Late last year, Douglas Phillips, then president of the extreme Christian-right group Vision Forum Ministries, admitted to, in his words, having “a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman.” This was a bombshell in Christian-right circles, where Phillips is a major figure, maintaining a close friendship with the Duggar family of TLC fame (Vision Forum gave Michelle Duggar the “mother of the year” award in 2010 at an event called Baby Conference that had 1,500 attendees), former child actor Kirk Cameron, and creationist Ken Ham. Phillips preaches a strong patriarchal view of Christianity, one that teaches that women should give birth until they can’t anymore and that both wives and daughters are to live in perfect submission at home, going so far as to deny daughters the right to choose who to marry.
Phillips resigned in October, but now it seems that his public pronouncement regarding that “inappropriate relationship” may have seriously downplayed what actually happened. Lourdes Torres-Manteufel, who says she was the woman Phillips confessed about, is now suing Phillips and Vision Forum for what she alleges was an abusive and manipulative relationship that caused her serious mental harm and distress.
Her complaint, filed Tuesday morning in Texas’ Bexar County district court, paints a picture of a man whose religious faith in “patriarchy” has not led him to put women on a pedestal but rather to treat them like objects to be used up and discarded when you’re done with them.
The complaint alleges that Phillips met Torres-Manteufel, then just Torres, in 1999 when she was merely 15 years old and then “methodically groomed” her, by acting as her spiritual mentor, to accept his abusive treatment, eventually moving her into his home to live with his family in 2007. There, she alleges, he quickly asserted himself as an authority figure over her in every way, “the pastor of her church, her boss, her landlord, and the controller of all aspects of her life.” Then, according to the lawsuit, he started pushing her into sexual encounters, even though his church teaches that any sexual contact—not just intercourse, but even kissing—outside of marriage is wrong. This left Torres believing, according to the complaint, that she was in a “no-win” situation, where she had “to submit to Douglas Phillips” because of his authority over her, but that doing so left her as “damaged goods.”
There were other reasons she went along with this alleged abuse:
Douglas Phillips, on the evenings he visited Ms. Torres, persuaded her that he was not doing anything wrong, that he intended to marry Ms. Torres, and that his wife would die shortly and enable him to marry Ms. Torres. He further repeatedly told Ms. Torres that he loved her, that he would take care of her, and that what they were doing was not wrong. He also stated that if it was wrong, it was completely her fault.
When he confessed to the relationship, Phillips insisted that he and Torres “did not ‘know’ each other in a Biblical sense,” which is a cutesy way of saying they never had intercourse. But, if this complaint is accurate, his description of the dynamic as “inappropriately romantic and affectionate” minimized events. According to Torres-Manteufel:
Douglas Phillips entered Ms. Torres’s bedroom and without her consent began touching her breasts, stomach, back, neck, and waist. Phillips then began to masturbate and ejaculated on her. Ms. Torres asked Phillips to stop and broke down crying. Despite Ms. Torres’s repeated requests for Phillips to stop masturbating and ejaculating on her, Phillips proceeded to return and repeat this perverse and offensive conduct. Each night that Phillips returned, Ms. Torres requested that he stop. Defendant blatantly disregarded her requests but continued to masturbate and ejaculate on her each night.
While the sexual interactions that Torres alleges occurred after she was of age, her lawyers argue that she “was incapable of giving consent” due to “years of continued conditioning and indoctrination by Phillips and the patriarchal leaders.” Regardless of the merits of that argument, it seems Torres is also saying she refused consent outright—asking Phillips not to masturbate on her—and he did it anyway. If so, no matter what kind of indoctrination she received, that’s sexual assault.