Press Kit

Janet Heimlich Head Shot, Bio, Book Cover Art, and Blurbs of Breaking Their Will

Janet HeimlichJanet Heimlich Bio

Janet Heimlich is an award-winning journalist and the author of Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, the first book to take an in-depth look at child abuse and neglect in the United States that is enabled by religious belief. She is also Executive Director of the Child-Friendly Faith Project, a national, nonprofit 501(c)(3) public charity that educates the public about the impact that religious, spiritual, and cultural beliefs and practices have on children. Ms. Heimlich has been a freelance reporter for National Public Radio and has written nonfiction articles for such publications as Texas Monthly, the Austin American-Statesman, and the Texas Observer. She has won nine journalism awards, including the regional Katie, the State Bar of Texas’ Gavel Award, and a “Radio Journalist of the Year” Lone Star Award. She received a B.A. in Communications from Stanford University in 1984.

Breaking Their Will Cover Art

Breaking Their Will book cover by Janet Heimlich cover of the book Breaking Their Will by Janet Heimlich

Breaking Their Will Flyer


Short Description of Breaking Their Will

In this revealing, disturbing, and thoroughly researched book, award-winning journalist Janet Heimlich exposes a dark side of faith that most Americans do not know exists or have ignored for a long time—religious child maltreatment.

After speaking with dozens of victims, perpetrators, and experts, and reviewing a myriad of court cases and studies, Ms. Heimlich exposes many forms of child abuse and neglect found in religious contexts and offers solutions toward eradicating the problem.

While fully acknowledging that religion can be a source of comfort, strength, and inspiration to many young people, Ms. Heimlich makes a compelling case that, regardless of one’s religious or secular orientation, maltreatment of children under the cloak of religion can never be justified and should not be tolerated.

Long Description of Breaking Their Will

High-profile cases such as the child sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and “faith healing” deaths in certain fundamentalist Christian congregations have made the public aware that religion can sometimes mask deviant and harmful behavior. But the extent of the problem is far greater than most people realize. In this revealing, disturbing, and thoroughly researched book, award-winning journalist Janet Heimlich exposes a dark side of faith that most Americans do not know exists or have ignored for a long time—religious child maltreatment.

After speaking with dozens of victims, perpetrators, and experts, and reviewing a myriad of court cases and studies, Ms. Heimlich explains how religious child maltreatment happens. She then takes an in-depth look at the many forms of child maltreatment found in religious contexts, including biblically-prescribed corporal punishment and beliefs about the necessity of “breaking the wills” of children; scaring kids into faith and other types of emotional maltreatment such as spurning, isolating, and withholding love; pedophilic abuse by religious authorities and the failure of religious organizations to support the victims and punish the perpetrators; and religiously-motivated medical neglect in cases of serious health problems.

In a concluding chapter, Ms. Heimlich proposes changes in societal attitudes and improved legislation to protect children from harm and pushes for more people to recognize and acknowledge children rights.

While fully acknowledging that religion can be a source of comfort, strength, and inspiration to many young people, Ms. Heimlich makes a compelling case that, regardless of one’s religious or secular orientation, maltreatment of children under the cloak of religion can never be justified and should not be tolerated.

What Experts Are Saying about Breaking Their Will

Breaking Their Will is a powerful and deeply disturbing book, wide ranging in its exploration of religiously based physical and mental abuse of children past and present, and richly informed by both personal and scholarly reflections and insights. This book will have a profound impact upon the consciences and actions of readers from a wide range of religious perspectives who surely will be convinced, after finishing this book, that children deserve to be free from all forms of physical violence in the guise of discipline and the other forms of physical and mental abuse explored in Heimlich’s book.”

—Philip Greven, Author of Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse

“Insightful, provocative, exposing, and well written, Breaking Their Will casts a bright light on the presence of child abuse in institutional religion, forcing it out of the dark corners of denial and into the arena of honesty and reality. I hope it is widely read.”

—Bishop John Shelby Spong, Author of The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love

“Child mistreatment, backed by religious tenets, is one of the most disturbing realities, especially when religions also have a unique capacity to cherish and protect children. With courage, compassion, and adept use of interviews and research on a wide range of violations, Janet Heimlich grapples with causes and constructive solutions. This is a book that all of us, but especially religious believers among us, should read as a first step to providing children the love and security they deserve. In my own teaching and research, I’ve looked for a book that focuses explicitly on how religion becomes entangled in harming children and am glad at last to have a book to recommend.”

—Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, Author of Let the Children Come: Reimagining Childhood from a Christian Perspective

Breaking Their Will is both heartbreaking and motivating. After rightly noting that religion is most often not harmful to children, Janet Heimlich details the unique ability of religion in its worst manifestations to inflict lasting pain, humiliation, and terror on the most vulnerable members of our society. Perhaps the crowning achievement of the book is its call to action—a chapter devoted to specific ways in which officials, lawmakers, parents, and even faith communities can root out religious child abuse and remove its claims of immunity from challenge.”

—Dale McGowan, Editor of Parenting beyond Belief and author of Raising Freethinkers