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Santiago interviews Charlotte Hayes (Charli), a Gen-Z ex-Adventist. She was adopted from Russia and brought to the U.S. as a baby by an Adventist couple. Growing up, Charli experienced emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at home. The police and Child Protective Services investigated, but nothing happened, so she ran away from home at 18. She now has over 500k people on TikTok who have been following her life story.
Resources / Topics Mentioned:
VeggieTales - Jericho Slushies
Battle (Genocide) of Jericho - Wikipedia
IBLP - Wikipeda
Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets
Alisa Williams' Thread on SDAs & Shiny Happy People
Kati Morton - Licensed Therapist, YouTuber
Religious Trauma-informed Therapists & Other Resources
Kati Morton Videos:
Abuse Topic Playlist
Sexual Abuse: How do we recover & how long does it take?
What is Consent, Assault & Harassment?
What's considered sexual abuse?
Struggling with childhood sexual abuse?
Healing from Sexual Abuse & Incest
Full Transcripts, resources and more: hell.bio/notes
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Credits: Music: Hall of the Mountain King Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Haystacks & Hell Intro
[00:00:00] Santiago: Welcome to Haystacks and Hell, an ex-Adventist podcast where we tell stories about growing up Seventh-day Adventist, leaving faith behind, and building new, fulfilling lives.
Meet Charlotte Hayes
[00:00:17] Santiago: Hey everyone, I'm your host Santiago and today, I'm honored to speak with Charlotte Hayes, or Charli for short. Charli is a Gen Z ex-Adventist with an incredible life story, and is currently based in the US state of Washington.
[00:00:33] In this episode, we'll discuss topics including physical and sexual abuse, self-harm, and more. Some parts of Charli's story may be especially difficult for some. So if you feel like you need it, please listen with a friend or just a little bit at a time. Feel free to take a break or stop entirely at any point. Mental health and other resources are linked in the show notes.
[00:00:59] Charli was born in the year 2000 in Russia and was given up for adoption. She ended up in an orphanage, which she's described as having crowded rooms filled with about 15 to 20 children, and babies who were given sedatives to sleep and stay quiet.
[00:01:17] One day, an Adventist couple from the United States flew to Russia, paid thousands of dollars to adopt her, and brought her to the US state of Virginia. But Charli didn't get a fairytale ending with her adoptive parents.
[00:01:33] Aside from being Adventist, they were fans of Bill Gothard and the Institute for Basic Life Principles, or IBLP, a fundamentalist, ultra-conservative Christian organization. Charli experienced emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at home. And at some point, both the police and Child Protective Services got involved.
[00:01:57] But sadly, nothing ever came from their investigation. So at the age of 18, Charli managed to escape from her home with the help of some friends. And we're going to hear all about that journey and what's happened since then.
[00:02:14] Today, Charli has gained a following of over half a million people on TikTok, where she's talked about her journey of running away from home, eventually moving across the country, officially becoming a US citizen on paper, and more. So with that background, let's jump into our conversation. Charli, thanks for coming on the show and being willing to share your story.
[00:02:37] Charli: Thank you for having me.
[00:02:39] Santiago: I'm just incredibly grateful that you've chosen to share your story, and share your story specifically with us on the show. If it's all right with you, I'd like to start as early as possible. You've spoken before about being given up for adoption and living in an orphanage. What would you want listeners to know about this and any other parts of your early childhood?
[00:03:03] Charli: I was born in Khabarovsk, Russia. It's the Japan side of Russia, so it's nowhere near Moscow. It's the complete other side. And pretty much those rooms, being there, they would, um, put two babies per crib, one diaper a day, and you were fed soup. And when being brought to the US when I was adopted, they would actually Benadryl the babies. That way they'd be quiet on the flight, because it's a really, really long flight. When I was still in Russia, we got stuck in Moscow for two extra weeks, because 9/11 happened.
[00:03:44] My parents at the time, were in Moscow and we were going to be leaving the next day to come back to the US. And they saw on TV that evening, the towers had gotten hit and different things. And they were, they thought it was a movie, 'cause everything's in Russian. You know, they couldn't understand anything. And so they were like, "This is a really cool movie that they're showing like, about the US, but here in Russia."
[00:04:11] And then it wasn't till the next day that they were walking in downtown Moscow and they were, they saw a newspaper, but it was still in Russian. And they were like, "This is a really popular and graphic movie." And then they finally found a US newspaper and they had learned of 9/11 while in Moscow and flights were canceled for two weeks.
[00:04:33] Santiago: What a way to find out that 9/11 happened. That's incredible.
[00:04:38] Charli: Yeah.
[00:04:39] Santiago: This is totally off topic, but I have a distinctive memory as a kid of where I was standing and my mom was right there with me when we found out.
[00:04:51] Charli: I don't remember being in Moscow. I've been told the story and I have the Russian newspaper from when that happened, still. Even just hearing that and seeing videos online of when that happened growing up in school, you learn about it, and it's wild. It's, there are no words.
[00:05:09] Santiago: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Growing up, did you ever hear about what the adoption process was like? I remember reading at some point that the Russian government chose to prevent American couples to adopt children from Russia. And so I'm wondering if you can speak to that a little bit and if you know what the experience was like for you. You know, if you've heard stories and, and what it was like for your former parents.
[00:05:38] Charli: I learned about the ban when I was older. And it went into place because there was a lot of mistreatment between Americans adopting Russian kids. They don't do psychological background checks. They do some, some organizations will require them more than others, but it's very easy to pass those. It's just an interview with questions, and then some other things like that. But yeah, it's, it's easy to adopt from there, which is why they were a big place to adopt kids from.
[00:06:10] Santiago: Yeah, I can imagine. I just looked it up and it was signed into law at the end of 2012 and became effective January 1st of 2013.
[00:06:19] Charli: Yeah.
[00:06:20] Santiago: How old were you when you set foot on US soil?
[00:06:24] Charli: I was about a year and a half when I first came. And I came in through Dulles International, which is near Ashburn, Virginia, which is the very north part of Virginia.
[00:06:37] Santiago: Were your former parents living in Virginia at that time? Like, did you just grow up in Virginia that whole time?
[00:06:42] Charli: Yeah, so I grew up the whole time in Gainesville, Virginia. Gainesville is kind of in the middle of nothing. You're not close to malls. You're not close to the airport. To really go to any major, like the mall or the airport or really anything bigger than that, it's um, like a 45 minute drive. So it's kind of isolated. When people grow up in Gainesville, they typically grow up and stay there.
[00:07:08] Santiago: Hmm okay, so it's one of those towns where, yeah, you either get out or you stay in for, for life.
[00:07:14] Charli: Yeah, and it's got just enough stuff there that, like, you don't really need to leave. They have a Target, they have a Cabela's, they've got Ross in Warrenton which is, Warrenton and Gainesville are like, where they're together. So yeah, you don't really leave.
[00:07:31] Santiago: What are some of your earliest memories growing up Adventist? Like, what was it like to have all of these things that were maybe different about you from the kids that you grew up around?
[00:07:43] Charli: So early memories, I, a lot of my friends were Adventist, because I went to an Adventist school called MAPS, Manassas Adventist Preparatory School. It's in Virginia, and it's a very small school. It's like two floors. It's tiny. There's like three classrooms, that's it. And you've got three grades per classroom.
[00:08:06] Santiago: Oh, wow.
[00:08:07] Charli: So my class had first through, no, it was kindergarten through third, so yeah. So I was there my first grade.
[00:08:17] Santiago: Did anything about that school in particular stand out to you? Other than, you know, being tiny and having multiple grades in a classroom?
[00:08:25] Charli: My dad did the school logo. He was a graphic design artist, and so he took pictures of all the kids and created the school's website for them and did that. The classroom was small, especially with that many grades in one room. So you had a lot of different ages around you. But at the same time you're still so close in age that it doesn't really do a whole bunch.
[00:08:54] I remember there was a lot of independent time because the one teacher is teaching those three different grades, and where they're at. And so it's like, when she's working with the third graders, you're doing your own thing for kindergarten and first grade and second grade and so on. And so it was a lot of independent stuff, and religious, very, very religious. Uniforms and praying before and at the end of class, and just Bible study. Everything, like, learning about plants, and learning about the planet, you get the religious stuff enmeshed into it.
[00:09:33] Santiago: Oh, I'm sure. I mean, I don't think I've met any Adventist or spoken to any Adventist who didn't grow up with Young Earth Creationism, right? And so [laughing] I need to do more research on this, but my understanding and I've, I've heard other people who are in this space, make the claim that the modern Young Earth Creationist movement grew in large part thanks to Adventists.
[00:10:00] Thanks in part to Ellen White and thanks in part to some Adventists who had a scientific background, who were scientists of some sort, and strongly believed in Young Earth Creationism and published books or papers on that. So, at some point I need to do a whole deep dive on that, but... Not to get too off topic, I'm curious if you know how far back the Adventist faith goes with your former parents and their family.
[00:10:27] Charli: Yeah, so, my parents did not grow up Seventh-day Adventist. I believe my mom grew up, I think Baptist or Methodist, one of those, and then my dad grew up Catholic. Shortly after they got married, they wanted to find something, church-wise, but they weren't totally aligning with the views of the Catholic church and the Methodist or Baptist church that my mom was in, and so they kind of church hopped for a while, and then I think they eventually found Adventism. And then they were baptized together in the Adventist church.
[00:11:02] Santiago: Interesting, okay. What were Sabbath mornings like for you growing up?
[00:11:08] Charli: Chaotic. I think most people that grow up Seventh-day Adventist, Saturday mornings are chaotic. Oh man, even now, like, that I'm out of Seventh-day Adventism, on my Saturday mornings, I'm like, "Where's the chaos?" It feels really, like, even five years out, I'm like, uneasy Saturday mornings. I'm like, "What do I do with myself on Saturdays?" "Can I go do something or do I need to go sit on a lake for the day?" "Like, can I go shopping?"
[00:11:41] But yeah, so Saturday mornings for me were very chaotic. It was getting church clothes on and it's not your regular clothes, it's church clothes. And you have a specific wardrobe for church. Things have to meet the right length, can't be inappropriate, and has to be modest. Your hair has to be curled, and, yeah, no, it was chaotic. And then getting out the door was just a whole thing, yeah.
[00:12:07] Once you got to church, it was less chaotic, but those first, like, five minutes in church, it's like, get to your preschool class, get to your, get to your Sabbath school class, get there, get settled, and then church happens. And then you have to sit there for an hour, and not move. Become a statue. Literally.
[00:12:28] Santiago: I think I've mentioned this before, but my brother and I, when we were pretty young, we would have coloring books to keep ourselves entertained. And that was something my mom intentionally, like, encouraged us to do. And I feel like we were relatively, like, it was relatively easy for us to kind of be chill and sit down with our coloring books and then as I got older like, you know, pay attention. I actually, and I've talked about this before, like I was the quote unquote "good kid" growing up. So some of this came easy to me.
[00:13:01] Charli: I was the quote unquote "bad kid" growing up.
[00:13:04] Santiago: I want to hear about that in a second. But yeah, I mean, what you just described, I'm sure a ton of people listening right now could relate to. Absolutely, it was chaos with my family, too. Even when I got older. It never, it never stopped being chaos.
[00:13:20] So you've talked about attending a mix of private church schools and public schools. And so you know, I want to hear about your experiences with those different systems. Because some people only went to public school, some people only went to an Adventist or Christian private school.
[00:13:38] There's all these preconceived notions we have about what each of those different systems are like. So I'm curious to hear your take on that, but, you know, walk me through, after you're done at MAP, where did you end up going to school after that?
[00:13:51] Charli: Yeah, so after MAPS, I went to another private school. It was for second grade. I believe it was called Teaching the Basics? Yeah, I don't remember which denomination it was. I know for a fact it was not Adventist. I think it was more non-denominational.
[00:14:11] And I had transferred there primarily because earlier when I say that I was the quote unquote "bad kid," at MAPS, Manassas Adventist Preparatory School, they would have stapled into your folder a little calendar and the teacher would stamp green, yellow, or red on every single calendar day when you're at school, to let your parent know if you had a green day, a yellow day, or a red day.
[00:14:37] A red day, you were a "bad kid." Yellow day you were, you're floating, and then a green day, you did great. And the majority of my calendar stamps were red and yellow. There was maybe like one green a month, maybe two.
[00:14:51] Santiago: Oh, man.
[00:14:52] Charli: Yeah.
[00:14:54] Santiago: Do you feel like maybe the teacher had it out for you, or like, you know, do you remember what was going on?
[00:15:00] Charli: I was just a hyperactive kid. I was told growing up that I had ADHD, but that, I'll explain that later. So they chalked it up to ADHD. They switched schools thinking that there was just too many kids in the classroom. And so that's why I went to Teaching the Basics. That was in Haymarket, which is also right next to Gainesville, they're conjoined, basically. So it was minutes away from home, so it was more convenient and closer.
[00:15:27] Santiago: Okay, and were you there like through middle school, or how long did you...
[00:15:31] Charli: No, I was at Teaching the Basics just for second grade, yeah. It was also another short stint.
[00:15:36] Santiago: Throughout any of your earlier education, K-12 education, do you feel like you openly questioned the church's teachings, and did you feel comfortable asking questions?
[00:15:49] Charli: Absolutely, yeah. I questioned it all the time. I questioned it when I was at SVA,
[00:15:56] Shenandoah Valley Academy, which is the Seventh-day Adventist school in New Market, Virginia. It's a boarding school. That is pretty much the year that I kind of realized that I was not Seventh-day Adventist, or at least at the time, didn't agree with the teachings and how things were run.
[00:16:14] I think, I think what kind of started it was more of just the rules and the weird hang ups that the school had that started the detour with my faith path. But even before that, I had questioned things through middle school because I went to a public middle school as well.
[00:16:31] Santiago: Okay, interesting. Thinking about your experience at that public middle school, do you feel like there were things that you learned there that kind of challenged what you had learned at your previous schools, or what was that like?
[00:16:44] Charli: Yeah, it definitely challenged things. It was very different. There are kids that have all sorts of interests. When you're in the Adventist church, they kind of bubble you and they shelter you and they, you can only get advice from people that are Adventist, and if you go to somebody outside the Adventist church, to take that advice with a grain of salt and ignore it, because that's not "correct."
[00:17:10] And so once in middle school and you hear different things and you get to finally read books in school that are not particularly allowed in Seventh-day Adventist schools, things broaden for you. Music taste gets broadened in middle school. It was in middle school I finally got an iPod for the first time, like an iPod touch 4th gen. And I discovered YouTube and music and it wasn't the church music.
[00:17:38] The first time I heard rap I was like, "Why are they screaming?" And yeah, but the music was a big one for me because it wasn't, a lot of music is not faith based or even anywhere close to that. It was very different to learn music at school, learn friends' interests. Like anime, anime is something that Seventh-day Adventists are just not in.
[00:18:06] They're just not, they don't associate with anime, and they don't, they just don't. Pretty much anything that's a cartoon, they're just like, "Nope, that's not VeggieTales." If it's VeggieTales, you can watch it. That's a cartoon. But if it's not VeggieTales, then reject it, because it's not faith based, you know?
[00:18:23] Santiago: I, yeah, I definitely remember VeggieTales. I actually alluded to it in the trailer for the podcast because that is, uh, I have some fond memories of watching VeggieTales growing up.
[00:18:35] Charli: I still kind of like VeggieTales. Like, it's kind of funny, kind of cute, like...
[00:18:41] Santiago: I agree, but then at the same time, like I was thinking about the one that they did about Jericho and the walls coming down.
[00:18:50] And, you know, they make it look very cutesy with like slushies or whatever. But then when you think about the actual Bible story that that comes from...
[00:19:00] Charli: Oh, it's dark.
[00:19:02] Santiago: It's very dark and I was like, man, they're really making light of an incredibly, incredibly dark story. But yeah, I mean, I feel like what you just described, I'm sure, you know, is true in tons of parts of the country and, and of the world. Where Adventists are super insular and things that you described like anime and certain types of music, absolutely, you know, not permitted, not even really aware.
[00:19:28] But it probably depends on where you are because my experience going to an Adventist school, it was just, you know, a K-12 school and I was there for part of middle school. I actually got exposed to rap and to other types of music at that school, which is pretty funny because like I grew up being super sheltered, being homeschooled.
[00:19:48] And then my quote unquote, like "rebellious phase," if you want to call it that, was when I finally went to a quote unquote "real school" for the first time. And so, like, growing up on the West Coast, growing up in somewhat of a larger city, the kids were Adventist, they grew up Adventist, many of them still are, and they're still kind of deep in their faith.
[00:20:08] Charli: It's hard to leave the Adventist church.
[00:20:10] Santiago: Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely. But what I noticed was, they were definitely more open to, just like popular culture in general, which is an interesting contrast. There's definitely a different flavor, I think, in different parts of the country. So, not to take away from anything of what you said, because that's absolutely valid.
[00:20:30] Charli: Yeah, even like where I was growing up, depending on the church that you went to, all the churches were very different. Like, the church that I went to, women were in dresses, men were in suits. You had to be very put together. But then, later, once my family and I had switched churches, the church that we ended up going to was called Greater Than I.
[00:20:51] And that church, there was a snack table, the band had drums, which are not allowed. The Manassas Seventh-day Adventist church would not allow drums in their band, and I remember that being a whole thing. But the Greater Than I church had a woman pastor, had drums, had the snack table, and people were showing up in jeans and a hoodie. I was one of those people.
[00:21:19] Santiago: Nice.
[00:21:21] Charli: I remember walking in, I'm like, "If this is a Seventh-day Adventism that it could be, like, I want this versus whatever that was."
[00:21:30] Santiago: Right, right. No, it's so funny because you're basically describing with Manassas, it sounds pretty similar to the church that I grew up in, despite being on the other side of the country and being surrounded by, you know, more quote unquote "liberal" churches. I'm pretty sure that we had at least one or two, kind of like the one that you described where yeah, you could show up in jeans and a hoodie and you'd fit right in.
[00:21:52] Charli: Yeah, I remember my family and I had taken a road trip to, uh, Florida, and then on the drive back up from Florida back to Virginia, it was early Saturday morning and they were like, "You wanna go to church?" And we're all looking at each other like, we're in PJs. I'm literally in sweatpants and a t-shirt, like, what? Like a Victoria's Secret sweatpants. And I'm walking into church, and I'm like, "I'm so sorry that I'm in sweatpants." And the pastor was like, "I don't really care, you're here." And I'm like, wow, okay.
[00:22:22] Santiago: Yeah, it is wild to see the variation that can exist and to be quite honest, like I, I have not experienced the full gamut of Adventism, right? I'll hear some people online who are definitely pretty progressive Adventists, and they're describing the church that I grew up in as being "fringe." And I'm like, no, I don't feel like the church I grew up in was fringe. I feel like that was the default and y'all were the fringe ones. We were looking at the progressive and liberal Adventists and being like, "Y'all are not Adventist."
[00:22:57] Charli: "Y'all are crazy."
[00:23:00] Santiago: So it's yeah, it's so interesting to see. So I'm curious like, in these different Adventist churches that you went to, were you actively taught about the end times? Did you have anxiety about death or the afterlife or things like that?
[00:23:16] Charli: I didn't really have anxiety about death in early life, because I had never been exposed to death. Grandparents at the time hadn't passed away. Everybody was healthy in my family, in my social circle. But end of times was definitely always mentioned in school, growing up at MAPS. It's, it's weird.
[00:23:39] Santiago: No, that's totally fair. I feel like it's, it's very different for different people.
[00:23:43] Charli: Yeah, at SVA, at Shenandoah Valley Academy, they have a thing for seniors their last year there. It's called Senior Survival, where you pretty much go on this weird camping trip to the middle of the woods, and you learn basic survival skills. And then you, like, pretty much run a bunch in the woods, like you're actively running from the world exploding around you, like...
[00:24:08] Both: [Laughing]
[00:24:10] Santiago: I'm so glad you mentioned that because I made a TikTok about that after hearing other people talk about it because I didn't experience that. And I had some lady in the comments who is Adventist. It sounded like she's maybe outside of North America, because she was like, "You're lying." "I've never heard of that before."
[00:24:31] Charli: Oh no, that's absolutely a thing.
[00:24:34] Santiago: And it's like, yeah, I keep finding more and more people who experienced this. Even when I was in Pathfinders, I don't feel like there was this huge, like, "Oh, we're preparing for end times." You know, I think, obviously, that is definitely a component of Pathfinders, but I don't, I feel like it wasn't really played up that, that much, at least not in my conference, or in my particular church.
[00:24:59] Charli: Was your Pathfinders like, gender divided? So like, girls and boys, or were they combined?
[00:25:08] Santiago: No, it's combined, and so we would have the 10 year olds, the first, the first level that you're in, like, all the way through, you know, Guide and then Master Guide and whatnot. Everybody was combined. So when it came to like classroom time, we would have girls and boys together at the same table.
[00:25:27] And, obviously when you're going camping and things like that, there would be separate tents. And you would only have female staff members sleeping in the same tents as female Pathfinders. And same with the guys. But it wasn't like, uh, you know, you had a separate Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts type of thing.
[00:25:46] Charli: Yeah, I was not allowed to participate in Pathfinders, and the reason for that was because the things that they did were not — what my parents had said was that they didn't like the things that they were even having girls do, which would be more "boy specific" things. Like the camping and the fire starting and different things like that. So I was put into Girl Scouts.
[00:26:12] Santiago: Wow, that's interesting.
[00:26:13] Charli: Where I learned how to knit and to bake and to draw things. I learned really well how to sell cookies.
[00:26:22] Santiago: Oh, I'm sure. Do you have a favorite?
[00:26:25] Charli: They don't sell them anymore, but they're Savannah Smiles. They're kind of like these lemony triangles. They had them selling for maybe like two years and then they discontinued them, and they're so freaking good. But the standard that are still, are Thin Mints that are amazing.
[00:26:39] Santiago: Yeah, no, Thin Mints are good. I like, um, is it Samoas?
[00:26:44] Charli: Samoas, the coconut ones?
[00:26:45] Santiago: Yeah, I like those. Thin Mints are really good, too.
[00:26:49] Charli: Yeah.
[00:26:49] Santiago: That's so interesting though that your parents would rather have you go to Girl Scouts so that you could do stereotypically girl activities instead of being in a co-ed Adventist Path — that's so interesting. And I feel like that's a perfect example of how even if you grow up in the same church, your experience will vary differently just based off of your parents and their own kind of beliefs about whatever, you know, including gender. It sounds like your former parents had a very, very like heteronormative, as I imagine most Adventist parents, but they really wanted to enforce those gender roles, it sounds like.
[00:27:30] Charli: Yeah, especially, like, camping. I have never been camping. I'm going camping for the first time and I'm, like, texting my friends being like, "I'm kinda nervous, I'm gonna be sleeping in a tent." They're like, "Haven't you done this since you were a kid?" And I'm like, "No, in fact, I have not."
[00:27:44] Santiago: Oh man, well, I just gotta say, I hope you have a good time.
[00:27:49] Charli: Me too!
[00:27:50] Santiago: You're in an amazing state to do that. I'm excited for you.
[00:27:54] Charli: Thank you.
[00:27:55] Santiago: So I'm curious, like throughout all of this, do you feel like you experienced moments that were spiritual or supernatural?
[00:28:03] Charli: Yes.
[00:28:04] Santiago: Okay.
[00:28:05] Charli: Um, one immediately comes to mind. We were gonna go to Florida. We did a lot of trips because I had cousins that lived in Florida, so we would always drive down there. And, um, I, growing up, I did not have an iPad. I had one of those DVD players that just sit on your lap, and you put the DVD in and you can watch it.
[00:28:24] And I remember looking, I was wanting, I was very into the Barbie movies at the time, and so I was looking for this one specific Barbie movie. I found it on the shelf, but then I opened up the jacket and the disc wasn't in there. It was just totally empty. And I remember in that moment, questioning God, and I closed my eyes and I put — I crossed my fingers together and I was just like, "Okay, God, if you're real, tell me which movie jacket my disc is in." Thinking that that would work.
[00:28:53] And then for some reason, my brain just immediately went to check this one. I pulled it off the shelf, I opened it up, and I'm like, "The disc isn't in here! But then I realized that there were two discs stacked on top of each other, and the movie that I wanted was underneath the one made for that one. And I was just like, "Maybe God is real, maybe." Because I found my movie.
[00:29:19] Santiago: Amazing. I love that. I feel like, yeah, I feel like growing up, a lot of us probably had moments like that. I'm sure, I can't think of a specific time as a kid, but I, I, I got to imagine that I had something like that. You know, there's, there's the ones where you're like, oh, I lost my wallet or I lost my keys or whatever.
[00:29:42] So we talked a little bit earlier about gender roles. And I'm sure this is going to keep coming up, but I'm curious, you know, going to these different Adventist and Christian schools, what did purity culture look like for you? How do you think it affected you and your peers?
[00:29:59] Charli: Just in general, sex ed, I was pulled — so when I was in public school, 'cause at Seventh-day Adventist schools, they just don't talk about it. That's just shoved in the closet and locked away. But then when I went to public schools, typically what they do is they will take all the kids out of their classroom, separate them boys' group, girls' group.
[00:30:18] Go into different gyms, or one's in the library, one's in the gym, and they would have that gender of teacher. So if it's for the girls' group, they'd have women teaching about it, and then if it's the boys, the men would be teaching it to them.
[00:30:31] The school, typically like a week or two before the sex ed class happens, you go home in your folder with a sign up thing. Meaning the parent is okay with you taking sex ed, or not okay with you taking sex ed. I was always taken out of sex ed, so I didn't actually learn anything until I got my period for the first time, which was at like, 16. Which is late to be learning things, especially when you're in a public high school. Like, I had heard things, but I didn't know what those things meant, if that makes sense.
[00:31:04] Santiago: Wow.
[00:31:05] Charli: Yeah, so it was kind of like a language that they just had and I didn't have it.
[00:31:10] Santiago: Yeah, yeah, no, absolutely. Wow. If you don't mind me asking, was that conversation with your former mom? Like, how did that...
[00:31:21] Charli: Yeah, it was, I [laughing], it's actually really funny. I was having a sleepover. My two friends who were also Seventh-day Adventist were over. And I woke up in the middle of the night with my stomach hurting and I was like, "This is so weird." So I just like went to the bathroom. I thought I was dying 'cause I didn't know what a period was, either.
[00:31:39] And so I woke my mom up in the middle of the night just poking her shoulder, being like, "Wake up!" "Mom, wake up!" And she finally woke up and she's like, "What do you want?" And I'm like, "I'm bleeding from down there." And she was just like, "It's your period, there's stuff in the bathroom for it."
[00:31:55] And I'm like, "Okay..." Didn't know what a pad was, didn't know what a tampon was. And so, I went to my friends and I'm like, "I think I got my, my mom says I got my period." And they're like, "Oh yay!" Like I had joined a club. And I'm like, these are two very different reactions. Mom's like, it's whatever, go get shit. And then friends are like, cheering.
[00:32:19] Um, they're like, "Finally!" And they were like, "Did you get anything?" And I'm like, "I don't know what to get." "She said it's in her bathroom." So we very quietly tiptoed into her room again. Into her bathroom, closed her bathroom doors. And we're just like, whispering under the counter, rummaging through, trying to find something.
[00:32:41] And so they found the tampons first, and so they gave me that. And I was like, "Okay, I guess I'll do this." And they're like, "Yeah, you just push the thing and you're good." And I'm like, "Great, that's easy." Turns out, for years, and I learned when I was 18, so from 16 to 18, I have been using tampons incorrectly. I was leaving the plastic inserted. I pressed it, but then just left it.
[00:33:07] Santiago: Oh, no....
[00:33:09] Charli: [Laughing]
[00:33:12] Santiago: This is why sex education is important, people. Any parents who are listening who, you know, not for religious reasons necessarily, but just because you're embarrassed, get over your embarrassment and talk to your children, because it is important.
[00:33:29] Charli: Yeah, I always like, kept wondering, I was like, "I'm using these but they're not really working." "They're not really doing anything." And it's uncomfortable, it's kind of painful, because the plastic's still there. And I remember telling my friend, like, when I was 18, like, older, and we were hanging out, I was like, finally got the courage, and I was just like, "Can I ask you a really weird question?"
[00:33:53] And she's like, "Sure." And I'm like, "Are tampons really uncomfortable and pinchy for you?" And she's like, "No, I don't even feel it." And I'm like, "What are you doing that I'm not doing?" And she was like, "What are you doing?" And so I explained to her, I'm like, "I'm leaving the plastic." And she, like, her eyes got massive. And she was like, "No, oh my god."
[00:34:17] Santiago: Wow.
[00:34:17] Charli: It was a really uncomfortable coffee shop conversation. But it, you know, I learned. And they no longer hurt, so...
[00:34:25] Santiago: Oh, I'm glad to hear that. Now that is, I can only try to imagine experiencing that A, in the first place, but B, for two years? And then finding out from a friend? Wow. Yeah, please, parents, give your kids the information they need when they need it. Oh, man, okay.
[00:34:46] Going back a little bit to more kind of theology stuff, I'm curious, did your Adventist communities that you grew up in place a big emphasis on Ellen White, or did you mainly hear people talking about having a relationship with Jesus? Like, what was that like?
[00:35:03] Charli: So I heard a lot of names growing up. I heard Ellen White, and I heard Bill Gothard being brought up a lot. Isn't he more IBLP stuff? Yeah, so my parents were very, they loved Bill Gothard. They had so I, I think he's got some books out, like he, they had so much on him.
[00:35:25] Santiago: I have to ask, have you seen Shiny Happy People?
[00:35:29] Charli: Yes, I didn't think that I would relate just because it was IBLP, but then the more that I was watching it, the more I was like, "Oh wait, that was my home life." That wasn't necessarily the Seventh-day Adventist church, really, that I was in, like my group of people, but especially internally behind closed doors at home, that was very much how it was.
[00:35:52] Santiago: Wow, okay. I'm so glad you mentioned that because I watched Shiny Happy People, I think pretty much when it came out. And I know Melissa's been talking about it. I follow somebody who was actually interviewed for the documentary. And it's been very interesting to hear her experience.
[00:36:08] If I'm not mistaken, she left an abusive marriage as a woman who had already had children and kind of started her life over. And so it's, it's so interesting to see, again, how the Adventist experience can vary so widely because as much as many Adventists like to be insular, sometimes they will take things from outside sources if they feel like it fits within their particular worldview.
[00:36:34] Charli: Right, but then they're constantly telling you to not branch out from Seventh-day Adventism, like I had said earlier with advice, just getting general life advice about dating, about clothes, or whatever. It's like, if you ask somebody who's not part of the Seventh-day Adventist church, to just take that with a grain of salt and ignore it, 'cause that's not the way that we should be think — like that's, they don't think the same way we do, you know?
[00:37:00] Santiago: Melissa and I talked about how there's this, there's all these weird inconsistencies that you'll find. Double standards, left and right. And so I'm sure maybe we could chalk it up to that. So speaking of inconsistencies, you've mentioned that, you know, one of your former Adventist churches had a pastor who is a woman.
[00:37:21] That was definitely a thing that my church was, I would say, pretty opposed to. Without getting into specifics, there were some members who were definitely not in favor of that. I remember being on the fence back in 2015 when that was voted on at the General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas. I actually attended that.
[00:37:43] I was genuinely on the fence and I was like, "Oh, well, I feel like people on both sides have good faith arguments," and blah, blah, blah. And now looking back, I'm like, no, the church is deeply patriarchal, deeply misogynistic. That's where this comes from. Like, and not just the Adventist church, but the Abrahamic religions as a whole.
[00:38:03] Charli: Yeah. The first time that I met Pastor Jen, she, I was, I was very new to the United States, and my family, we went to the Vienna Church, Vienna Seventh-day Adventist Church. And that's where my baby dedication was and everything, and so I remember growing up and seeing her there.
[00:38:25] But at that church, they had the primary pastor, and then if he was out of town or whatever, Pastor Jen would speak. But she would always be there, but do kind of more sideline stuff, and was never really the "pastor pastor," if that makes sense.
[00:38:40] Santiago: Sure.
[00:38:41] Charli: Or at least from my view of it, she never seemed like "the" pastor, even though I think that was what her role was. I'm not too sure but, yeah, it was, it was cool to see a woman up there but I was always kind of like "Why is she always just sitting in the chair over there?"
[00:38:58] Santiago: Hmm, yeah.
[00:39:00] Charli: And then we had left the Vienna Church and went back to the Manassas Church. The Manassas Church is where I spent the longest. And then, there was a whole situation where my dad had gotten knee surgery, and my dad, at the time, he said that he was very kind of like, shy, and didn't want to make it known that he had gotten knee surgery. And he didn't want to make it a whole big deal.
[00:39:27] And during one of the sermons, the pastor had mentioned, during, like mid sermon, during the prayer part during church where the mic gets passed around and prayer requests go out and then we all kneel and pray. But the pastor added in at the very end being like, "Please keep Charlotte's," or my former name, Rachel. So I grew up as Rachel Grace. He was like, "Please keep Rachel's dad in your prayers and thoughts." "He just had knee surgery." And meanwhile my dad was sitting in the back, and I'm sitting there with him, and I remember him getting so upset.
[00:40:01] Because he didn't want to make it known that he just had knee surgery, even though his leg was literally in a cast with crutches and a wheelchair, like you, you stick out like a sore thumb, it's gonna get mentioned or brought up. And it got brought up during prayer, and we left mid prayer. Like everybody was praying. And he like, my dad grabbed my arm and like, he was like, "We're leaving, Rachel." And I was just like, "Okay." So like literally mid prayer, we get yanked out of it.
[00:40:31] Santiago: Wow.
[00:40:32] Charli: And we left, and we went back to the Vienna Church for a few months.
[00:40:38] Santiago: Oh, really?
[00:40:39] Charli: Yeah, we like we just totally ghosted the church. It was a whole thing. He was mad. I remember us having conversations like at home and my dad, we were all in his bedroom with my mom and my brother, and it was bizarre because he was just boiling. He was sitting in the chair. He was red. He was so mad that that got brought up during prayer that he, I don't know.
[00:41:05] Santiago: I mean, it just... It kind of just goes to show, I feel like this is common within Adventist circles. It's like, things are going to get mentioned whether you want them to or not.
[00:41:15] Charli: Oh yeah, no, everybody knows everything about everybody. There's no secrets.
[00:41:18] Santiago: I literally used to say that, especially when I went to the Adventist school. I remember describing it exactly like that to other people. Everyone knows everything about everybody because it's a small community.
[00:41:31] Charli: Yeah, like if somebody's fish died, you know about it. If somebody's toilet's not working, you know about it. If somebody lost their right shoe, everybody knows.
[00:41:40] Santiago: Yeah, oh man. Do you know if part of the reason why he was angry is 'cause he had this expectation of privacy?
[00:41:48] Charli: I think it was privacy. I think it was just something that was personal. He didn't really want to go into why he had knee surgery, which I, I think it was just because of years of racquetball and track and, um, pole vaulting that he did as a kid that, like, it just screwed up his knees. So it wasn't really any, it wasn't like cancer, it wasn't something more significant that I would see more need for privacy on why he got knee surgery.
[00:42:16] Like, if you're getting knee surgery, it's either because of something major medically. Or because of sports injuries or aging or whatever and it's just like it is what it is. If it's sports, just say it's from sports. Like I get that some people are still super cagey about it but I guess that's just me and my view on how that all went down. But yeah, I remember we left the church. We just got the hell out of dodge from them and went back to Vienna.
[00:42:45] And we were at Vienna for months, and then that pastor from the Manassas church actually showed up once at the Vienna church for a weekend to say hi to some people there. And we were there, and they had a conversation. I remember them sitting down and talking about it, and then we ended up going back again to the Manassas church.
[00:43:07] Santiago: I can't remember a time where my parents got in such a heated disagreement that we left, but I definitely do remember some words being exchanged every now and then, or then hearing my parents later after the fact, talking about words that were exchanged.
[00:43:24] Charli: Mmhmm.
[00:43:25] Santiago: I feel like, you know, in any community, you're going to find some disagreements, you're going to find people that you just naturally don't get along with. But I feel like sometimes, in certain religious communities, it's heightened by the fact that there is this religious component to it. In this case, sharing something that somebody didn't want shared,
[00:43:47] up front, with a mic, as a prayer request. I feel like there's, uh, I feel like I've definitely seen some jokes, some memes, or like some reels thrown around where people are like, yeah, "If Christians want to gossip, they just call it a prayer request."
[00:44:02] Both: [Laughing]
[00:44:05] Charli: Oh my gosh, yes.
[00:44:07] Santiago: I feel like there's definitely some truth to that.
[00:44:09] Charli: No, absolutely. Yeah, no, if somebody learns something about another family that's dealing through something, they'll be like, "I just want to like send up a prayer request for this family." "They're really going through it," and then they'll give every detail about it. And then it's just considered a prayer request. But it's just sharing everybody's business everywhere.
[00:44:32] Santiago: Yeah, and I got to imagine that, that is part of the reason why, at least for some of us growing up, I feel like we had parents who were very concerned with keeping certain things private. My mom, she hasn't mentioned it recently because we haven't talked about it too much. But when I shared with her, "Hey, I'm not Adventist anymore." "I'm not religious anymore."
[00:44:58] Like she was very concerned, first of all for my salvation, for my safety, for me as a person, but then the, the very next thing was "Don't tell other people because I don't want them to know, because what are they gonna say?" "And I don't want the pity phone calls and the messages on Facebook."
[00:45:18] Charli: And prayer...
[00:45:20] Santiago: Yeah, exactly. And so I got to imagine some of this aspect of close community and everybody knowing everything about everyone. I could be going off nothing, but I feel like there's maybe a connection there. Can you think of other instances where your parents, you know, were secretive, former parents were secretive, or trying to keep things secret? I mean, I can only imagine, uh, that there were some things.
[00:45:47] Charli: Oh yes, lots of things. I remember there was like, tons of things that they just didn't want me telling people in general. They, like, if we went to family dinners, they'd give me a rundown of being like, "Don't talk about this, don't talk about this, don't talk about this." Or it's like going to a party with church friends being like, "We're dealing with this, but we're not telling people that we're dealing with this."
[00:46:09] And I feel like in the Adventist church, like, while there's so much gossip and everybody knows everybody, you also really don't know everybody. Because of everybody's just putting on a mask and they tell you what you, what they want to share, but then they're hiding mountains behind them.
[00:46:27] Santiago: Yeah, no, absolutely. The way that you just worded that makes me think of social media. I feel like as a society we've definitely done more and more of that as we become more and more online. But, absolutely, I think we grew up in the analog version of that where you're doing it in person.
[00:46:47] Charli: Yeah, yeah, so it was pretty much social media before it was social media, in the church.
[00:46:53] Santiago: You've been pretty open about running away from home when you got older. And you have been cautious in terms of what you've shared because of TikTok content moderation rules and just social media content moderation rules in general. Like we were talking about before we started recording, you know, I want to give you the space to feel comfortable in sharing whatever you feel comfortable sharing. We know that police got involved at some point. Child Protective Services got involved at some point.
[00:47:29] Charli: Multiple times, yep.
[00:47:30] Santiago: And so I'm wondering, was this earlier on, as a younger child? Was this kind of throughout your time with your former parents? Like, what, what happened? What made you decide to run away?
[00:47:43] Charli: I ran away June 10th 2018 at 3:30 in the morning. Very freaking early. I did not sleep that night. It was, I was, I was a train wreck. So abuse had been going on continuously from being a child all the way up until I was 18 and when I ran away.
[00:48:05] It started very slowly. It started with him screaming at me, making me stand in front of the front door with my arms up in a T, for hours. And it would be painful. And it got to the point where it's like, every time my father wasn't looking, I would put my arms down to just like, 'cause my hands were going numb from being in that position.
[00:48:26] My shoulders hurt lowering them, and then they hurt real bad raising them back up. I'm surprised I don't have shoulder issues. Um, so, that was a big start. Or even just like, standing and looking at the door, that was a start. The first rough one was having to eat a bar of soap. Which typically, that would go along with lying, I had lied about my grades.
[00:48:52] Which, my public school had a thing called Parent Portal, which essentially was where parents can log in, check their kids' grades, see notes from the teachers about what, what's missing, and what they can do to remake that or fix the grade or whatever. And I had said that my grades were doing really good, but they were definitely not.
[00:49:12] They, I had like a D in English. I had an F in math. I was not doing well in school. And I had lied about it, and he, my dad came into like, bolting into my room, he was screaming at the top of his lungs. He was screaming so close to my face that his spit was landing all over my face. And he was like, "Get in the bathroom."
[00:49:35] And so I went into the bathroom, he sat me down on the tub, and I, he unwrapped a fresh bar of soap. And he was like, I want you to eat all four corners, big bites, of this bar to learn your lesson on lying to me. And I took one bite, and I had to chew it. I could not just swallow it. He made me chew it. He was like, "Are you chewing?" "Are you chewing?" And I'm like, "I'm definitely chewing." My mouth was tingling, my throat was on fire from the soap. It was some weird soap. It hurt so bad to chew that and swallow it and it made me so sick.
[00:50:15] And then he turned the bar to the next corner and he held it and he would put it into my mouth so that way the bite was a solid bite and not just a little sliver of the corner. And he started to put it up to my mouth, and I immediately just put both of my hands over my mouth, because I couldn't do another bite. And it was just, I had just done the first bite, and there were three more to do. And I put my hands over my mouth, and he was like,
[00:50:39] "Move your fucking hands," and he was cursing at me, screaming at me. His spit was still on me, his face was red, his eyes were red, he was mad. And I just, I shook my head "No" with my hands over my mouth, and he grabbed both of my wrists and lifted my whole body up off the toilet seat because I had like held on so tightly to my face, that I did not want him moving my mouth, like my hands from my mouth.
[00:51:10] And so I had to cave, like I was not coming out of this, like, it was just gonna prolong him doing this. So I sucked it up, and I ate the last four corners, and then chewed them, swallowed it, and then he gave me some soap water. He took another, he took a little bit of a sliver, put it in water, made me drink that.
[00:51:31] And then he sent me to my room, and he was like, "I'm gonna come back in five minutes, and we're gonna talk about this." 'Cause I think he was trying to go calm himself down. Which, he didn't get calm, he just got worse. He, when he came back into my room, I was sitting on my bed, and he continued to scream at me, and then all of a sudden I just puked on the floor.
[00:51:52] Because of the soap in my system, like, I had soap in my stomach, which is not good, so I puked a few times. And he was like, "I don't want to have to do this again," and I was just like, it's, "I, I don't want to do it again." And he was like, "Fine, clean it up." So I had to clean up my own puke off my carpet, and it was...
[00:52:12] Santiago: Wow.
[00:52:12] Charli: That was like my first memory of just things, like, abuse being different, and it not being okay.
[00:52:22] Santiago: If you don't mind me asking, do you remember, more or less, how old you were when this happened?
[00:52:27] Charli: I think I was 10. And before 10, it was a lot of spankings and arm grabbing. There was one situation where I had had a really rough day at school, and I came home crying, and then he had been yelling at me all morning about my grades, and he was dropping me off at school. And I was so tired of him yelling at me, and I was in the carpool line for middle school, and I'm trying to get out of the car, put my backpack on, and I open the car door. And he grabs, he reaches across from me, slams the door closed, and he goes, "Do not fucking get out of this car."
[00:53:03] And he had grabbed so hard on my upper arm and I was like, "You don't fucking touch me." And I got out of the car and just like walked into school and just broke down. My one teacher saw me in the hallway and she was like, "Are you okay?" And I was like, "No." She's like, "Do you want to talk about it?" And I was like, "No." And she was like, "Are you really okay?" And I just immediately started sobbing. Hyperventilating sobbing.
[00:53:26] And so I told her he was yelling at me about my grades and she was like, "Yeah, like we can work on that." "We'll get your grades better." But I don't think she knew to, because I didn't tell her to the extent of what he had done with making me eat soap, grabbing my arm in the car, and screaming at me so badly, that nothing was really done.
[00:53:45] So early memories were spankings, and they were the spankings where they were on my butt. I had to pull, I had to pull my pants down and my underwear off, lean over his knee, and it would be directly on my butt.
[00:53:56] Santiago: Hmm, I'm just getting flashbacks of the documentary we just talked about. Well, also flashbacks of my childhood. Not to say that we had the same experience because I feel like mine, I did get spankings. Both my parents believed in corporal punishment, but not to that extent.
[00:54:14] The one time that I did experience something that scared both me and my mom... I don't know if I've already shared this before, but she was spanking me with a belt and just, I, I was running away from her because I, I didn't, I didn't want to go through that. And so, she's very upset in this moment and she's chasing me through the house with this belt. And she didn't realize that she had grabbed on to the side without the buckle.
[00:54:49] So the side that's loose is the buckle. And she ends up lashing out with the belt toward me, and I get this gash just like, I think it was like just below my eye. And, you know, it wasn't intentional. As best as I can remember, she immediately apologized and she got ice. And she was like, "I didn't mean to do that." "You know I didn't mean to do that."
[00:55:17] And I believed her. I don't, I don't think she meant to do that. But I distinctively remember her telling me not to tell other people that that happened, just to say that I fell down while I was playing. Because I was going to go ice skating with some Adventist friends right after that happened. They were gonna come pick me up, and so like, yeah, it was the worst possible timing in terms of, you know, concealing, uh, the effects of corporal punishment, intended or not.
[00:55:49] Charli: I'm so sorry that happened!
[00:55:52] Santiago: Yeah, so I just remember sitting in the back of the car and of course, my friend's mom asks me, she's like, "Are you okay?" "Like what happened?" I was like, "Oh yeah, I'm okay, I fell." "I was playing," like I did what my mom asked me to do. Because she had told me, I remember her telling me, "Some teachers, some other people, don't believe in spanking their kids." "And if they hear that I'm spanking you, they're gonna call Child Protective Services and they're gonna take you away from me." "Do you want that to happen?"
[00:56:26] Charli: I was told that as well.
[00:56:27] Santiago: Again, I'm not trying to say they're anything like what you experienced. I'm just trying to relate on whatever level I can. And hearing you say that kind of validates this assumption I have had, which is parents, whether they have good intentions behind what they're doing or not, they are going to tell their kids whatever it takes so that what happens at home, that they don't want to get out, is going to stay at home as much as possible.
[00:56:56] Charli: Yeah, and they always say "It hurts me more than it hurts you." Which, no, you're not on the physical end. Maybe emotionally it does maybe hurt you. But like, physically, it hurts!
[00:57:08] Santiago: Yeah, yeah. We've gotten to the point where you're more or less ten years old.
[00:57:12] Charli: Mmhmm.
[00:57:12] Santiago: And so now you've spoken to this teacher, but nothing really came of that. What happened after that?
[00:57:18] Charli: This is where we might want to put a trigger warning for self harm. I didn't have an outlet, I wasn't in therapy, wasn't allowed to do therapy. I couldn't do a whole lot, my world just kind of kept shrinking, especially with a child going to a public school at this time, I was in middle school. And the only outlet that I had seen other people in public schools, that you don't see really in Seventh-day Adventist schools, is self harming.
[00:57:47] That's just not a thing that people talk about in a Seventh-day Adventist school. It's like, nothing mental health related is brought up. And so, I had seen some friends that had done it. I had kind of had an idea of what it was. And I remember being so sad in my room and I had like, what I think now was a panic attack that I didn't know how to stop.
[00:58:10] And so I was like, "I wonder if this would stop it." And it did, which was scary, because your brain immediately is focused on what's hurting, than internally. And so I started cutting and my teachers noticed, and my guidance counselor was informed. I was brought down to the office and they were like, "Hey, your teacher noticed that you had some cuts on your arm, like, can I have a look at those?" "Do they need bandages?"
[00:58:43] And so I let her see. And she was like, "Do you want to talk about why?" And I was just like, "I don't," I mean I didn't know how to explain to her that I had a panic attack, but I was just like, "I didn't know how to stop the emotions." I remember saying that I didn't know how to stop the emotions.
[00:59:01] And she was like, "Okay, we can definitely look at healthier ways," and then she proceeded to then tell me that my father had been called. And I immediately started panicking. And I was like, "Please don't tell him." "Please don't call him," and she's like, "I'm sorry, but he's already on his way, like, you have to go home today."
[00:59:21] So that's the, that was the school's policy, was if a kid was found to have self harm marks, they had to go home that day and come back to school the next day. Because that would give a family some time to figure out, like, a safety plan. Realistically, and what should happen is the child goes home, a safety plan's put together, talk about why, and not make it shameful.
[00:59:41] Whereas, when my father came and picked me up, he was super nice in front of the guidance counselor. Took me by the hand and squeezed a little too hard. I remember that being a tight hand squeeze. But that was kind of like a subtle, "We're in a school right now, I can't really scream at you," thing.
[00:59:59] Santiago: Mmhmm.
[01:00:01] Charli: And then we got to the car and he just started screaming at me being like "Why the hell are you doing that to your skin?" "God gave you this body." "Don't destroy it," and yada, yada, yada, and we went home and then my mom then was screaming at me. Crying at me, "Don't do that," and yada yada yada. So that was a whole thing.
[01:00:25] Santiago: I can only imagine. And I think what you just said is so important, which is yeah, when, when a kid is doing this, the last thing they need is...
[01:00:36] Charli: Is shame.
[01:00:37] Santiago: ...to be shamed about it, to be punished for doing that, because obviously, there's an underlying reason. And I have absolutely zero background in this, but I can only imagine that it doesn't help and maybe makes things worse.
[01:00:51] Charli: It definitely makes things worse.
[01:00:54] Santiago: Oh, man. So, is this something that continued because you weren't getting proper help?
[01:01:01] Charli: It did, it continued till when I went to boarding high school. And then it stopped. Because once I was no longer constantly at home around my parents, I didn't have the need for it, if that makes sense. Like, I didn't have a stressor that that was so big that it needed to resort to that.
[01:01:26] Santiago: Hmm, okay. Do you feel like that played a role in your former parents deciding to send you to boarding school? Or, what was, what was the reason for the switch?
[01:01:37] Charli: Yeah, so going from public middle school, I did all through middle school and then I went to the boarding school for high school. And the reason why I went to SVA was because my brother had gone and graduated from there. The reason my brother went was not because he wanted to go. He was at a public high school.
[01:01:57] He went to Battlefield High School, which is in, I believe it's in Warring? Haymarket, Virginia, which is, again, right next to Gainesville. And he got in trouble for having things that were deemed inappropriate on his phone. And then they later also found it on his Xbox. 'Cause we, people find ways to get around things.
[01:02:22] And so it was distressing to my parents enough to send him to boarding school as like a punishment. But then he ended up really liking it there. He ended up being an RA later for junior and senior year. He graduated there. He got rebaptized at SVA after senior, at the end of senior survival. They do like a baptism thing. So, senior survival was like that cherry on top of like, if you want to get baptized, you've finished everything and by this point you should want to get baptized.
[01:02:52] Santiago: Right.
[01:02:54] Charli: And so he got re-baptized and so yeah, so he had gone to SVA. I remember going up to SVA all the time for his baseball games, for basketball games, to help decorate his dorm room. Which, "decorate," I just mean put bed sheets on and call it good.... [laughing] for my brother. He, um, I think there was maybe like a rug on the floor to make it less cold, because the boys' dorm had tile flooring, so the floors were cold.
[01:03:23] Yeah, so I remember going up there all the time to see him on weekends and, I thought it was so cool, and so growing up I wanted to go. And so once I was able to go, they were like, "You can see if you get in." You have to get in, like it's not a thing you can just go to, you have to have the right grades for, which I worked my ass off my eighth grade year to like get at least A's and B's and a C, to be able to get in and go.
[01:03:53] And I got in and so I was super excited. And I was, I was going to SVA on a gymnastics scholarship. They then did not have gymnastics when I went, because it's a, I don't know, Seventh-day Adventist school. The gymnastics uniforms were not "appropriate," were not deemed appropriate.
[01:04:11] Santiago: Wait, so they had one and then they didn't have one anymore?
[01:04:14] Charli: So they claimed that they were starting a gymnastics club, or a gymnastics team, and I was there for it. That's why I was primarily wanting to go, too, was to do gymnastics more, more often. And, by the time the school year started, I found out that the scholarship, like, I could still keep the scholarship. So that helped my parents with paying for the school, but yeah, I wanted to go and I was super excited.
[01:04:43] But the gymnastics team was not going to be a thing because of medical. They didn't have the correct insurance for the school. Like, you have to go through hoops to be able to do a sport like that. Like, if somebody gets hurt, the school is liable. So they didn't have the proper things for that, and they didn't have enough people wanting to do it, but I think there were way more people that wanted to do it.
[01:05:05] Santiago: And so you mentioned to me earlier that you were there for just 9th grade, is that right?
[01:05:10] Charli: Yes, freshman year.
[01:05:11] Santiago: Okay, so did it live up to your expectations? Like, why, why was it just one year?
[01:05:18] Charli: It lived up to my expectations in some forms and then didn't in others. So in school, it's all college prep. So the education standards there are high. If you have a C, you better fix that. It's A, B standard, like you need to have good grades to continue staying, which I had okay grades. I had a few A's and B's, but they were mostly C's.
[01:05:41] And so that was a constant thing for my parents. They were always on my, on my ass for grades, which is fair. I'd be on my future kids about grades. But at the same time, like, it was rough. The school was rough. And then everything, like, the uniform policy was weird. In school, the skirts for the girls had to be to the knee and no higher.
[01:06:05] But then at church, they could be two inches above the knee, which you'd think that that would want to be switched the other way around, because church is church, and school is school. Like you'd think that church would be more conservative than school, but it wasn't. It was literally the other way around.
[01:06:22] Santiago: And when you say church, this is a church on campus, right?
[01:06:26] Charli: Yep, it was a church on campus and it was the local church for the town of Newmarket. And so people that lived in Newmarket could come and go to that church as well on Saturdays. I remember the principal, or the vice principal at the time, she would walk around with a ruler at the front door of the church.
[01:06:45] And if your dress looked a little too short, she would measure it and be like, "It's not two inches!" "It's just like a sliver above two inches, or past two inches." "Go change!" And you'd have to go change. And then at school, if it was above the knee, she would make you straighten your legs. Stand straight, no slouching, and if it did not perfectly rest at the tip of your, um, your kneecap, you had to switch it.
[01:07:09] Santiago: Wow.
[01:07:11] Charli: Yeah.
[01:07:11] Santiago: So in other words, this is still happening. 'Cause I feel like, you know, Melissa, I'm sure talked about this. I know I've heard other people talk about similar stuff. So it sounds like things have not changed much, at least at some of these schools.
[01:07:23] Charli: No, they have not.
[01:07:25] Santiago: Wow.
[01:07:27] Charli: I got sick out at SVA with a fever of 104.7, which is high. And the school's, uh, sick standard to go see a doctor or the hospital, is 105. Which at that point you're, like, boiling your brain. You're frying it. So they called my mom to come pick me up, and she picked me up. She brought me home, but in the car on the way home from SVA, she gave me her prescribed painkillers. Literal painkillers that were not prescribed to me whatsoever.
[01:08:01] The dose was way too high. Definitely made me sleep. Best sleep I've had in years. Um, [laughing] it was great. But it knocked the fever out. It was kicked. It was gone. So that next morning, she drove me right back up to SVA. And the reason she did this was because in two days, the school was having their banquet, which is a private boarding school, Seventh-day Adventist version of prom.
[01:08:25] And I had gotten a date to go, so I was able — it was Junior - Senior banquet, so only the juniors and seniors could go, but a senior had asked me to go with them as their date to banquet, and I accepted. And so I was allowed to go, and then got that fever, and so she gave me the painkillers to knock it out, or fix it sooner.
[01:08:44] But then, later that night, when I was finally back at SVA, the fever, I woke up in the middle of the night, the fever had spiked to 104.9. And they called my mom, and they were like, "Her fever's really high." It's so close to needing the doctor or hospital and whatnot, but they still didn't take me.
[01:09:06] And so, my mom was like, "Just do whatever you need to do to make the fever go away for banquet." And they were like, "Okay." And so, the dean came into my room, she took my blankets away from me. All of them. I didn't have a sheet. I didn't have a regular blanket on top. She took the comforter, and she put it on the floor. And she was like, "You can't have any blankets, and here's some ice packs."
[01:09:28] So I'm shivering because of the fever, shivering because of the ice packs, and shivering because I have no blankets. And they left me alone in my room, freezing. And I then just like, got up energy to crawl to the floor, get underneath those blankets again, and then they came back into my room like an hour later to check on me, and found me passed out on the floor like I was asleep under all the blankets. And then they took the blankets away out of my room. They literally took my blankets.
[01:09:57] Santiago: Wow.
[01:09:59] Charli: Which did not correct the fever. It definitely made it go down because I was so cold. But at the same time, like, I still proceeded to miss banquet.
[01:10:09] Santiago: Yeah, oh wow. And didn't get proper medical attention.
[01:10:13] Charli: I did not.
[01:10:14] Santiago: Oh man. Yeah, I definitely remember getting ice baths every now and then when I had a fever. My mom was definitely not a fan of even just basic cold and flu medicine. Tylenol, things like that. She was very much into natural remedies. I'm not saying that that's the case here, but it's so funny because one of the first times I got sick when I was with my partner, she was like, "No babe, we have medicine." "Feel free to get some medicine." "You don't have to rough it out." I was like, "All right, I'll try it."
[01:10:55] Charli: You're like, "Oh, that's an option now."
[01:10:58] Santiago: Yeah, yeah, honestly, honestly. Even, even as an adult, like, those kind of habits just kind of stuck with me, where it's like, what do you mean? This is, this is how I've always dealt with this or that. And so, oh man...
[01:11:12] Charli: The other, last month I actually called Melissa and I was like, "I need you to yell at me." And she was like, "I don't think I'm going to be able to yell at you, but I will do my best to, with whatever you need." And I was like, "I'm going to a wedding and I'm worried that my skirt is too short and my shirt is too low."
[01:11:33] [Laughing] I, I still to this day have moments where it's like, I just need the reassurance that what I'm wearing is appropriate for where I'm going. And she helped me pick out the top color. I had the, the same shirt, but in two different colors to go with the skirt. And she's like, "Either one is adorable." "It's super appropriate, it's flattering." It's not, it's perfect for this wedding. It's outdoors. You're not gonna overheat. It was like a hundred degrees that wedding. It was hot. And she was like, "It is perfectly fine for you to wear this." "This is just the result of how we grew up, just still being a little ass in our mind."
[01:12:12] Santiago: Mmhmm.
[01:12:13] Charli: And I appreciated that so much from her. But I still, yeah, I still need that sometimes. But that's even stuff that changed over from SVA. It's like, when you're there, you have to dress appropriate. If you want to wear shorts when you're outside of class, and it's on a weekend, and you want to wear regular clothes, if you're wearing shorts, they have to be fingertip length.
[01:12:34] Your shirts, there's no, it had, it was a three finger rule. It had to be, no, it was four, actually. It was like the whole palm of your hand had to be covered. It had to be wider than your hand. And then, it's weird because some people's arms are longer, some people are short, like, everybody's body is different that it makes it impossible to find clothes that fit their standard.
[01:12:56] Santiago: Yeah, no, absolutely.
[01:12:57] Charli: Yeah, I was tall with some shorter arms. And so it's like, the standard for me looks really short, but it went to my fingertips, but they would get mad at me. And so then I'd have to get the shorts that go pretty much to my knee.
[01:13:13] Santiago: There's a person I follow on a couple different platforms and I can't remember her name at this moment. She still considers herself a Christian. She's like a very, very progressive Christian, but she talks about exactly that. She grew up just being super tall. And so exactly what you described, that is what she experienced.
[01:13:34] And you're right, it's like, there's so little real rational thought that's put into these standards. Like obviously people have different body types, and you can't, it's difficult to have like a single standard and apply it fairly across the board.
[01:13:52] Charli: Yeah, even now, like, I still find issues with jeans. Like, they may fit my waist, but they don't fit the length. They fit the length, but then they don't fit my waist. So it's like, there's no win in this.
[01:14:04] Santiago: Yeah.
[01:14:05] Charli: You just have to slowly find what works. But like, you're at a boarding school. You're kind of stuck there. Your parents can't just drive up, drive up and drop you off some new clothes. Like it's whatever you have. And so dresses, being tall, are always short. So it's like, it's super, it's so stupid.
[01:14:23] Santiago: Yeah. So you're at SVA just for 9th grade. Was there a conversation around not going there again and going somewhere else? Like, walk me through what happened between then and then graduating.
[01:14:40] Charli: So growing up, as earlier mentioned, there was a lot of physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental and verbal abuse going on. At SVA, there was a weekend that I went home and I got super in trouble for something and I don't even remember what it was. But my father had hit my face and I had gotten a gash on my forehead. And I went back to school Sunday night. That way I could be there for Monday morning on class.
[01:15:11] The dean comes up to me. And I was wearing a hat and so she couldn't see it that night, but then that morning, they would take our phones at night so we had no phones. And that morning when I went to go grab my phone, she saw my face because I forgot to put a hat on. And she looked at me and she's like, "What the hell did you do to your face?" Or she was like, "What the heck did you do to your face?" Swearing was not a thing.
[01:15:35] And I was like, "Oh, I tripped and hit my face on the bunk beds." And she was just like, "That looks like it really hurt," and she gave me like a band aid and some Neosporin for it. But then later, she kind of was questioning me about it more, and she was like, "Are you sure you tripped?" And I was just like, "Yeah."
[01:15:56] And I was getting nervous, and I kind of looked like I was gonna cry, and she's like, "You don't have to talk about it." "It's fine, bunk beds are mean." Kind of made a joke about how they're made out of really tough wood, and that they're not forgiving, and I was like, "Haha, yeah." And continued on, um, but I remember being told that she had talked to my dad about how I got the gash on my face. And so, the school year then proceeded to end, and my dad did not want me then going back to the school because people started questioning the abuse. So, that's why I then switched to public school.
[01:16:36] Santiago: Okay, so you went to public school after that.
[01:16:38] Charli: Yeah.
[01:16:39] Santiago: Earlier you mentioned something that I want to touch on real quick, which is that the self harm that you were experiencing essentially stopped for that year that you were there. Like you said, you didn't have these triggers or stressors that were constantly popping up, at least not consistently, while you were there. And so, was it like knowing that you were going to go back home?
[01:17:04] Charli: Scary. I remember, briefly, I had kind of, so there was this one girl who was, I think she was a senior. And I remember having a conversation with her in one of the stairwells at the dorm and was kind of telling her that things at home weren't good. I didn't go into detail about it being kind of abusive and whatnot, but I think she kind of gathered.
[01:17:32] She put some hints, like some vague hints that I gave together, and she had told the dean. And that's what prompted then the continued conversation to my father about possible abuse happening. But again, they didn't tell law enforcement. They didn't tell CPS. Because that would have been the prime location for them to talk to me, because I wasn't with my parents.
[01:17:53] I was an hour and a half away from home, like that would have been a great opportunity for Child Protective Services to talk to me. 'Cause they, they need to talk to the child alone. And so they just didn't do that and they talked to my dad, and then the school year ended and I went home. And it was scary. It was really scary.
[01:18:13] Santiago: Wow. If, if you're okay to keep talking about this a bit more, I'm, I'm curious, like, you're back home. I imagine to some degree your fears were confirmed when you came back home? And you also talked about having to drop out of school and not graduating. I imagine the situation at home played a role with that. So, can you walk us through what happens between when you come back home and eventually run away?
[01:18:42] Charli: Yeah, so when I moved back in from being at SVA and started at public school, the abuse — again, trigger warning here — the abuse ramped up to an extreme. There was sexual assault happening all the time, there was physical abuse happening all the time. I had gotten dragged on the carpet and I had like scrapes all down my arm from carpet burn.
[01:19:11] And my neighbor at the time, he and his wife, I would steal their dog as a child, I would hop my fence, take their dog over my fence again, and let the dog play in my yard. And so I was really close with them, and so I went over to go say hi to them from being back at SVA, they hadn't seen me in a year, or much. And they saw my arm and they were like, "What happened?"
[01:19:35] And I was like, "Oh, you know, like the, the pool," or like, "I kind of fell." And they were like, "That looks rough." And they were like, "And why is there carpet fuzz in it?" And I was just like, "I was laying on the carpet and it got carpet fuzz in it." I had blamed it on the pool, had gotten carpet fuzz in there from laying because it hadn't healed, and I didn't have a bandage on it and got carpet fuzz in it.
[01:19:59] And so I remember my neighbor, he used tweezers and was physically tweezing out and pulling out all of the carpet fuzz and then they cleaned it with hydrogen peroxide and that burned. But, you know, had to be cleaned. And then I went to school the next day and it had kind of scabbed a little bit overnight, like it kind of has that base layer scab that goes over. And it was, I was in my English class, and this English class was team taught, so there was two teachers in the classroom, one to help the IEP students and then the other main teacher.
[01:20:34] Santiago: For anyone who's not familiar, IEP stands for...
[01:20:37] Charli: Individualized Education Plan, so it's a 504 plan, it's for people with ADHD, and any other educational disabilities. And so that teacher was in there and then the primary teacher was in there and the IEP teacher came up to me. And she was like, "Hey, I saw your your arm." "Is everything okay?" "Like what happened?" And I was just like, "Oh, you know just played too rough and you know..."'
[01:21:02] And I kind of just like kept on and I changed the subject and I was like, "Can you explain this question to me?" And so she started helping me with that and it kind of got glossed over. It was pretty much ignored and they kind of took that as an "Okay, that's what happened." And then I had like another injury that had happened, and I can't remember how it happened, but it was also again on my arm, so it was pretty noticeable.
[01:21:28] And a teacher, my sign language, my American Sign Language teacher, pulled me out into the hallway, and she was like, "You keep coming to school with injuries, and you're not really able to focus in class." And I had been diagnosed by a primary care physician with ADHD. So that's what we had thought that it was. We thought that I had ADHD, but turns out later it was PTSD, not ADHD, because those things can look very similar.
[01:21:55] And so I wasn't really focusing in school. I couldn't get things turned in on time. My grades were tanking pretty badly, and she pulled me out and she was like, "What's going on?" "Like, you can tell me." "It's gonna be okay, we can figure it out." And I was just telling her "I'm clumsy," and blah blah blah blah, and she was like, "I think that there's abuse going on in the home, is, is, am I right?"
[01:22:19] And I was like, I didn't want to straight up say yes, but I kind of looked at her and I was like, "What you're saying is possibly true." Which wasn't really a yes, but it was kind of like a, beat around the bush answer, you know?
[01:22:36] Santiago: But enough for her to go off of, maybe.
[01:22:38] Charli: Yes, it was enough for that. And so, I remember that, and so it was the day before Christmas break, the last day of school before Christmas break started. She then told the school guidance counselor, the high school guidance counselor, and then proceeded to then tell the vice principal. I love her. She's amazing. And they call me into her office and they tell me what's going on.
[01:23:09] They told me that they contacted Child Protective Services and they let law enforcement know that there might be abuse going on. And that if there was any abuse going on, that now would be the time to say that there was. And I felt immediately terrified because I didn't know, really, what Child Protective Services was, and I didn't want to get involved with law enforcement, because that scared me.
[01:23:32] And so I immediately went into denial mode. I was like, "There's no abuse going on, I am clumsy, I scraped it," yada yada yada. And they were like, "We know that that's not true." "Like, you can tell us." And I was just like, "No no no, you're totally wrong." "I'm right, it was a scrape, and the injuries, I'm just clumsy." And I made a joke, I was like, "My dad calls me Bump because I'm constantly getting, like, injured."
[01:23:59] Like, I was lying through my teeth, I was trying to make it through and not have that called, but they had already informed CPS and law enforcement. And then I heard my, heard my father's voice. You know, and I heard him coming in to the main office. He was like, "Where's my daughter?" "Where's Rachel?" They were like, "Your dad's here." "Are you ready to go home?" And I was like, "No, I don't want to go home with him." "I don't want to go home with him." "I'm going to get in trouble."
[01:24:27] Santiago: So, CPS and law enforcement were called.
[01:24:32] Charli: They were notified, yeah.
[01:24:33] Santiago: But your former father was also called?
[01:24:36] Charli: Yes, to come pick me up.
[01:24:38] Santiago: So because you were essentially denying that, did you not speak with them that day?
[01:24:43] Charli: With Child Protective Services and Law Enforcement? No, I did not speak to them. From my understanding, from what I've been told, is the reason why they didn't talk to me that day was because it was so close to Christmas that they didn't have people to come talk to me. They didn't have anyone from Child Protective Services to come talk with me, um, and they came shortly after Christmas.
[01:25:08] Santiago: Interesting. So, your former father goes to pick you up.
[01:25:13] Charli: I don't really know what they told him other than my possible accusations and their concerns with child abuse going on. And that I needed to go home for, go home early. And so, they were like, "Are you ready to go home?" And I continued to say no. They were like, "Are you safe at home?" And I was just like, "I don't, I just don't want to go home." "I don't, he's gonna be mad." And they were like, "Can you tell us what's going on?"
[01:25:39] I'm like, "No, I can't." And then my dad comes into the office, the vice principal's office, and they're all talking with us on, what the understanding of the situation is, that a teacher pulled me out into the hall to ask questions, and it was unsure if there was abuse going on. And he was like, "There's no abuse going on," blah blah blah blah blah, "I call her Bump for short, because she's so clumsy."
[01:26:05] Like, we had come up with that as a reason to tell people. And so then he, my dad stood up and grabbed his keys and he's like, "All right, let's go." And so he starts walking out of the vice principal's office and I look back at both of them and I'm like, "Please don't let me go home." "Please do not let me go home." And they were like, "There's not much more we can do." "You're saying that there's nothing going on, and so we have to take that." And so I had to go home with him for Christmas break.
[01:26:37] Santiago: Wow.
[01:26:37] Charli: Yeah.
[01:26:38] Santiago: What was that Christmas break like?
[01:26:42] Charli: The first day was definitely rough of Christmas break, especially the ride home from school. He was yelling at me in the car, as per usual. He was just going off about how, like, we can't tell people. And so then it just got ignored the entire Christmas break.
[01:27:01] Santiago: Wow. So at this point, at least it sounds like maybe he didn't have that much concern that law enforcement would actually get involved.
[01:27:13] Charli: I don't think so, and I'm actually, because I have the CPS report paper. Let me see if I can find it. They ended up arriving the end of January. January 23rd. Nobody showed up for weeks. Weeks. And the allegation was physical abuse. "It's alleged Rachel had suspicious injuries and scratches on her arms." "Child denied that any abuse happened." "She stated that she tripped." "Parents denied any abuse and claimed that Rachel told the parents that an injury had happened." So they, they pretty much told CPS that I had also informed my parents that I got an injury from being clumsy.
[01:28:04] Santiago: And that's what the official CPS report says.
[01:28:07] Charli: Yeah, I'm looking at it now, yeah. It says, "Parents will monitor injury of child." "If needs attention, will take her to doctor." "Parents will continue to use normal discipline as needed." "Take phone, grounded." "Parents will..." "...refrain from physical..." I don't know, something physical during investigation, so yeah.
[01:28:35] Santiago: Is that handwritten?
[01:28:36] Charli: Yeah, fully handwritten.
[01:28:38] Santiago: Got it, okay. So January 23, you come back from Christmas break, and then sometime after that, somebody finally comes.
[01:28:47] Charli: Yes, they randomly showed up, it was, I had just gotten home from school. I was gonna go for a run, 'cause I love running. And we get a knock at the door. And it's a police officer with a Child Protective Service worker. And they come in, and I'm hiding upstairs, and they were like, "There was a report filed of suspicious injuries." "We need to just come into the home and discuss how it happened," and blah blah blah.
[01:29:17] And in the report it had said that I had a black eye. So at the time I had a black eye 'cause my dad had punched me. And so there was the black eye that that was concerning, and so CPS comes in, they're like, "Can we, can we talk with you guys?" "Is that okay?"
[01:29:34] And my dad was like, "Yeah, that's totally fine, but I'm gonna stay with my daughter." "I'm gonna stay with Rachel when you interview her." Which, you can't, you can't openly sit down and have a conversation when there is a tiger behind you. Like, you just can't. It's impossible. And so, they took pictures of the bruising on my face and on my arm, and they asked how it happened, and I told them that I had tripped into a door, into a doorknob.
[01:30:02] Santiago: You're just "tripping" left and right.
[01:30:05] Charli: "I'm just clumsy." "Little Miss Bump over here, you know?"
[01:30:09] Santiago: Oh man.
[01:30:10] Charli: So I told them that I tripped into a doorknob and the CPS and police officer were like, "Okay, can you take us up to the doorknob that you tripped into, and show us how that happened?" And I was like, "Oh crap, how do I explain this?" In my head I was spinning, like how do I solve this? And so we go upstairs to my room, and there was conveniently a backpack right on the floor near my door.
[01:30:39] And I was like, "My backpack gets placed here, and I tripped over it, and I tripped and fell into the door." And I showed them the door, and they were like, "Is this the doorknob that you hit?" And I was like, "Yeah," but I purposely showed them a door handle. Like a one that you press down, not a knob, a like a lever.
[01:30:56] Santiago: Mmmm.
[01:30:58] Charli: Hoping that that would be some indicator that what matches my face, does not match the doorknob, you know?
[01:31:05] Santiago: Sure, even though you're trying to maintain the cover, because of a whole host of reasons, you're still trying to leave little hints for some adult to do something.
[01:31:19] Charli: To recognize, yeah.
[01:31:22] Santiago: Wow.
[01:31:23] Charli: Yeah, so I purposely showed them a door handle and not a doorknob, and they were like, "Yeah, okay, that checks out." And then left.
[01:31:32] Santiago: And that was it?
[01:31:33] Charli: That was it. That was it. They left.
[01:31:40] Santiago: I have little background knowledge about CPS, and I can only imagine it's different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but you know, on the one hand, you hear stories where there is abuse happening, and nothing is done. Then you hear stories where, by all accounts, there wasn't abuse happening, and children are wrongfully taken away.
[01:32:08] It sounds like it's just an incredibly difficult job to do, and it's incredibly difficult to do it right. Just because there's a complicated dynamic, and even though you were experiencing abuse, you still, like you said, were lying through your teeth because you didn't feel like you could be open about it.
[01:32:29] Charli: Yeah, because I had my parents with me the entire time, watching what I said, so I couldn't be honest in any way, shape, or form. So that's why I tried to leave in the subtle hints of like, when the teacher asked me in the hallway, "Is there abuse going on in the home?" And I'm like, "What you think is probably true." The doorknob, it was, I showed them a handle, not a knob. Like, I, I tried in so many other ways.
[01:32:57] Santiago: I'm going to bring this up because you made a TikTok about this earlier. You said that growing up, you were told that God was directing your then-parents to do the things that you now recognize as abuse. And I'm wondering where you got that idea? Did they make those claims? Were there other people in your life who were making excuses?
[01:33:23] Charli: They would say things like, "It's not me, it's God." "I'm just doing what God wants." "It's his word." "If you go against me, you're going against God," type phrases.
[01:33:35] Santiago: Wow, that definitely has echoes of IBLP type stuff. But I'm sure that there's plenty of other people who grew up in Adventist communities who believe in this kind of thing, who also experienced that.
[01:33:50] Charli: Yeah, there is a woman on the Shiny Happy People episode, like one of the episodes where she had mentioned that she was watching The Handmaid's Tale. And that she was like, "Oh my god, that was my life growing up." That is exactly how my life was. It was religion to justify all of the abuse that was going on, including the sexual abuse.
[01:34:14] Santiago: Wow.
[01:34:15] Charli: Yeah.
[01:34:16] Santiago: Yeah, there's a link to that show up on the website for anyone who's interested.
[01:34:20] Charli: I recommend watching one episode at a time. Do not piggy back them. It's a lot of information, it's a lot to unpack. It's emotionally a lot, so watch an episode, take a day to decompress, and then go on.
[01:34:34] Santiago: Yeah. You've also mentioned that as a kid, you didn't fully understand just how wrong you were being treated.
[01:34:43] Charli: It was because I was so sheltered that I never got to see, really, outside families. Friends, I could not go to friends' houses. Friends had to come to me. And so you don't get to see other dynamics. You don't see things at all. You don't see how other parents interact with their kids. You only see how Adventist parents interact with their kids at church. Like, it was very much like that.
[01:35:07] Santiago: So it sounds like there really wasn't a basis for you to be like, "Hey, this is different," or "This is not normal."
[01:35:14] Charli: Yeah, I, I didn't know that it wasn't normal because I thought this happened at all houses. There was one thing that kind of changed that, was I finally was able to have a sleepover at a friend's house. And we were getting ready for bed, we were in the bed, we were going to sleep. And her dad comes in, kisses her on the forehead goodnight. He goes to the door, he turns the light off, closes the door, and then never came back into the room. He never came back later.
[01:35:48] And in the morning, I looked at my friend and I was like, "Does your dad just leave you alone the whole night?" And she was like, "Yeah, he never comes back in unless I call him in for something, or if I call a parent in, or need help with something." And I was like, "That's so weird, because in my home, going to bed, he would always come back." It was, it, like, there was always sexual assault going on, so he'd always come back in. And so, seeing that difference, I was like, "Something might not be right."
[01:36:25] Santiago: Wow, if, if you don't mind me asking, how old were you when you had that realization?
[01:36:30] Charli: I was 13.
[01:36:35] Santiago: Wow, so this had been going on for some years before then.
[01:36:40] Charli: For years, yeah.
[01:36:42] Santiago: Wow. What you just described is such an important point, which is, it took you seeing how your friend's father interacted with her, and it took you being at a friend's house for a sleepover to recognize that, and for that light to kind of switch on. Wow.
[01:37:09] Charli: Mmhmm.
[01:37:10] Santiago: Wow.
[01:37:12] Charli: Yeah. And then, continuing through public school, like, teachers will talk about, like, in books, like, especially in the English classroom. So, like, we were reading a book, and she gave us, like, a trigger warning for abuse that was happening. And she was like, "If anything ever like this happens, like, know that that is not okay." "Reach out to somebody trusted." "That should never happen."
[01:37:37] And hearing that again, I was, like, in high school, and I'm like, "Oh, that's weird, because that happens to me all the time, and it's no biggie." Like, I just was like brushing it over my shoulder, like, "That's fine." "It happens every day, I don't know why she's saying it's not," you know?
[01:37:57] And so, I had a phone, and so I started doing research. And I found this woman on YouTube, her name is Kati Morton, she is "YouTube's therapist." She is a licensed family and marriage counselor, and she's got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of videos. Each video is on a different topic, dissociation, different mental illnesses, different things that people deal with, eating disorders, self harm, the whole umbrella. Abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, she's got videos on everything.
[01:38:34] And she's a licensed person, so, and she comes off very personable, like you feel like you can really understand her, and she just explains things really well. And so I started watching her videos, and I first started watching her self harm videos, because that was something that I dealt with, and I wanted to see what she had to say about it. And she had talked about not making it shameful for your kid. If your kid's doing it, this is how you should hopefully respond, here's resources, get them in therapy. And I'm like, "Well, my parents didn't do anything like that."
[01:39:05] Santiago: Hmm.
[01:39:06] Charli: So then I continued watching more and more videos, and she just started to describe emotional abuse, and I'm like, "Well that's normal, that's happened all the time." "They use phrases like this, and they do that." "Gaslighting, they do that all the time." And then there was a physical abuse thing and how to get help and different resources, and how that's not okay. And I'm like, "Interesting." And then I see a video called
[01:39:33] Sexual Assault and I'm like, "What the heck is that?" She's kind of explaining that in the video and I'm like, "Oh, crap." "Like, what my father is doing is maybe really not okay." And I just, for years, would start watching her videos, and then I got in trouble for being on the computer way too late at night. And my parents, they pulled up the search history, and they were like, "Why are you watching this therapist lady about self harm and abuse," and blah blah blah blah blah. And then they blocked YouTube.
[01:40:12] Santiago: Oh wow.
[01:40:13] Charli: So I couldn't watch her videos for a bit. But I would still be able to watch them on, like, my iPod, which they didn't know that I could access YouTube on an iPod. They were a little technically challenged. So, I was still able to then continue watching her videos via that way, but did not make it known that I had the iPod.
[01:40:32] Like, I would make sure, like, if they knew that I had the iPod, they would use that as something to take away. So if I ever got in trouble or was maybe close to getting in trouble with something, I would make sure that I stopped using my iPod around them to make it, like, to make them maybe forget that I had the device to be able to still have it. Which worked for the most part, but yeah.
[01:40:54] Santiago: Well speaking of iPod, in one of your TikToks, I think you mentioned it was either an iPad or an iPod that you had hidden under your mattress.
[01:41:05] Charli: Yeah.
[01:41:06] Santiago: Again, like we were talking about earlier, I've heard bits and pieces of your story through TikTok. Which I have to say, for anyone listening who hasn't seen Charlotte's TikTok already, it's going to be linked in the show notes. Go check it out.
[01:41:23] This is an incredible story. You were 18 years old when you decided that you were going to escape the abuse you were experiencing. I'm assuming by this point, you've had enough information from the outside world, that you recognized what was going on.
[01:41:40] Can you describe for us, was it just everything had built up over time, and you felt like that was the time? Was there a trigger event? What was it about that day in June of 2018 when you decided, "I'm going to run away from home"?
[01:42:01] Charli: Yeah, so in the months before June, the abuse was getting so debilitating for me that I turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. I got into some pretty rough drugs, opiates, uh, heroin once by accident. Um, yeah, don't do drugs. Those are bad for you. Just a warning for everybody. And was drinking pretty heavily.
[01:42:32] So that got pretty rough, and I remember some family members starting to notice that I wasn't really eating a whole lot. Especially at family, like, gatherings for holidays. My aunt lived like two roads over from where I was in Gainesville. So I, we would go there for Thanksgiving dinner, and like, Christmas, and holidays, and whatnot, and Easter.
[01:42:57] And she pulled me aside and she's like, "You're really not eating." "I, I'm, I'm concerned that you might have an eating disorder." Which, now really thinking about it, like I probably did on some level. Because growing up, my mom had this big thing about this certain pair of shorts. And that if they didn't fit, I was too fat.
[01:43:16] And if they did fit, I needed to lose weight. They needed to be loose. And so, that, I stopped eating because I knew that, like, those shorts weren't gonna fit in a few weeks when she tested them, and so, I was eating less. And my aunt pulled me aside, and she was asking about it, but then she noticed my pupils.
[01:43:34] She was like, "Your pupils are, are real off." And her neighbor is a nurse, who, growing up, this neighbor and her two kids and her husband, were at every single family reunion. Every single family holiday, for dinner. That I, for years, thought she was another aunt. I called her aunt, and then her name. I literally thought she was my family.
[01:43:58] Until one day I, like, was talking to her, and I was like, telling her about how I had mentioned my aunt to my friend, and she looked at me and she goes, "You know that I'm not technically your aunt, right?" And I'm like, "Well, I'm adopted, so yeah." And she was like, "No, like, I'm just the neighbor that they've kind of unofficially made family."
[01:44:24] And I was like, "Oh, okay." But I still call her, like, my aunt. Like, she's great. I love her. But anyway, she's a nurse, and she was looking at my pupils, and she was like, "What are you on?" And I kind of told her a little bit about what I had taken, and she was just like, "You need to get that together before it gets bad."
[01:44:44] Like, that can turn bad very fast. But at that point, I was already addicted. I couldn't really go more than a day without using and drinking and, and blah blah blah. And then my cousins wouldn't really help the addiction. They would sneak, they would sneakily put, like, in my hot cocoa some, like, Bailey's into my hot chocolate and then they'd be like "Just make sure your mom or dad doesn't take a sip." "Like just be careful," so they were giving me alcohol.
[01:45:13] I was already on drugs. So I was just I was just, I was not doing well. I was pale, I was skinny, it was rough. But I slowly started, like, I had spent the night at my cousin's house, and because we were doing Black Friday shopping after Thanksgiving. So I stayed over, and I had a conversation with my aunts on the couch, and they were like, "We've noticed some things different about you, you're not super talkative anymore, you're not you anymore."
[01:45:44] And so I started telling them that I was abusing drugs and alcohol, that I was, I think at that point, addicted, um, and that there was some things going on at home that I couldn't talk about that weren't good. And they were like, "Yeah, we've noticed some injuries and that you're thin." "What's, what's going on?" And so, I started to slowly tell them that there was physical abuse, sexual abuse, and all the things going on, combined with the drug abuse.
[01:46:19] Santiago: Wow, how did they react when they heard that?
[01:46:22] Charli: They said that they were worried, that they were, they were definitely very worried about me, wanted to make sure that I was okay. They had said that they kind of weren't surprised, because my dad had a temper that they were kind of aware of, but they didn't realize to the extent of this temper and how far he was taking it.
[01:46:43] Santiago: I feel like that kind of encapsulates the way sometimes we think about loved ones is, we will describe it as a "temper."
[01:46:52] Charli: Yeah.
[01:46:53] Santiago: Which, sure, you could describe it that way, but it can be so much more than just a quote unquote "temper."
[01:47:02] Charli: Yep.
[01:47:03] Santiago: So you have this conversation with them. Do you remember roughly how much time passed between then and Saturday, June 9?
[01:47:13] Charli: Yes. So I had talked with them and got, and started getting pretty close to them over the course of a few weeks. I remember my aunt told me in the car that she was going to contact Child Protective Services, in which I got freaked out about, reasonably so. And she proceeded to then call, but then she could not make a report. Child Protective Services told her that it had already been an active case and that it was closed. And that there was no need for further investigation.
[01:47:48] Santiago: Really, wow.
[01:47:50] Charli: Because of that previous CPS incident. And so, she was kind of out of luck with what to do. Then she was like, "I guess we could see, like, could you tell your pastor?" And I was like, "Pastor Jen, yeah, I could, I could try talking to her." And there was a wedding that was happening, and I, and she noticed that I seemed off, and so literally at this wedding, at the dinner after the wedding, she was sitting next to me, and she was asking me kind of like, what happened, and why I had some injuries.
[01:48:22] And I, I opened up to her and I said, "There's abuse going on in the home." "And I'm not sure what to do." And so she was like, "I'm a pastor, I'm not really sure if I'm a mandated reporter, but I would like to call CPS and see what happens." Which made me anxious, but at this point, like, it was getting close to needing to really do something. So she contacted CPS as well, and CPS told her the exact same thing. Pastors are not mandated reporters. They should be.
[01:48:54] Santiago: I agree.
[01:48:54] Charli: So it was up to her if she wanted to make a report. And then, so she gave my name and my information and they were like, "Oh, that's already been an investigated thing." "We'll put it down in the file, but it's already been closed," and so she was kind of also, again, out of luck. She offered to maybe talk to my parents and see, like, if I could, if there could be some mediation going on and, and different things, like, to help. But there really wasn't much that she could do, and she kind of, I feel so bad for her, because I'm, I'm sure she felt pretty stuck.
[01:49:28] Santiago: And we're going to pause here. Come back for part two, where we discuss Charli's escape from home and how her life has changed since then. Also, please see the show notes for links to Charli's social media, the topics and resources we mentioned, and videos from licensed therapist, Kati Morton. There's also a link for religious trauma-informed therapists, which I highly recommend if you need any help in this area.
Haystacks & Hell Outro
[01:49:59] Santiago: Thanks for listening. If you have a story to share about your Adventist or fundamentalist experience, we'd love to hear it. You can submit stories on our website at hell.bio — that's H E L L . B I O, or leave us a voicemail at 301-750-8648 and we might feature it in a future episode. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you on the next one!