Anonymous Rallies Against Horrific, Abuse-Riddled "Troubled Teen" Industry

A faction within the exceedingly diverse "Anonymous" online collective has begun targeting the Troubled Teen Industry trying to expose cases of extreme child abuse, sexual misconduct, psychological torture, and even deaths, at various facilities which claim to "correct bad behavior."

The sales pitch is simple: "If your teen has emotional issues, abuses drugs, or is promiscuous, help is just a phone call away. Our programs promise to fix bad behavior by teaching your child life skills and building self-esteem." Now imagine you’re a teen that parties too much, or doesn't respect your parents, or perhaps you’re gay and refuse to accept Jesus Christ into your life. There are facilities all over the country that will soon teach you to stop being so different! Sometimes you get taken to these facilities in the middle of the night, grabbed from your bed by camp employees your parents have let into your home.

Exposure of the behavior modification industry is slowly gaining traction. Kidnapped for Christ is a feature-length documentary film which follows the stories of several American teenagers who were sent to an evangelical Christian reform school located in the Dominican Republic called “Escuela Caribe.” Help at Any Cost is a non-fiction book that examines how the troubled teen industry cons parents and hurts their children. But it seems parents all over the country are still falling for the misleading assurances offered by these companies even though every corporate site that promises sunshine and happiness has shadow sites full of survivor’s horror stories.

Factions within the Anonymous umbrella who have tried to raise awareness over a particular injustice (especially relating to child abuse) have often adopted a hashtag nomenclature. #OpPedoChat attacked and exposed pedophiles on Twitter. #OpLiberation actively aims to protect children in abusive homes through exposure of their tormentors. #OpLithChild aimed to rescue one girl in Lithuania who was being prostituted out to powerful men. #OpDarkNet has unearthed massive pedophile rings on the so-called hidden web.

The philosophy is simple: in a world of webcams, victims can no longer be hidden away, and can instantly share their suffering via the world wide web. But there are places where no cell phones or Internet are permitted. Places isolated in the wilderness miles from any form of civilization, where children are taken to correct their behavior and suffer a wide array of vicious torments.

#OpTTIAbuse represents hackers, activists, victims, parents, and survivors who are trying to expose horrific abuses being suffered by children across this country at various facilities hidden away from public scrutiny. The half-joking threat of being sent to "boot camp" as a disciplinary measure for bad behavior has been around since the 1960s. But over the years, these facilities have grown and are making millions of dollars abusing, neglecting, and traumatizing children in their care.

Salon ran a horrifying expose of one corporation in particular: CRC Health Group a company that was purchased by Mitt Romney’s old homestead Bain Capital. Several accusations of mistreatment, abuse and wrongful deaths have been hurled against it.  CRC manages a lot of rehabilitation centers across the country, so oftentimes deaths are attributed to relapses in drug abuse by the adults in their care. But CRC also owns Aspen Education and "Youth Care" which was featured on Dr. Phil as a great place to send troubled teens.

 

Cases where children have died from mistreatment, medical neglect, or starvation have rarely led to any consequences. This is partly due to the lack of any regulatory oversight, as well some states not even requiring any licensing system for these programs to exist. Mental Health reported on the various facilities in America, and assessed that new oversight was desperately needed.

"Some residential treatment programs, especially community-based non-profit residential programs, provide excellent care and communicate candidly with families. However, the United States Government Accountability Office’s 2007-8 studies demonstrated ineffective management practices, lack of staff training, misuse of physical restraints and deceptive marketing practices in eight case studies of abuse and death in residential facilities …"

The lack of accountability, and frequent dismissal of children in their care as devious troublemakers, has caused a deadly culture of abuse and medical neglect. While originally paying out silencing settlements, CRC has now responded to a series of lawsuits by requiring that parents sign lengthy contracts and waivers that except the company from any blame even in instances of death. Instead of reforming their practices, they are now free to charge parents extra fees for any unforeseen "services" required to discipline a problematic child. 

It’s hard to judge a parent’s choices in how they raise their children, and rarely are standards universal. Is a firm spank a form of abuse? Should children be home-schooled? Is it fair if parents indoctrinate a child into their faith, or should children be left to make their own decisions? We have laws and child protective services specifically to limit a parent's ability to harm a child. But any complaint filed by a child at these facilities is lost to the winds due to a complete lack of regulatory accountability or public awareness.

The prison-like design of some of these facilities further limits the children’s ability to report abuse. The internet is rife with testimonials of children who tried to run away, only to find themselves surrounded by miles of unending wilderness. The children rarely have access to telephones, and when they do utilize these connections, their conversations are watched carefully. If they were to say anything "negative" to their parents, like "I miss you, I want to come home" they would be punished for being "manipulative."

Anonymous groups continue to try and expose the survivor stories from within the system, but with limited attention from the press their success has been marginal. Some of the major companies involved have even managed to lobby and block reform on private residential "treatment" centers. This is a difficult subject, as a lot of parents are desperate to help their children turning to whichever service is closest, cheapest or most convincing. But we should be insisting on the same kind of government regulation and laws that restrict a parent’s ability to abuse their child, for the facilities that make a profit from disciplining them.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Roy Klabin

Graduate student at Columbia University School of Journalism. I cover crime & corruption, social injustice and cartoon politics.

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