‘AGT’s Willis Clan: How They Survived Sexual Abuse By Their Dad — Where Are They Now?
The Willis Clan seemed to have it all, at least from the outside but the grim reality of abused faced by the daughters is nothing so, from starring in their own reality TV show and competing on “America’s Got Talent,” The Willis Clan stood tall and stole our hearts. Today as we piece together their entire story, the grim reality that went out behind the scenes finally catches on.
Who are The Willis Clan?
The Willis Family is an American reality television show about a musical family that aired on TLC in 2015 and 2016. The show featured the life of Parents Toby and Brenda Willis and their 12 children – eight girls and four boys in Nashville. They juggled their music, dance and normal lives all under the same roof.
What Went Wrong With The Willis Clan?
On September 9,2016, Toby Willis, the 48-year-old patriarch of the family with a previously squeaky clean reputation and ‘AGT’ fame was arrested on 4 counts of child rape in Kentucky. The children taking a stand against him were his own daughters.
On July 11, 2017, Toby Willis pleaded guilty to 4 counts of child rape. He received two 25-year sentences on two counts and two 40-year sentences on the other two. Those sentences will be concurrent, and must be served at 100 percent, giving Willis a total of 40 years in prison.
Willis Clan Speaks About The Abuse
In an interview with Megyn Kelly, they all finally speak out about the abuse by their own father and how they finally decided to speak up, when their father started to manage other young girls outside the family. In a shocking turn of events, their mother, Brenda Willis is still standing by her husband and not with her own daughters.
One of the Willis sisters, Jessica Willis Fisher has documented her experience on her website.
In the website she writes, “As far back as I can remember, I was sexually abused by my father. I figure I was around 3 years old in some of the earliest memories. Initially, I had no way to know that anything was wrong. When I did eventually come to realize the fact, I had no way to accurately express what was happening to me. There followed immense shame, distrust and hurt throughout my childhood – even in the happy times. Thus ran the two parallel story lines that became my life.”
Jessica described her home life as “underneath the outward foundations of family, religion and homeschooling with an emphasis in the arts, there was a constant current of manipulation, domination, fear and favor.” She also explicitly states that her father controlled the family.
New Music and Hope
The 12 siblings have previously performed together and we’ve seen on ‘AGT’ what a treat that can be and now 6 of them have worked on a new album that deals with their life after abuse and rape.
“A lot of these songs were written more as therapy, kind of sorting through our past and what we were going through,” says Jennifer Willis Mc Dowel, who came forward as one of her father’s victims.
But they started playing the songs to each other and to friends and family, who liked what they heard.
“Once we saw how much the songs and writing and sharing them with each other was helping us, we said, ‘Let’s share our story because this might help somebody else,’ ” Willis-McDowell says.
The title track from the new album, which sister Jessica penned had captured the internal struggle of the family. The lyrics are,” this is not right and I want to speak out, but I don’t know if I can.”
Her sister, Jennifer says, wrote the song when she was enduring abuse from her father.
“Anyone who has gone through any kind of abuse — regardless of whether it’s sexual abuse or not — or has dealt with that internal struggle of, ‘What can I do, am I strong enough, do I have the courage to do what I need to do?’ ” says Willis-McDowell. “There’s so much fear that’s involved with that.”
The siblings have partnered with an organization called RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). RAINN is an organization of over 1,000 sexual assault centers across the U.S. with anonymous hotline and an educational website to help understand their options and situations.
If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. They are available 24 hours everyday.