A group of abuse survivors showed up at the Missouri Capitol today to watch as Gov. Mike Parson signed into law a bill intended to help prevent child abuse and neglect at the state’s faith-based boarding schools. The gathering was a time of heavy emotion for them, including Allen Knoll.
“Today is the day that we can finally say we are heard,” Knoll said as his voice cracked. “Our parents didn’t hear us. We’ve been saying the same thing for years. This has been going on in this state and the states across this country for far too long and nobody has listened. They said we are troubled – we are liars, we are manipulators. Today, the highest person in this state signed this bill into law and we feel heard.”
State Representatives Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, and Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, teamed up to offer the bill. Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, carried the legislation in the upper chamber.
“These children told their stories before but no one believed them,” said Veit.
House Bill 557 will require religious boarding schools to undergo safety inspections. They must get background checks for employees and they must notify the state of their existence. The law also requires adequate food, medical care, and clothing for students. The parents must be allowed to visit their children at any time without notice.
The new regulations are a result of mounting accusations that date back over at least two decades. Former students have reported getting beaten, raped, starved, restrained, and isolated long-term at some boarding schools in Missouri. During a Missouri House committee hearing earlier this year, students made allegations against Agape Boarding School and Legacy Boys Academy in southwest Missouri’s Stockton, Masters Ranch in southern Missouri, and Circle of Hope Girls Ranch near Humansville in southwest Missouri.
Circle of Hope closed this year after the owners were charged with 102 total felonies in connection with abuse allegations.
Knoll attended Agape from the time he was 12 years old until he was 15. He said he experienced mental abuse at the school. Another Agape student, Colton Schrag, said he was physically abused and barely fed.
Agape Boarding School is still operating today by Bryan Clemensen – the son of the man in charge all those years ago when Knoll was there.
“That’s the guy (Bryan Clemensen) who shouldn’t be there. When I was there, he wasn’t in charge but he was the guy you didn’t want in charge,” he said.
Veit said the bad actors are under the spotlight now.
“They won’t get away with these acts. When these people do these horrible acts, they are predators. When they find out they can’t get away with it here, they will move on or something. They will be caught hopefully,” said Veit. “Trying to say they are good Christian people, that is an insult to all of us who try to live a Christian life.”
Veit praised the victims for their courage to share their experiences during a legislative hearing earlier this year. They came from all over the country.
“They are not wealthy people. They sacrificed their very last dollars to come in and testify,” said Veit. “It took the live testimony to stir the hearts of the Legislature.”
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