“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
American Outlaws: The Plight of Child Sex Trafficking Victims Living Underground
During this time of year, many children live inside a snow-globe of sparkle and wonder, eagerly anticipating the festivities of Christmas Eve. Their loving parents smile, hearts full of joy at seeing the light in the eyes of their little ones; they sigh in contentment, resting in the heavenly peace of the season.
But some children are not so fortunate. Their days bring sudden noises outside the door that cause them to jump in fear; the nights are full of terrors that pervade their dreams. Replays of cruelty assail their memories, and yet they pray for a Christmas miracle that will set them free from their abusers’ pursuit.
Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be a wanted woman, a fugitive of the law? Many a movie portrays it as a glamorous, guns-blazing adventure, but in reality it is quite different.
I am one such fugitive, what with the warrant out for my arrest and all. My crimes?
- Believing my children when they disclosed a lifetime of ongoing abuse.
- Reporting to the Stafford, Virginia police.
After Detective J.G. Wright and Jennifer Dudley of CPS spoke of youngsters’ “vivid imaginations” and expressed concern for our mental health, they promptly closed the case. Oh sure, they chatted with some of the abusers first, who no doubt assured the officers of their innocence. I mean, if a guy is a respectably-dressed working professional who lives in a half-million dollar home in a picturesque suburban neighborhood, he couldn’t possibly enjoy beating and sexually abusing small children in the middle of the night . . . could he? Nah.
The cops thought not too. A local judge weighed in on the matter, giving total custody of all four children to their father—my husband William Joseph Bannister—the man who my children have told me covertly delivered them at the appointed times to the man they named as the abuse ringleader: his father Jay Tuhl Bannister, who lives directly across the street. (Perhaps that explains the mysterious wad of crisp one-hundred dollar bills on his dresser last December. Maybe a Christmas bonus for a dutiful son, keeping it all in the family?)
My father-in-law is a generous man, after all. He is known in the community for his gift of giving; my children’s testimonies indicate that this generosity extends to sharing his grandchildren with his circle of friends. Why should he be the only one to gain pleasure from the terrified screams of preschool-aged girls in the darkness atop his big red barn? Why not have his tiny, innocent grandbabies be forced to perform sexual acts on his buddies as well? A man could make a profit from such an enterprise.
What does a mother do, when she discovers that the most unimaginable nightmares have occurred, repeatedly, to her little ones at the hands of the men who should have been the most protective in their lives: their father, grandfather, pastor, church members, and neighbors?
What does she do after the local justice system utterly fails them?
She takes her children and runs for their lives.
We have been fugitives for nearly six months, like vagabonds upon the earth, on the “wrong side of the law,” with the rancid hot breath of child predators close upon our backs. We left home with barely a week’s worth of summer clothes and are practically penniless, living off the kindness of friends, who one by one have taken us under their wings.
We were hungry, and they fed us nourishing food. We stood shivering in the cold, and they gave us warm winter clothing. We faced illness and injury, and they provided medicine and homemade soup. We were virtual strangers, and they welcomed us into their homes. Meanwhile, the man of our family sits alone in our three-story house, atop his six-figure income, with no offspring to offer up to his daddy dearest.
After months on the road, we had to say goodbye to our beloved pets: our giant bounding bundle of puppy-faced joy, and our fluffy cat, whose soothing whirr often assuaged our soreness of heart. It is a comfort to know they are in good, loving hands, since they can no longer be in ours.
The mental health and credibility of my children and me have been assessed and verified by two of the most prestigious forensic psychiatrists in the country: Dr. Michael Stone and Dr. Carole Lieberman. Just as I suspected, we are neither insane nor lying. Naturally, the abusers did not take kindly to such a development, and are seeking to have the reports stricken from the record. “Eliminate all threats!” seems to be their motto. Hence our position of living underground.
We set up residence in Alabama and made it our new home, where we obtained a protective order against the man formerly known as Daddy. This was swiftly snatched away when the judge deferred to the Virginia ruling, which ordered me to return the children to him.
We are fighting on two fronts–family court and criminal court–when intrinsically this is a criminal matter. What judge in his right mind would place children back into the hands of vicious child abusers?! And yet, we see this same story repeated over and over again, all throughout the country.
Children do have bright and creative imaginations; it is an integral part of the human spirit. But no child is capable of pulling a story out of thin air, which includes them being violently abused physically, sexually, and psychologically, in ways that would cause even the most stout-hearted adult to lose their lunch.
Why in the world would an upper-middle-class child, in a picture-perfect community complete with good schools, a social life, a backyard in-ground pool, and even a friendly neighborhood ice cream truck, concoct such a tale? What could possibly motivate them to whisper soul-crushing horrors to their mother on the back deck swing, when they knew what it could cost them: their home, their friends, their beloved cousins, their bedrooms and nearly all their worldly possessions? All this they would trade for a life on the run, hiding like frightened cottontails in the tall grass?
Effects of trauma do not wear away quickly, once a child is safe from his abusers. Our balmy summer meandered into a brisk autumn, when the leaves danced down from the trees in droves. Now Christmas is staring us full in the face.
There are many moments of blissful joy and sunshine in our life, yet recovery is a process that will not be hurried. The depth of betrayal twists like a poisoned dagger, and unspeakable terrors still haunt my children’s dreams. Scars of the soul are the slowest to heal.
“They stole my childhood,” she said late yesterday evening. “They stole my personality. They stole my identity.” Hopelessness and despair slithered uninvited into the room, trailing insomnia behind them like a skulking coward. Darkness stared through the kitchen window with a sinister smile, not caring if he was caught voyeurizing a young girl’s pain.
But morning comes, as it always does; and with it a renewed hope of life and freedom. A gentle rain washes away the tears of last night, and sorrow quietly moves aside to make room for determination at the head of the line.
We seek justice.
We appealed our case to the state and federal levels, and now await their responses.
Will they listen? Will they hear the cries of the children left behind, who wince at the flash of the camera over their battered bodies, and weep beneath the the jeering laughter of cruel men whose greatest pleasure is derived from inflicting pain on those smaller and weaker than themselves?
Is it not better for the villains to be weighed down with the magnitude of their abominable crimes and cast into prison, than for them to be allowed to harm one more innocent child?
If you would like to help these children, you can contact the following to let your voice be heard.
- Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring: 804-786-2071; email@example.com
- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam: 804-786-2211
- Alabama Governor Kay Ivey: 334-242-7100
- Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall: 334-242-7300
- Richmond, Virginia FBI: 804-261-1044
- Stafford, Virginia Detective J.G. Wright: 540-658-5210; firstname.lastname@example.org
- William Joseph Bannister: 202-834-9442; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Please sign the Change.org petition here. This petition includes wording you can use when contacting any of the above.
Our Alabama Family Court case number is DR-2019-500538.
Virginia Family Court case number is JJ053144-01-99.