Darby McCarthy grew up in what she believed to be a “normal” blended family.
From the outside, no one would have known that her stepfather, Charles Aragon, created an extremist religion of isolation that led to years of abuse and mind games.
Darby, who is now 21, was six years old when her mother married Charles.
Along with him, he brought four children of his own, and the two gave birth to a sixth child later in their marriage.
It wasn’t until she was a teenager that Darby learned she’d been abused her entire life.
From the outside, they appeared to be a happy and healthy family. But on the inside, Darby was being put through her stepfather’s own version of hell on earth.
Charles Aragon taught his children based on hand-picked principles of Mormonism, taken to the extreme. He placed the burden of salvation on his kids, and preached that in order to save the people around them, they could never speak of their religion with others.
The Argons enforced that the kids were special—smarter and superior to others. It made it so they became terribly distanced from their peers, and had no one to run to in regards to the abuse.
“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.”
Their salvation was at stake— along with that of everyone around them.
For most of her childhood, Darby shared a bed with adults:
“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.”
Around the tender age of 14 is when the contact between Darby and the adults she shared a bed with became sexual and frequent. Fearful of her own doubts about her religion, her stepfather and even God, Darby suffered in silence.
It wasn’t until the trial of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart took over her television set that she realized her doubts were valid. What she was experiencing—or enduring, rather—was abuse.
Darby reached out to the few friends she did have with a desperate (but still secretive) plea. 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.”
Darby knows it wasn’t the responsibility of her peers to report something that most would never imagine to be a reality. But for obvious reasons, she wishes just one person would have been able to recognize her suffering.
Even relatives that came to visit knew that something was off, but no one ever acted on their suspicions.
“I always wanted someone to notice. No one asked me anything.”
Finally, when she was 18, Darby risked everything she’d ever known. She told her birth father what had been going on for years, and he helped her report it to detectives at the Murfreesboro Police Department in 2014.
District Attorney Hugh Ammerman says Darby’s bravery to go public and strength to testify is a powerful encouragement to other victims.
As a result, Charles Aragon was indicted on six counts of rape, two counts of “sexual battery by an authority figure” and six counts of incest. Her mother, Nancy Aragon, faced similar charges, with an indictment for two counts of sexual battery by an authority figure.
After the couple’s trial in February of 2016 was declared a mistrial, they wound up agreeing to plea deals that did not include jail time, but four years of probation.
Both Charles and Nancy are required to register as sex offenders “for at least the next 10 years, under both Tennessee and North Carolina law.”
While most of us are probably appalled at how “easy” they got off, Darby says she’s not upset by her guardians’ punishment:
“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.”
It’s hard to accept, but child sex abuse is far more common than anyone would like to believe.
According to The National Center for Victims of Crime, 75 percent of child sexual assault victims are victimized by someone close to them, such as a parent or coach.
Darby wants others to know that:
“Having doubts or feeling that something is wrong is absolutely valid and it is a very very good thing.”
She hopes sharing her story will encourage other victims to trust their gut and report what they’re experiencing.
“If you feel like you’re in a bad situation talk to somebody.”
Parents, talk to your kids about signs of inappropriate behavior and sexual abuse. We’d like to think everyone we surround our families with are wonderful, loving people who would never hurt a child. But unfortunately that just isn’t always the case.
Thank goodness for survivors like Darby and Elizabeth Smart for speaking out and opening our eyes to a world of hurt that no one should ever experience.
If you or someone you know is silently suffering from sexual abuse, please please PLEASE report it.
Share this story today, and spread the word about this amazing survivor.