RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Today - difficult memories from a religious reform school in Louisiana. It was called New Bethany Home for Girls. And during the 30 years that it was open, law enforcement a number of times investigated claims of child abuse at the school.
Joanna Wright arrived there at the age of 16. She says she was sexually assaulted as a child beginning at the age of 7. She hoped the school would be an escape for her. But when she got there, she says the man who ran the school raped her. She thought she was the only one until years later when she met others who also claimed they were physically and psychologically abused by the same man. Tara Cummings was one of them. They spoke at StoryCorps. Joanna begins.
JOANNA WRIGHT: I thought something was really wrong with me, that I must be a really bad person because this keeps happening to me in life. I started to think how could I dismember my body and spread the pieces around so that God couldn't find me and put me back together to punish me.
TARA CUMMINGS: I used to wish that I would come back as a cotton ball or a Coke can, completely inanimate so I could feel nothing. Who was the first person that you told?
WRIGHT: My father.
CUMMINGS: What did he do?
WRIGHT: Had me take a lie detector test. I always wondered, what do people see in me that makes them think it's OK to abuse me? And that was something that I carried even into adulthood. I wonder what I would have been like. I think I would have been a free spirit, but it put a fear in me that I I've never shaken. I don't know that I ever will. You know, I always thought there has to be other girls I can't be the only one. And so I've always blabbed about it, but you managed to keep it a secret. And I guess I wondered why.
CUMMINGS: I was a really good liar. Always being the preacher's kid and putting on a perfect front, I think I was trying to move on. But to get out of the hiding was a game changer for me, and I learned that from you. I know you don't believe in divine path, but I was at a fork in the road, and knowing you has changed my life.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: Tara Cummings with Joanna Wright in Cypress, Texas. In 2014, a group of women, including Joanna and Tara, came forward to say the school's founder raped and abused them - a claim he denied. The next year, a grand jury did not indict him, and he died the following month. Joanna and Tara's story will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and featured on the StoryCorps podcast.
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