Help Center Enslaved Teen, Family Says

     SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – A “charlatan behavior modification facility” took a girl’s “desperate and deluded” mother for $100,000, made the girl wash stairs with toothbrushes, and forced her to listen to stories about rape and bestiality, she claims in court.
     Sarah Artim and her mother, Nancy Artim, sued Cross Creek Manor, and its operator, the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs, in Federal Court. The six causes of action include fraud and slavery.
     “This case is about a 15-year-old girl’s being unlawfully locked up for 16 months in a private prison in Utah,” the lawsuit states. “Doing this to her daughter cost a desperate mother almost $100,000, paid to a charlatan behavior modification facility called Cross Creek Manor in St. George, Utah. It is part of a major Utah industry that preys on desperate parents and charges enormous fees to treat their children worse than any felon in a Utah correctional facility. When the parent runs out of money, and the child is released, she will be far worse off than when she was forcibly committed, and her developing adolescent mind will be forever impaired. The retribution she here seeks will not begin to repair the harm she has suffered, or the money spent by her mother to help her.”
     The Artims say in the complaint that Sarah was sent to Cross Creek for treatment of anorexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety.
     “On or about January 2007, Nancy Artim signed an enrollment agreement with Cross Creek Manor along with a demanded [sic] of $4,500 month for the 16 months that Sarah was at Cross Creek, and additional amounts totaling approximately $100,000, which eventually forced Nancy into bankruptcy. In consideration of the money paid, Nancy had to transfer to Cross Creek full and complete possession, custody, and control of her minor daughter, Sarah Artim.
     “The written adhesion agreement provided that Nancy would sign a power of attorney transferring custody of Sarah for the duration of the agreement, and nevertheless accept responsibility for all expenses, damaged property, run away retrieval expenses, nursing and medical care, and release Cross Creek and its employees or contractors from any liability for injury to or death of Sarah.
     “The agreement gave Cross Creek full authority to strip search Sarah by removing all of her clothing so as visually to inspect her person and body cavities. Cross Creek had the right to physically control and detain Sarah by any restraint deemed necessary, which it did. Should she escape, Cross Creek could enlist any and all enforcement agencies to capture and return her to Cross Creek at Nancy’s expense.
     “Cross Creek was authorized to obtain medical care and records, and engage any medical, dental, psychiatric, and hospital, ambulance or other health related care at Nancy’s expense. Cross Creek agreed that it understood that Sarah was a minor placed in its custody and control without her consent. Sarah thus belonged to Cross Creek.”
     Cross Creek is surrounded by tall fences and parents saw only what staff wanted them to see, the Artims say.
     “Even in the outside area the parents were trapped into seeing only what the staff wanted them to see as the fences were 12 to 16 [feet] tall. They made the children do manual labor like washing the stairs with toothbrushes. There were isolation rooms for punishment,” the 34-page complaint states.
     Sarah was not allowed to go to the bathroom without permission; she was allowed to call her parents only once a week, while a therapist listened; and was forced to listen to group members’ “unbearable” stories about “rape, bestiality, incest, molestation, drug use, death, abandonment and many other things,” she says in the complaint.
     The lawsuit cites a letter from Sarah, now 22.
     “I believe my 15-month stay has damaged me more than any event in my life thus far. I feel passionately that Cross Creek, and or places similar too it should be shut down so no other kid has to go through the things myself and fellow classmates were put through. Like I said it has been many years since my completion of Cross Creek and many events I have simply tucked away because they are painful, but I’m going to do my best to give examples of reasons why this place should no longer operate. It has taken me many years to heal, and get my life back on track. It honestly is still a work in progress to get over.”
     Six pages later, the letter states: “One point in my therapy I was put on one month of silence where I could only speak to my therapist. I was put on it because my therapist said I didn’t share enough in group and I wasn’t working on my issues enough. This was one of the most traumatic things I’ve ever been put through. My freedom of choice was not only taken away but now my interaction with people and my voice. During this time was also my sixteenth birthday. I was eventually taken off when I started to give aggressive feedback to a girl in my group who was struggling to adopt the beliefs of the program.
     “I believe through the group therapy the therapist was able to set up a dynamic that forced students to attack anyone not conforming and were rewarded by being told they are making changes and doing good. By doing this we all became brainwashed and adopting their beliefs. I learned to just go on autopilot and do whatever I was told so that I could return home. Therapist/staff constantly encouraged us to tell on others who weren’t following rules, and to almost shame people into conforming. Feedback was used not to help, but to destroy girls with already self-esteem that was on the floor. They wanted our self-esteem to be low so they could form us into what they wanted us to become, and so we wouldn’t question any other their methods.
     “To graduate the program you must complete six levels and graduate at least 8 seminars. You must graduate each of the seminars to move up to the other. If you do not graduate your seminar you will be in the program at least another 2 months because they only take place every two months. They tell you to graduate these seminars is simple all you have to do is be honest and share. That was not my experience.
     “The seminars consisted of strange, confusing rules to follow (that if you break one the facilitator will most likely eliminate you from the seminar).
     “Exercises that consisted of things like beating chairs and screaming, being forced to share things you had done that were ‘bad’ in your past.
     “Not being allowed to use the restroom under any circumstance unless on a break, which were few and far in between.
     “The facilitators were always very strong, intimidating, loud, powerful speakers, who would constantly bring up how we had destroyed our families and were ungrateful. They would start the seminars out always bringing us down and forcing us into tears and stories giving us the hope of showing them we’ve changed and deserve to graduate and go back home. …
     “Looking back and talking about my experiences makes me sad and sick. No matter what I say or how I described my stay there, I don’t feel anyone will ever understand. I was a robot for a long time I did as I was told and morphed into what a ‘good’ student was supposed to be. When I got home I couldn’t even go into public for long periods of time without crying. I was overwhelmed, anxious and scared to break nonexistent rules. I had nightmares about going back the first few months. I came back 40 pounds heavier from lack of exercise and constant manipulation through food and fatty snacks. My self-esteem was even lower then when I had been sent away. I dealt with constant shame that I wasn’t better and didn’t change enough for my family. We were constantly told if we did what the program said we would come back happy, healthy successful people and when I wasn’t I fell into a deep depression and felt I couldn’t relate to anyone anymore not even lifelong childhood friends, family or anyone. “Cross Creek took weak girls such as myself, filled our head with lies and manipulated us and our parent’s weakness because we were all in vulnerable situations. They made constant promises that if we graduated the program we would be most likely to succeed in life and told our parents if we left before we would just become worse off and they even threatened we’d die. I graduated and truly believe I am worse off for attending such a place. Anytime I look back on my time spent there I have a huge knot in my stomach that reminds me of all the pain. I don’t revisit my memories spent there because all it brings me back to what a sad, hurt, lonely and scared girl I was. I never want another girl to go through the emotional trials Cross Creek brings.”
     Nancy Artim says in the lawsuit that she “bitterly regretted” sending Sarah to Cross Creek.
     “The consequences of her stay there had a profound adverse effect upon her life and family, with which both mother and daughter are still struggling many years later,” the complaint states.
      Hundreds of parents sued the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools in 2011, claiming a group of boarding schools tortured their children by locking them in dog cages, forcing them to lie in feces and eat vomit, masturbating them and denying the troubled teens any religion “except for the Mormon faith.”
     Sarah and Nancy Artim seek punitive damages for slavery, breach of contract, fraud and conspiracy.
     They are represented by Thomas Burton.