Jessica Willis is the eldest of 12 children from “The Willis Clan,” who rose to fame after appearing on Americas Got Talent.
Jessica Willis-Fisher is opening up about abuse she said she endured at the hands of her father, Toby Willis, who is currently serving four prison terms for child rape.
The woman is the oldest daughter of a 14-member seemingly Christian family, where the siblings performed music as “The Willis Clan.” The children became famous after appearing on America’s Got Talent, where they wowed the judges with their folk/country take on The Sound of Music. The clan later landed their own show on TLC, though it was canceled after just two seasons
While the names of those abused by Toby were never published because they were not only victims but minors, Jessica described not only her own abuse at the hands of her own father, but also said she “knew” in 2016 that sexual abuse was still happening in the family. She described her “family system” as “disturbingly sick,” and let other survivors know that they are not alone.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Her Father Is Serving 4 Concurrent Sentences in Prison After Pleading Guilty to Child Rape
48-year-old Toby, a father-of-12 and former TLC reality star was sentenced on July 12, 2017, to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of child rape in Tennessee. He had previously pleaded not-guilty to the charges.
Because the convicted child rapist’s victim was underage, their name was withheld to protect their identity. However, The Tennessean reported Toby Willis was charged after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation discovered that 13 years prior, he had raped a girl who was between the ages of nine and 12 at the time.
According to court documents obtained by FOX411, the victim was a member of the Willis family.
2. In an Emotional Blog Post, She Described Horrifying Abuse by Her Own Father That She Believes Began at the Age of 3
Jessica said she believed her father began sexually abusing her at “around three-years-old,” adding that the horrifying acts began “as far back as I can remember.” Fisher wrote on her blog, in part:
As far back as I can remember, I was sexually abused by my father. I figure I was around three 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 storylines that became my life.
An initial awareness of questionable behavior began when I was around nine years old. Something (I’m still not sure what) caused my mother to become suspicious of my father’s interactions. I didn’t realize there was zero evidence of anything specific and all I did was nod uncertainly when a few general questions were asked by my mother. I heard my mother raise her voice to my father for the first time in my life and I thought the adults would figure it out. I didn’t understand that my father simply denied any wrongdoing and became more secretive and dangerous from then on
It was suspected that Toby’s victim could have been 25-year-old Jessica, because she would have been 12 at the time the crime took place.
3. In 2016, Jessica Said She ‘Knew Sexual Abuse Was Still Happening’ After Finding Her Mother & Some of Her Sisters Crying in a Room, & Told Her Father She Would ‘Not Ignore it This Time’
Jessica explained in her blog that in April of 2016, she had come upon her mother and some of her sisters in a hotel room and just “knew sexual abuse was still happening” at the hands of her father. She wrote:
April’s schedule brought a band tour and I hit the road with my family on our tour bus. It was the day before my 23rd birthday and we were in Minnesota performing and filming our tv show. I came into my hotel room that night to find my mother and some of my sisters sitting on the bed crying with that look on their face I had seen so many times before.
The coldest, blackest pit opened up in my stomach because no words needed to be said for me to know something had happened. How was I here again? I could not stay in denial about my past because it obviously wasn’t staying in the past even though at times I had tried so hard to forgive and forget. Things were not over. They had never been over. Sexual abuse was still happening. And I knew it. Deep in my gut. Life seemed thin and fragile and about to shatter in that moment. The delicate balance of ignorance and fear and hope was about to break wide open.
I was the adult now. Something had to change. That night I told my father I would “not ignore it this time”. I told him I would leave as soon as I could find out how to do so. Other family members echoed similar declarations.(Again, this is another situation that my mom, my siblings and I have been able to talk about more recently and peel back the layers of confusion and conflict to understand that we all had different viewpoints and interpretations of events during that night.)
4. The Family Rose to Fame After Appearing on America’s Got Talent, Before Starring in Their Own Reality Show
In 2014, Jessica and her siblings gained fame after wowing the judges of America’s Got Talent.
The family, including parents Toby and Brenda, garnered the attention of TLC, who gave them their own reality show, The Willis Family.
5. She Is No Longer a Part of ‘The Willis Clan,’ & Is Being Praised for Speaking Out as a Survivor
Jessica went on to marry the love of her life, Sean, last year and explained that while she is not a part of The Willis Clan, she will always call them family. As a survivor, she would like to let others know they are not alone. She stated:
I am not currently a part of The Willis Clan band but I will always be a part of the Willis family. There is much to learn for myself about the truth of healthy relationships, faith, family, home, success, fulfillment and so much more. I appreciate the grace that is given by those closest to me. I assert my right to protect the privacy of my personal life while still feeling free to explore and passionately pursue my dreams and goals. I am excited by the possibilities of the future and the beauty of the now.
If you are someone whose honesty and vulnerability invited me further into true connection, you have helped save my life. I can still struggle with the wish that I could have stood up sooner, been stronger, saved myself and my family in the way that was desperately needed for so long. But I have learned that I did the best I could at the times when it felt like there was no choice. I didn’t know until I finally knew, I couldn’t stand until I finally stood. There is no shame in finally being strong. I am a survivor.