The News 8 I-Team first broke the news that a faith-based juvenile center in Indianapolis has changed its policy on spanking.
The policy changed to "no spanking" after the mother of a 10-year-old girl who spent the last 10 months in the center complained.
From the outside, the center has all the appearances of an upscale hotel. But insiders say what drives the center is a combination of faith and fear. In I-Team undercover video, one of the center directors Mark Cavanaugh says "There are even times that a spanking is given but that's done in a very special way" it is an uneasy balance of christian solitude and solitary confinement, also known as the prayer room.
Karen Hensel of the I-Team asks 10-year old Tara: "Did you have to go to the prayer room?" Tara: "Yes, 3 times: Karen: "For how long?" Tara: "5 days every time".
Tara was 9 when she was sentenced to the training center for fighting on the bus and hitting a teacher. She spent ten months here. News 8 was there the night her mother finally got her out, a joyful reunion for a mother who says she was kept from her young daughter.
But allegations uncovered in our month-long investigation do not come from just one little girl in trouble. It's other young people too, here at different times, all telling the News 8 I-Team the same story of alleged abuse.
Justin was 13 when he was court ordered from Jacksonville, Florida 8 years ago. He says, "I still have nightmares about the place, about the prayer closet. I wake up and think i'm still there. "The nightmares are the worst part". Daniel was 12, court-ordered from Marion County. His mother alleges he was repeatedly beaten by teenage counselors.
Tammy Dodson says, "They knocked him down in the bathtub to the point it knocked him unconscious." Karen: "Was this playing or punishment?" Tammy: "Punishment, punishment." his parents documented the alleged abuse, taking pictures of bruises and scratches. Sentenced to the solitary confinement of the "prayer room", last march, Daniel broke out a window, escaped and called his parents saying "I can't take it anymore". His mother says "I was really upset about it".
Blair Aldridge came to I.T.C. in a different way. She grew up in the teachings of Minister Bill Gothard. Her parents sent her here to learn how to work with young people.
Karen: "Are you concerned for the safety of the other children in there?" Blair: "Absolutely." She was also one of the teenage leaders working with the other children. Aldridge says, "When they spank kids, and I have a problem with this, they make them totally strip their clothes and grab their ankles and the younger kids get a wooden paddle and the older kids get a metal rod--it's not right." Karen: "Did you see this done?" Blair: "I did."
She tells News 8 she was also locked in the prayer room more than once, "I didn't get any food or water those five days so that was extremely difficult on me physically as well." Blair and Tara, who don't know each other, describe the paddle. Tara says, "It's that long but he has another one that long and it's metal". Blair describes a similar paddle. When the news 8 I-Team went undercover inside, administrators admitted they do spank kids.
I-Team Producer: "What did you say about spanking? Is that part of the program?" Mr. Cavanaugh: "That has yes, at times with parental, uh, involvement you might say or permission that's done, probably very seldom I would say." The training center exists through the Ministry Bill Gothard.
For years, he has drawn millions of people to seminars on christian parenting raising millions for his Illinois based operation: The Institute in Basic Life Principles. The news 8 I-Team obtained tax returns. It is a $63-million business with nearly $4.5 million coming from training centers like the one in Indianapolis around the world. As a religious organization they are exempt from paying what would be $215,000 in property taxes to the city. Don Veinot is with Midwest Christian Outreach in Illinois.
He has studied Gothard for more than a decade and has written a new book about Gothard's teachings due in March. Karen: "given what you know about him, should parents and people be concerned about the children in there?" Don: "Absolutely...unquestionly." The I-Team's Karen Hensel tried to talk for a second time with center directors about the allegations.
We were kept outside and told no one was available. Rodger Gergeni did tell us they stopped spanking January 8th after the mother of the 10-year-old girl complained about it. He says they are still putting children in the prayer room. Despite the allegations, he insists he hasn't done anything wrong.