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The date may be significant, or it may not. This morning, April 15, on the 102nd anniversary of the Titanic sinking, Lourdes Torres filed a civil suit against Doug Phillips, self-styled leader of the Christian patriarchy movement and the founder of the Christian Men And Boys Titanic Society. The Society, and Doug Phillips in particular, commemorated the sinking of the Titanic annually, praising the patriarchal Christian men who sacrificed their lives in favor of putting “women and children first.” Naturally, that’s not entirely true; the survival rate of first-class men aboard the Titanic was greater than the survival rate of third-class children. And perhaps this is significant, or perhaps it is not, but Lourdes Torres, the only daughter of an immigrant family, met Doug Phillips when she was 15, and shortly thereafter was invited up from her family’s mobile home to partake in Phillip’s far more lavish lifestyle, as a sort of unsalaried servant; she helped with household chores and childcare. She was rewarded with trips, gifts, pocket money, and the assurance from Doug Phillips that she was “part of the family.”

Lourdes’ complaint quotes Julie Ingersoll, noting that “In biblical patriarchy, the refrain of ‘women and children first’ hides an agenda whereby the women are ‘first’ only insofar as they keep their place which is subordinate to men . . . tragically, a biblical woman is also ‘first’ to take the blame for marital problems, ‘first’ to be excommunicated as part of church discipline, ‘first’ to serve her father and then her husband in his vision for dominion.” The complaint also points out that some other proponents of biblical patriarchy, namely Bill Gothard and Jack Schaap, “have stepped down or are incarcerated for crimes against children.”

In October 2007, 23-year-old Lourdes was invited to move in with the Phillips family. According to her complaint, shortly thereafter, she found the man who headed up the community she was part of, her spiritual authority figure and pseudo-employer, in her bedroom, sexually assaulting her. There was no penetration, so Phillips didn’t technically lie when years later he claimed that he hadn’t “known” Lourdes “in the Biblical sense.” Lourdes said she cried and asked him to stop, but he didn’t. This behavior continued over a period of some years, despite Lourdes’ repeated requests that it stop.

Phillip’s lawyer claims that all sexual activity (not that there was any, according to the lawyer) was consensual, and that Lourdes is out for some cash rewards. He says she’s given different accounts of what happened to different people.

And I say, so what? That’s normal. You don’t tell every person in the world the exact gory details about how your (pseudo) pastor/ (pseudo) employer assaulted you until you’re good and ready. Especially if that pastor/employer is a lawyer who excommunicates people on charges of gossip and threatens them with “slander” lawsuits to boot. As so what if she’s out for cash now? She put her education, her work and everything else on hold in order to serve Doug Phillips, often free of charge. The least he can do is make good on his promise to spare her a lifeboat before his ship is finished sinking.

The complaint does a good job of outlining how the community the Phillips presided over was a “total institution” where all outside influence and opportunity was barred. Lourdes relied on Phillips for sustenance, both physical and spiritual. As a result, Lourdes was technically incapable of consenting to sexual advances from Phillips. By her own admission, she did not verbally resist every time, and even says she loved him, but this in no way is an indication of consent; it merely highlights the extent of the abuse.

I first heard of Lourdes Torres in 2007, because she appeared in a film (shot before Lourdes moved in with the Phillips family) that my cousins produced and then sent us: The Return of the Daughters. I was so struck by her engaging personality and her desire to serve other people that I e-mailed my cousin and said, half-jokingly, “I noticed that Lourdes seemed a good, spunky, pretty and intelligent type of the San Antonio area, so I thought that I would write and recommend that you wed her posthaste. Not that I know anything about it.”

Remembering that confident and hopeful woman, I almost cried reading the complaint. Which is definitely the first time I’ve ever been so moved reading a legal document, and I’ve read a fair number. Despite the claims of conflicting stories and the fact that I really don’t know her at all, the complaint rings very true to me. If Lourdes was merely out to play the victim, as some posit, she could have claimed Phillips assaulted her when she was underage, because she was frequently in his home when she was underage. She could have claimed he did other sexual things to her, or that he threatened her, or any number of things. But she didn’t. She’s outlining a very specific and a very believable train of events, given everything we know about Doug Phillips, the nature of sociopaths, the nature of power and sexuality, and all the rest of it.

 

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