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Woman: I was afraid to tell of rape



Last modified: Sunday, May 30, 2010
While being kept in seclusion at her pastor's Concord home in 1997, Tina Anderson, then 15, was too afraid of the reaction from members of her church to tell the police she had been raped and impregnated by another parishioner, she said in an interview with the Monitor.

Anderson, now 28 and living in Arizona, said Trinity Baptist Church members had told her not to report an earlier case in which she had been molested by a convicted sex offender who was also a member of the congregation, so she expected them to do the same if she told them she had been raped.

"They told me that to be a good Christian, I need to forgive, forget and move on in my life," she said. "And they told me that a good Christian doesn't press charges on another good Christian."

This month the police charged Ernest Willis, 51, of Gilford with raping Anderson twice in 1997. Then-Pastor Chuck Phelps, who now preaches at a church in Indianapolis, said he made the police aware of the rape allegation less than a day after he learned about it but that investigators never asked him for help. The police said they investigated but were not able to find Anderson. They closed the case, leaving it unsolved for 13 years.

The Monitor generally does not name victims of sexual assault but made an exception at Anderson's request.

"I felt very ashamed and dirty, and I felt like it was my fault," Anderson said. "I didn't think that if I told anybody that anything would happen anyway."

Growing up, Anderson said, a family member molested her and beat her and her brother with a belt to "show us who was boss." When the man was imprisoned for an unrelated sex crime, Anderson, then 13, said she felt comfortable enough to tell church members that she, too, had been a victim. But she said church members told her to keep quiet.

Anderson said Phelps directed her to visit the man in state prison to offer her forgiveness.

"He said if I didn't forgive him and give him forgiveness, then I would get bitter," she said. "It's just kind of how things at the church go. The woman is blamed for everything."

At the state prison in Concord, Anderson said she was forced to confront the man with her mother. "It was horrible," she said. "It was awful."

Anderson never reported the allegation to the police, and the man was not charged with assaulting her.

Over the next two years, she confided in Willis, a Trinity parishioner, who offered emotional support, she said. Anderson began babysitting for two of his children.

"I had gotten very close to the (Willis) family," Anderson said. "At Trinity, your whole world revolves around the church and the people who are in the church, so those are really the only people you have contact with."

But according to Anderson, Willis raped her twice when she was 15 - once at her home and once in the parking lot of a Concord business during a driving lesson. Those allegations are the basis of the criminal charges the police have filed against Willis. Several months later, Anderson realized she was pregnant.

Anderson confided in her mother, who called Phelps for help. Anderson said Phelps removed her from Trinity's Bible school. "I was told that I was a bad influence," she said. "I was told I was going to have to go up before the church."

In a meeting at her home with Phelps, his wife and Anderson's mother, Anderson said she was told by Phelps that she'd be kept in a "prophet's chamber" at the Phelpses' Concord home until she could be relocated.

The chamber, which Phelps said is simply a name for a guest room above the garage, was set off from the rest of the house by a separate stairway. It had windows, a bathroom and, according to Phelps, a television and phone. He said it was also used to host traveling ministers.

"I just know that they made me stay at their house, and I wasn't allowed to see any of my friends or talk to anybody," Anderson said. "I had to stay there until they shipped me away."

Phelps said Anderson stayed at several homes of church members, mostly during the day and not overnight, because "her mother asked that someone watch over her so she could continue her job." He said Anderson wasn't locked away.

Anderson said she can't remember how soon she was flown to Colorado to live with another family. Phelps said it was at least two to four weeks.

"I respected the mother's wishes," he said. "Tina did not want to be alone in her home. Her mother had to work. So her mother was looking for someone who could look over her daughter in a time of crisis. Numerous families in the city of Concord provided that service for her, all of us anticipating an arrest to come shortly. None did."

A Colorado family, whom Phelps had met while he was a pastor there, agreed to home-school Anderson. Phelps said this came at the request of Anderson's mother, who did not want her unsupervised or at a public school.

Before she left for Colorado, Anderson said, she was made to stand before the church to ask forgiveness for getting pregnant. She said it was a form of church discipline. "I was completely humiliated," she said. "I felt like my life was over."

Phelps read a single-page letter written for Anderson apologizing for allowing herself to get in a compromising situation and getting pregnant. Church members were then asked to come forward to offer their forgiveness, Anderson said. Willis also had to apologize for cheating on his wife. "They said, 'We forgive you for getting pregnant,' " she said. "It felt stupid, it just felt wrong."

Phelps said this wasn't a case of the church disciplining Anderson. Instead, it was a chance for the congregation to help Anderson.

"Church discipline is the removal of a person from the assembly," Phelps said. "This was not that. This was a chance for people in the church assembly to embrace her, and they did."

Anderson said that after she moved to Colorado, a minister there asked her to write a letter to Willis's wife, apologizing for abusing her trust by having sex with her husband. Church members there monitored her phone calls and didn't allow her to be with people her own age, she said.

Anderson said two church members were with her when she gave birth in March 1998. At Phelps's urging, Anderson said, she gave her baby girl up for adoption.

She continued to be home-schooled until what would have been her senior year, when she returned to Concord for about six months. She lived with her mother again and attended Trinity, sitting in the same pews as Willis. Anderson's mother remains a member of Trinity today.

Anderson left Concord to attend a Baptist college in Wisconsin. She is now married and has since given birth to three more children. She stays in touch with her first-born's adoptive parents.

In a public statement last week, Trinity Baptist Church echoed Phelps's version of events, saying there were multiple documented calls made to the Concord Police Department to report the rape and the names of those involved, including Willis.

"Trinity Baptist Church was the first to report this crime in 1997 as well as the only one to give repeated reminders to the Concord Police Department. We continue to be committed to assisting in the investigation in any way possible," the church said.

Anderson said she wasn't aware of attempts by others to contact the police.

"I don't really have anything to say to any of them right now," she said. "I think my mind is just so overwhelmed with everything."

CORRECTION: The original version of this story misstated who directed Anderson to write a letter of apology to Willis's wife. It was a pastor in Colorado.

Trent Spiner can be reached at 369-3306 or tspiner@cmonitor.com. Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com