Why abuse victims ran from the law in ‘Children of the Underground’

Teenaged West Virginia mother Faye Yager thought she was residing a standard existence — till the day she caught her husband molesting their younger daughter, Michelle.

It was the second, within the early Nineteen Seventies, that will gas Yager’s life as a crusader and vigilante preventing to assist girls and kids flee abusive males who had been protected by household court docket rulings. A charismatic, passionate advocate, Yager discovered sympathetic individuals everywhere in the nation keen to stealthily lend their time, their properties and their cash to her trigger.

Within the new FX collection “Children of the Underground,” archival footage of Yager and clips of her frequent discuss present appearances present how she arrange an intensive community of collaborators and protected homes all through the US and overseas – and the way her ardour for serving to different girls bought snarled within the Satanic Panic of the ’80s.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (“Blackfish”), who co-directed the collection, interviewed Yager, now in her early eighties, in 2021. “She’s bigger than life, she’s nonetheless each bit as sharp and fiery,” mentioned Cowperthwaite. “She has a wry humorousness. One of many first issues she mentioned to me is that she’s the one Southern girl with a 2,000-page FBI file.”

Faye Yager interviews an unidentified mom in an unofficial workplace of her Youngsters’s Underground Community.
Getty Photographs

When Yager first found the abuse of her personal daughter, she gathered all of the proof she may in opposition to her husband — together with medical studies of the 4-year-old lady having contracted gonorrhea. However even within the face of medical proof, the court docket deemed Yager’s claims implausible; her husband tried to have her dedicated. A choose finally awarded full custody of Michelle to Yager’s husband, Roger Jones, who would finally be discovered responsible of molesting different underage ladies, however by no means punished for his abuse of his personal daughter, to which he would finally admit. (Michelle is 53 now, and seems within the collection as a fierce defender of her mother.) When she heard the story of one other mom who’d gone on the run after a court docket denied her allegations of abuse — one thing she’d initially believed was an remoted incident that had occurred solely to her — Yager started placing collectively what she’d finally title the Youngsters’s Underground Community. 

She remarried, to a health care provider in Atlanta; within the present’s archival footage, she’s typically proven choosing up the telephone in her spacious suburban home, carrying lengthy, flowery attire. One of many shocking sources of assist for Yager grew to become daytime discuss exhibits, at their peak throughout this time. When she would seem as a visitor on “Geraldo” or “Sally Jessy Raphael” or “Oprah,” speaking in regards to the prevalence of sexual abuse of kids — a subject that had lengthy been nearly ignored by the authorized system — her fierce dedication impressed viewers, mentioned Cowperthwaite. “Folks would begin writing in, saying ‘Something I can do to assist — I’ve garments, I’ve a spare bed room,’ and Faye would say, ‘We really need cash to be given to a mom and her child at this spot at a motel in XY city.’ This unfold like wildfire, and there was primarily an underground community to guard kids in instances the place it was very clear that their protecting guardian was not going to win in court docket.”

Faye Yager
One supply claimed Faye Yager had helped about 500 households by 1992, however that one other 2,000 households had been hidden by the community, half of them with Yager’s direct assist.
Taro Yamasaki/FX

 In “Youngsters of the Underground,” we meet April Curtis, one of many girls Yager helped, and her now-grown daughter, Amanda. With Yager’s assist, Curtis and her daughter went on the run to a collection of protected homes after Curtis’ allegations of sexual abuse of her daughter had been repeatedly ignored by the courts. Like Yager, Curtis was hardly a shrinking violet: she made multiple look on discuss exhibits, generally in disguise, to make her case that ladies had been powerless in opposition to a system that didn’t know find out how to acknowledge or corroborate claims of kid abuse, and that their solely recourse typically lay in going outdoors the legislation. Estimates of what number of households Yager helped go into hiding various: One supply claimed she had helped about 500 households by 1992, however that another 2,000 households had been hidden by the community, half of them with Yager’s direct assist.

Yager bumped into extra doubtful territory when she embraced the Satanic Panic of the late Eighties, when a number of high-profile abuse instances and now-debunked memoirs argued there was rampant sexual abuse of kids in secret elaborate Satanic rituals happening everywhere in the nation. “She does come from a deeply non secular background,” Cowperthwaite mentioned. “And I do assume she believes there’s a darkness on the market.”

Photo of Faye Yager in the 1980s. She's talking on the phone and there's a book on the table in front of her entitled "Satan Wants You: The Cult of Devil Worship in America."
Within the Eighties, Yager embraced now-debunked rumors that kids had been being sexually abused in secret Satanic rituals.
Sygma through Getty Photographs

In 1992, on the age of 44, Yager went on trial for fees that she’d emotionally abused two kids who had been delivered to her consideration by their mom, Myra Watts, who mentioned they had been being abused by their father and initially requested for Yager’s assist. However Watts grew to become unnerved by Yager’s strategies: “She informed me my kids would come into my bed room at night time whereas I used to be asleep and carry out Satanic rituals over my mattress. She informed me my kids had been poisoning me, feeding me with cyanide,” Mrs. Watts mentioned on the time. “At this level, I spotted I used to be coping with a loopy woman.” Within the trial, prosecutors alleged that Yager had coerced false statements from, and threatened, Watts’ two kids, and that she had kidnapped them and had held the youthful baby, Alecia, for 4 days. Yager’s supporters argued the trial was a ruse to assist the federal authorities to close down her extralegal community. Yager’s repute was tarnished within the course of: “Crusader or kidnapper?” one headline requested.

However the true loss of life blow to Yager’s function got here in 1998, when wealthy businessman Bipin Shah filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in opposition to her for serving to his spouse, who alleged he was abusive, go into hiding with their two daughters. He additionally provided a $2 million bounty for the return of his kids — which led to bounty hunters and investigators terrorizing Yager and her household. “They disemboweled certainly one of her youngsters’ rabbits,” Cowperthwaite mentioned. The risk to her household was the final straw, and Yager mentioned she was getting out of the enterprise, albeit with no apologies for something she’d executed.

Is her community nonetheless energetic? “It might be very laborious to think about it’s not,” mentioned Cowperthwaite. “I don’t know any specifics, and it’s bought to be a lot tougher lately with iPhones and so forth. However I feel there are protecting mother and father which are going to proceed to do something and every part to maintain their youngsters protected when the system fails to.”

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