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Kidnapped For Christ (2014)

It's actually a misleading title since many of these 'kidnappings' are performed by organisations without a religious affiliation. Nevertheless, this American organisation is fundamentalist evangelical Christian (are we surprised? It's either that or Roman Catholic amirite?) and the filmmaker was (prior to uncovering this hypocrisy at least) a strong believer in that faith.

What's a little more irregular however, is that they are taking those kidnapped children to the Dominican Republic. Many of these organisations are quite happy to run within the US itself.

The odd thing about these kidnappings is that they are actually arranged by the children's parents. While that might sound like sending your child to a holiday camp, in those instances the child is normally informed about the trip in advance. Also these 'camps' don't just run over the holidays. The parents pay huge amounts for their care and tuition so they can stay for months or often years.

So perhaps it is like being forced to go to boarding school? And having the decision forced on you? Sometimes in the middle of the night by complete strangers?

Well yet another aspect of this camp which makes it strange (apart from the way it is located in the Dominican Republic and is importing children from the US) is its bizarre discipline procedures. There is a complicated points system for behaviour. Avoiding picking up naughty points basically involves doing whatever you are told to do without question. That includes regular demands that children do sets of press ups, star jumps and the like. It also involves passing spot checks with bizarre requirements (such as that shirts hanging in the closet must have all buttons done up and must be 'evenly spaced'. Any complaint about conditions will lead to being disciplined. Any calls home are monitored. Any attempt to tell parents about the bad conditions results in a punishment for being manipulative.

If someone is on the highest tier of punishment then there will be a period of time (weeks perhaps?) during which they will not be allowed to talk to other children. The worst punishment of all is the sinister sounding 'quiet room'.

Oh, and they also use corporal punishment. They're old-fashioned like that....

Children can be there because they are causing trouble for their parents. While children can be there because they are gay, the reason given tends to be that the child is 'confused'. All these inconsistent punishments are viewed as a treatment for the children's 'conditions' and this appears to be pretty much a one-size fits all approach. (One girl, known for self-harming, had a slightly different approach in that, along with all the hardcore punishments she also had to ask others to use sharp objects for her, and wait for permission to enter rooms.)

The documentary is pretty well made but it's lacking a holistic view of the issue. The filmmaker entered this nominally Christian establishment with the full intention of documenting the 'good work' of this Christian establishment. However, these with a healthy cynicism will no doubt be unsurprised to hear that the main motivator of this establishment was money. The children weren't selected because they were from poor and difficult backgrounds. They were simply the children of parents willing to pay the fees. It wasn't long before the filmmaker realised that many of the children were out of place and so she began questioning the organisation, along with its extreme methods and its underlying motivations.

There are plenty of children who have grown up in places like this after being sent there by their parents against their will and actually has a rather more informative article on their website about this trend in American society. However, what this documentary offers is the opportunity to see the experience first-hand in a real setting and to see interviews with the people running these places. Reading the Cracked article one might easily wonder what monsters could ever run a place like this, but watching the film it is rather easier to see how many of the employees could just accept what they do as 'how things are' and just see it as a typical routine. They see themselves as offering a service to the parents and they see their methods as a necessary way to completely alter the behaviour of difficult children. Their facilities are completely unregulated (in some states they can even run these within the US itself without regulation) so they have no authority figures coming in to tell them that what they are doing is inappropriate and having unnecessary negative effects.

At the end, we can see how the experience of being sent away has affected the victims for the worse. Though we also see how one of them is actually convinced that being sent there saved her life. There's plenty of interesting content in the documentary regarding its individual case, even if the wider situation is left mostly unaddressed.

I'm discinlined to give this a rating. That's not because it's bad, but rather because it's rather difficult to separate a documentary from its content. If this was bad, I'd give it a low score. But I think this is an important film and if you are into documentaries you should check it out. Then again, once you've read the Cracked article, little in the documentary is likely to surprise you.

The Cracked article to which I refer can be found here


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