A child abuse survivor who endured six years of assault and torture by her parents, who became known as the “Girl in the Closet,” has been arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a child herself.
Police in Lewisville, Texas, allege 25-year-old Lauren Kavanaugh — whose mom and stepdad are serving prison time for crimes committed against her — sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl she met via a Facebook page titled “The Lauren Kavanaugh Story,” through which Kavanaugh offered support to victims of abuse, police Capt. Jesse Hunter tells PEOPLE.
Both the teen and Kavanaugh admitted to a “sexual relationship,” which the teen told officers had been ongoing for two months, according to police.
“There was no force, there was no kind of threatening,” says Hunter. “It was a consensual relationship, but due to the age of the victim, it is against the law in Texas.”
The parents of the alleged victim, who was not identified, told detectives that Kavanaugh lived with them in their apartment.
“Unfortunately the victim’s family did not have knowledge of the relationship,” Hunter tells PEOPLE. “They didn’t approve of any relationship outside of them being friends.”
Lewisville police learned of the alleged abuse after another agency received an anonymous phone tip on Monday. Kavanaugh was arrested the same day, says Hunter.
In January 2017 Kavanaugh went on the Dr. Phil show to recount her ordeal of abuse 15 years after she was found starving in the closet of her family’s Texas home.
Authorities say that from age 2 to 8, Kavanaugh was mostly kept by her mother, Barbara Atkinson, and her stepfather, Kenneth Atkinson, inside a roughly 4-by-8-foot closet in their Hutchins trailer — a tiny space covered in trash and feces, according to CBS News and the Dallas Morning News.
She also was repeatedly sexually abused, police said at the time.
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“My life’s been pretty hard. I’ve been struggling a lot. I hardly sleep anymore. My anxiety is terrible,” Kavanaugh told Dr. Phil McGraw on the broadcast.
“I’ve tried to commit suicide over 30 times,” she revealed. “Sometimes I have flashbacks about my past, my childhood. Sometimes when I have flashbacks, it’s of [my parents] beating me.”
“I could not get out, no matter what I did. It was always dark. I didn’t get fed. I didn’t get to eat,” Kavanaugh told McGraw. “I had to go to the bathroom in the closet, where I slept.”
“I had a pillow on the floor and maybe a blanket every now and then, if I was good. I would cry until I fell asleep.”
Kavanaugh weighed only 25 lbs. when she was rescued in 2001, CBS News reported. A doctor later testified she had been sexually abused so badly that she required surgery.
“My mom would bring home guys or girls to have sex with me. If I screamed or yelled, that really made them mad,” Kavanaugh said in the 2017 interview. “My parents thought it was hilarious for them to watch. And I had to do what they said, so I could stay alive.”
She said her parents often beat and cut her, adding, “My stepdad would get the gun beside his bed, put it to my head and pull the trigger, pretending to shoot me.”
Barbara Atkinson and Kenneth Atkinson both are serving life sentences after being convicted of felony injury to a child.
Police who arrested Kavanaugh think she could have other victims, and ask that tips be phoned in to them at 972-219-8477. They encouraged conversations between parents and other minors who may have had inappropriate contact with Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh was charged with sexual assault of a child and currently is being held in the Denton County Jail with bail set at $10,000. An attorney who might speak on her behalf was not immediately identified.
She has not yet entered a formal plea to the allegations against her, says Hunter.
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