The Girl in the Closet – Lauren Kavanaugh

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14th June 2020  •  5 min read

When Lauren Kavanaigh was 3-years-old, she was locked in the closet and only allowed out when her mother and stepfather wanted to physically and sexually abuse her. At 8-years-old, she was rescued. She went on to become an advocate for abused children. However, when she was 25-years-old, she was arrested for sexually abusing a child.


The Girl in the Closet - Lauren Kavanaugh

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Lauren Kavanaugh was just three-years-old when the abuse began. She was confined to live in a dark, lice-infested and urine-stained closet and was referred to as a “little secret” by her mother, Barbara Atkinson, and her stepfather, Kenneth Atkinson. The closet was 4 foot by 9 foot and Lauren would only be allowed to come out of the closet when the sadistic couple wanted to abuse her.

Lauren was denied food, physically beaten and sexually abused by her mother and stepfather over the course of five years. She was systematically beaten with a paddle as well as blunt and sharp objects and was burned with cigarettes.1

As she lay in the darkness, she could hear her six siblings laughing and playing outside. When the other members of the family would go out of town on trips, Lauren would be locked in the closet. 2 As Lauren sat in the dark closet, she often glared at the sliver of light coming in through the gap at the bottom of the door. In fact, if she stared at it long enough, her mind would open a portal to another place. According to Lauren, this was her “escape hatch” but according to experts, it was disassociation.3

The abuse was uncovered when Kenneth told a neighbour, Jeanie Rivers, about Lauren while Barbara was away from the home. Jeanie went inside her own home and told her husband, Joe, who called police. “It just got to the point where he couldn’t take it anymore. It’s unbelievable, I had no idea it was going on,” recollected Jeanie.4

When officers arrived at the home, Lauren was eating spaghetti. “She was eating as mast as she could,” recollected Hutchins Police Officer, Gary McClain. While Lauren was eight-years-old at this point, she looked like a toddler. She weighed just 25 pounds, was filthy and had matted hair that was infested with lice. “When I looked in her eyes, it looked like she’d been in a dungeon for days and days. I thought, ‘My God, how can anybody do that?’” said Officer McClain.

Lauren was taken to Children’s Medical Center of Dallas where she was treated for malnutrition. According to the medical staff, her skin was peeling off her back and her buttocks and her teeth were broken and her stomach was bloated. In fact, she so malnourished that her organs were shutting down and it was estimated that she very likely could not have survived much longer. Her oesophagus was clogged with feces, carpet fibers and plastic and she did not know how to sit in a chair, write with a pencil or recite her ABCs. She had not been potty trained and did not recognize the sun or basic objects.

The Girl in the Closet - Lauren Kavanaugh

Both Barbara and Kenneth were arrested and charged with injury to a child. The other children who were living in the home – they ranged in age between 22 months a 11-years-old – were placed into emergency foster care. None of the children had been abused. However, the mobile home where they all had lived was filled with dirty clothes, trash, and animal faeces.5 It would be revealed that the siblings had been ordered to lie about the existence of Lauren.

An investigation would uncover that CPS has investigated allegations of abuse twice before in the home but the family had moved before they could question them. In fact, shortly after Lauren’s birth, she had been fostered but then placed back in her mother’s care despite the concerns that Barbara could not take care of Lauren properly. Barbara and Kenneth were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2002. They’re eligible for parole in 2031. After the ordeal, Lauren was adopted by Lauren Sabrina and Bill Kavanaugh who showered her with love and affection.

As Lauren grew up, she spoke about her abhorrent upbringing. She recalled how when her mother first put her in the closet, she thought it was punishment for crying. Unbeknownst to her, it would become her permanent home. She recollected how they put on country music to hide her screams as they abused and raped her. “I couldn’t do anything in the darkness. I slept in there and had to use it for the bathroom. The carpet was drenched in urine and I lay under a thin, wet blanket,” she said.

Children who are abused during their first three years of life often face irreversible cognitive damage. Far too often, these children are never going to be as functional or as bright as they could have been due to the fact they were neglected and abused during their most formative years.6 Lauren’s road back from the trauma she endured was long and bumpy. She went through years of psychotherapy and doctor visits and diagnoses.

Shortly after Lauren was rescued, studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that she faced a bleak future, marred by antisocial behaviour, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, disease and early death. For a while, it looked as though Lauren had truly overcome her trauma and would lead a regular life. Lauren went on to study psychology at college and is a staunch supporter of other victims of sexual abuse.

The Girl in the Closet - Lauren Kavanaugh

However, in December of 2018, Lauren – who was 25-years-old at the time – was arrested and charged with sexually abusing a minor. Lauren had met her 14-year-old victim on Lauren’s Facebook page where she had been offering support for other victims of abuse. During an interview with police, Lauren admitted she had “a sexual relationship” with the underage girl.7

Greg Westfall, a criminal defence attorney in Fort Worth, said that the case should be dismissed due to Lauren’s traumatic upbringing. “Trauma affects the growing developing brain of the child, so the brain grows according to experiences,” he said. “When children have a steady diet of harm and danger, we’re going to anticipate a much more dire outcome.” He suggested that counselling was more appropriate as opposed to a prison sentence. “Is she a predator? Hell no. Is she someone who is going to be able to better communicate with a 14-year-old than an adult? Hell yes,” he said.8

In March of 2019, Lauren was indicted on three counts of sexual assault of a child. She is currently behind bars at the Denton County Jail and faces up to 20 years in prison on each charge if she is convicted.

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Footnotes:

  1. The Daily Mirror, 8 January, 2015 – “Toddler Locked in Wardrobe and Repeatedly Raped by Own Parents for Five Years”
  2. Houston Chronicle, 19 June, 2001 – “Girl in Closet was Sexually Abused”
  3. Athens Daily Review, 8 November, 2013 – “Beating the Odds, forging a Bright Future”
  4. The Advertiser, 14 June, 2001 – “Child Forced to Live in Tiny Cupboard”
  5. Houston Chronicle, 13 July, 2001 – “Police Say Rescued Child Kept in Closet for Months”
  6. The Deseret News, 14 June, 2001 – “Girl’s Condition Stuns Former Adoptive Dad”
  7. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 19 December, 2018 – “Girl in the Closet Arrested in Sexual Assault”
  8. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 21 December, 2018 – “Psychologist of Girl in the Closet Says Trauma Should Be Considered in Sex-Abuse Cases”

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Jan Simmons
Jan Simmons
1 year ago

Those monsters should NEVER be allowed out of prison……
 

Catrine Deneil
Catrine Deneil
4 months ago
Reply to  Jan Simmons

You are so right

Betty Thompson
Betty Thompson
1 year ago

I feel so sorry for this young woman,I blame the people working with her,they knew she was damaged by her upbringing. Why would you let an unstable person be alone with a child? She may have not known what she did was criminal,but the people supervising did.She will do the jail time,but they might as well kill her physically because she’ll be dead psychologically .
 

Benny Hana
Benny Hana
8 months ago
Reply to  Betty Thompson

No one was letting her do anything. She was a 25 year old adult.

Billy
Billy
4 months ago
Reply to  Benny Hana

She does not have the MIND of a 25 year old adult. That kind of abuse and TORTURE she went through LEAVES PERMANENT BRAIN DAMAGE. These people need managed care, not prison. But our stinking, self-righteous society that is so ignorant about the most basic facts of human life and development prefers to stick its nose in the air and pronounce judgment just to make themselves feel superior. What kind of society do we have that even LETS this kind of horrific abuse happen to thousands of children every year? Its a filthy society, disgusting United States of Abusers.

Molly
Molly
1 month ago
Reply to  Benny Hana

And you know what 50% of children sexually abused will grow up to be a pedophile. It’s because something in your brain dehumanizes sex. And it’s not surprising to me in anyway considering what this girl went through. She’s not mentally all there on top of it. This girl should be caught slack and not sent to prison. She should be placed in a facility where she can be helped and rehabilitated. Mentally she feels she is 14 and so to her I’m sure she felt in her mind it wasn’t wrong. Nobody has the place to judge her, you… Read more »

Molly
Molly
1 month ago
Reply to  Benny Hana

And technically she is not a 25 year old adult. Because if you’ve seen anything about her you’d know she’s way behind mentally. It just pisses me off because who the hell do you think you are to judge someone else like that. Locking that girl in a cell will surely destroy her and she will kill herself. If an 6 year old did this you wouldn’t be saying lock them away for life. No there is hope that they can learn and understand. Just because she had it happen to her and she felt how horrible it was doesn’t… Read more »

Jing
Jing
7 months ago
Reply to  Betty Thompson

She may have not known what she did was criminal’ Um how can a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and an “advocate” for abused children NOT know that an adult engaging in sexual activities with a minor is illegal…? I feel bad for this woman, she never had a chance. But there’s no way she didn’t know that what she was doing was illegal.

Billy
Billy
4 months ago
Reply to  Jing

That’s one of the saddest things about chronic, severe child abuse. It LITERALLY leaves PERMANENT brain damage. No one undergoing her kind of abuse can THINK normally, they will ALWAYS have poor impulse control, difficulty with EMOTIONAL STABILITY. Yes, what she did was wrong, but there are DEGREES of culpability. People like this don’t need jail, they need managed care, which is CHEAPER than locking people up in prisons. If you have never suffered this kind of horrific abuse, please withhold your judgments because they are uninformed.

Molly
Molly
1 month ago
Reply to  Jing

Well of course she knew but the kind of damage it creates can be confusing. It dehumanizes sex to 50% of children. It like you smoking a cigarette, you know you shouldn’t be wise it’s bad for you but you crave it and do it anyways because its been ingrained in your mind to do it and that you like it. Maybe that’s a bad example but if you study this subject you’ll learn how it’s not properly looked at today in the world. And this is why we have an all time high record of pedophiles which has lead… Read more »

Lynda Kehler
Lynda Kehler
1 year ago

While I understand that her abusing another child was wrong, I can’t see the justification of sentencing her to 20 years. She only did what she knew and because of her childhood trauma, I feel that she should have been put into an institution where she could have been helped, as opposed to being punished.

Her parents are the ones ultimately responsible for her actions, and should have been “drawn and quartered!”

Nylorac
Nylorac
8 months ago
Reply to  Lynda Kehler

She needs to be punished, not imprisoned. Group home, or psych hospital, or what have you. Counseling, monitoring, etc.

Karen o
Karen o
1 year ago

So the system wants to lock her back up. She grew up in prison, now into another prison. It’s a shame we just don’t know how to help people like she needs.

Rufus
Rufus
1 year ago

I believe that ALL of them are where they belong. I do not empathize with the daughter: *at her current age and in her current situation* She knew where to go, and who to go to for help. There were many resources at her disposal that she could , and should have used. She didn’t! Instead she used a social media site that was supposed to be designed to offer support, to lure in a 14 year old girl and abuse her. I think she is exactly where she belongs! She knew where to go for help. She chose not… Read more »

Jessica Cartwright
Jessica Cartwright
4 months ago
Reply to  Rufus

Rubbish. Help for child abuse victims and people with mh problems is lacking and even when available is often misguided, unhelpful, inadequate etc. My schizophrenic ex was running around the street topless with self inflicted stab wounds to the back of his neck and a huge raw hole near the top of his spine where the infection had set in. His loved ones had begged for help from the gp, his community psychiatric nurse, the crisis team, the police etc for weeks and it would still he months before he was hospitalised. This is common and many loved ones of… Read more »

Billy
Billy
4 months ago

You’re absolutely right, and one of the reasons for it is the kind of people who make these kind of “she knew what she was doing” comments see to it that hardly any help is available. AND THEY ARE THE SAME KIND OF PEOPLE WHO WOULDN’T REPORT A CHILD BEING ABUSED, WHO WOULD ACTUALLY SAY THE CHILD “DESERVED” IT, AND PROBABLY ABUSE OTHERS THEMSELVES.

Timothy Bermudez
Timothy Bermudez
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy

But if it was a man who was securely abused when he was young being predatory towards a minor everyone would be singing a different tune. How many stories have we heard of about serial rapists and murderers who have had abuse as a child. How is her situation any different than theirs? I agree, the mental health situation in this country is broken. And while my heart goes out to her situation I find it very unfair to judge her differently from everybody else who has done the same. And what about the poor victims who have been manipulated… Read more »

Molly
Molly
1 month ago
Reply to  Rufus

Somebody needs to go do some studying… Cause you look like a laughing joke right now. You’re part of the reason there are so many pedophiles in the world, and human trafficking is so high. And we have more slaves today than ever before in history. Go study up on this shit before you sit here and dish out something you do not understand.

Econobiker
Econobiker
1 year ago

She endured the human equivalent of psychological researcher Harry Harlow’s monkey research”pit of despair” and repeatedly being assaulted. Then She propagated sexual assault on a vulnerable minor probably because it was all she knew about relationships.

Kami Currie
Kami Currie
1 year ago

The saddest part to me is that if she had done this in another country (Like Sweden or Canada) and given a jail sentence, they would be actually trying to rehabilitate and help her instead of giving her 20 years and calling it a day. People who can abuse the most innocent among us are true monsters.

Benny Hana
Benny Hana
8 months ago
Reply to  Kami Currie

This post is so ridiculous, I needed to comment. First, 20 yrs is the maximum. It’s highly unlikely she will receive a maximum sentence. Rehabilitation? Is that what they do in Sweden and Canada? Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. You cannot ‘rehabilitate’ a pedophile (more precise, a hebephile in this case) anymore than you can turn a gay man straight or a straight man gay. They are sexually attracted to children and will unfortunately do it again and again, as they always do. Unless you have the resources to monitor them 24/7, the only way ensure they never victimize another… Read more »

Jing
Jing
7 months ago
Reply to  Benny Hana

You can’t change a pedophile’s attraction to children but with therapy, their urges to act on the attraction can be managed greatly. There are hundreds, thousands of pedophiles who do NOT act on their sexual urges, either for fear of being caught or because they are aware of the damage it does to children and doesn’t want to be the reason someone grows up with trauma. I’ve even heard of cases where pedophiles are given hormones to help kill their libidos. With a good support system and therapy, a pedophile can go his/her entire life without ever hurting a child… Read more »

Billy
Billy
4 months ago
Reply to  Jing

And actually, there are MANY gays who DO “go straight”. It takes work and a desire to change, but just like an alcoholic or drug addict can get clean, its the same thing. So helping people do this DOES make a difference, and in the case of this poor woman and what happened to her as a child, she is PERMANENTLY brain damaged and needs help the rest of her life, but our society doesn’t believe in that. Everybody would rather pretend everything is “fine” then go behind closed door in live out the hell that’s in their hearts. This… Read more »

Margaret Christine and Seana Lee Tapp
Margaret Christine and Seana Lee Tapp
11 months ago

Some people say we should have left Lauren in the closet or now put her back in it. Those people have no soul.

Benny Hana
Benny Hana
8 months ago

I’ll be sure to tell that to the child she molested. Oh, she’s going to need place to go when she gets out. Mind if she moves into your neighborhood?

Last edited 8 months ago by Benny Hana
Billy
Billy
4 months ago

No, they don’t. They’re the kind of people who think its ok to abuse children like Lauren was abused, because of course “it was the child’s fault”, and they wouldn’t bother to report an abused child, either.

Timothy Bermudez
Timothy Bermudez
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy

Agreed. Haven’t people seen murder mysteries before. Mostly all of them (not all) have had abuse as a child. Many pedophiles will say this as well. It’s a viscious cycle that needs to be broken. A child’s mind is severely altered when they go through this abuse (as what happened to Lauren). So, while I sympathize with her situation I am disgusted with how people so quickly try to excuse her actions. If it were a poor boy who grew up as a man that was a pedophile, everyone would have their pitch forks out. Come on. We need to… Read more »

Cam
Cam
11 months ago

What happened to her was so vile and terrible. What she did to a child is unforgiveable and awful. That said, I really don’t think prison is the right place to send her. She should be in a psychiatric facility with caretakers who are well versed in trauma. She shouldn’t have internet privileges but locking her in a cell for the next 20 years of her life seems cruel given her first eight years of life.

Mary
Mary
11 months ago

I’m sorry being a victim myself is no excuse for whatshe did and you can’t say she didn’t know what she was about to do or doing was wrong because she at that point was trying to gain a psychology degree or studying psychology that is a major academic triumph for a child that knew nothing by the 8 years old didn’t even recognize the sun and now is studying psychology you can’t tell me she didn’t know what she was doing

cac
cac
10 months ago
Reply to  Mary

It isn’t an excuse, it was her reality from day one. She needed to be followed up into adulthood and not let work with children knowing her past. We have to vigilant in protecting kids specially in such a sad case of abuse.

Billy
Billy
4 months ago
Reply to  Mary

Guess what? Having the cognitive intelligence to study psychology is NOT the same has having the EMOTIONAL STABILITY to control your impulses or determine what is good or bad for you. The kind of abuse she went through leaves you PERMANENTLY brain damaged, get it? Why do we accept soldiers, grown men making a choice and being trained to go to war, coming back and doing crazy stuff because of PTSD, but we we can’t imagine that a person’s brain is screwed up FOR LIFE after enduring, FOR YEARS, AS A HELPLESS CHILD,THE TORTURE, STARVATION, RAPE AND ABUSE BY THE… Read more »

Lou Harraway
Lou Harraway
11 months ago

Why did the parents single this child out. None of the others were abused?. The parents deserve the death penalty. As for the abuse that the abused did, she will never get over what happened to her. She should be put in a hospital but not a prison. She needs a lot more help and therapy.

Angel
Angel
1 month ago
Reply to  Lou Harraway

They mentioned stepfather the other children were likely full siblings. This sort of thing can happen In those situations. It’s looking like mom had an affair though.

Tiffany
Tiffany
10 months ago

If the step father was involved in the abuse, why would he tell a neighbor about it ? These 2 need to burn slowly in hell…..

Angel
Angel
1 month ago
Reply to  Tiffany

Why do serial killers make themselves get caught .

MARIA ALICEA
MARIA ALICEA
10 months ago

READ THE STORY,I AGREE SHE NEW HOW TO USE SOICAL MEDIA TO LURE,I FELT SO BAD WHEN SHE WAS LOCKED IN CLOSET,I HOPE THE BEAT THE PARENT’S THEY DESERVE IT.

Pam Hrubochak
Pam Hrubochak
9 months ago

Lauren deserves any help that the people around her can provide, but not prison!!! Her mind is her prison!!!

Tonya
Tonya
8 months ago

She will be fine in prison…. it won’t be nearly as bad as her childhood and she won’t be a risk to other underage girls while she’s there. I understand that some victims become the aggressor but that’s no excuse. She should have known better than anyone the consequences of her actions. On a side note… I love your articles, they are wonderful but don’t you have spell check?

Angel
Angel
1 month ago
Reply to  Tonya

She won’t be fine in prison. She will be hunted. This sort of crime doesn’t bode well.

Jessica Cartwright
Jessica Cartwright
4 months ago

Doesn’t surprise me that Lauren has grown up to be sexually disturbed. It’s not unusual, unfortunately, for the abused to become the abusers, whether that be towards others or inwardly as self destruction. But no matter how sorry her upbringing was, one shouldn’t trivialise the severity of her offences on that of her own victims. She needs hospital treatment, an inpatient psychiatric intensive care setting. Lauren’s a sad living example of how child abuse fucks up individuals and society for the short and longterm. Perpetrators still commonly get treated far too leniantly. Back then it wasn’t unheard of for them… Read more »

mary
mary
1 month ago

let her be free but monitored

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