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Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating Details  ·  93 Ratings  ·  18 Reviews
This revealing, disturbing, and thoroughly researched book exposes a dark side of faith that most Americans do not know exists or have ignored for a long time—religious child maltreatment. After speaking with dozens of victims, perpetrators, and experts, and reviewing a myriad of court cases and studies, the author explains how religious child maltreatment happens. She the ...more
Paperback, 397 pages
Published June 21st 2011 by Prometheus Books (first published January 1st 2011)
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Baal Of
Apr 29, 2016 Baal Of rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, politics
This was a tough book to read, since I have been first-hand witness to some of the milder forms of religious child abuse. There were people in my parents church who definitely crossed the line into abuse with their authoritarian style of Christianity, and I also saw it with my ex-wife's relatives, one couple in particular who adopted a young boy, and that mother was an absolute tyrant. My own mother once confessed to my ex-wife that some of her disciplinary methods would be considered abuse now ...more
Jun 14, 2015 Tucker rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished
Heimlich says that child abuse tends to happen in religious groups that have authoritarian cultures and do not recognize that children have rights. She provides many examples of such abuse in the United States, along with psychological analysis of how people behave during and after these situations.

I wished there had been more analysis on the "gray area" of moderately authoritarian groups, or, if the term is permitted, "moderately abusive" groups. It is obvious why it's bad to join a cult, and i
David Anderson
Mar 22, 2015 David Anderson rated it it was amazing
Heimlich's book is a well-researched and extremely fair and balanced presentation (IMHO) of the issue of religious child maltreatment in it's various manifestations: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and medical neglect due to depending solely upon faith healing and prayer and withholding professional medical care. This is no anti-theist rant; Heimlich is very clear that she sees this as a problem specifically among certain conservative, authoritarian religious cultures and groups a ...more
Nikki Smith
Mar 26, 2014 Nikki Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
All churchgoers should read this book which explains why there is so much maltreatment of children within faith-based communities.

Hard to understand why abusers in churches get off with a slap on the hand, but the offended are judged harshly and are hurt even further.
Carla JFCL
Aug 19, 2011 Carla JFCL rated it really liked it
This was really a fascinating book. It took me awhile to plow through it, mainly because - especially at first - it’s a bit “research dense” but once it got more into telling some of the personal stories of the people interviewed by the author it moved quickly.

In addition to being fascinating, this book is also: shocking; maddening; eye-opening; incredibly sad; and just downright hard to believe. (I don’t mean that the author’s research is faulty; I mean that it’s difficult to accept that the th
Mindi Rosser
Jan 07, 2012 Mindi Rosser rated it really liked it
How does religion provide opportunity for child abuse? I was one of those helpless children. Spankings, indoctrination, fear, dictatorships, and authoritarianism prove prevalent in fundamentalist Christian denominations. All cloaked beneath the guise of love.

Unwitting parents subject their children to the leadership of these "churches," without realizing the decades-long repercussions. Author Janet Heimlich spotlights this topic from her journalistic investigation.

Breaking Their Will: Shedding L
Pierre A Renaud
Feb 20, 2013 Pierre A Renaud marked it as to-read
"What Heimlich does offer are some important insights into the conditions that allow such abuses to happen in the first place. Her principal conclusion is that children are most at risk in religious cultures that are dangerously authoritarian. She describes “a perfect storm” of characteristics that signal danger. First, the group displays a strict social hierarchy. Second, its culture is fear-filled. And third, it’s separatist. The supporting evidence offered in the book is easily sufficient and ...more
Jan 13, 2013 Bryan rated it liked it
The writing style is a bit too passive for my liking, but the content is fascinating. The author breaks down the topic of religious child maltreatment to its many facets and explores each component with compassion and careful observation to detail. The author also cites other works on the topic, making this a great jumping off point for further investigation into this subject.
Adam Ross
A great look into the risks and harm that fundamentalist religion of all stripes can pose to children. This harm can be physical, sexual, or emotional/psychological/spiritual.
Thorn MotherIssues
Nov 08, 2011 Thorn MotherIssues rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2011
The writing is weird, deliberately distanced from all the religious and parenting practices described in a way I found made for awfully slow going, but I think it would be good information for religious people even though I also think they'd be unlikely to slog through it.
Thomas Edmund
Aug 25, 2013 Thomas Edmund rated it it was amazing
In Breaking their Will Janet Heimlich investigates, discusses and exposes the possible effect of religion on the mistreatment of children.

To do this Heimlich separates the issues into physical, emotional and sexual abuse, medical neglect and a final pair of essays on abuse through rituals and circumcision.

Despite the extreme topic and risk of controversy, Heimlich shows deft skill in addressing the idea without polemic or diatribe style. In fact the issue of whether religion is simply the medium
Sabrina Jennings
Nov 05, 2013 Sabrina Jennings rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Don't have time to write a full review.


When people talk about the dangers of corporal punishment, they frequently focus on the physical harm. But, as any recipient of the treatment will say, the emotional toll is often the most detrimental. (92)

Larry Christenson in The Christian Family: "If the punishment is of the right kind, it not only takes effect physically but through physical terror and pain. It awakens and sharpens the consciousness that there is a moral power over us, a righte
Mar 17, 2014 Rosa rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014-books-read
Sheds light on an important but controversial aspect of religious life. Some of the sources are questionable (like one referenced study published "on the Internet") and the writing sometimes reads like a book report but the key concept, that certain kinds of religious ideologies and practices facilitate child abuse, is worth it.
Sara Sharick
Jun 30, 2013 Sara Sharick rated it really liked it
A bit apologist in places, but otherwise a fantastic layout of the ways faith can cross the line into abuse of children, physically, emotionally, medically, and ritually. Some descriptions had me shaking in rage that people could treat children this way and think it justified. Few things are so enraging as the privileging of unverifiable faith over the verifiable suffering of children.

The final chapters on male and female circumcision and the rights of children were particularly good and inform
Feb 17, 2016 Alice added it
I'm refraining from giving this a rating because of my complicated relationship with the subject matter, but let me just say that I wish I was world overlord and could make everyone in the church read part 2. (As long as I'm world overlord, I think I'll also have them believe it. And then make appropriate changes.)
Jan 13, 2014 Caitlyn rated it it was ok
So long. About twice as long as it needed to be to make the same points. Things were repeated again and again.
Oct 27, 2014 T. rated it liked it
Good book and I got quite a bit out of it. It was pretty heavy though.
Kristina Franken
Sep 04, 2012 Kristina Franken rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend this book for anyone

FTC: I received a free copy of this book and was not reimbursed in any other way.
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article about author and book 1 13 May 08, 2011 07:00PM  
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  • Women Without Superstition: No Gods--No Masters: The Collected Writings of Women Freethinkers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
  • The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children
  • 2000 Years of Disbelief
  • The Faith Healers
  • The Atheist's Introduction to the New Testament: How the Bible Undermines the Basic Teachings of Christianity
  • The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State
  • God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion
  • God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States
  • The Atheist's Way: Living Well Without Gods
  • Atheism Explained: From Folly to Philosophy
  • Attack of the Theocrats!: How the Religious Right Harms Us All — and What We Can Do About It
  • Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism
  • Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion
  • C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy
  • Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist
  • The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions
  • Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History Vol. 1
Janet Heimlich received a B.A. in Communications from Stanford University in 1984 after which she began a career of producing and writing corporate and commercial film and video presentations in California. In 1996, she moved to Austin and turned her interests toward journalism. For eight years, Ms. Heimlich freelanced as a reporter for National Public Radio and other national radio networks. Work ...more
More about Janet Heimlich...

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“Religion can bring great comfort to children.
It can also turn their lives into a living hell.”
“Critics refer to faith communities’ “culture of forgiveness,” in which abuse victims are discouraged from feeling anger and instead are told to forgive their perpetrators.” 0 likes
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