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Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment Paperback – June 21, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 397 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (June 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 161614405X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616144050
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Breaking Their Will is a powerful and deeply disturbing book, wide ranging in its exploration of religiously based physical and mental abuse of children past and present, and richly informed by both personal and scholarly reflections and insights. This book will have a profound impact upon the consciences and actions of readers from a wide range of religious perspectives who surely will be convinced, after finishing this book, that children deserve to be free from all forms of physical violence in the guise of discipline and the other forms of physical and mental abuse explored in Heimlich's book." --Philip Greven, author of Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse

"Insightful, provocative, exposing, and well written, Janet Heimlich casts a bright light on the presence of child abuse in institutional religion, forcing it out of the dark corners of denial and into the arena of honesty and reality. I hope it is widely read." --Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love

"Child mistreatment, backed by religious tenets, is one of the most disturbing realities, especially when religions also have a unique capacity to cherish and protect children. With courage, compassion, and adept use of interviews and research on a wide range of violations, Janet Heimlich grapples with causes and constructive solutions. This is a book that all of us, but especially religious believers among us, should read as a first step to providing children the love and security they deserve. In my own teaching and research, I've looked for a book that focuses explicitly on how religion becomes entangled in harming children and am glad to have a book to recommend." --Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, author of Let the Children Come: Reimagining Childhood from a Christian Perspective

"Breaking Their Will is both heartbreaking and motivating. After rightly noting that religion is most often not harmful to children, Janet Heimlich details the unique ability of religion in its worst manifestations to inflict lasting pain, humiliation, and terror on the most vulnerable members of our society. Perhaps the crowning achievement of the book is its call to action—a chapter devoted to specific ways in which officials, lawmakers, parents, and even faith communities can root out religious child abuse and remove its claims of immunity from challenge." --Dale McGowan, author/editor, Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers

About the Author

Janet Heimlich, formerly a freelance reporter for National Public Radio and other national radio networks for ten years, is now an independent journalist. In addition to her radio work, she has published investigative journalistic articles, human-interest stories, and book reviews in the Austin American-Statesman, Texas Monthly, the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Observer, and other publications.

More About the Author

As a freelance reporter for National Public Radio, Janet Heimlich won nine journalism awards, including the prestigious Katie, given by the Press Club of Dallas; the Houston Press Club's "Radio Journalist of the Year"; and the Texas Bar Association's Gavel Award. In addition to her radio work, Ms. Heimlich has written non-fiction articles for such publications as Texas Monthly, the Austin American-Statesman, the Texas Observer, Tribeza, and Edible Austin. Her book BREAKING THEIR WILL: SHEDDING LIGHT ON RELIGIOUS CHILD MALTREATMENT is the first to take an in-depth look at child abuse and neglect in the United States that is enabled by religious belief.

Customer Reviews

I for one will recommend this book to all my friends and readers.
Helga Zeiner
This is because it is a book of incredible power, throwing light upon the serious problems of religious child abuse.
The entire volume is well researched, impartially analyzed, and incisively presented.
J. Steven Svoboda

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Seabusicut on November 20, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As soon as I began to read Janet's book, I knew I wouldn't be getting much else done in my life. I was taken in and blown away. If you are a fundamentalist, then I don't think you're going to like what she says. If you are open to learning about what it's like to be a child raised in an environment where your caregivers withhold medical treatment, inflict corporal punishment, or refuse to protect you against sexual abuse from those in authority, this book *is* for you.

For far too long, religion has been something beyond approach. We hear of a parent beating a child to death, and we demand justice. We hear that that parent was following god's will, and then we step away because this is a religious matter.

Janet is not asking for a world free of religion. Janet is suggestion that religious leaders and law enforcement work together to create a safer world for children. Those on the outside of religion don't understand the resolve and passion of those inside religions. They don't understand that arguing with religious extremist does not help. If you don't believe me, go and read the comments on the book "To Train A Child" by Michael Pearl. Arguing in that context doesn't make the world safer for children. Instead, Janet is appealing to all who will listen that we need to work together.

My hope is that pastors, priests, and other religious leaders work with our justice system to better understand each other. That reporting abuse to the authorities does not diminish someone's faith or spiritual beliefs. Having a societal conversation about corporal punishment is not equal to whether or not there's a god. Take the taboo out of religion.

I know all to well how dangerous religion can be. I've paid a dear price for the religious devotion of my parents and church.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By CJFCL on August 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
This was really a fascinating book. It took me awhile to plow through it, mainly because - especially at first - it's a bit "research dense" but once it got more into telling some of the personal stories of the people interviewed by the author it moved quickly.

In addition to being fascinating, this book is also: shocking; maddening; eye-opening; incredibly sad; and just downright hard to believe. (I don't mean that the author's research is faulty; I mean that it's difficult to accept that the things she describes in this book happen on a regular basis.)

One thing that surprised me while reading this book was learning how much has been written on various aspects of this topic. This book is very well researched, and cites numerous sources. It kind of made me wonder how this kind of stuff can still be going on, given the fact that it's obviously not a secret that it's happening. Of course, there's also plenty written to support the views of the nut jobs who perform and/or condone these horrific acts against children, so I guess it balances out.

There was just one area where I thought the book was a bit deficient. The author describes many instances of children dying as a result of religious maltreatment (physical abuse, medical neglect, etc.) but there is very little mention made of how the parents felt after their children died (often due to their own abuse or neglect.) I would have liked a lot more information about whether any light bulbs went on after they saw their children actually dead, or whether it was just accepted as "God's will."

I have always believed that the most dangerous force operating in the modern world is religious fanaticism, and this book helped confirm that.

(FTC disclaimer: I reviewed a copy of this book that I won in the Goodreads Firstreads Giveaway contest.)
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By L. D. Clark on June 18, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an important and timely book which takes head on a subject too long in the shadows. It's the first comprehensive, detailed and thoroughly researched look at the downside of religion as child abuse. And it's about time. Religion has for far too long had a pass when it comes to the harm that is done in its name - against children as well as other believers. The remedies Ms. Heimlich suggests in the last chapter of the book are a good start to eliminating the abuse as well as the cover-ups that appear to be so prevalent in organized religion. Bravo! This book should be read by everyone in America.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Anne Rice on April 7, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is well researched and well written, and frankly I wish there were more like it on this topic. There is a lot of talk today from the Religious Right about "protecting the unborn" but there is not enough talk about protecting the children we already have from abuse. --- This book alerts one to the various ways in which children can be abused and are being abused under the umbrella of religion, and I think it's important for Americans to be informed on this matter. Our children are our future. And our children are our moral responsibility.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mindi Rosser on January 7, 2012
Format: Paperback
How does religion provide opportunity for child abuse? I was one of those helpless children. Spankings, indoctrination, fear, dictatorships, and authoritarianism prove prevalent in fundamentalist Christian denominations. All cloaked beneath the guise of love.

Unwitting parents subject their children to the leadership of these "churches," without realizing the decades-long repercussions. Author Janet Heimlich spotlights this topic from her journalistic investigation.

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment by Janet Heimlich

My video review: [...]

I give this book a 4 of 5 stars.

Who should read this book?

- Those who have escaped their childhood religion and struggle with the consequences.
- Religious leaders
- Religious parents
- Psychologists specializing in abuse
- Friends and relatives of abused children

Readers: Have you ever read a book that tore at your heartstrings? Did the visceral aspects of the book inspire you to take action? If so, what did you do?
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