Child Abuse: Who Do We Blame For Failing The Turpin Children for Decades?

Child Abuse: Who Do We Blame For Failing The Turpin Children for Decades?

The discovery of the 13 Turpin children in Riverside County is barely a week old. The children and adults are still hospitalized and it seems that there already is a family that is willing to take on what probably will be a lifelong challenge of caring for them all. The children were so badly abused that they suffered permanent physical and mental damage. The Turpin parents, both of them, are in jail after having been charged with a series of crimes. They will probably, and justly, end up with very long sentences.

Meanwhile, in the media, the debate is mostly centered on who to blame for this horrific case of abuse. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, “The Turpin child abuse story fits a widespread and disturbing homeschooling pattern,” Rachel Coleman and  Kathryn Brightbill fan some very emotional flames in an piece that reads so much like a news piece, that a friend of mine who is an academic referred to it as an article. The authors are homeschooling reform advocates. Both authors were homeschooled.

Right at the top of their op-ed, the authors bring in truly devastating statistics:

“Particularly severe abuse cases that involve school-age children also tend to involve homeschooling. In a 2014 study of child torture, Barbara Knox, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin, found that 47% of school-age victims had been withdrawn from school for homeschooling and an additional 29% had never been enrolled.

We keep a database of homeschool abuse cases and have found disturbing details repeated over and over. More than 40% of severe and fatal cases involve some form of imprisonment.”

The data used in the first paragraph is shocking. There is no other way to characterize it. It is standard practice for studies to be fully named, quoted, and linked so readers can access them. While linked, the study that is quoted in this opinion piece is not properly named, nor are the readers told that the study wasn’t looking specifically at homeschooling.

So, what, exactly, are Coleman and Brightbill talking about? Are they talking about 47% of all homeschooled children? Are we talking about all children who were found to have been abused in Wisconsin? Are we talking about all children in the U.S. who were withdrawn from public school? The same questions apply to the 27% of children who’ve never been enrolled.

The Wisconsin study, Torture As a Form of Child Abuse, looks exclusively at 28 children who were tortured. Of those 28 children, 47% were removed from school by the abuser.

Knox-Torture-as-a-Form-of-Child-Abuse-article

When one looks at the Knox study abstract, one finally gets the proper context against which to place the 47% figure. In the context of the severest of child abuse cases, it is only logical that  perpetrators of torture, in very large proportions, would make use of any means available to them that provides cover for their crimes. Homeschooling, in this instance, is what churches and schools are to predators. That is how predation works. With respect to homeschooling in general, the op-ed authors’ thesis about homeschooling is not supported by the evidence they present. That evidence was not a study on the incidence of abuse in homeschooling.

The authors of the op-ed should have exercised a modicum of honesty when presenting their supporting data. They didn’t. The Los Angeles Times should have exercised a greater degree of editorial supervision, at the very least, in superficially checking facts. It is obvious they didn’t. Opinion pieces by non-journalists are not held to the normal journalistic standard of rigor. It appears, from the authors’ website, that both writers are PhD candidates. Please keep this in mind when you read anything in a newspaper’s opinion section.

Child abuse and neglect is a very serious problem that requires far more serious solutions than pointing to any particular community. It shouldn’t be possible for anyone to go unaccounted for from birth and past adulthood, as is the case with all 13 of the Turpin children. The state, whichever one parents happen to live in, should know how many children exist within its border during any given year. It should also know, for each child, whether or not that child underwent a minimum of one or two well-visits with a doctor and dentist. Among all types of mandated reporters, medical doctors are better trained to detect abuse and neglect than teachers. and in a much better position to look for tell-tale signs during a well-check visit. Were it mandatory for everyone to take their children to see a doctor twice a year, for example, and were doctors mandated to report that the visits took place, it would be much easier not to lose track of one abused and tortured child, much less 13 of them!

In the Turpin case, the authorities never received even one call. No one ever filed a report of seeing or hearing something suspicious in the Turpin home. In one of the initial local news reports, one can see how close together the homes are in the Turpin’s neighborhood:

3 million children were abused in the United States in 2015. Rachel Coleman and  Kathryn Brightbill do the L.A. Times readers and their former homeschooling community a great disservice by mixing apples and oranges in order to achieve their goal of reform, under the guise of ending cruelty against children.

Had homeschooling not been an option, how likely is it the Turpins would have enrolled their children in public school? Submitted themselves to voluntary inspections? We should be looking at ways to make it impossible for any child or adult to be unaccounted for. We should be looking for ways to provide mental health and parenting services to families at risk. Education reform, of any kind, is an entirely separate matter.


Disclaimer: I homeschooled my child in the state of California, in accordance with the California Department of Education’s Private School Affidavit (R-4) guidelines. My young adult child is now a college student.


The Department of Health and Human Services collects statistical data on all kinds of child abuse and neglect. Their latest report is for the year 2015:

ChildAbuseStats

There are no official data that specifically address the incidence of abuse among children who are homeschooled.