This article does not constitute the giving of legal or medical advice. For specific legal or medical advice, consult with an attorney or a health care professional.


If you’re a homeschool alum who was abused or neglected growing up, you may suffer from long-term challenges. Those challenges might affect your physical, mental, social, and financial wellbeing. If the people who hurt you in your childhood still hurt you or other children, you might feel those painful, traumatic feelings over and over again.

Adult survivors of childhood abuse and neglect have many options for seeking healing and justice. There’s no one right way to move forward. Homeschool alumni make different choices based on their individual situations. Many try different options at the same time. If you’re trying to figure out what options you have to address the harm done to you or your loved ones, this guide is for you. The options fall roughly into two categories: personal approaches and legal approaches.

Personal approaches to pursue healing and justice

Many homeschool alumni who have experienced harm prefer to address it privately. They prefer options that don’t involve the government or the court system. Instead, they may choose:

Self-care and community care 

Self-care and community care can promote healing in the aftermath of a trauma. Some people think “self-care” means luxuries. But self-care does not have to be expensive. Self-care is doing any task that meets your physical or emotional needs. Self-care gives you a chance to show yourself you are worthy and deserving of love and care. 

Community care happens when other people who support you step up to do these same tasks. It gives them a chance to show their love and care for you through their actions. Both self-care and community care can be complicated for survivors of homeschool trauma. It takes time to learn self-care and to find people who will help you heal, but it’s worth the wait. 

Explore these resources on self care and community care:

     

      • 101 Self Care Techniques. This list is from the nonprofit Beauty After Bruises, which serves adult survivors of childhood trauma. The list organizes its ideas for self-care by the amount of effort involved.

      • Let’s Talk Self Care. This workbook from the CARE Center at UC-Davis provides a guide to the different types of self-care to help you create your own ideas for self-care. (Content Note: reference to domestic violence).

      • Writers Ijeoma Oluo and Ericka Ayodele Dixon argue that in many cases, community care is more essential to healing than self-care. Ericka’s story goes into detail about how community care saved her life. (Content Note: reference to sexual assault) 

    Self-expression 

    Self-expression is sometimes considered to be a part of self-care. But it deserves a special mention for homeschool alumni. That’s because some homeschool alumni have very controlling parents. If you have controlling parents, you may not be allowed to have the normal process of developing an identity as a teenager. 

    After you leave a controlling home, doing new activities may help you build an adult identity. Those activities might include:

       

        • Trying new foods

        • Exploring new books, movies, music, and other media

        • Experimenting with your clothes and hairstyles

        • Participating in activities that your abusers banned 

      You may struggle at first to figure out what forms of self-expression are helpful and which are risky behaviors. Many homeschool alumni use forms of self-expression like writing, art, and spending time in nature. Activities like these can help you keep your mind in the present and process your experiences without feeling the pain you remember all over again. These activities can help you both as you begin your self-discovery and as an ongoing practice.

      Explore these resources about self-expression and trauma recovery:

         

          • Thriving in the Wake of Trauma. This book by psychologist Thema Bryant-Davis offers a road map for thriving as a survivor of trauma. It includes sections on forms of self-expression like writing, movement, and art.

        Self-education 

        Self-education can be helpful for homeschool alumni who want to understand their trauma. Finding words to describe what happened to you can help you heal. These words can also help you to connect your experience to those of other people. These connections can lead you to resources that will help your healing journey. Self-education can also help you understand what outside factors contributed to your trauma. 

        Explore these resources about common sources of trauma in homeschooling families.  

        Individual therapy 

        Individual therapy can help homeschool alumni process and heal from their experiences. You should only seek therapy from a licensed mental health provider. Some kinds of providers may be better equipped to help homeschool alumni who had negative experiences. You may want to look for providers with expertise in any of the following areas:

           

            • Trauma-Informed Care 

            • Developmental Trauma

            • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

            • Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)

            • Religious Trauma and Spiritual Abuse

          You can use Psychology Today’s website to find therapists by location, specialty, and whether they are safe people to discuss race or sexuality. Unfortunately, many private mental health providers do not accept insurance. You may want to check out Open Counseling’s guide to free, low-cost, and publicly-funded counseling.

          Explore these resources on mental health care:

             

              • The Family Guide to Mental Health Care. This book by Lloyd I. Sederer provides a good overview of what mental health care is and looks like. It can be particularly helpful for homeschool alumni who may be unfamiliar with mental health care.

              • What is Trauma-Informed Care? This website from the Buffalo Center for Social Research explains the therapeutic approach of Trauma-Informed Care.

            Family therapy

            Family therapy is when several family members receive therapy together. Family therapy is generally not recommended in cases where one person has abused the other. However, this kind of therapy may be beneficial for family members with shared trauma. 

            Estrangement

            Estrangement involves limiting or ending relationships with people who caused harm. Some homeschool alumni use estrangement to prevent harm from toxic relatives. You can choose different degrees of estrangement based on your situation. Estrangement from family might make you feel both grief and relief. If you depend on your family for finances, health care, or other support, estrangement may not be for you.

            Explore these resources on estrangement:

               

                • Why Do Adult Children Estrange?: The Children’s Explanations. Blogger Issendai’s 2015 series Down the Rabbit Hole explores the language used in online forums for parents whose children have chosen estrangement. The series demonstrates that parents in these spaces have been given many opportunities to reconcile but have chosen not to take them.

                • Family Estrangement: Advice and Information for Adult Children. This guide from StandAlone, a UK charity whose mission is to support people who are estranged from their families, takes a more ambivalent approach to estrangement. It encourages reconciliation, which may not always be the best option for homeschool alumni.

              Media exposure 

              Media exposure is a way for homeschool alumni to tell their stories publicly. Media exposure can help when abusive home educators are powerful or highly respected in their communities. If an abuser has status, some people may not believe their victim’s story. Some homeschool alumni have found that sharing their stories publicly can give them power against their abuser. The social pressure on the abuser can force them to change their behavior. 

              If you’re interested in media exposure, you need to understand its costs and benefits. Media exposure can retraumatize you since you have to talk about painful memories. You can also have a negative experience if a journalist misuses your story. Media exposure can also potentially open you up to defamation lawsuits.

              Explore these resources on media exposure:

                 

                Activism 

                Activism is another approach to healing and justice for homeschool alumni. CRHE’s team and many members of related online communities use this approach. We can’t undo what happened to us. But we can work towards preventing it from happening to other children. 

                When you were homeschooled, your abusers may have kept you away from community on purpose. That kind of isolation can make you feel like no one understands what you’ve experienced. Activism can give you a common space to share your experiences with other people who have lived through traumatic homeschooling. It can also give you the chance to work together and find ways to take action for today’s homeschooled students. Sharing and working with people who experienced trauma like you can be healing. Studies show that activism can help survivors of violence connect with their individual selves and let go of guilt, shame, and self-hatred about things they could not control. CRHE’s Action page is a great place to start to join the movement for homeschool reform! 

                Explore these resources on activism:

                   

                    • Trauma and Recovery. This book by psychiatrist Judith Herman explains that survivors who engage in activism “can transform the meaning of their personal tragedy by making it the basis for social action.”

                  Transformative justice 

                  Transformative justice is a way to respond to violence outside the legal system. A moderator often leads the process. The moderator should value everyone’s humanity in the situation. The process should center both the victim and abuser in community.

                  Transformative justice can look different in different places. More people are starting to understand and embrace it. But not everything that calls itself transformative justice is the real thing. Anyone who demands abusers to confess and victims to forgive is NOT practicing transformative justice. See Martha Peight and Tina Anderson’s stories for examples of this. (Content note: discussion of sexual assault)

                  Explore these resources on transformative justice:

                     

                      • Transform Harm. This website provides a resource hub for local efforts to end violence.

                    Legal approaches to pursue healing and justice

                    Some homeschool alumni use the legal system to try to get the government to acknowledge the harm done to them. If you’re a trauma survivor dealing with the legal system, you may have complicated feelings about it. You may feel angry or retraumatized. You may feel disappointed. You may feel freer or happier. You may feel all these emotions at once.

                    Legal approaches to healing and justice for homeschool alumni fall into two general categories: civil law and criminal law. Both types of law have similarities, including:

                       

                        • State-imposed penalties for wrongdoing

                        • State-imposed compensation for those who have been wronged

                      But civil law and criminal law also have important differences, including:

                         

                          • Who can start the legal proceedings (whether you or the state choose to initiate the case)

                          • What everyone involved in the legal proceedings must do (whether you just testify or also make decisions in how the case proceeds)

                          • What the penalty can be (civil cases can result in compensation or restraining orders, but only criminal cases may result in imprisonment)

                        See the Zero Abuse Project and the free online textbook Law 101: Fundamentals of the Law by Michael H. Martella for more information on legal basics. Because each state has different laws concerning these issues, your options may depend on where you live.

                        Civil law

                        Civil law applies to disputes between private parties. In a civil suit, the party who was wronged (the plaintiff) initiates proceedings against the party who wronged them (the defendant). A judge or jury decides the case. If they rule in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant may have to do one or more of the following:

                           

                            • Pay money to the plaintiff

                            • Lose their property

                            • Limit their attempts to contact the plaintiff

                            • Lose custody of children they abused

                          Civil suits 

                          Some homeschool alumni use civil suits when the harm they experienced doesn’t meet the standards of criminal court. (See Lourdes Torres-Manteufel for an example. Content Note: trafficking and sexual abuse.) If you’re trying to get a small sum of money, you may be able to file suit yourself. Otherwise, you will need to get a lawyer. 

                          Explore these resources on civil suits:

                             

                              • Suing an Abuser for Money. This page from WomensLaw.org allows you to explore the civil suit laws in your state or the state where the abuse happened.

                              • How Child Sexual Abuse Survivors Can Inadvertently Get Victimized Twice. Sexual abuse attorney Dan Monahan and law professor Daniel Pollack co-authored this guide to determine whether a civil suit is worth it. This article is primarily intended for lawyers thinking about whether to take a case. But it also has a helpful overview of the challenges a plaintiff might face as they file a lawsuit. Monahan and Pollack acknowledge that civil suits can be retraumatizing and difficult. They also give advice about how to center the victim’s needs during the process.

                            Family court 

                            Family court can help relatives help homeschooled children in bad environments. A family law attorney may be able to help a relative (like an adult sibling) file for custody. (See the case of Ariel Winter for an example. Content Note: child abuse). A family law attorney may include children’s school attendance in a custody arrangement. (See the case of an abusive homeschooling father’s wife, who used divorce and custody proceedings to allow their children to attend school). 

                            Explore these resources on family law:

                               

                                • Types of Cases. This page from the Family Law Self-Help Center gives a brief overview of the types of civil cases that might be filed in family court.

                                • How to Find a Family Lawyer. This page from LegalMatch describes what family law attorneys do, lists different areas of specialization, and provides a finding tool for family law attorneys in your state.

                                • NACC Member Directory. This page allows you to search for a family law attorney who is a member of the National Association of Counsel for Children, which indicates an interest in advancing the rights and well-being of children in the child welfare system.

                              Criminal law

                              Criminal law is for situations where an offender severely harms someone. This harm is so severe that it not only directly impacts the victim but also impacts the state or society. Government officials serve as the prosecution, and they start proceedings against the offender (the defense). A jury usually determines the outcome. That outcome has the potential result of jail time for the offender. Criminal cases require a high standard of proof to determine guilt. Defendants in criminal court have more legal protections than defendants in civil court. 

                              Criminal charges 

                              Home educators who severely harm their children have faced criminal charges. These charges often come from an investigation by child services, the police, or both. The authorities are often following a tip from a concerned neighbor, relative, or mandated reporter. They also receive tips from adult siblings who saw or experienced abuse and reported it. Homeschool alumni Malayia Knapp and adult siblings in the Dutro, Hobson, and Cantrell cases did just that. (Content Note: all forms of child abuse including sexual abuse, torture, and extreme neglect.) If you know a homeschooled child whom you suspect is being abused, please report it. Your action could save a life.

                              Explore these resources on pressing criminal charges:

                                 

                                  • Statutes of Limitation for Prosecution of Offenses Against Children. Most states have limitations on the length of time after a crime occurs where criminal charges can be brought. This page from the National District Attorneys Association lists legal limitations by state. You may still report abuse to the police even if they are not legally able to prosecute the perpetrator.

                                  • VictimConnect Resource Center. This resource by the nonprofit National Center for Victims of Crime includes a tool for finding victim advocate services in your state. These services are usually provided free of charge and can be extremely helpful in navigating the criminal justice system as a trauma survivor.

                                Restorative justice

                                Restorative justice can be added to or used instead of criminal prosecution. Like transformative justice, restorative justice is a collaborative process. It also focuses on everyone’s humanity. Its goals include:

                                   

                                    • Repairing harm

                                    • Reducing future harm to victims 

                                    • Rehabilitating the offender instead of punishing them

                                  Unlike transformative justice, restorative justice often involves the government. The offender acknowledges their wrongdoing, and the victim receives restitution. 

                                  Explore these resources on restorative justice:

                                     

                                      • Restorative Justice. This website hosted by the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation describes how restorative justice works both inside and outside the criminal justice system.

                                    Conclusion

                                    Last, but most importantly: there is no one “right way” to heal or pursue justice from the abuse you experienced. Everyone’s healing journey looks different. Healing doesn’t happen overnight or even in a month. Healing is a long-term cyclical process. You might experience times where you feel like you’ve recovered completely. You might also have times where you feel the same way you did when the trauma first happened. You might face similar problems again. This is all completely normal. 

                                    Learning about other people’s healing journeys is incredibly helpful, but try not to compare yours to theirs. Recovering from trauma is not a race. Trust that wherever you are in the process is exactly where you need to be. 

                                    Homeschool alumni have recommended many resources that have helped them. You may also find these resources helpful. If you have something you’d like to add to that list, you can do so by filling out this form.