Darby McCarthy, 21, was raised believing in a religion imagined by her stepfather, Charles Aragon. McCarthy remembers being told that in order to save those around her, she could not talk about her religion with others.
She recalled that her guardians isolated the children by telling them they were special, superior, smarter than everyone else. The Aragons ensured that the children had no one to turn to.
So when McCarthy started being abused, she had no one to ask for help.Screenshot/Daily News Journal
McCarthy’s mom, Nancy, married Charles Aragon when McCarthy was six years old. Aragon brought four kids with him, and a baby was born during the new marriage. From the outside, the Aragon clan looked like any other family. Unfortunately, what happened inside their home was anything but normal.
McCarthy told the Daily News Journal that the family ran as a hierarchy, enforced by the need to be moved up, to “prove you’d earned it.” She held the top position.
McCarthy explained that she shared a bed with the adults for a majority of her childhood. She said:
“That was our normal. I didn’t know it was unusual until much later. They built up this reality for me and my siblings. You’re dependent on everyone around you, and that’s the problem. You’re dependent on the people who raise you.”
McCarthy struggled to make friends because Aragon enforced in her that no one could ever truly understand her. She recalled:
“He would say no one else can understand because no one else has our religion. Well, of course no one else has our religion; he made it up.”
McCarthy explained Aragon’s “faith” was inspired by Mormonism, breaking away from the church after it had diverted from the truth. The family considered themselves to be “true followers of God’s real religion.” She said:
“I was convinced Charles was God’s prophet/the second coming of The David/adopted by Jesus Christ…and God commanded through Charles that we be married and fight the non believers in the last days.”
Beginning at age 14, sexual contact between McCarthy and the adults was frequent. At first she suffered in silence, suppressing her doubts.
She feared that by doubting Aragon, she was doubting God, and as a result, she would spend eternity in hell.
But after watching the Elizabeth Smart trial, she started to allow those doubts to creep in.
She began to reach out for help to the few friends she did have. She’d say to them:
“‘I have a secret and it’s that I’m in an arranged marriage or I’m betrothed or I’m basically promised to someone and yes, I’ve met him. I know him and he’s in his 40s, he’s 30 years older than me.’
Their reactions were basically, ‘Oh, wow, that’s really weird, but I’ll keep your secret,’ which wasn’t what I wanted.”
Though she doesn’t ascribe blame to her young peers for not helping her further, she wishes someone would have noticed her suffering.
Finally, when she was 18, McCarthy decided to risk damnation to save herself. She finally told her birth father what was going on. He helped her bring her story to Murfreesboro Police Detective Tommy Roberts, who also brought in Assistant District Attorney Hugh Ammerman to assist.
Ammerman commended McCarthy on her strength to go public with her story, as her bravery to testify has the power to encourage other victims to come forward, as well.
As a result, Charles Aragon was indicted on six counts of rape, two counts of “sexual battery by an authority figure,” as well as six counts of incest. Nancy Aragon faced similar charges, with an indictment for two counts of sexual battery by an authority figure.
The couple went on trial in February 2016, but it was declared a mistrial. In response, Roberts and Ammerman prepared for a second trial, desperate for justice.
In the end, the couple agreed to plea deals that do not include jail time. However, both Charles and Nancy are required to register as sex offenders “for at least the next ten years, under both Tennessee and North Carolina law.”
McCarthy isn’t upset by the outcome. In fact, she says:
“I’ve found my peace. This is almost the better outcome. You can’t acquit on this. At the end of the day, I know and they know. What I did is tell the truth.”
Although she is now safe from the Aragons, McCarthy knows there are others suffering from abuse. While many would prefer to be “blissfully ignorant” of child sex abuse, as Ammerman puts it, it is crucial to know that it is more common than many people would like to believe.
Though it is difficult to know exact statistics when it comes to child sexual abuse due to a lack of reporting, experts agree that it happens way more frequently than what is told to authorities. However, approximately one in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim. In addition, the Nation Center for Victims of Crime reports:
Children are most vulnerable between the ages of seven and 13.
75 percent of victims of child sexual assault were victimized by someone close to them, such as a parent or coach.
Children who experienced sexual abuse during their adolescent years are 13.7 times more likely to experience rape or attempted rape during their first year of college.
If you or someone you know is a victim of child sexual abuse, report it:
- Call 911 in the case of an immediate emergency
- Report suspicion of child abuse to your state’s child protective services
- Get support from the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) online or through their hotline at (800)-656-4673
McCarthy wants it to be known that:
“Having doubts or feeling that something is wrong is absolutely valid and it is a very very good thing.”
She advised: “If you feel like you’re in a bad situation talk to somebody.”