In 1971, Ron and Patti Williams founded Hephzibah House. The home was originally located at 508 School Street in Winona Lake, Indiana. In the early days, Hephzibah House (HH) took in adult women who were either homeless or had alcohol or drug addictions. Ron had previously worked for the Health Department dealing with women with these same issues. During this time, the women living at HH had often come there voluntarily. In the article "Discipleship and Discipline at Hephzibah House", former Times Union staff writer Gina Smalley gives us the following information.
Fomer residents also talk of the punishment. A 37 year old Warsaw woman who lived at the house briefly when she was 25, said she was given "eight whacks" by Williams on the buttocks for talking after a 10 p.m. curfew. The woman said her flesh was bleeding after the paddling and that she still has back pain. "I'll never forget it," she said.
Several of the adult women living at Hephzibah House at this time actually stayed on as staff once the home began taking young girls. In fact, one woman is still on staff at Hephzibah House now, over 25 years later. In the late 1970's, HH began taking in young girls. Some of these girls were as young as 12 years old, and ranged up to about 18 years old. Still living at the School Street location, nearly 30 girls would be housed in the cramped upstairs of what is now the office of HH. Numerous former students from this time period have given explicit details of the treatment that they received. In the School Street house, everyone knew what "the Blue Room" was. This was the room where the girls were taken to receive their beatings. The girls living at School Street received beatings literally on a daily basis. Once the girls were in bed for the night, it became a waiting game, as each girl waited for her name to be called, indicating her turn to be taken down to the Blue Room. Each girl knew what was being done to the girl who was called down. They knew from having experienced it themselves. They also knew what was happening because they could hear the cries coming from the girl who was being beaten. These girls were beaten to the point of having bloody, oozing wounds on their backsides (buttocks, legs, and backs). These bloody wounds often had to be bandaged. The proof of these bloody wounds was evident in the trash cans, as girls would see the dressings from another girl's wounds. Several former students have recounted the story of one particular girl who got up from her folding chair to see that she had bled completely through her bandages and through her uniform onto the chair. This girl was one of the few who was able to successfully run away from Hephzibah House.
Around 1984, the Hephzibah girls were moved to the new facility at 2277 East Pierceton Road, Warsaw, Indiana. This new location was set up as part of a compound, which included a church, school, and staff houses. Ron Williams and his family lived above the facility which housed the girls. The backyard at this facility was completely fenced in to keep the girls contained. In approximately 1989, a 2 foot extension was added to the top of the already 8 foot high fence. This was done after another girl tried to run away. In addition, when the girls were taken to school or church, the entire walk there was within the fenced in area. There were also male staff members who "guarded" the gates and doorways when the girls were going from one building to another. Girls were often taken away from schoolwork and homework to help out with building or cleaning projects. Although, according to the writings and teachings of Ron Williams, education for the girls at Hephzibah House is not a priority. During the 1980's there were few changes in the way things happened at Hephzibah House. One of the positive changes is that the routine of daily beatings dwindled down to beatings being doled out only for so called serious offenses. These offenses could include anything from not having your hair curled, to refusing to eat a meal, to failing to memorize passages of Scripture. Even though at times the number of beatings lessened, the severity remained the same. The typical beating during this time started with a girl getting called upstairs. That was the scariest moment of any day. The voice of Ron or Patti Williams would come over the intercom and demand that a staff member bring up a certain girl. The girl's name being said over the intercom was enough to let everyone else know that this girl was in for trouble. Besides the knowledge of what was going on, there were many times when the screams of a girl being beaten were heard down in our dormitory or dining areas. Girls were instructed to put their heads down onto the table. The beating upstairs was never to be talked about; never acknowledged. And while what was going on upstairs was called a "spanking", it was like nothing most girls had ever received before. Typically a girl would be told that she was being punished for some so called offense or another. Often there was no explanation given, other than that there had been general attitude problems throughout the day. That seemed to be a very popular reason for which girls received beatings. During one of these beatings, a girl was forced down to the ground. She was to lie face down on the ground. Her arms would be pulled out to the side, or be held up over her head. Several staff members were always involved because of the level of physical restraint that was used. Often times a chair or other object was placed over the head of the girl to prevent her from getting up. There were staff members who would hold, sit on, or stand on the girls' arms and legs. The instrument used was a large wooden paddle, which was sometimes referred to as "the Rod of God". Although in the past HH admitted that they spanked the girls, they now deny that this punishment is used. In fact, on their website, there is a FAQ page. The question is asked, "Do you use corporal punishment?" The HH answer is, "No". Unfortunately this contradicts their previous public statements, and it also contradicts the testimonies of dozens of girls. In addition, in previous statements, Ron admits that "swats" are given, although, never in excess of seven. We also know this to be entirely false, as many girls lost count well after 30 swats had been given. Girls were left bloodied and bruised. It started back in the 1970's, and according to testimonies it was still taking place just a few short years ago. That is a 30 year legacy of abuse.
Over the years there have been public allegations of abuse against Hephzibah House. There have been several instances when Ron Williams and staff have had to take the girls and flee. They have literally loaded up the girls and taken them to neighboring states to hide in churches until things have calmed down. At times the number of students at HH dipped very low as a result of investigations or allegations. The number of students always rebounded though, as nothing ever happened to Ron or staff. In addition to the physical beatings, there are many other instances of outright abuse that are far worse than that. The humiliation, the forced vaginal exams, forced enemas, lack of any privacy even for time to use the bathroom. The girls were oftentimes starved as a form of punishment, they were made to do extra work duties, write sentences, or be shadowed. Shadowing was a very emberrassing punishment doled out by the staff ladies. Once on shadow, a girl could not so much as look at any other girl. She was to be a literal "shadow" of her assigned staff lady. She could not speak, look at anyone, or participate in any type of activity. She was to sit on the ground facing the wall at all times. There were several girls who were on shadow for months on end, with absolutely no interaction whatsoever with the other girls. Even though the abuse was part of the daily schedule, there was a secret bond between the girls. And for a girl to have even that tiny little shred of hope taken away by being shadowed, was a cruel punishment in and of itself. Girls were kept from using the bathroom, and then singled out and forced to wear diapers. Girls were humiliated at every opportunity. Whores, sluts, rebellious...these were all words that were thrown around as descriptions of why we were there in the first place. On drugs, living in the streets, pregnant, or dead...this is what we were told would happen to us if we left Hephzibah House. It was a daily battle that messed with our minds and has left long lasting scars.