Compassion or Cover-Up? Teen Victim Claims Rape; Forced
Confession in Church
For years, her church was all she knew but today, Tina Anderson has left that church and says she’s not going back.
“I still struggle, because I’ve been made to feel guilty for so long,” she told “20/20.”
Anderson was only 16 when she said she was forced to stand terrified before her entire church congregation to confess her “sin” — she had become pregnant. She says she wasn’t allowed to tell the group that the pregnancy was the result of being allegedly raped by a fellow congregant, 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.
Phelps says that Anderson voluntarily stood in front of the church, but Tina says it was the first step of “church discipline” at her Independent Fundamental Baptist Church (IFB).
“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 said.
Her mother sought help from the pastor and they agreed to send her thousands of miles away to Colorado to live with another IFB family.
There, she said she was homeschooled and restricted from seeing others her age until she gave her child up for adoption.
In February 2010, after keeping her secret for 13 years, Anderson — who now has three more children and lives with her husband 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 says she held it tight. “You are told not to talk about it,” according to Anderson.
Today, the man accused of raping Anderson is awaiting trial. Ernest Willis, a former church member who lives in Gilford, N.H., is accused of raping Anderson twice — once in the backseat of a car during a driving lesson and a second time at Anderson’s home where she says he showed up when her mother was away. Willis was arrested in May, 2010 on felony sexual assault charges and has since pleaded not guilty. He has declined to speak with “20/20.”
Anderson told “20/20” that, as a pregnant teen, she confided her pregnancy to Willis. His reaction, she said, was to offer to pay for an abortion. When she rejected his offer, he presented another option, she said.
“He asked me if I wanted him to punch me in the stomach as hard as he could to try to cause a miscarriage,” she said. “I told him, ‘No, leave me alone.'”
Thirteen years after the alleged crime, Matt Barnhart, a former member of Anderson’s church, decided to write a post referencing Anderson’s story on a Facebook page for ex-members of IFB churches.
The site supervisor, who runs an advocacy group for former IFB members, Freedom from Abuse, alerted Concord police.
Anderson, who at the time was teaching voice at the International Baptist College in Chandler, Ariz., 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.”
Phelps, now a pastor at another IFB church, says that there was no church cover-up and that he had immediately reported the accusations to authorities. He says the church made many documented calls to the police to report the alleged rape, and that a report was made to the Division of Family and Child Services within 24 hours of learning about the accusations on Oct. 8, 1997.
“A hallmark of my thirty years of ministry has been complying with legal requirements and offering kindness to those seeking spiritual care,” he said in a statement to “20/20.” “The Concord Police never contacted me further about the reports or about the welfare or whereabouts of Tina Dooley Anderson.”
The church’s current leader, Pastor Brian Fuller, said that the Concord Police dropped the ball 13 years ago. “Let’s go to the police station, where thirteen years ago, somebody unconscionably took the reports, and put ’em away in a filing cabinet, let them gain dust,” Fuller said.
“20/20” reached out to the Concord Police, who declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of the case.
Phelps repeatedly declined on-camera interview requests by “20/20” but in a statement said: “Tragically, Tina was involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with Mr. Willis…Tina lied to her mother and to me about this relationship. Tina begged her mother to protect Ernie and not turn this matter over to police.”
“20/20” later caught up with Phelps at the IFB church he now preaches at in Indianapolis. He defended the decision to keep Willis, Anderson’s alleged attacker, in the church.
“First, I didn’t know that he had impregnated a 15 year-old girl. Remember it was an accusation made, an accusation is not a conviction,” he said. “It’s not the responsibility of the church to close the doors to people who have real problems and issues, no matter how heinous. So I think you’ll find the community historically has always allowed heinous people, under careful guidelines to be part of churches.”
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 in Colorado who worshipped in an IFB church where Phelps had been a youth minister. It was, as Phelps has described it, an act of compassion.
According to Anderson, the local pastor in Colorado, Matt Olson, who is now president of Northland International University in Dunbar, Wisc., told her to write a letter to Willis’s wife apologizing for her part in what happened. Olson declined to speak to “20/20,” saying through his lawyer that his conversations with Anderson remain privileged.
In March, 1998, Anderson gave birth to a baby girl. Adoption records show that her alleged rapist, Ernie Willis, admitted he was the father.
Anderson’s traumatic journey began at a young age. She said she and her brother were severely beaten by her stepfather, Daniel Leaf. In 1989, Leaf went to prison for nearly a year for child abuse. After Leaf was released, Anderson said the abuse continued. Between ages 9 and 11, Anderson said her step-father sexually molested her and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.
Anderson said she was only free of Leaf after he was sent to prison for a second time for molesting another minor.
At the age of 14, Anderson was hired as a babysitter for the Willis family. She said the first assault occurred in the backseat of a car during a driving lesson. Anderson said Willis pulled her into the back of the car and raped her.
Anderson said the second assault occurred at her home when Ernie Willis showed up there.
“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,” Anderson said.
When Anderson’s mother contacted Pastor 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. Former church members say that the confessions were presented as separate issues, 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. But he says he felt that he could not speak out. “The whole culture is, no, you don’t question the ministry, you don’t question the pastor,” he said.
Willis 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.
By January 2010, Barnhart had quit his membership after 15 years. “She’s a brave girl,” said he said of Anderson speaking publicly about it.
After attending college in Wisconsin, Anderson married and settled in Arizona. Anderson said she has a “wonderful husband who is 100 percent supportive.” Anderson also stays in touch with her first-born’s adoptive parents, whom she said provide a “very stable and good home” for her daughter.
The couple does not intend to go back to an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church.
“Going forward, we wouldn’t raise our children and subject them to that,” she said.
Still, Anderson says she hasn’t abandoned God or her faith.
“My relationship with God is fine. I’m not mad at God,” she said.
She says she knows what to tell her children about that dark chapter in her life.
“I would just say, ‘Mommy went through a time where some bad people did some, some tough things …but we’ve made it through,'” she said, “‘and God is still good.'”