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Circle of Hope owners arrested in ‘most widespread sexual, physical, mental abuse’ cases, Schmitt says

Content warning: This story contains graphic information about the alleged sexual abuse that occurred at Circle of Hope as well as references to suicide. 

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Boyd and Susan Householder, the Cedar County couple who ran the former Circle of Hope girls’ school and boarding home, face 101 criminal charges for allegedly sexually and physically abusing those in their care, Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced Wednesday. 

Schmitt detailed the “extensive and horrific” abuse allegedly perpetrated against at least 16 girls at the now-defunct Circle of Hope Girls Ranch and Boarding School by owners Boyd and Susan Householder. The religious school in southwest Missouri garnered national media attention in recent months as allegations of sexual abuse and cruel punishments, such as shoving girls’ heads into horse manure. 

Boyd Householder faces 79 felony charges as well as one misdemeanor, including multiple counts of statutory rape, statutory sodomy, and abuse or neglect of a child, among others. Stephanie Householder, his wife, was charged with 22 felonies, including abuse or neglect of a child and endangering the welfare of a child. 

“With 16 victims so far, we believe this to be one of the most widespread of sexual, physical, and mental abuse perpetrated against young girls in Missouri history,” Schmitt said. “As the father of two young girls, it is simply unthinkable to me that this type of behavior and abuse could be perpetrated against those who are so vulnerable.” 

One victim said the sexual abuse by Boyd Householder began with inappropriate comments and touching but progressed to oral sex and sexual intercourse while at Circle of Hope. Multiple other victims alleged Boyd Householder “taught them the ‘proper way’ to commit suicide,” Schmitt said. 

Other victims said they were handcuffed and shoved down a flight of stairs or restrained, had a dirty sock placed in their mouths, and then sprayed with a hose. Another victim alleged Boyd Householder forced her to drink at least 220 ounces of water and then run until she vomited — and then made her continue running. 

Schmitt said other punishments included forcing girls to stand facing a wall with their hands behind their backs “for days and weeks at a time” or being locked up for days without lights or a bed. Victims were also allegedly hit with paddles and belts. 

“There are no words that I can say here today to describe the mix of great sadness, horror, disgust, and sympathy that I feel about these reports of cruel and almost unbelievable abuse and neglect. We intend to do everything within the power of this office to get justice for the 16 victims we’ve identified so far and their families,” Schmitt said.  

The Attorney General’s Office became involved in the case in November 2020 at the request of the Cedar County Prosecutor’s Office. 

Boyd and Susan Householder, the Cedar County couple who ran the former Circle of Hope girls’ school and boarding home, face 101 criminal charges for allegedly sexually and physically abusing those in their care, Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced on March 10. (THE MISSOURI TIMES/KAITLYN SCHALLHORN)

“This is a moment that does deserve to be celebrated,” Amanda Householder, the couple’s daughter and whistleblower, said in a TikTok video Wednesday. “I’m sad because they are my parents, but something my parents would always tell me is, ‘You’ve made your bed. Now you have to lie in it.’ … They did what they did, and I’m just glad that they’re being held accountable for it — something I never thought was going to happen.” 

Circle of Hope began in 2006 as a place parents could send their children with behavioral issues. It was located near Humansville in Cedar County and shuttered in late 2020 after the state removed girls from the home. 

The Householders have denied the allegations in previous interviews with other media outlets. 

“They’re angry, and they’re bitter, and they want to blame somebody,” Stephanie Householder said. “They feel like they’re victims, and they just want to take their anger out on somebody.” 

Jessica Seitz, director of public policy for Missouri KidsFirst, called the charges “historic.” 

“Justice is beginning to be served for some of the victims,” Seitz told The Missouri Times. “Our state has been a haven for these horrific facilities for too long. Today, we can celebrate this progress. And then we can pair the justice being achieved in the Circle of Hope case by improving the system response in Missouri through policy change.”

Multiple Missouri lawmakers have filed legislation to enable the state to keep better tabs on faith-based schools like Circle of Hope. Currently, Missouri is one of only two states that does not have oversight of these reform schools.

HB 557 from Republican Rep. Rudy Veit passed out of committee late last month and is sitting in the Rules committee. It would require “exempt-from licensure residential care facilities” to comply with certain inspections under the Department of Social Services and mandate employees and volunteers under background checks. Parents would also be allowed to access the facility. 

Similarly, Rep. Keri Ingle’s HB 560 also passed out of the House Children and Families Committee last month. 

“The abuse detailed in the allegations brought forward in these cases matched the horrific testimony we have heard from survivors,” Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, chair of the House Children and Families Committee, said. “This important first step taken by Attorney General Schmitt to seek justice for those who have been abused dovetails with the work the legislature is doing to keep kids safe.” 

“I support making sure our children are safe, and I’m glad the legislature is taking a look at some of these issues,” Schmitt, a former state senator, said. 

As the investigation is ongoing, Schmitt encouraged anyone with additional information about the alleged abuse and assault at Circle of Hope to contact his office at 573-751-0309.

This story has been updated.