'Children of the Underground': Inside Woman's Morally Complicated Mission to Protect Kids When Courts Failed Them

FX’s new five-part docuseries examines all of the ethical complexities of Faye Yager’s underground network

“CHILDREN OF THE UNDERGROUND” -- Pictured: Faye Yager.
Faye Yager. Photo: Taro Yamasaki/FX

When Michelle French was 16 years old, she admitted her mother had been right: Though her memories were mostly repressed, French had finally come to accept that her father had sexually abused her for the first 13 years of her life, just as her mother had always claimed.

From that moment on, French's mother, Faye Yager, dedicated her life to creating an underground network designed to hide abused children and their mothers from their abusers. The network was secretive and sometimes broke the law, yet Yager and many mothers felt it was necessary given a legal system steeped in misogyny that failed to protect children.

FX's new five-part docuseries, Children of the Underground, which premiered last Friday and is available to stream on Hulu, explores the moral complications of the network and Yager herself. She is described in the series as a "charismatic vigilante" — one whose tragic history with the court system motivated her actions.

Yager married Roger Lee Jones when she was 17 and gave birth to French shortly after. When their daughter was young, she learned Jones was abusing her. Yet somehow, Jones walked away with custody. Even when French contracted an STD from Jones when she was 4 years old, Jones retained custody.

For years, Yager had very limited contact with her daughter and was only allowed supervised visits. When French was 13, without her mother around to protect her, she took matters into her own hands.

"Around that time, suddenly I knew everything he did was a lie, and I knew this was wrong on every level," French tells PEOPLE, speaking about her father's abuse. "I went to the kitchen, and there was a [gun] on top of the refrigerator, and I grabbed it and I pointed it at him and I said, 'You will never touch me again.' It didn't matter what happened after that point. I, at that point, would own my freedom, and he would never control me again."

In 1990 — after years on the run — Jones was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison for charges related to sexual abuse against other children. He was never convicted in connection with abusing French.

Yager created the sophisticated underground network in hopes that no parent or child would have to go through what she and French endured through because the legal system failed them. But her actions presented a host of ethical complications.

Moral Ambiguity

While the docuseries showcases Yager's triumphs and the people she helped, it also presents her notable flaws.

For one, Yager is fixated with Satanism, once telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that 70% of child sex abuse cases involved Satanic ritual abuse. Yager, who appeared on TV daytime talk shows like Geraldo and Sally Jessy Raphael to espouse her theories, is thus presented as a driver of the Satanic panic, which fueled a wave of unsubstantiated claims and conspiracy theories of Satanic ritual abuse in the '80s and '90s

Archival footage also shows Yager on trial after she was charged with cruelty to children, kidnapping and interference with custody after prosecutors alleged she kidnapped a boy and aggressively questioned him about the abuse she was sure he endured.

After a lengthy trial, she was acquitted in 1992 on all charges, but more legal battles were yet to come.

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Although most subjects in the show agree that Yager's intentions were good, some — such as members involved with MARC (Mother's Against Raping Children) — distanced themselves from her and left the network.

However, Yager still did have staunch supporters, including her daughter, who believes the choices she made saved many children.

Yager has another advocate in April Robyn Curtis, who, years ago, appeared on Sally Jessy Raphael alongside Yager and revealed on national television that she was a fugitive in violation of a court order placing her daughter in the girl's father's custody.

To Curtis, who has since become an advocate for legislative changes that would protect children from abusive parents, the broken family court system forces caring parents to break the law.

"Parents have rights," she tells PEOPLE. "Children don't have rights, so for me it's always been to make sure children are listened to, and you err on the side of the child."

Legal Battles

For the people helped by the network, like Curtis, Yager was a saint. But for others — like multimillionaire Bipin Shah — she was far from it.

Shah's wife at the time, Ellen Dever, left with their two children after claiming Shah abused her. However, she never alleged he'd abused her children. Dever subsequently joined Yager's underground network and went on the run. Shah spent millions to locate his children and sued Yager for $100 million in federal court for allegedly conspiring to hide his children.

Shah eventually got his children back, but for Yager, the damage was done. Her reputation — which was already in question by some — was tarnished, and she and her family received death threats. She left the underground network in fear for her safety.

Yager now chooses to live in private to protect her safety, but French confirms she is still alive and well. She spends time with her large family and avoids publicity.

"She has an incredibly full life," French says. "She gets to enjoy that now."

Today, the underground does not exist in its original form, but French and Curtis tell PEOPLE that they are working with attorney Alan Rosenfield — who also appears in the docuseries — to create legislative change that will help protect children in the legal system.

FX's Children of the Underground is now available to stream on Hulu.

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