Gay Teen Girl Abducted and Tortured at For-Profit American “Re-Education” School(s)

by Thomas Roche on June 6, 2011

From the film But I'm A Cheerleader

In a post that’s (hopefully) due to hit the mainstream press and cause public outrage, Reddit user Pixel8 posted the horrifying first-person story of a teenager named Xandir who was forcibly abducted from her home, publicly restrained, and transported to a program for “troubled teens” where she and others were psychologically and physically threatened and tortured as “treatment” — solely, or at the very least primarily, because she is gay.

The “school” in question amounts, by the teen’s account, to an abusive re-education facility or, if you will, a brainwashing program. It is Cross Creek in Utah, affiliated with the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP), a Utah-based group that serves as an umbrella organization for “programs for troubled teens.” Though WWASP itself is not-for-profit, many if not most of the individual programs are for-profit, as are the affiliated services that provide a) “escorts” (i.e., men in black) to take the teens to and from the facilities, and b) the for-profit company that process “tuition” payments — not to mention c) the organization’s private, for-profit marketing firm. According to an article in Reason, many of the individual programs are owned through various partnerships by officials of WWASP and their close relatives. There have been a number of really serious questions asked about just how much influence WWASP’s officials and the owners of the individual programs exercise with lawmakers.

But back to Xandir, who was grabbed from her home, again, apparently for the crime of being attracted to women and under eighteen…and therefore without civil rights. The post is an absolute must-read for anyone concerned about the rights of any youth – especially lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning or transgender. It’s a reminder that adolescents in the U.S. have, in practical terms, exactly and only the human rights their parents and the authorities decide they’re entitled to.

Xandir describes being abducted from her home, without explanation, by strangers:

On May 10th of 2007 at around 2:30 in the morning two strangers barged into my bedroom. I started screaming and crying, as in my mind I was sure that these two strangers had broken into my house and were going to abduct me, rape me, kill me, or in some way harm me. They immediately told me that if I did not shut up that they would handcuff me. I was not being in any way violent or threatening…

…They started going through my closet digging out clothes as I was only in a night gown. They still had not explained what was going on. I asked, frightened, what the wanted from me, trying to see if I could in some way appease them and get them to leave. They then explained that they were going to take me to a school. It took me a second to understand what they meant by this, as this was an extremely bizarre way to introduce a child to a new school. It then occurred to me that this was what my mother had arranged for my brother several years ago when she had him shipped away to Cross Creek. The two strangers were from Teen Escort Service, a for-profit company that transports teenagers, usually by force, to WWASP (World Wide Association of Specialty Programs) facilities.

[Link.]

Xandir was restrained for the trip with a leather strap around her chest, and, from what I can gather, was essentially led around on her belt-cum-leash through the airport to get her flight to the new “school.”

“It was so humiliating to be led around like a fucking dog around the airport. It was also extremely uncomfortable to have this strange older male putting his hand so close to my breast.”

Things get even more horrifying:

I had never spoken to R., the program director, before and my first experience with him was horrible. He asked me why I was there, and I told him all of the things I’d done that I could think of that could possibly be perceived as “bad”. He yelled at me, saying that I was lying and that I didn’t love or care about my parents. I was shocked and confused, unsure of what I had done to deserve this treatment from someone I had just met. To this day, the only thing I can think of that I possibly could have left out was my attraction to other females. In one of the Parent-Child seminars we were made to attend, my mother shared with me that this was one of the biggest “issues” that caused her to send me to Cross Creek. Not the drugs, not the sex (she told me she had no knowledge of me being sexually active prior to being forced to disclose it to her), not the issues with school, but just the fact that there was a possibility that one day I might fall in love with a female…

…Shortly after I arrived, my “HOPE buddy” (the student they assign to “mentor” you and teach you the rules in your first few weeks) started asking me about my past, why I was there, and what issues I needed to work on. I talked briefly about my experimentation with soft drugs, my issues with depression (something I’m pretty sure most teenagers experience), and the abusive relationship I had been in with my first girlfriend. As soon as I said the words “girl” and “relationship” in the same sentence she said “STOP! STOP! We can’t talk about that.”

[Link.]

The story gets still more disturbing from there. The program of “motivational” lectures and the like are mind-bending, and Xandir feels she succumbed quite thoroughly to what can only be called brainwashing. She also displayed physical symptoms of extreme stress that were clearly, by her account, ignored by the “caretakers” in the program.

If you’re not familiar with the private, for-profit that abducts adolescents who have been extrajudicially assigned the label of “troubled teen” by their parents, the story may sound outlandish and borderline impossible. The phenomenal incompetence and bigotry of the “professionals” running this program makes it all sound so potentially unlikely to the uninitiated, in fact, that in the end, Xandir feels obliged to add this disclaimer:

Even if you choose not to believe me or anything that I have written, there are piles of evidence to support the idea that there is mistreatment at Cross Creek and other WWASP affiliated facilities. A little bit of research will reveal that this lawsuit is not the first that WWASP or Cross Creek has faced.

(…)I’d also like to mention how many times I saw staff and administration, tackle and restrain children when it was completely unnecessary. So many times I saw kids simply refuse to go to gym class or get out of bed and as punishment they were violently tackled, restrained in a painful position, and taken to a small isolation room (…) If you look on the website for the Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse, you can see a long list of deaths that have occurred in “behavioral modification” facilities not unlike Cross Creek as a result of tackling and restraint.

[Link.]

As horrible as Xandir’s individual story is, the really upsetting thing is that it’s no different than what’s been done to “troubled teenagers” for decades — including teens who committed the crime of differing in sexual orientation, politics or morality from their parents.

I remember hearing similar stories from a couple of people I knew in the punk scene in the early ’90s who claimed to be veterans of such “reeducation” programs. They were not the criminals, vagabonds, or drug fiends of the community. There were plenty of those in my circle, the vast majority of them highly productive-to-society petty criminals, vagabonds and drug fiends in the long term. But the ones who had been “re-educated” that I knew had simply stumbled into the misfortune of having authoritarian parents who didn’t like their kids hanging out with people who had green mohawks.

This is a problem that is happening now. I’ve also been personally aware of at least one case in recent years where an abduction like this happened. The parent involved was not a religious zealot by any stretch of the imagination, and in fact was not a member of any Judeo-Christian religion. Though LGBTQ youth are often singled out for such programs, their victims can be any teenager who has engaged in a pattern of what his or her parents decide is troublesome behavior (or gender nonconformity).

What’s more, I know for a fact that in some cases parents are talked into sending their kids to these exact same privatized (and incredibly expensive) programs by public school officials. In some cases, public funds pay for these programs, and tuition can run into the several tens of thousands a month.

Of all the horrible things that happen to young people in this country, these privatized, for-profit programs are among the worst, and when it happens to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans youth just for being queer, it underscores, to me, the fact that sexual freedom in this country exists within a very narrow definition.

Now someone, please: tell me “it gets better.”

Image from the film “But I’m A Cheerleader.”

Thomas Roche

Thomas Roche's first novel, The Panama Laugh, is a gonzo military science fiction zombie apocalypse that has been compared to the writings of Jim Thompson and Hunter S. Thompson. He is also a widely published author of sex-positive erotica and the occasional purveyor of horror and crime-noir short stories, and a commentator on sex, crime, culture and politics.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook

{ 12 comments }

1 Lame00000 June 10, 2011 at 6:05 am

Cross Creek? That’s where, in 2008, a woman who worked there as a counselor was charged with having an affair with an under-aged female “attendee.” I didn’t realize it was supposed to be a “re-education” camp for gay teens. It was billed in the press as a place to help “disturbed teens.” My guess is that the place is rife with physical and sexual abuse of teens. Send your kid there to be cured of “the gay” and they’ll either be beaten or seduced by a counselor. Either way, if you’re kid’s gay, deal with it. I’d rather have a gay teen son or daughter than be the parent of a drug addict or habitual felon. I’m not comparing them in any way, I’m saying that there’s a lot more to be concerned about as a parent than whether your kid digs boys or girls.

2 Kagan MacTane June 8, 2011 at 9:30 pm

@David: So, she was led through the airport in a totally demeaning/demeaned and authoritarian manner? And why would the very-authoritarian TSA agents and security guards have a problem with that? I’d think they’d *agree* with it.

To clarify: I agree with you that “airport security these days tend toward the authoritarian and oppressive end of the incompetent spectrum”. But I think that means that when they see a person in restraints, they naturally assume that there must be a good reason for it. By contrast, I and many of my leftist/anti-authoritarian friends, when we see someone being hassled by cops or restrained, wonder if the authorities are overstepping their bounds. The authoritarian types, by contrast, assume the restrained party “must have done something to deserve it”.

So I think the Cross Creek guys, especially if they were dressed “properly”, could probably have marched Xandir past the airport security without any problems. They may even have gotten a knowing nod from them.

3 Morte June 8, 2011 at 11:53 am

@David I was escorted to Tranquility Bay in Treasure Beach, Jamaica, and was done so in handcuffs, even in the airport.

@Marv Do some googling on WWASP or WWASPS, Robert Lichfield, his connection to Mitt Romney included, Synanon, etc. Two good places to start are http://www.cafety.org/ and http://www.fornits.com/

4 Morte June 8, 2011 at 11:50 am

Hi folks. We have a pretty young movement in the works to try to stop places like this. I myself was at the same school as Xandir and a far worse one before that. If you guys would like to know more, or find a way to help, we have a presence on most social networking sites now.

http://www.reddit.com/r/troubledteens
http://twitter.com/#!/r_troubledteens
http://www.facebook.com/RedditTroubledTeens
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_185627381482928&ap=1

5 Bunny Watson June 7, 2011 at 9:21 pm

I know this person. She is not lying.

6 Marv June 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I’m concerned that the story would be dismissed with incredulity, as although I’m aware bigotry exists in the world, I’m having a hard time believing a supposedly civilised country could allow such organisation to operate- just think how many people that’re relatively sheltered from the crap that goes on in the world are going to read that story and think “I can’t believe something like that happened, therefore it did not happen” :-s

7 Justine Cross June 7, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Wow. This is really fucking terrible.

8 David June 7, 2011 at 7:16 am

I don’t want to stray too far from the topic of the story, that these “reeducation” camps exist and are horrible, horrible places; don’t think I’m not arguing that point.

But being led through the airport with a leather strap restraining her? I call b.s. on that. If anything, airport security these days tend toward the authoritarian and oppressive end of the incompetent spectrum, rather than the blase; so I have a really, REALLY hard time swallowing a story where they were allowed to board a plane like this.

Once I start wondering why she’d make something like that up, the rest of the story then becomes suspect. Which is why I felt compelled to comment: these camps DO exist, and DO do horrible stuff. So why the unnecessary elaboration? It poisons the message. This is too important of a topic, in my opinion, for lying about.

Now, if she didn’t lie… my god, you could write a whole front-page article for the New York Times or something on just how it was that TSA let someone through security in bondage like that.

9 Harold June 6, 2011 at 8:17 pm

You say that adolescents have only the human rights allowed by their parents and the authorities. This is true, but then who else could get involved? Civil rights groups could (and should) push to classify this kind of treatment as abuse. But they can only push legislators to change the law and try to shame police or child protective services into enforcing it. If that doesn’t work, when it comes to actually rescuing these kids, you pretty much have to fall back to vigilante crimefighters or some sort of Front to Liberate Abused Children (nobody else uses FLAC, right?).

10 Autumn June 6, 2011 at 7:45 pm

I sent this to Boing Boing.

If you read through the comments, others have opened up about their own experiences at these places. I also opened a discussion of how to help. There are several organizations who are working to help these kids, and a number of them need legal help.

One other very important thing to note is that Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney owns some of these schools. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspen_Education_Group (This company is owned by Bain Capital, owned by Mitt Romney.) I really hope that this will see the light of the media.

11 Thomas Roche June 6, 2011 at 5:08 pm

@Bob — thanks for the reference; that book is definitely going on my reading list! I really appreciate it. xox,
Thomas

12 Bob Finn June 6, 2011 at 2:28 pm

For more on this topic, see the excellent book “Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids,” by Maia Szalavitz (Riverhead Books, 2006.)

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: