An Alabama couple who allegedly operated Christian conversion therapy camps for “troubled boys” has been indicted in Texas for human trafficking.
Gary Wiggins, 49, and his wife Meghann Wiggins, 34, were arrested on Aug. 6 on one count each of Trafficking of Persons, a first degree felony.
It comes after a yearlong investigation into the couple’s “residential home for troubled boys” in Burnet County, Texas, where they were accused of trafficking underage boys and making them “engage in forced labor or services,” Austin’s KXAN reports.
The couple’s ten-acre property was raided last year, with eight boys between the ages of 10 and 17 removed following allegations of abuse, neglect, fraud, trafficking, and more.
Wiggins and his wife had previously operated two other such “homes” in Missouri and Alabama, though no charges were filed in either state.
The Alabama home, called Blessed Hope Boys Academy, was investigated by ABC’s 20/20 after boys told of the abuse they suffered, including starvation, forced exercise, and solitary confinement — as well as anti-gay conversion therapy.
Lucas Greenfield, whose mother sent him to the camp because he is gay, told 20/20 that Gary Wiggins — or “Brother Gary” as he was called — would beat him.
“He took off his belt and started swinging,” Greenfield said. He reported to the police that Wiggins said he was “going to get the demon out of you and make you straight.”
Former teacher Rodney Pinkston corroborated reports of conversion therapy tactics, telling 20/20 that Wiggins was trying to force the boys to be straight.
“During his preaching sometimes Brother Gary would say to the boys, ‘That’s just queer. What are you, queer? You a faggot, son?’” he said.
The couple are being held on a $100,000 bond each, and their attorney told CBS Austin that he planned to take the Wiggenses case to trial.
Earlier this month, a team of medical experts called for a nationwide ban on the practice of conversion therapy, citing its harmful effects on the mental health of those subjected to it.
Purporting to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity, widely debunked and heavily criticized conversion therapy can include a number of different “therapies,” including talk therapy, behavior-modification therapy including the use of commercial sex workers, orgasmic reconditioning, and an emphasis on marriage to an opposite-sex partner.
It can also include forms of aversion therapy, including electroshock, chemical, and deprivation therapy.
Currently, 18 states have banned conversion therapy for minors. However, adults are able to engage in it if they so choose.
No states have officially classified conversion therapy as a form of consumer fraud, though there have been bills introduced in state legislatures and in Congress that would do so.