ten I took him and my two other children back to Knoxville.  Shortly thereafter, Bruce and I divorced. Bruce would see my youngest two every other weekend and any time he could. But again it was Nick and me.

Nick still maintained a relationship with the Spivey's; they always treated him as their own Grandson.  When Nick was 12 his Nana (my mother) passed away. Nick was close to his cousin Joel and his aunt Leslie and Uncle Nolan and spent many nights with them. He met his best friend Abby when he was in middle school and from that time on they were inseparable.

Nick got along well with others and could carry on an adult conversation even when things would just fly over my head.  He was intelligent beyond his years. When he entered high school it became apparent that Nick was an exceptional writer.  He took Journalism and had an article published in the school paper. Nick was very philosophically deep, he could see the meaning of things said or through song that most of us could never understand.

Nick loved to dance, he loved Disney movies and being home with me and his brother and sister. Most of the time Nick's friends would come over to our house and they would just hang out and be typical teenagers, just talking and laughing. Nick was such a big kid.

During high school Nick started experimenting with alcohol and I am not sure what else. I was very naive and did not see the signs. When Nick was a junior in high school the school called and said they thought Nick was under the influence and wanted me to come and get him. Since they didn't find anything on his person they could not suspend him. Nick had taken clonazepam. I thought he would never do it again. The next incident with drugs,  Nick was taken to the hospital and was in ICU for 2 days; he had a cocktail of drugs in his system. I took Nick to Bradford for help with his addiction and he convinced them that this was an isolated incident.. Nick did very well for awhile and then when he turned 18 he started drinking with his friends. When he was almost 19 he got a DUI, it was in April of 2010, and I left him in jail for the weekend, and of course he said he would never do it again.
Nick was in college and making good grades. When he went to court over the DUI the courts just swept it under the rug. I asked his attorney if they would put him in some kind of outpatient rehab and he said that was Nick’s choice he was over 18. Nick again convinced his attorney that this was an isolated event.
By this time I was very concerned. Nick no longer had a car and I was taking him to and from college and he was doing great. By September he had made restitution and was excelling in his classes at school and seemed very happy. On December 4th Nick went to the club with his friends. Nick was sneaking alcohol from others because he was not old enough to drink. I had a bad feeling about this and I sent Nick a text that said "Nick please be good tonight" I woke up at 4:00 am and Nick wasn't home. I called his cell phone and his friend Adam answered. Nick had gotten drunk and Adam was bringing him home around one. Nick (who was the sweetest person when he was sober, was very violent when he was drunk) he jumped out of Adam’s car and Adam went back to get him. When they stopped at a stop sign Nick jumped out of the car and was only a couple of miles from home. Adam let him walk, and that is understandable. By the time Nick got about 2 blocks from our house the police stopped him. He was arrested for several charges, but the biggest problem was he had violated his probation. Nick was in jail and had no bond.
Because of Nick's charges and the VOP he was going to have to stay in jail for a year. I, along with other family members and friends, pleaded with the court to let him go to rehab. I wanted him to do outpatient and AA, but I also mentioned Teen Challenge which was a yearlong inpatient facility. The ADA decided that Nick had his choice between Teen Challenge or jail. He chose Teen Challenge. I made all the arrangements and the courts released him into my custody to take him to TC. We left on a Friday night on January 7th. We took a road trip, my sister, her husband, Nick, his best friend Abby and Nick's brother and sister.
We laughed and cut up on the way. We stayed at a nice hotel that night and the next morning Nick ate 6 omelets for breakfast. What is funny about that is Nick didn't like eggs. We continued our bitter sweet trip. I so wanted Nick to get the help he needed. Our last stop was a Chinese restaurant that also had sushi. Nick loved sushi. We then took him to TC. We got him registered and stayed for about an hour. Then we had to go.
Nick was transferred to Pensacola Teen Challenge in March of 2011. He did very well; he joined the praise and worship group and the choir. Nick began a real relationship with Jesus. He would call about once every ten days and we would write often. My sister and I would send him care packages, even if he didn't need anything. On Memorial Day weekend Nick relapsed and they dismissed him from the program. They put him on the street with no money, no food, no phone, just his bags. Nick managed to get to a phone and call me and let me know he was ok. He spent that night on the beach because the hotels were full because of the holiday. Nick made it to the bus station and we got him home on Memorial Day. That night we had steak, hamburgers, and hot dogs. He was so hungry. That night we stayed up talking and he told me some horror stories about Teen Challenge. I called his attorney the next business day and Nick had to go to court on that Thursday. On Wednesday night Nick and I lay in my bed and talked and watched Modern Family and just laughed. We went to court the next day and went upstairs to the cafe and he had a chicken biscuit and a diet Pepsi. He asked me to leave before they handcuffed him and I hugged him and told him I loved him. They put him in jail where he stayed for about three weeks. I visited him and continued to send emails to his attorney to see if he could do a program besides Teen Challenge. I explained that it was against Nick's constitutional rights, but the ADA would not budge. She said either a year in jail or Teen Challenge. Nick chose Teen Challenge.
He went back to Pensacola the next day which was the 20th of June. He relapsed within three weeks. I begged Pensacola Teen Challenge to send him to another Teen Challenge so my son wouldn't have to go to jail. They sent him to Jacksonville Florida. His luggage was stolen at the bus station in Pensacola because they left him there, at the bus station, while he was under the influence and it was a really bad part of town. He didn't have any food or money. He made it to Jacksonville and he was not allowed to call or write for 21 days. When I finally got to talk to him, he sounded good and I thought he was ok. However, his calls were monitored so if there was something wrong he couldn't tell me. I got a care package ready since all of his luggage was stolen and we sent clothes and toiletries. The day I sent the package I got a letter from a dear, sweet lady who found his luggage in her yard and wanted to know where to send it. She washed all of his clothes and mailed them to Nick.
Nick got his belongings back on the 15th and his package from us. He gave a praise report about it in a group meeting. I never got a letter from Nick while he was in Jacksonville, but on the 16th he called me. I will never forget that call because it was the last time I ever talked to my son. He told me he was doing fine, I told him his birthday was coming up and I wanted him to think of something he wanted. He talked about how proud he was of his little sister for making the soccer team. He wanted his younger brother to get involved in something so he wouldn't get in trouble. He said that is the age he started experimenting with drugs. We talked for less than 15 minutes and we were both really positive. On the 19th around 7:00pm I got a call from Jacksonville Teen Challenge from a man named Paul. He said that Nick was under the influence. He said someone was on their way to the job site to get Nick and bring him back there to pack and they were going to take him to the hospital. I asked Paul to have Nick call me. Paul called back at 8:10 and said that Nick was on his way to the hospital and that he refused to call me. (Nick always called me no matter what) Nick never did call and I was worried sick. I called the police and hospitals multiple times. I called Teen Challenge and spoke with Jonathon and he did not know where Nick was or who had dropped Nick off. He told me that Nick was resourceful and to call back Monday. On the 20th about 4:00pm I told my sister that I was worried because Nick hadn't called and I didn't feel anything. I didn't feel like he was in danger I just couldn't feel him anymore.
I reported Nick missing after no one had seen him in 23 hours. I cried myself to sleep that Saturday night and wondered what Nick would want played at his funeral. No one had informed me he was gone, I just knew. I went to bed @ midnight and woke up at 4:00am. I checked the computer to see if Nick had messaged me on facebook. I walked outside on the porch and there were two police cars with two police man and a chaplain. I just shook my head; I knew why they were there. They told me that Nick had been found dead at a woman's house that he had met in a parking lot. I assumed it was a girl maybe Nick's age, the woman was 57.
After speaking with police and the coroner, I learned that Nick was dismissed from Teen Challenge Jacksonville and they said they took him to the hospital. There is no proof that he was taken to the hospital. Teen Challenge refuses to give the name of the person who "took him to the hospital" and dropped him off in the parking lot. All we know for sure is that Nick was put on the street after working a twelve hour shift, with his luggage. They did not feed him before they dumped him on the street. He was next seen on a video at CVS at 12:59am. He was carrying a coke and walked through the store, then out to the back toward McDonald's. From there Nick was picked up by a 57 year old woman named Donna Rose. She claims Nick told her he was homeless and was going to sleep in the bushes. She took him to her house. She said he ate two sandwiches, but no food was found when the autopsy was performed and Nick was dehydrated. She told the police that they stayed up drinking until the morning hours; however, Nick had no alcohol in his toxicology report.  He also had antihistamines and cough syrup. Donna Rose, by her own admission, was there to get medicine for a cold.
She tells the police that she came to the living room at 1:30pm on the 20th and Nick was snoring. She said she came back at 4:20pm and Nick was cold.
My son died because Teen Challenge Jacksonville did not follow procedure and turn Nick over to the proper authorities like the contract states. He was on probation and was to be turned over to the police. The woman, Donna Rose, also should be held accountable because it was her medication that was found in his system.
Nick was a wonderful son, a loving brother, and a loyal friend.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Teen Challenge: Coercive Cult Guised As Rehab

I've written quite a lot on the subject of coercive "behaviour modification" facilities in past--including legislative efforts to stop the industry in its tracks as well as exposes of their heavy usage as a dominionist "parallel economy" alternative to legit mental health andinfo on gross abuses in these facilities.
Over the next few days, we are going to focus on a specific chain of these facilities (which have been compared to Abu Ghraib)--Teen Challenge, a chain of Assemblies-run "faith based rehabs" that was the target of a "get out of jail free" deregulation of the "kiddie gulag" industry in Texas by none other than George W. Bush.
In a continuation of the series we began yesterday, we focus on an aspect Teen Challenge shares with its parent denomination--a history of rampant coercive tactics and spiritual abuse.

As if the beatings weren't bad enough...
There are a number of disturbing signs that, much like the Assemblies (of which Teen Challenge is one of six "US missions"), Teen Challenge is prone to use of spiritual abuse and coercive tactics--and there are multiple reports to back this up, sadly.
In yesterday's post, it was noted that a requirement of Teen Challenge was that parents agree to (among other things) this note:
Parents must agree "that God desires that they resolve their dispute with one another within the church and that they be reconciled in their relationships in accordance with the principles stated in I Corinthians 6:1-8, Matthew 5:23-24, and Matthew 18:15-20."
Of note, there is some interesting scripture-twisting Teen Challenge uses to shut down debate that matches similar scripture-twisting in its Assemblies parent. 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 describes a process of refusing to take church matters before "ungodly" authorities but to have them handled internally by the church--used frequently in the Assemblies to shut down debate, especially since in the Assemblies there effectively is no way to disagree with persons in a position of authority above you.  (In context, it's actually part of a longer narrative in 1 Corinthians 6 decrying general immorality in the church.)  Matthew 5:23-24 is an interesting bit of scripture-twisting of the chapter that includes the Beatitudes--stating that disputes between persons should be resolved before worship, and in context meant as a message by Jesus essentially promoting total pacifism including avoiding speaking unkind words to others.  Matthew 18:15-18 describes a process of in-church correction to be followed by public accusation in church and finally formal shunning; this has also been used in Assemblies churches (especially those using a "cell church" model) to almost completely shut down dissent even among pastors.
In fact, Teen Challenge is considered potentially coercive by exit counselors (being a member of what amounts to an entire family of "Bible-based coercive groups" that turn out to be Assemblies churches or frontgroups--other members of the "Assemblies complex" independently regarded as coercive include Youth With A Mission; most "Messianic Jew" groups operated by the Assemblies; the Hillsong Assemblies of God complex in Sydney, Australia; the "Pensacola Revival" at Brownsville Assembly of God and the "Third Wave" Joel's Army/Joshua Generation movement; and Paul Yonggi Cho's Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea--a pattern of abuses so consistent, especially when reports of abuse at other Assemblies churches and fronts are added in, that an increasing number of exit counselors consider the Assemblies of God in toto a coercive religious group).  
Notably, a report to the Arizona Department of Corrections by exit counselor Rick Ross(who is one of the notable experts on religious abuse within "Bible-based" groups and within neopentecostal dominionist orgs in particular) notes that the primary goal of Teen Challenge's program was religious recruitment and that it had characteristics in common with many coercive groups (including Assemblies-linked "conjoined twin" Campus Crusade as well as Scientology and the Moonies); we'll focus more on that report in an upcoming article on practices within the group.  
Reports from survivors also confirm probable coercion--not just reports to exit counselors, but reports in media.  Here are examples from reports sent to Ross by survivors of Teen Challenge:
"I was at Teen Challenge in Pensacola, Florida for two months, and it was very much like a cult. A lot of brainwashing there. It made my problems worse, rather than better. I don't recommend Teen Challenge for anyone. One leader threw bibles at the residents and carried around a baseball bat to scare us. Not good. And a lot of other bad things too."
"I am a mother of a 24-year-old son that I had to rescue out of the Teen Challenge...We were misled, told it was a drug rehab. I had to hire an attorney, as once Teen Challenge found out that my son was requesting a program change (as he could not sign onto their hyper-religiosity) they began mentally abusing him more and even told him he was 'spitting in the face of Jesus' and said 'pack your bags. I'm sending you to prison.' So much mental abuse. I have heard from others that Teen Challenge has no qualms about submitting a 'bad report' to probation to have you thrown into prison/ jail for 'non-compliance' if they even suspect that you are not 'part of God's army.' They ostracized my son for not 'speaking-in-tongues.' When I informed his 'counselor' that my son was struggling with being ostracized for not 'speaking-in-tongues,' the counselor personally told me that 'speaking-in-tongues is a gift from God! Anyone can have it, if they want it. Your son just doesn't want it because he is rebellious against the holy spirit.' I feel that anyone who is court ordered to Teen Challenge becomes a target for being 'broken for Christ.' I am completely flabbergasted by the whole nightmarish experience, the lies I personally was told, the attempts to sabotage my son's program switch request, the mental abuse, to name a few. Teen Challenge Exposed.com has more info from a man who went through the same program my son was is in. I snatched my son out of there and put him in a secular program. My heart swells for those left behind. I want organizations like this exposed, as I feel that the majority of the public does not know the real story. Had I known, we could have avoided it."
"Teen Challenge (in MANY people's opinion) is a cult! Beware! The residents are only hyped up on hyper-religiosity to replace drug addiction. Teen Challenge does NOT believe in ANY other rehabs.(i.e. 12-step programs) They make up rules as they go along. And punish you at their whim for 'breaking' them. They put residents on 'Behavior Modification' which adds more time you must do to complete the program. The longer you are there, the more money they make off of you.(as you work long hours at various jobs) When they "overheard" my desperate son (24 years old) pleading with me to request a program change with his probation officer, they attacked him the next day, told him 'there were no bars on the windows', told him to pack up his stuff and then they DROVE him to a bus station and abandoned him there. With no money. It would have only been 24 hours that a warrant would have been issued for my son 'failing' the program. Then the counselor LIED to me, saying 'your son ran away to score drugs. He told me so'. I had to hire an attorney. Those that are court-ordered to be there are abused and the staff is empowered by the fact that they can ultimately put that person in prison!!!! My son's roommate was bi-polar, and they took away his meds because they said 'Jesus heals'."
(The last two reports were from a mother of a survivor of a Teen Challenge facility in California--the same facility that the author of the watchdog site "Teen Challenge Exposed" is also an escapee from.)
The same commenter has also noted explicit promotion of extremely concerning and abusive tactics which are a part of core Assemblies theology--notably, the promotion of not only Scientology-esque "deliverance ministry" (up to and including abusive involuntary "exorcisms") but also explicit promotion of Joel's Army/Joshua Generation "God Warrior" theology of the same sort as promoted not only by Assemblies of God leadershipbut also the   neopente dominionist anti-LGBT hate group "Watchmen On The Walls"(which also has known Assemblies support):
Yes Rebeca you are right about the speaking in tongues. My son did not "receive the gift of speaking in tongues". His counselor told him AND ME that "anyone can have the gift, but your son is REBELLIOUS and refuses the gift!"... They would circle around him at their private church meetings (not the "water-downed" ones on Sunday for public to attend) and he said they would rub oil on his head and scream and call out demons to try to get him to speak in tongues.(like the Jesus Camp you referred to.) They began to ostracize him when he did not speak, and even put him in in "behavior modification" where he was not allowed to speak to others. Also, the time (weeks) he was in behavior mod was added to the time he had to serve to "complete the program". You are also right about the recruitment pressure. They told him that they were building the "true army of god" and god would show them which ones to weed out.And they tell everyone that god called them to do another 1 year training called TCMI for Teen Challenge after they do their 1 year 4 months (more time usually due to behavior modification time-outs). AND they don't believe in other secular rehabs, so if you indicate that you would like to be referred to another program, they believe that it's better to be in prison (to be broken for "Jesus") than lovingly work with referring you to another program. All they have to do is LIE to probation and say you were "non-compliant" and fail you. It IS SCARY how they mis-use their power.
As noted, Teen Challenge does not advertise openly that it is an Assemblies of God ministry--however, multiple analyses have shown its primary purpose is recruitment, and in fact recruitment into Assemblies ministries in particular.  (In fact, there is a very good argument to be made that Teen Challenge may in part act as a "missionary mill" for the Assemblies--more on this in a future segment.)  This is in general regarded as a danger sign by both exit counselors and watchdog groups monitoring abusive "behaviour modification" facilities, and in particularhits almost all of the warning signs of an abusive facility by International Survivor's Action Committee.
Some examples of the sorts of pressure people are put under with the Teen Challenge program are detailed by a survivor and critic and reported by other walkaways and survivors:
"Teen Challenge is just like a "cult" operation, training its participants to perform tasks mindlessly without question for the staff authority. I had a bunk mate next to me that was pscytsophrenic and was constantly under pressure to be "prayed over" to be healed so he would not have to take his medication that helped to stop the voices."
. . .
"My 24 year old son was just granted a program change from Teen Challenge. I had to hire an attorney, as they do NOT believe in any other rehabs. (NOR do they believe in 12 step programs) Once they got wind that he had requested me to ask probation for a change, they told him "Pack your bags, I'm sending you to prison". How Christian of them, huh?
They primarily teach healing by Jesus Christ, pressure you to speak in tongues, pressure to recruit you to be "trained" by THEIR religious program (TCMI) to be a staff member. It is NOT a drug/alcohol rehab, as all they offer is hyper-religiosity to replace drug addiction. The residents and interns work and make them money. My observation from my son's ordeal is that if you don't succumb to the brain-washing, you will be ostracized and mentally tormented. Those that have a prison/jail sentence looming, (if you "fail" your program) empowers them. It is IMMORAL how they give probation "bad reports" for those that don't sign up for the "speaking in tongues", and these poor souls who suffer from addiction end up in prison. Residents are told that they need to be "broken" some more in jail, and that they will return."
As noted above, the pressure to enter the TCMI program--essentially to be trained as an Assemblies youth pastor--included literally asking people to sign over their paychecks if they didn't join TCMI:
On graduation day in November 2006, the speaker told the graduates who didn't sign up for TCMI that to show their appreciation for what Teen Challenge "had done for them," they were to sign over their very first paychecks to Teen Challenge. Students were told that once they enter Teen Challenge, they should not even consider leaving, because seven times the demons of addiction would come back and get them, and, after they do their prison time - if they live - God will call them back to Teen Challenge. They were left with the caveat that one "can never run from Teen Challenge." There is a simple solution: Don't ever go there in the first place.
It is not just with recruitment that Teen Challenge tends to be deceptive.  Teen Challenge has apparently attempted to use exemptions meant for "halfway houses" for people with mental disabilities to set up "kiddie gulags" (though, notably, not without communities fighting it in some cases).
There is evidence besides exit counselor testimony to the Arizona DOC that Teen Challenge primarily exists as an Assemblies recruitment front.  One particularly telling bit of info is the fact that the director outright bragged to Congress about converting Jews to essentially "kosher neopentecostals":
During the hearing, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) asked Castellani if Teen Challenge hires non-Christians as employees. Castellani said, "No." During later questioning, Castellani was asked if the group takes non-Christians as clients. He said yes, and then boasted that some Jews who finish his Teen Challenge program become "completed Jews."
("Completed Jews" is a euphemistic term used in Assemblies circles for "messianic Jews"--aka Jewish people who have converted to neopentecostal dominionism but who still keep the High Holidays and Jewish cultural traditions and identity.  Legitimate Jewish groups do not consider these people to be Jews; it should also be noted that the Assemblies of God may well have the most aggressive "missions outreach" of any denomination designed specifically to convert Jewish people to another religion.)
There also appears to be concern re its transparency--not news to those who've read this article so far, but apparently the Better Business Bureau has some concerns on this.  (Sadly, these are probably minor compared to the other major concerns re Teen Challenge.)
And sadly--much as has been the case with the very facilities at the target of the Congressional hearings on HR 5876--Teen Challenge is among those programs that have literally turned out to be fatal due to abuse and neglect.  The step-parent of a man who died as a result of abuse and neglect at Teen Challenge's Florida facility speaks out in a story that sounds frighteningly similar to the very testimony given yesterday by other parents of kids who died in other programs:
My stepson Vincent Sarli was a heroin addict and we sent him to teen challenge in pensacola fl - he had just gotten out of the hospital from peritonitis and had a wound in his side. Mike Barfield the intake director in Pensacola kept saying get him down here and we will take care of him - My stepson was 41 yrs old and had two children - He wanted to come stay with us in jacksonville florida but Barfield insisted on getting hm to pensacola.
We got him a flight from NY to pensacola on Friday Jul 14 06 and after he arrived he was left in the airport for two hours - finally one on the other residents was sent to pick him up and no intake or evaluation was done - Barfield went home and he was thrown in a room. His roomate couldnt even find a piece of gauze to change the bandage on his side.
On sunday am at 11:00 the director Pastor Van Horn passed his room and asked why he was in bed obviously the intake director told no one about his medical problems - he told the pastor he was sick and the pastor didnt even ask what was wrong he just contined to church. What a concerned Christian!!! So much for caring for the sick.
Shortly after this Vincent asked to call us and was told he couldnt use the phone until 4:00 pm those were the rules.
Some time after this his roomate returned to the room and found Vincent hanging from a belt in the closet.
This situation can be documented by reading the pensacola police dept file #06-018290 dtd 7-16-06.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Teen Challenge International : Kiddie Gulag

Teen Challenge: The Assemblies' own "kiddie gulag"

I've written quite a lot on the subject of coercive "behaviour modification" facilities in past--including legislative efforts to stop the industry in its tracks as well as exposes of their heavy usage as a dominionist "parallel economy" alternative to legit mental health and info on gross abuses in these facilities.
Over the next few days, we are going to focus on a specific chain of these facilities (which have been compared to Abu Ghraib)--Teen Challenge, a chain of Assemblies-run "faith based rehabs" that was the target of a "get out of jail free" deregulation of the "kiddie gulag" industry in Texas by none other than George W. Bush.
We begin with a history of how Teen Challenge was deregulated, and some of the reports of gross mistreatment at the facility--including just about every form of abuse that could have been done to those kids.

Teen Challenge--an Assemblies of God-run "kiddie boot camp" chain
It is almost impossible to understate just how much of a "get out of jail free" card Teen Challenge was provided by George W. Bush.
Teen Challenge is notable for several reasons.  Firstly, it is one of the few groups promoting abusive "kiddie boot camps" that is clearly linkable to a known religious group with documented coercive tactics (to the level that Narconon was linked to the Church of Scientology); secondly, it is a known recipient of federal funds under the "Faith Based Initiatives" program (one of the few abusive facilities of this type to get such funding); thirdly, Teen Challenge acts as a wonderful example of the bad things that can happen when "faith-based" kiddie gulags go completely unregulated.
One reason Teen Challenge has likely gotten preferential treatment from Bush is because it is actually an Assemblies of God frontgroup (and a very closely connected one at that--namely, it's technically a division of its youth ministries program focusing on "troubled youth").  The group operates a chain of facilities (including not only ranches but other inpatient facilities similar to the now-closed "Love In Action/Refuge" "degaying" center) across the US and in several other countries.
Of note (and in a sign that the Assemblies does operate Scientology or Moonie-style fronts), it does not openly advertise its Assemblies links or the fact it is technically an Assemblies youth ministry but this information is easy enough to find, including on the Assemblies' own website.
Teen Challenge has also been the subject of multiple reports of abusive activity--not only spiritual abuse, but physical and mental as well.  There are also in fact two expose groups on Teen Challenge--not only a site operated by a Teen Challenge survivor, but a second page detailing additional reports of abuse (and further documentation of the Assemblies linkages).
In addition to unlicensed counselors hired at the Texas ranch (an occurence common across Teen Challenge facilities and one which has led to a known child molester being manager of a Teen Challenge facility in Maine), there was evidence of educational neglect (educationally insufficient material) and reports of physical, mental, sexual, and emotional abuse.  And such reports are not isolated; Teen Challenge (which is an Assemblies of God frontgroup managed by their youth ministries division which focuses on "troubled youth") has had many reports of abuse at their various facilities including forced missionary activity, possible violation of child labour laws, forcing people to sign over paychecks to Teen Challenge for not joining additional programs, and the abusive use of "discipling and shepherding", and physical abuse and medical neglect including at least inmate suffering a miscarriage who was not referred to appropriate medical care.
Teen Challenge has also been listed on one group's listing of abusive "faith based" centers--the same site notes that Teen Challenge's present program has close links to Mel Sembler of Straight, Inc, (via his Drug Free America Foundation).
Texas' experience with Teen Challenge's "get out of jail free" card did not go unnoticed--or unchallenged..  Texas Freedom Network, a group fighting dominionism in the Lone Star State, had a specific example of the efforts that eventually led to partial re-regulation:
Teen Challenge is a national faith-based residential drug treatment program that had nine branches in Texas in 2004. The programs have no medical component and center instead of around prayer, Bible study and religious conversion.
Teen Challenge currently operates five drug treatment centers in Texas – none of which have a state license, but only two of which have formally registered their status as a faith-based facility exempt from state licensing. As exempt faith-based drug treatment centers, Teen Challenge facilities are not required to have licensed chemical dependency counselors, conduct staff training or criminal background checks, protect client confidentiality rights, adhere to state health and safety standards, or report abuse, neglect, emergencies and medication errors.
Even prior to seeking an exemption from state licensing, a 1995 state inspection revealed that Teen Challenge was not compliant with numerous state health, safety and quality of care standards.
Rather than force Teen Challenge to meet the basic health and safety standards to which their secular counterparts must adhere, then-Governor George Bush pushed through legislation that would exempt Teen Challenge and other faith-based drug treatment centers from state licensing – and the health, safety and quality of care standards that accompany that licensure. "Teen Challenge should view itself as a pioneer in how Texas approaches faith-based programs, I’ll call together people, ask them to make recommendations. I’d like to make recommendations to the legislature...But Teen Challenge is going to exist...and licensing standards have to be different from what they are today," then-Governor Bush said. (World Magazine, 7/29-8/5/1995)
A repeating pattern around the country
Texas is also, sadly, not the only state that Teen Challenge was given a carte blanche in.  Florida has a nearly identical scheme to the one Texas had until recently, in that centers can be completely exempted from regulation by joining the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies--and Teen Challenge happens to be a member of FACCCA.  Not surprisingly, evidence of extensive abuse has turned up with the Florida facility of almost an identical manner to what was documented in Texas before Dubya shut the investigation down:
West Florida Teen Challenge Boys’ Ranch—in Bonifay, Florida is a confirmedly abusive teen program.  The contract parents must sign with Teen Challenge does not indicate that the school meets standards that might be roughly equivalent to state requirements.  The contract states that the Florida Association of Christian Child-Caring Agencies’ (FACCCA) "intent" is to "insure the physical and spiritual health, safety, and well being" of the children and therefore that thee boy’s ranch must meet FACCCA’s "minimum standards," but the only one described in the contract is allowing access to public officials who inspect for fire, health, safety, and sanitation codes.  Parents have to agree to hold the ranch and its employees harmless from "any and all liability" for injury to the child "even injury resulting in death."  Parents must agree "that God desires that they resolve their dispute with one another within the church and that they be reconciled in their relationships in accordance with the principles stated in I Corinthians 6:1-8, Matthew 5:23-24, and Matthew 18:15-20."  If they cannot resolve their disagreement privately within the church, parents must accept resolution through "biblically based mediation" by rules of the Association of Christian Conciliation Services.  There is no refund of tuition or deposits if the boy leaves the ranch before 15 months even if the ranch has expelled him.  Several former students say that staff, "use physical punishment, ridicule intimidate and/or verbally abuse children; use chemical restraints; employ cruel or humiliating treatment or other emotionally abusive behavior; assign excessive exercise or work duties, deny food, clothing, shelter, medical car, and/or prescribed therapeutic activities, or contacts with family, counselors, or legal representatives as a form of punishment."  Please do not send your child to any Teen Challenge program.   Detailed report provided by Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, Inc. Nov. 4th, 2004 newsletter.  
(CHILD, Inc. is a group working to stop religiously motivated child abuse and neglect, in particular working towards removing "religious loopholes" to providing children lifesaving treatment.)
There have also been similar reports focusing not only on Texas and Florida but also with a facility in California, and reports have been made by walkaways of similar abuses not only in the US but with Teen Challenge facilities overseas as well.

Originally posted to dogemperor on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 02:02 PM PDT.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Challenging Teen Challenge on "Curing" Homosexuality

AlterNet - January 7, 2011

What Happened When Fundamentalist Christians Tried to "Cure" Me of Homosexuality

By James Voss, Truth Wins Out

My experience at Teen Challenge began in Aug of 2007. At the age of twenty-four, I found myself facing the county prosecutor on a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol after leaving a gay bar near Troy, Michigan. This was my first time getting a ticket for anything.

I had spent most of the past three years dealing with the pressure of coming out to my friends and family while attending a private four-year bible college. North Central University is a self-proclaimed “Christ-centered Pentecostal school with a commitment to academic excellence that prepares students to fulfill biblical models of leadership and ministry throughout the world .”

I left for North Central University right after high school to become a youth pastor. The one obstacle of graduation was my sexual orientation. According to the university, homosexuals suffer a life controlling disorder that can be overcome through self-discipline, prayer, and by living a life centered in Christ and obeying the N.C.U Way. At a certain point I decided that I needed to love myself enough, and admit that I was gay and leave NCU.

At this point I admit that I had little direction in my life and started looking for what gay community I could find at the bar. As I began to come out to my family I found myself in total isolation and the support system that comes with it. You see, my family shared the same world view on homosexuality that North Central University and the Assembly of God did as whole.

My family chose to accept the official teachings of the church that include such anti-gay opinions:

“In the face of a militant homosexual movement that is pressing for legal and social acceptance of homosexuality, the church must keep its focus. First, homosexuals are sinners like everyone and need God’s grace, love, and forgiveness. Second, homosexuals can through the miracle of the new birth be set free from the power of sin and live changed moral lives. The church must reach out to all sinners with the love of Christ, no matter what the sin. And we must never let the declining moral climate of our nation pressure us into condoning what God condemns. ”

Coming out was a hard process when your family and culture is against you, so as I left the gay bar in 2007, I had very little in the way of family or friends to rescue me from the prison cell I found myself in. I sat in jail for ten days unable to reach anyone in my family to post bail.

As it ended up, I was able to obtain a lawyer and all terms of my probation would be met if I completed a court assigned program at Western Michigan Teen Challenge.

Teen Challenge by its own definition is an Assemblies of God USA evangelical Christian recovery program and a network of Christian social and evangelizing work centers. It is a 12-18 month program that serves drug addicts, alcoholics gang members, prostitutes, and people dealing with the life controlling problem of same sex attraction and addiction. Think of the program as a sanctification quick stop to redeem one in the eyes of the Assembly of God Church. I was told that once I spoke in tongues that god would work in my life and remove the gay feelings.

In the four months I lived at the teen challenge center in Muskegon Michigan, all personal decisions were left to the director of the center who was guided by a stern handbook that consisted of 111 individual rules and guidelines. A majority of these rules were designed to put program participants in submission to the program’s leaders who supposedly were anointed by God and spoke with the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. The physical evidence of their holiness the ability to speak in speak in tongues.

In the program, we were not ever allowed to look at females directly. Men and women had to sit on separate sides of the chapel and if a woman was singing or giving a testimony she did so behind an office cubical wall so that only her eyes were visible.

People that entered the center with psychological problems were often not allowed to take medications prescribed by doctors since there was a ban on any medication that had any affect on the brain. If you took medications you were told you weren’t showing enough faith and that Jesus could heal you.

Daily life consisted of chapel, bible classes, work duty, and two hours of praying on your knees. You physically had to kneel or you got in to trouble. Students were not allowed to talk about addiction or in my case homosexuality. Instead, you were only to think and talk about God and the scriptures that they had you memorize and meditate on.

One of the stated program goals was to reprogram or recondition the mind, because as they taught, human nature was evil and your mind was naturally wrong. We were all born sinners, they claimed. So, for a gay man to bring up that he was born gay was stating the obvious, because the program directors believed that we are all born into sin. “All man has fallen short of the Glory of God”, they preached, while they taught that all Christians are at war with their own flesh and blood. (I have included a link to the daily schedule so you can get an ideal of how regimented it was.)

By looking at the curriculum we can get a quick glance at what was covered in the three daily bible classes. In the first 14 weeks I was exposed to classes on attitude, growing through failure, temptation, anger and personal rights. We were told that we signed all our personal rights over to God and the pastors at the center when we entered the program.?Learning at the center was mostly done through rote memorization. Workbooks for classes had places where critical thinking could potentially take place, but students were expected to just memorize the correct answer and fill it in.

While living at the center, all conversations are monitored for ungodliness, all mail is read, and phone conversations are limited to five minutes every two weeks. No mail or phone conversations are allowed in the first four weeks that a student is attending the program. This is done largely because by the fourth week in the program, students are broken down enough that they no longer think for themselves and respond in a programmed way. Parents probably do perceive a change in their child, but is it real or simply a programmed, conditioned reaction to subverting and suppressing all individuality and critical thinking skills?

Program leaders believe the “gay problem”, as they call it, is a sin because “homosexual acts are unnatural because of their high correlation with major illnesses and terminal disease.”

In viewing Romans 1:27 we must ask what is the “due penalty” mentioned “for their perversion”, they preach. They go on to say that, “Though AIDS is not necessarily a direct judgment from God, as innocents are sometimes the victims of the sin of others, it remains a disastrous overarching consequence of sin through the fall of man.” (See Genesis 3).

They also preach:

“Contrary to the claims by homosexual public relations campaigns that claim gays and lesbians are normal, healthy, average people, the opposite is true. Former homosexuals describe a disgusting lifestyle of perversion and sexual obsession. In a study of the median age of death for heterosexuals and homosexuals, less than 2 per cent of homosexuals survived to age 65 while married and single heterosexual men and women living past 65 ranged from 57 to 80 percent.

Clearly on every front whether it is moral, spiritual, physical, or psychological, the practice of homosexuality has proven itself devoid of any individual good or social benefit. Furthermore, the historical record shows homosexuality as detrimental to the well-being of the individual participant, the extended family, and society at large.”

Is it healthy to teach a gay person and churchgoers that homosexuals are a detriment to the society at large? Is breaking a person down the best way to offer genuine help?

From my experience with Teen Challenge, I would have to say no.

In an environment where you are taught that all your personal rights belong to God and program leaders speak with the voice of god, gay students are given little choice but to believe and think how they are taught. At Teen Challenge, people do “change” because they are heavily conditioned how to respond.?Some of these adjustments were positive. For example, having every minute of the day programmed does bring order to one’s life. However, the overall program is quite harmful to those who participate, particularly LGBT people.

The LGBT Community needs to watch out for programs like Teen Challenge and remember that it a massive organization with over 223 centers in North America with the capacity to sleep over 7,536 people, according to its website.

Programs like this negatively impact a high number of gay youth. I can state from firsthand experience that Teen Challenge did some long-term damage to my self esteem.

This article was found at:


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Teen Challenge: Abuse in the Name of GOD

Teen Challenge is a network of international Christian/Charismatic indoctrination/drug abuse/recovery programs directly affiliated with the Assemblies of God, an international church organization often referred to as a cult and associated with charismatic faith healing as they do NOT permit medication to be used by residents of their programs. (faith healing of this nature is considered by scholars to be fraudulent and misleading, and many people have tied unnecessarily from abstinence from their needed medications.).

There are over 250 Teen Challenge Chapters throughout America. Headquartered in Columbus, Georgia, Teen Challenge offers services to both teens and adults. Self reported to be the most successful drug rehab program in existence, no clinical and reproducible studies have been done to support these claims. In light, of the scandals and allegations of abuse that Teen Challenge has been facing internationally, many have begun to question the credibility of this special interest organization.


Teen Challenge was established in 1958 by David Wilkerson, an Assemblies of God pastor who left a rural church in Pennsylvania, to work among teenage gang members and socially marginalized people in New York City and who, perhaps, is best known for his character played by Pat Boone in the 1970 Film, "The Cross and the Switchblade". Teen Challenge was launched from a small office on Staten Island. In 1960, the Teen Challenge headquarters was relocated to a large historical house in Brooklyn, New York. By late 2008, Teen Challenge USA had grown to include 231 locations, including residential programs and evangelical outreach centers, in the United States. Teen Challenge, has internationally struggled with a large number of allegations of scandal, abuse, sexual assault, and child molestation, paying millions in efforts to suppress these claims and protect their reputation in the Christian Community.


According to a 2001 New York Times article, "It is the opinion of some social scientists that the 86 percent success rate of Teen Challenge is misleading, as it does not count the people who dropped out during the program, and that, like many voluntary NGO's, Teen Challenge picks its clients." The item quotes the Rev. John D. Castellani, then president of Teen Challenge International U.S.A., as saying that most of the addicts have already been through detoxification programs, before they are admitted. In the program's first four-month phase, Mr. Castellani said, 25 to 30 percent drop out, and in the next eight months, 10 percent more leave. In their testimony before the United States House Committee on Ways and Means, the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, have similarly testified that the much quoted success rates "dramatically distort the truth", due to the lack of reference to the high drop out rate.  

When multiple allegations of sexual abuse within the Teen Challenge Centers came to light in 1998, an 18-year-old man and his parents sued the Assemblies of God and the church's ranch for troubled youths, claiming that he was molested by a counselor at the center two years ago. The alleged victim was 16 when he went to Dallas Teen Challenge Boys Ranch in Winnsboro in January 1996. According to his lawsuit, a convicted drug trafficker working as a ranch counselor sexually molested him and two other boys, one of whom also was 16 or younger. "(The counselor) sexually molested (the plaintiff) on at least six different occasions at the ranch," the lawsuit stated. The lawsuit further alleges that the church, ranch executive director Paul Ecker and the ranch's board knowingly employed men with criminal histories as counselors despite being informed by state regulators the practice was illegal. "Clearly the government has given sanction to these religious organizations to do whatever they please, with no regard to civil rights or the law.", said the man in a later interview. After this and multiple other allegations of sexual abuse were made, the media publicized the story of a known multi-offense sexual assaulter and child molester running one of the Teen Challenge homes in Winthrop, ME--namely, Shondi Fabiano, listed officially as a co-head of Teen Challenge New England by the website of the Northern New England District of the Assemblies of God, and who is officially listed as a lifetime-registered sex offender for second-degree child molestation and sexual assault in the third degree. An online check of sex offender registries, including the Florida sex-offender registry run by Florida Department of Law Enforcement, also shows Shondi Fabiano also has a history of 2nd degree sexual assault conviction in Kent, RI. To date, Fabiano is still head of Teen Challenge New England despite not only state laws that prohibit sex offenders and persons convicted of crimes against children from working in children's homes but despite media publicity as well.

At the time of writing this report her residence listed in Maine's sex offender registry as the very same Teen Challenge Center.  All despite Maines staunch laws against sexual offender contact with minors.

Many have spoken out against the cover-up attempts of real sexual abuse in Teen Challenge Centers Worldwide--in fact, there are indications that sexual abuse is (sadly) not unknown at Teen Challenge facilities--including the very facility that George W. Bush defended publicly from legal sanction.

Most reports that have surfaced show that victims of abuse within Teen Challenge Centers have no way to get to an outside source of help as they are restricted from phone or any communication with the outside world, including family and friends.

Church and State Separation Issues

In 1995, auditors from the Texas Commission for Alcohol and Drug Abuse (TCADA) demanded that Teen Challenge obtain state licensing and employ state-licensed counselors. As a result, (then) Governor George W. Bush publicly defended Teen Challenge and pursued alternative licensing procedures for faith-based organizations. ''“Teen Challenge should view itself as a pioneer in how Texas approaches faith-based programs. I’ll call together people, ask them to make recommendations... licensing standards have to be different from what they are today,”'' then-Governor Bush said. Bush then created a state Task Force on Faith-Based Programs, to identify and lift regulatory barriers for faith-based social service providers.

The task force included J. Herbert Meppelink, the Executive Director of South Texas Teen Challenge.[http://www.twc.state.tx.us/svcs/charchoice/faithful.pdf.]

The resultant 1997 and 1999 Texas legislation exempted Faith-Based Programs, such as Teen Challenge, from state licensing and the health, safety and quality of care standards that accompany that licensing.

Later, when Bush became US president, Teen Challenge was cited in public policy debates as an example of why such programs merit the federal funding of faith-based organizations. Its documented success rates played a role in the establishment of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001.

Conversely, such funding has come under attack through comments by John Castellani, the former President of Teen Challenge USA, during a House Government Reform subcommittee, examining the efficacy of religious social service providers. During the hearing, Castellani said Teen Challenge does not hire non-Christians as employees and, when asked if the group takes non-Christians as clients, he said yes, and boasted that some Jews who finish his Teen Challenge program become "completed Jews."  This phrase was considered offensive to many Jewish groups because it suggests Jews are "incomplete" without the Teen Challenge training.

Later a press release was issued citing the statement, with an explanation, that the statement rather referred to the Jewish non-belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

If you have been a victim of abuse in association with the Teen Challenge program, please know that you are not alone.  We are many.  Speak out so that others might be spared.  To have your story told to thousands, email challengingteenchallenge@gmail.com.  You may even save a life!