Defrauding: What does it mean?

27 February 2014, 06:00



In February 1976, Bill Gothard confessed to the poorly-defined offense of “having ‘defrauded’ staff secretaries.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 9.53.17 PM

In a July 1980 meeting of the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts (IBYC) board, it was confirmed that Bill Gothard was responsible for the “physical and emotional defrauding of several of his personal secretaries.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 9.55.05 PM

In February 1981, Bill once again confessed to “physically and emotionally defrauding his personal secretary.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 9.56.00 PM

So, what exactly did Bill Gothard confess to on these occasions? To those outside Institute subculture, the term “defraud” brings to mind a financial scam, but, for decades, the Institute’s operational definition of “defraud” has loaded the term with ambiguous sexual connotations. From the IBLP website at

To defraud another person is to stir up in them desires that cannot be righteously satisfied. A woman can defraud a man by the way that she dresses, talks, or acts. A man can defraud a woman by improper touching or by talking about a marital commitment that he is not able or intending to carry out.

In Institute subculture, one can “defraud” with any act from a toss of the hair to an insincere marriage proposal. With pressure building for Bill Gothard to respond to recent accounts of his years of misconduct with young women in the Institute, it is possible that he will yet again apologize for “defrauding.” We asked the women who have shared their stories through Recovering Grace what they would think of a repeat performance of Bill Gothard’s 1976, 1980, and 1981 apologies. Their responses follow.


How would you respond to a blanket apology from Bill Gothard for “defrauding” young women who were his volunteers, employees, students, and/or counselees?


Due to the broad definition of “defrauding” within ATI and IBLP circles, the use of this word is of little value. During my time as an employee, talking to someone of the opposite gender was considered defrauding, so I do not consider its use as any admittance of guilt or apology at all. Specific actions need to be stated so we will all know what he is apologizing for. Using his logic, playing footsie [with a teenager] wouldn’t be “defrauding” at all since it stirred up absolutely no feelings of romantic desire, but fully convinced me that something wasn’t right.


I remember feeling a little panicked after my dad brought up the thought, “Well, maybe he intends to court you?” when I finally shared with him how uncomfortable Bill’s special attention toward me made me feel. I wondered how one would/could ever turn down the person who invented courtship (in my mind, anyway)?! That’s when I knew I had to distance myself from him and get out of there somehow, before I “defrauded” him any more with my mere presence. (That’s how messed up my head was!) Like Grace said, his actions didn’t produce any romantic feelings in me either (unless you count nausea); they only produced guilt that I somehow caused a supposed “godly” man 43 years my senior to have unwarranted romantic feelings towards me.


A blanket apology wouldn’t mean a thing to me. He fondled me. He painted me in a bad light to other people. In so doing he ruined my name and damaged relationships that meant a lot to me, relationships that are just now being rebuilt. He needs to come to each person and admit what he did wrong to each person, because he caused different kinds of harm to all of us.


My protector. My employer. My friend. Not my suitor. If Bill Gothard had asked me to marry him I would have said yes. Not because I was in love with him, but because I believed that to serve him was to serve God, and I had given my life to God. He did not “defraud” me, for I felt no romantic attachment to him. I loved him then as my friend, spiritual mentor, and brother in Christ, not as my romantic suitor. Therein lies the difference.


The word “defrauding” is used in ATI/IBLP to compare the mildest flirtations to the the kinds of things Steve Gothard was up to in the 1970s, when Steve deceived women on his staff into thinking they were each in a long term committed relationship with him while he was in fact juggling multiple sexual relationships. The word “defrauding” is used to equivocate in the other direction as well, to put unwanted sexual advances and the most calculated attempts at seduction into the same category as accidental breaches of etiquette. The word “defrauding” is sometimes even used to describe a person who attempts a sexual assault, or used to condemn the actions and appearance of a victim of sexual assault. It can also mean smiling at the opposite sex a little too brightly. By conventional definitions of the word, the only “defrauding” that went on in my case was Bill conning me out of going to college in favor of going to Headquarters for a nonexistent project, so I would join the many other spiritually manipulated young people he uses to fill his emotional needs. The idea of an apology for sexual “defrauding” would be laughable if it weren’t so outrageous.


[Ruth passed away in 1994, but discussed the term “defrauding” in  1983 in conversation with Dr. Earl Radmacher and others.]

Dr. Radmacher: We’ve got to get away from this terminology that is so vague—the one that Bill likes to use so much is “defrauded,” which nobody understands what it means.

Ruth Gabriel: Because it means so many different things.


Dr. Radmacher: One thing that’s got to be really emphasized in that [potential statement by former IBYC staff] is clear statements and specificity… It can’t be this thing like “defrauding” or “inappropriate.” I mean, it’s got to be like a court case—a factual thing. This is what happened and describe it.

Ruth Gabriel: No emotions. Just facts.


All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.


  1. Pingback : Silencing The Lambs: Twisting Matthew 18 | Recovering Grace

  2. Pingback : Joy Wood's IBYC staff story | Recovering Grace

  3. Pingback : Gothard’s ATI and the Duggar Family’s Secrets | Homeschoolers Anonymous

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *