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New book by eldest daughter of Pilgrim details escape from her father’s abuse

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – The eldest of what many Alaskans may remember as the “Pilgrim family” has written a book detailing the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, as well as her long journey to forgiveness.

Content Warning: This article contains information about sexual assault that may be difficult for some readers.

Elishaba Doerksen and her 14 siblings lived on private property inside Wrangell St. Elias National Park, led by her father, the self-proclaimed Papa Pilgrim, whose real name was Robert Hale. They gained notoriety when the family bulldozed an illegal road through the park, but eventually the elder Pilgrim would become known for something else.

Doerksen’s book “Out of the Wilderness” chronicles the years of extreme physical, sexual, and mental abuse that Hale inflicted on her family. Hale took control, she says, which began at a young age when he ordered his children to throw away their toys.

Doerksen read a paragraph from his book: “Tears came to my eyes. ‘Do we really have to do this daddy?’ ‘Yes.’ His stern response told me that his decision was made.

Doerksen said his father used the Bible to justify his actions, but the interpretation of scripture was always his and no one could go against him, even his mother. This included the time Hale decided that his eldest daughter should become his wife.

“For 10 years he raped me every day, like constant sexual abuse day and night,” Doerksen said. “I wasn’t even allowed to fall asleep unless I was taking care of his needs sexually.”

Doerksen said she was torn between wanting her father’s love, fearing for her family’s safety and wishing him dead. She learned to be quiet.

“I feared for my life every day, I almost died several times,” she said.

When her father revealed a plan to impregnate her and hide her even further in the desert, Doerksen took a chance and made a daring escape. Hale was arrested and in 2006 did not contest the charges of rape, assault and incest, while denying that they ever took place.

“When I walked into that courtroom, I was so ready to hear my dad say he was sorry, like admit it,” Doerksen said. “And I think my life depended on it at that time.”

But that never happened. Hale died in prison two years later without ever admitting what he had done.

Doerksen was able to continue his life. She is married to a man she loves and they have two children. She has also written a book that she hopes will let others know they don’t have to suffer alone. And finally, she was able to forgive her father, seven years after his death.

“Some people might be able to just forgive in the moment, but for me it was a journey,” she said.

Doerksen went to her father’s grave in 2015 to tell him.

“It was powerful, to kneel on that grave and say, ‘I forgive you daddy,'” she said.

She says writing the book also helped lighten her heart and reveal her secrets.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, resources are available on the Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) website or by calling the nationwide Crisis Hotline. ‘State at 1-800-478-8999.

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