Rick Boyer Sr. and Sexual Boundary Crossing: My Story
I used to believe I was immune to abuse. I used to believe that going to church and spending the majority of my time with church people ensured my safety. I used to believe covering my body, knees to neck, would divert lust and abuse. I used to believe that male spiritual leaders should be trusted to protect me… even over my own instincts and intuition.
I didn’t know that no one is immune to abuse and that it can happen to anyone no matter your age, race, sex or social background. I didn’t know that abuse doesn’t stop at the church or that it is alive and well in many of our Christian communities. I didn’t know that abuse is always about power and control and not sexual temptation. And I didn’t know that most of the time victims are acquainted with and often groomed to trust those who victimize them.
This is the story of a girl who trusted a spiritual leader and found herself targeted, betrayed and hurt. This is my story:
I was seventeen when Rick Boyer Sr. (author, speaker and founder of The Learning Parent (now Character Concepts)) first took an interest in me. I was lonely and insecure, looking for affirmation and a place to fit in the world. He was like a father figure to me. Our families have been friends since before I was born, and my parents have received counsel from him and his wife for many years. We all went to the same church together and held similar beliefs.
After I graduated from high school early, he and his wife encouraged me to write a book and promised to publish and sell it through their ministry. I was flattered to be asked to do this by such a well-respected man, and felt honored that such a big name homeschool leader would believe in me enough to encourage me to write a book and then sell it for me! I excitedly updated him on the book and also assisted him with their ministry website. As I look back, this was the time when our individual relationship began to develop.
During this time, I saw Rick Boyer Sr. on Sundays after church services and looked forward to what I then perceived as his fatherly hugs. After the evening church services, we would often have long conversations after almost everyone had gone home. He shared his dreams and ministry plans with me and asked about mine. I looked forward to these talks because Mr. Boyer always gave me lots of affirmation and encouragement, which seemed to help ease my low self-esteem. When we talked, I felt like I had a special place in the world, and that I was doing something right.
Our relationship developed into one where I could count on Mr. Boyer taking time with me at church functions and events. He would put his arm around me, call me pet names like “beautiful” and “gorgeous,” and often told me that I was “a good one.”
I spent a lot of time in the Boyer home. Sometimes I visited because I was friends with his many children, and other times it was because he extended a personal invitation to me. I loved feeling accepted and “part of the family.” During these visits, he continued to demonstrate the same type of affection and affirmation.
As it happened, I became interested in one of his sons, but his son told my parents he wasn’t interested in a courtship with me. Rick Boyer Sr. didn’t seem satisfied with his son’s answer and told my parents that they had misunderstood and his son just “needed more time.” In light of his comments to my parents, I continued spending time at the Boyer home.
After several more months, I finally realized the relationship with his son was not meant to be. I was heartbroken at the thought of losing my relationship with the Boyer family. Mr. Boyer ensured me that this was not going to be the case. He continued to pursue me in public events and at church. He still called me pet names and gave me public affection. In fact, Mr. Boyer seemed to make an effort to have constant physical contact with me---touching me, sitting close and pressing his leg against mine.
As I look back on it now, his public attention and physical affection rivaled that of the public attention and physical affection he gave his wife, and was significantly more than what he offered to his own daughters.
When I would leave his home late at night after watching a movie with his daughters, Mr. Boyer always made a point of walking me to my car. He would even wait up for me after his wife had gone back to the bedroom. In the darkness as we stood outside by my vehicle, Mr. Boyer and I had more talks and he would always end the evening with a tight hug and tell me that I was “a good one.” At the time, this behavior and his comment seemed chivalrous to me.
These evenings at the Boyer home and the late night conversations and hugs went on for several years. This all changed the night I had to park my car next to their house instead of out front due to parking issues. For the first time we were out of view of the front window when he walked me out to my car. As I was sitting in my van about to leave, Rick Boyer leaned in and planted a firm kiss on my cheek. I was completely caught off guard as he had never done anything like that before and there hadn’t been any kind of warning. As I sat there, in shock, he told me to kiss him back. I’ll never forget him saying, “Give an old man a kiss.” I didn’t know what to do. He was like a father to me, and it just didn’t feel right. On the other hand, he was a very well-respected spiritual leader and had been very vocal that his girls save any kind of kissing for marriage. I felt confused, intimidated and obligated on-the-spot. At the moment, I felt as if I didn’t have any way out. I regrettably kissed him on the cheek as instructed and left.
Not long thereafter, I was at his house again. I had been doing something related to the ministry when I found myself alone with him downstairs in his office. I am not sure how he arranged for us to be alone that evening as many of his 13 children were still living at home. Without warning, Mr. Boyer embraced me in a very different way from the fatherly hugs I had become accustomed to. This time, he pulled me in tight for a front hug and pressed my body and breasts into him. As he did this, he put one hand around my waist and the other around my neck. Because of the positioning of his hands, I immediately realized this was something very different than I had experienced before. Because of the tightness of his hold, I remember the thoughts flashing through my mind, “I can’t get away even if I tried. He is stronger than me.” During this incident, there was a strange new feeling between us that I couldn’t put into words. When he released me I tried to sift through the conflicting thoughts and feelings that flooded my mind. I felt overwhelmed and confused. What had just happened? What was this new feeling? Was this okay?
I became so bothered that I eventually shared with my parents about the kiss outside and the “hug” in the basement. My parents agreed that the behavior was not appropriate but we gave him the benefit of the doubt as to the motives behind these actions. They said they would speak to him.
For a while after my parents spoke to Mr. Boyer, things felt a little awkward between us and I felt like it was my fault. I was embarrassed and feeling guilty for having brought it up at all. I began to convince myself that he probably hadn’t meant anything by his behavior. I had become so dependent upon his constant affirmations that I remember thinking that I didn’t want our relationship to wane.
In my sexual naïveté and culturally-ingrained unquestioning submission to male spiritual leaders, I kept trying to convince myself that Mr. Boyer had accidentally crossed a boundary but hadn’t intended it to be inappropriate. I then even started doubting that it was inappropriate. Perhaps he hadn’t even crossed a boundary and I was just overreacting! How could a man who had dedicated his life to helping Christians raise godly families ever do anything intentionally inappropriate? These confused feelings, combined with the fact that my parents had spoken to him about his behavior, convinced me that it would be safe for us to continue our mentor type relationship, that had made me feel so good about myself.
For a short time after my parents had spoken to him, Mr. Boyer backed away from exhibiting physical affection. However, after a period of time, the fatherly hugs began again. I convinced myself that everything was fine and was back to the “fatherly” way it had been before the kiss.
During this time, I entered into courtship with a man in my church. This man used control, manipulation, isolation, belittling, and intimidation in demanding slave-like obedience and total submission from me. He touched me in ways I repeatedly told him not to and he was not against using his strength to make me stay at his side. We courted for over a year and eventually became engaged before I had the courage to break it off. When I ended the relationship, I had to come to grips with the realization that it had been an emotionally, spiritually, and mentally abusive relationship. I was encouraged not to tell anyone what really happened. It was impressed upon me that this would be gossip and would damage the man’s reputation. So when anyone asked me why I had broken off the engagement, I was encouraged to say, “He’s a good guy who loves the Lord. It just didn’t work out.” However, inside the secret was killing me.
My friends couldn't be there for me because they didn’t know what had really happened. I was so lonely. Though my family offered support, they did not know all of the details of the abuse because I felt such shame about what had happened.
For the next year after the breakup, I was still very lonely. I felt judged for the way I was healing, like nobody “got me,” gave me real empathy, or took my story seriously enough. I remember thinking that Mr. Boyer had always seemed to understand me and take me seriously, and would always provide an encouraging and affirming word. I just knew he would give me the empathy and support that I so desperately needed, so I sought him out. I felt safe sharing with him because he was a spiritual leader and I believed I could trust him.
So I decided to tell him I had been abused, and how much I was hurting. He immediately led me a short distance away from the group of people gathered at the social event and really seemed to listen. He appeared to take my words seriously and told me that he believed me.
After that conversation with Mr. Boyer, I had convinced myself that he was a safe, non-judgmental leader I could confide in. This prompted me to open up to him even more. Like before, he immediately led me away from the group of people who were gathered at the house. However, this time, he took me to a secluded area at the back of his property to talk. I poured out more of my pain and how misunderstood I had been feeling for so long following the abuse. Mr. Boyer listened for a while and then said that I looked cold. He left and returned a few minutes later with his truck. He leaned over from the driver’s seat to push open the passenger side door and encouraged me to get in.
It was at this point that I felt a check in my spirit. Was it okay for me to be alone at night in a truck with an older man, at the back of his property when no one knew where we were? I quickly felt embarrassed by the thought. This was Mr. Boyer, a close friend of my family and a spiritual father that so many people looked up to for wisdom and advice. He would never hurt me! In the moment when I most needed to listen to this check in my spirit, my deeply ingrained, trust of male spiritual leaders trumped my inner voice.
I hesitantly climbed into the truck and continued sharing. Tears were falling down my face, and I became even more open and vulnerable with Mr. Boyer about my situation. I hadn’t been in the truck for very long when one minute I was sitting upright and the next minute he had laid me down and placed my head in his lap. He never asked---he just did it. I was so completely caught off guard, I wasn’t sure how to respond or what to do. All of the confusion returned. This was supposedly a great man of God. A well-respected leader who was trusted by everyone and who was helping me through a very dark and painful time of life. But at the same time, he had just isolated me from the group, taken me in the dark to the back of his property, and had just placed my head on his thighs by his crotch. My courage returned and I decided to listen to my inner voice. I sat up and ended the conversation by saying I needed to go home.
I left that night, completely overwhelmed, with my mind swirling in confusion. I had a lot going on in my life at that time. I was, not just processing the pain from the bad abusive relationship, but I was also making some major life changes.(See, http://www.ashleyeaster.com/blog/grappling-with-grey.) For the first time, I began trying to figure out who I was as my own person.
Soon after all of this happened, I met my husband Will, and quickly realized that he was different from any man I had ever met.
Our marriage has been amazing. However, the first few months were very challenging for me because I had to face a lot of things about my past that I wasn’t able to work through before. Healing comes in layers, and marriage has triggered memories from my abusive courtship, as well as old beliefs about the absolute subordination of women, that I have had to work through head-on.
Marriage has also opened my eyes to a lot of things about sexuality that I never knew before. I was completely naive to almost everything sexual. It was not until a few weeks before my wedding that I learned about arousal, erections, and even oral sex.
When I became more sexually comfortable with my husband, my mind kept flashing back to the experiences with Mr. Boyer. The sexual tension between us reminded me of that strange hug in the office, the kiss, and the truck incident. The pieces started falling together and making sense of the strange feelings and confusion I had felt during those situations but couldn’t express.
One night, I told Will everything that had happened with Mr. Boyer, and asked him, “Does that sound normal to you?” His emphatic “No!” confirmed what my gut had been telling me all along—that older married men shouldn’t kiss a young woman their daughter’s age when nobody's looking, and then ask her to kiss him back. Older married men shouldn’t try to get alone with a young woman in a basement and put their arms around her waist and neck, and press her body tightly into theirs. Older married men shouldn’t take a young woman to the back of their property at night, tell them to get in a truck, and put her head near their crotch. For the first time, it suddenly became crystal clear to me that men who engage in this behavior are acting with ill intent. There was nothing accidental about any of this.
This realization shook me up and made me realize this was a lot more serious than I had originally thought. I took the next several months to learn more about sexuality, and researched sexual harassment and grooming. I realized that my whole relationship with Mr. Boyer had been “off.”
But I struggled with what to do about it. My concern is that Rick Boyer Sr. isn’t just some random guy from my former church. He is a public speaker, author, and leader in the homeschooling movement. He personally knows and has been a vocal supporter of many other leaders like the Duggar family, Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard. But he is known as “Uncle Rick” in our circles, the guy whom little children look forward to meeting in costume, and who encourages children to sit on his lap as he reads stories to them at homeschooling events. He is also on the board for HEAV (Home Educators Association of Virginia) and was involved with HSLDA’s (The Home School Legal Defense Association) National Christian Homeschool Leadership Conference. He is also a reserve deputy sheriff in Virginia.
All of those reasons have made it very difficult for me to come forward. It has not been easy for me to share this. But after much counsel and prayer, I decided that I had to step up and publicly say something about Mr. Boyer’s behavior. I hope and pray that others have not had similar experiences with Rick Boyer Sr. and have felt afraid to speak up or struggle with self-blame and doubt.
Timeline of Significant Events:
In November, Rick Boyer Sr. was confronted in person by my husband and one of our pastors (who came along to serve as a witness only) with a video I had made detailing the experiences I had with him. My husband and I decided that I would use this video to confront him so that Rick Boyer Sr. would see that it was I who was confronting him... without my having to be in the same room with him. I did this because I had recently seen him at a wedding and he repeatedly came over to me and made me feel very uncomfortable.
Rick Boyer Sr. denied that his actions towards me were inappropriate and minimized the experiences. He told my husband, Will, that he was not “angry” with me for confronting him and that he still thinks of me [Ashley] as his “little buddy”. He did however, ask for a copy of the video in order to show his attorney. However, my husband declined.
Minutes after the meeting, Mr. Boyer’s son, Rick Boyer Jr. (who is an attorney), repeatedly called my husband and also called my husband’s employer. Will and I did not return the call immediately as we felt it would be wise to consult our own attorney first since we had just been contacted repeatedly by Rick Boyer Sr.’s attorney. We were counseled to return the call and hear what Rick Boyer Jr. wanted to communicate. Rick Jr. told us he was calling “as a son and not as a lawyer” and he wanted us to repeat to him what had been told to his father. We kept in mind that Rick Sr. has several other adult sons and daughters which are not attorneys who could have called for clarification. But they were not the ones who contacted us. Therefore, we declined to elaborate on the meeting with Rick Boyer Sr. to Rick Boyer Jr. and suggested that he speak with his father if he wanted any more information of our meeting.
Rick Boyer Sr. contacted his pastors (my former pastors) at Timberlake Baptist Church. The senior pastor, Brian Ferrell, left a message on Will’s phone. Will returned the call directly but could not reach Pastor Ferrell. Days later Pastor Ferrell returned the call and assured my husband that the pastors at TBC were “taking the issue seriously”. Pastor Ferrell also contacted the lead pastor at my current church. My current pastor strongly recommended that Pastor Ferrell enlist a professional organization to conduct a private investigation of the situation to ensure it was handled properly. To our knowledge this has not been done.
About a month and a half later, since we had not heard anything back from Pastor Ferrell, my husband sent him an email inquiring that he: “wanted to touch base to see precisely what actions have been taken.” since Pastor Ferrell had communicated that the situation was being “taken seriously”. We have yet to receive any official response whatsoever from any of the Pastors on staff since my husband’s conversation with Pastor Ferrell about 2 days before he left for China in December 2015.
If the pastors at Timberlake Baptist Church had in fact taken this situation seriously, our expectation is that they would have communicated with us in some way. However, as I write this, we have received zero communication from them.
We feel Timberlake Baptist Church and the pastoral staff has dismissed us. And so, I questioned whether or not I was the only person who had received dismissive treatment by their leadership. So, I started asking others. And as a result, I have discovered and have spoken face to face with six domestic violence victims who are former members of Timberlake Baptist Church. These individuals, both men and women, shared their stories with me (these stories were unrelated to Rick Boyer). Some of their stories were recent and others shared events that happened over twenty years ago. All of the victims detailed frustrations and hurts over unhelpful, inadequate and sometimes deeply painful interactions they had experienced with the Timberlake Baptist Church leadership related to their abuse. Though they remain devoted to their faith, four of the six shared with me that church now feels like an unsafe environment for them due to the treatment they experienced.
Additionally, during these months of waiting, I have been connected with two other women who had very similar experiences with Rick Boyer Sr. as I had. One of the women had been consistently isolated for long conversations and she too had received at least one hug where she felt Rick Boyer Sr. had intentionally pressed her breasts into him. He also gave her pet names and would spend time with her after his wife had gone to bed. The other woman shared that Rick Boyer Sr. had initiated numerous secluded conversations, private walks, long hugs, kisses, longing looks into her eyes and an incident where he had her sit on his lap. She was in her tween years when she was instructed to sit in his lap.
Until I made contact with these women, they both thought they were the only ones who had experienced these types of inappropriate behaviors. They also shared their strong disgust over his actions towards them and his actions towards me. These women considered sharing their stories alongside of mine but have decided not to share since they are experiencing anxiety over the expected backlash from Rick Boyer Sr. for sharing their stories. One woman had committed to sharing her story. But as I waited for her to send me her written account, she changed her mind at her husband’s direction. The anxiety about what could happen if they spoke up affects them both to the point that they were not ready to publicly share.
This has been a very difficult journey that my husband and I have been on these past several months. We have shared our story with loved ones. And, we have seen their anger burn. However, unexpectedly, too often the anger burned against us for our refusal to remain silent. And at the same time, many other loved ones have expressed overwhelming concern, love and support for us that has been completely awe-inspiring and truly humbling.
My heart is for the Church... and especially, it is for the Church to be a beacon of light, hope, and healing to the broken and hurting. Abuse multiplies in darkness; Silence only perpetuates abuse; but, in openness and light, there is healing and rescue.
“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them... everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” -Ephesians 5:11,13 (NIV)
-Ashley Schnarr Easter
Note: The comments on this post are closed but feel free to email me if you have personal experiences to share. With me you are safe, valued and heard. I believe you. Many of us are waiting for you with open arms. firstname.lastname@example.org