Speak My Mind video from The Willis Clan

It’s difficult to imagine any subject more sensitive than familial sexual abuse, nor a more devastating and traumatic experience for a young girl to face alone.

No story we’ve covered here the past few years has resonated more deeply with readers than that of The Willis Clan, a talented family band that had been reaching for the heights until their careers and lives were crushed when their father was arrested for serial abuse of his daughters. The group was flying high, recognized for their clean-cut, family-style show, their playing and singing skills in bluegrass, Americana, and Celtic music, and their remarkable skills as ballroom and Irish step dancers.

All of the 12 Willis children were involved in the show, and their popularity was rising through a reality television series on TLC called The Willis Family. It followed the crew at home and on the road, showing them to be a large and loving family who worked hard at their craft, with everyone pitching in to tackle all the chores required to keep such a clan clean, fed, and clothed on a daily basis.

Then in September 2017, their father Toby Willis was arrested for child rape, and sentenced to 40 years in jail. He had abused each of his daughters in turn, telling them that if they told anyone, they would get in big trouble. The poor girls didn’t even have each other to turn to for support, until the oldest told her story to police. As you might expect, the entire family was devastated when the news broke, with all the girls realizing that they hadn’t been the only one, and the boys coming to grips with what their father had done.

The immediate reaction most have is wonder at how Toby Willis kept this hidden for so long, but that is the signal horror of this sort of predation. The abuser chooses young victims who lack the self confidence to speak out, especially against an authority figure who they actually love and respect. It’s a sordid business, deserving of the sort of sentence Willis has received, but doesn’t do much to repair the emotional damage done to his daughters.

For that, The Willis Clan turns to music. After retreating from the limelight when charges were first made public, they have decided to return to performing, and using their voices to implore victims of any sort of abuse to speak up and let their voices be heard.

A video from their new album tackles that very subject, a poignant song sung by Jenny Willis called Speak My Mind. It had been written by oldest sister, Jessica, before the revelations of her dad’s offenses had come to light. They hope it can reach the people who need help, caught in abusive relationships of every kind.

Speak My Mind, the album, is available now wherever you stream or download music online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.