15-Year-Old Allegedly Raped, Then Forced to Confess to Church

New Hampshire man arrested for alleged 1997 rape; police mull cover-up charges.

June 2, 2010, 12:03 PM

June 3, 2010— -- Tina Anderson was only 15 when she said she was forced to stand terrified before her entire Baptist congregation to confess her "sin" -- she had become pregnant. What she wasn't allowed to tell the group was that the pregnancy was the result of being raped by a church deacon, a man twice her age.

She says her New Hampshire pastor, Chuck Phelps, told her she was lucky not to have been born during Old Testament times when she would have been stoned to death.

While questioning the girl before church officials crafted the speech she would deliver, Anderson said Phelps' wife asked her, "Did you enjoy it?"

That was only the first step in Anderson's "church discipline," one of many ritual practices in the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church (IFB), which Anderson, now more than a decade later, says preys on the vulnerable.

"I was completely in shock, but too scared to go and tell anyone because I thought I would get blamed for what happened," Anderson said.

"I truly believed that it was my fault," she told ABCNews.com through tears.

Her mother sought help from the pastor and they agreed to send her thousands of miles away to Colorado to live with another Baptist family.

There, she reportedly was homeschooled and barred from seeing others her age until she gave her child up for adoption.

But in February 2010, after keeping her secret for 13 years, Anderson -- a 28-year-old mother of three more children who lives in Arizona -- was contacted by police and agreed to press charges.

All the years that she lived with the memory of the alleged abuse, she held it tight. "You are told not to talk about it," according to Anderson, who also accuses the pastor of concealing her whereabouts.

Today, the man charged with rape has been arrested and Concord's Trinity Baptist Church is at the center of that scandal for allegedly protecting one of its members and perhaps hiding the victim from police scrutiny.

Ernest Willis, now 51 and a former church member who lives in Gilford, N.H., is accused of raping Anderson twice -- once at Anderson's home where he showed up when her parents were away and a second time in the backseat of a car when he was teaching her to drive.

In a seven-page statement to police obtained by ABCNews.com, Anderson said Willis offered to take her out of state where abortions for minors are legal, then asked if she wanted him to "punch me in the stomach as hard as he could" to trigger a miscarriage.

Willis has been charged with four felonies -- two counts of rape and two counts of having sex with a minor. He was released on $100,000 personal recognizance bail and will be arraigned June 16 in Concord District Court. Calls to his house seeking comment were not returned.

"We just received the files and have not had a chance to review them," said Assistant City Prosecutor Tracy A. Connolly, who would not say if there were more alleged victims.

Police have told the Associated Press that they are looking into obstruction of justice charges against the church for possibly sending the victim away so they could not prosecute.

"Without a victim, it makes it very difficult to have a case," Lt. Keith Mitchell told the Concord Monitor newspaper. "That basically made the investigation very difficult."

Police records do not show whether the church assisted detectives in finding Anderson or whether they were silent. Willis refused to give a statement at the time, according to the Monitor.

Tina Anderson Finds Help Through Facebook

Police were alerted to the alleged crime after a group page went up on Facebook: "Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Cult Survivors (And their Supporters)."

Matt Barnhart, a former member of Anderson's church, left a simple message: "Trinity, New Hampshire, church hid 15-year-old getting pregnant from deacon. You can contact me privately."

The site supervisor, who runs an advocacy group for Baptists, Freedom from Abuse, alerted Concord police who culled information from a high school friend of Anderson's to locate her.

Anderson, who at the time was teaching voice at the International Baptist College in Chandler, Arizona, got the police call out of the blue.

"Right now I feel completely overwhelmed," said Anderson. "It's been tough. In my mind, I didn't think he'd be arrested, and when I got the phone call I was completely shocked. My whole world has changed."

Anderson agreed to press charges.

In a prepared statement last week, Trinity Baptist Church, which has new leadership, told the Concord Monitor that at the time there were many documented calls to the police to report the alleged rape and the names of those accused of being involved, including Willis.

The church said a report was made to the Division of Family and Child Services within 24 hours of learning about the accusations on Oct. 8, 1997.

"Trinity Baptist Church was the first to report this crime in 1997 as well as the only one to give repeated reminders to the Concord Police Department," the statement said. "We continue to be committed to assisting in the investigation in any way possible."

Phelps, 51, who now preaches at the Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Ind., did not return calls from ABCNews.com.

His receptionist said Phelps has retained a lawyer through the Christian Law Association, which did not return calls from ABCNews.com.

He told the Monitor that there was no church cover-up and he had immediately reported the accusations to authorities.

"I was the first one to report this to the police, as was my duty," he said. "The people who didn't do their job was the Concord Police Department."

He also said that Anderson's confession was not discipline, rather an opportunity for the church to help Anderson.

"Church discipline is the removal of a person from the assembly," Phelps said. "This was not that. This was a chance for people in the church assembly to embrace her, and they did."

Anderson said she told both Phelps and her mother that she didn't want to go to Colorado and wanted to live with her paternal grandparents in Texas.

"My mother is very much a follower," said Anderson. "She believes she needs to do what [the church] tells her because they are men of God. But I don't think she made the wisest choices."

Anderson was sent to live with a family who worshipped in an IFB parish where Phelps had been a youth minister. Its pastor, Matt Olson, who is now president of Northland Baptist Bible College in Dunbar, Wisc., to write a letter to Willis's wife to apologize, according to Anderson. Two church members were also at her side in March 1998 when she gave birth to a daughter. Phelps urged her to give the child up for adoption, she said.

Sex Offender Stepfather Also Allegedly Abuses Girl

Anderson's traumatic journey began at the age of 11 when for two years she says she was sexually abused by her stepfather, who with her mother is still an active member of Trinity Church.

A registered sex offender, he served time in jail for a crime against another girl. When she later confided with church members they allegedly told her not to report the case.

At the age of 14, Anderson was hired as a babysitter for the Willis family. She says the first assault occurred at her home when her parents were away.

"He said he wanted to talk to me about something so I let him in the house," she told police. "He locked the door behind him and pushed me over to the couch. I had a dress on and he pulled it off. I pushed my hands against his shoulders and said 'No,' but he didn't stop."

A year later, Willis allegedly assaulted her during a driving lesson behind a local business when he asked Anderson to "switch seats," according to her statement. He pulled her into the back and "raped" her, she said.

When her mother contacted Phelps, he insisted on the public apology, according to Anderson. At the same time the church congregation also heard a confession from Willis for being unfaithful to his wife.

At the time, Phelps said Willis was "99 percent to blame" and Anderson held "1 percent" of the responsibility.

Phelps insisted they were separate cases as each confessed at separate sides of the auditorium, but eventually some church members connected the dots.

Matt Barnhart, 41 and a father of four, says he witnessed the confession just six months after he joined the church, and it bothered him for years.

"Pastor Phelps was a statesman, an excellent speaker," said Barnhart. "I was always impressed by him and thought the world of him. But all that changed after that. I lost respect for him."

Willis lost the deaconship, but continued to be a member of the church "in good standing," according to Barnhart, and girls continued to babysit for him. After some time, Willis left the church, he said.

Just last year, Barnhart quit his membership after 15 years when his family was in "fierce need" of counseling.

"How can we go to a pastoral staff when we think they might have let the rapist of a 14-year-old go?" he told ABCNews.com. "How can they hurt these kids and call themselves a real place that teaches the gospel?"

"She's a brave girl," said he said of Anderson speaking publicly about it.

After having her baby in Colorado, Anderson attended Olson's college in Wisconsin and is now married with three additional children. She stays in touch with her first-born's adoptive parents, whom she said provide a "very stable and good home" for her daughter.

Anderson said she has a "wonderful husband who is 100 percent supportive." He works at a nearby university.

The couple does not intend to go back to the Independent Fundamental Church (IFB). "Going forward, we wouldn't raise our children and subject them to that," she said.

She hopes one day to help others who have been similarly traumatized by sexual abuse. Anderson says she would tell them: "Truly, it's really important to know that it's not your fault," she said. "You need to tell someone, and talk until someone will listen."

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