Former New Bethany resident now dedicates her life to helping sexual abuse victims report the crimes
Former New Bethany resident Teresa Frye brings abuse allegations to light
Teresa Frye arrived at the New Bethany Home for Girls, in Arcadia Louisiana, when she was 14 years old in 1982. Frye endured psychological abuse at the home and witnessed physical abuse. Since then, allegations of sexual abuse have surfaced. Frye has been a galvanizing force in bringing the New Bethany abuse allegations to light.
Print By Rebecca Catalanello, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
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on April 04, 2014 at 11:54 AM, updated April 04, 2014 at 10:00 PM
Special multimedia presentation of the entire multi-part series
Live chat with former residents
Part 1: One woman’s journey
Part 2: 30 years of controversy
Part 3: Couple remembers a runaway
Part 4: Former resident helps victims
Timeline: New Bethany 1971-2014
Video: Former residents return
Video: Reporters question Mack Ford
Video: Sheriff remembers a runaway
Video: Former resident helps victims
Photos: Former residents return
Photos: A look back at New Bethany
Diagram: New Bethany compound
How we reported this story
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Teresa Frye knows that what she is about to say could make some people angry but she needs to say it anyway.
“It’s wrong,” the 46-year-old says in her North Carolina twang, “for me to say that it’s perfectly acceptable for an adult survivor of sexual abuse to stay silent about what happened to them.”
Frye, a single working mother of four, feels so strongly that sex abuse victims should report their abusers that she recently traveled 900 miles and spent hundreds of dollars to help support a woman she knew only through Facebook on her quest to tell investigators her story of childhood molestation.
The trip, which she helped coordinate with several other like-minded women, was the culmination of a core-shaking journey that Frye started about seven years earlier as she sought to make sense of the eight months she spent as a child at New Bethany Home for Girls in Arcadia, La.
For some in the general public, the religious boarding school for wayward youth had been little more than fodder for occasional newspaper stories throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Accusations of children being abused there bubbled into local and national media over the years and lawsuits between the school and the state wound their way into and out of state and federal court.
But for residents like Frye, the boarding school became a memory they tried to forget. She says that while she was there, she witnessed abuse and degradation, but was not herself the victim of sexual abuse. In 2007, when Frye stumbled across an online message board containing hundreds of conversations between former residents, she felt her life pivot.
“I started reading it and probably for a week I did nothing else at night besides read and read and read,” Frye says. “After getting away from it and not thinking about it and shoving it to the back of your head and trying to live your life, it’s not real anymore.”
It wasn’t enough to read the comments; Frye wanted answers — and solutions — and quickly found herself as one in what is an expansive and tightly woven network of people interested in exposing and ending institutional abuse of children. She joined with national groups like Survivors of Institutional Abuse and HEAL, which offer resources and support for people who say they were abused in religious boarding homes similar to New Bethany.
“I started finding out that there were places opening up all over the United States that had the same theological teachings,” Frye says. “I thought at the time that (New Bethany) was a one-of-a-kind place and that no one would ever believe what happened there.”
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Jennifer Halter, front, and Teresa Frye walk arm-in-arm towards the Bienville Parish Courthouse building where Jennifer planned on making a rape report. Halter claims she was repeatedly sexually abused during her time at the New Bethany Home for Girls. Both women attended at different times. Frye says she was never sexually abused while she lived at the home as a teenager, but she witnessed physical and encountered psychological abuse. Over the years, Frye has become a galvanizing force behind the movement to bring the New Bethany abuse allegations to light. (Photo by Kathleen Flynn, Nola.com l The Times-Picayune)
Kathleen Flynn, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Over the course of the past seven years, Frye has found herself on the phone with journalists, filmmakers and police investigators. While looking for answers, she rediscovered her faith in a higher power, one she feels opened doors that for so long have appeared shut.
Frye and a team of friends hunted down answers for a man who was haunted by his last memory of a friend from New Bethany Home for Boys in Longstreet, La., a school that was later shuttered amid complaints of abuse. The man said he remembered a boy named “Guy” being beaten so badly that his eyes bled. The next day, he told Frye, Guy disappeared from the home.
Frye, who worked as a private investigator assistant before becoming a legal case manager in a North Carolina law firm 10 years ago, spent hours and months trying to find out what had happened to him before finally confirming he had died as an adult — information that came to her through what she has come to believe was divine intervention.
“I told God that I couldn’t find him and He needed to show me where he was,” she says. Seconds later, she says, she did a Google search for a name that she had searched hundreds of times before and the information popped up. “That’s what really knocked me off my knees.”
In Frye’s determination to find answers and solutions, though, she sometimes manages to rub others the wrong way. Of the four women who recently went to law enforcement to file reports of sexual abuse at the New Bethany while they were residents there, one said she just had to do it in her own time and felt Frye was abrasive in her zeal to get people like her to report.
Frye says she recognizes that her actions and statements can seem harsh to some, but she doesn’t see a way around it. Sexual abuse doesn’t end, she says, when one victim grows up; perpetrators who aren’t stopped find other children to harm.
“The general consensus that I have seen is that a victim of a childhood sexual crime doesn’t have to report it if they don’t want,” Frye says, “but yet these victims will go and post what happened to them online. We’re not going to ‘awareness’ people to death.”
Frye thinks of her recent trip to Arcadia to support another woman on her quest to tell police about her childhood abuse as a rough model of what should happen more often. Statistics indicate that one in five girls and one in 20 boys are victims of child sexual abuse.
“Look here!” Frye says with urgency. “Get a posse of people together and report the (perpetrator). Raise a stink! Raise a big ol’ stink! This is what’s working and other people need to see what’s working.”
Rebecca Caatalanello can be reached at 504.717.7701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.