The Jessica Willis Fisher story was one she knew she had to tell. So on the eve of her 26th birthday, Jess shared her harrowing true account of abuse at the hands of her own father, Toby Willis. Jessica is best known as the beautiful, talented oldest of 12 musical siblings in the band, The Willis Clan. Now she’s sharing the secrets that kept her trapped within the walls of her own home, and the final traumatic event that caused her to flee the Willis family for her own safety.
Jessica Willis Fisher Story: The Beginning
Jessica recalled that her first memories of being sexually abused by her own father were when she was only three years old. She remembers one time when she was a young child when her mom became suspicious and confronted her father of wrong-doing. Jessica was filled with hope that the abuse would then stop, but her father convincingly lied, making him “more secretive and dangerous from then on.”
Jessica shared that Toby Willis controlled his family in every single area of their lives. Hidden behind the appearance of family values, the father of 12 was a dominating figure who used fear and manipulation to keep his family submissive.
Toby Willis controlled his family’s image and propelled them toward a successful franchise–from competitive Irish Dancers to TV stars to a successful band. Through America’s Got Talent success and TLC reality TV show fame, they became America’s darlings.
And while the nation saw a wholesome, beautiful family, Jessica knew that was all just a facade. “Our family system was disturbingly sick. For a long time now I had felt like I was going through life with a massive bomb strapped to my chest that I knew would one day detonate.”
Jessica met her now-husband, Sean Fisher, in 2015. But because her dad fought to keep outsiders from getting too close, he forced her to break up with him and demanded that she not speak to him again. Toby shared that if any member of the family didn’t abide by his rules, they would be cut off by whatever means necessary. Jessica’s dad insisted that the family remain closed off from the outside world that could potentially set them free.
Jessica Willis Fisher Story: Heartbreaking Realization
One night, Jessica remembers walking into their hotel room to find her mother and some of her sisters sitting on the bed crying with a look on their faces that she knew only too well. “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.”
She continued relaying the terrible details of that night, “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.”
Toby did not take Jessica’s promise seriously and continued to promote The Willis Clan over the following months, which just kept becoming more successful. The family kept up their outward appearances, but nothing had actually improved. Jessica’s only refuge came through the outlet of music and through her secret ‘underground’ relationship with Sean who was struggling to make sense of Jessica’s bizarre family dynamic. Wanting to be supportive, he would secretly share resources and books with Jessica that he thought might help. It was through this research that Jessica began to understand how seriously dangerous her situation truly was.
“I came to view what my father had done with increasing horror. I was less and less cooperative with him and had to face the mounting consequences.”
Jessica Willis Fisher Story: Her Family Secret Is Out
Then one day, Sean sent Jessica a message saying he thought he had "figured out what had happened” in Jessica’s past. When she confirmed his suspicions, he became very concerned for her safety. Jessica shared, “I looked around. . . I realized I was not. No one had ever told their truth. No one had ever truly stood up to my father. I personally had never shared the details of what he had done to me. Doing so would put me in danger, but it had to be done.”
Jessica just knew her truth had to be told. The songwriter of the group started pouring out her heart, writing a detailed account of the abuse she had suffered. When she finally stopped writing, she felt power in its telling. Then she realized she had filled fourteen pages with the terrible truth. She showed the letter to her mom who became outraged. Toby Willis refused to read it and accused Jess of lying. “My father lashed out at both of us with whatever threats necessary to maintain his control and began consistently threatening my mom with the lives of the entire family. I continued to look for a way out on my own but it can seem impossible to jump off a runaway train.” she continued.
Jessica Willis Fisher Story: The Danger
As things continued to escalate, Jessica began to fear for her life. “My father assaulted me on the tour bus in front of the entire family. He blamed my disobedience and defied everyone though my mother and siblings tried to interfere.” When a police car pulled up behind their bus, Jessica ran and hid in her bunk so the officer wouldn’t see the blood and bruises. “Everyone put on their show faces. In that moment, I knew I was betraying myself. I was the one keeping me prisoner.”
Jessica Willis Fisher Story: The Breaking Point
One morning, her dad appeared, took off his belt and beat Jessica saying it was his “responsibility” to punish Jessica. “It was in that moment I knew. . . No matter how it happened, I would leave by tonight,” Jessica said.
Her decision was met with incredible resistance. Her dad threatened more physical violence and legal action against Jessica. Her mother and siblings pleaded with her to stay. “Everyone was terrified of what would happen if I really left.” Jessica said.
In the end, two of Jessica’s siblings offered to drive her to safety. Sean had gotten Jessica an emergency phone that she now dug out from between her mattress and boxspring. Shaking, she sent him a message saying simply that she was leaving. “In every moment of that car ride, I felt I was about to wretch my guts out. I had never felt so physically sick with fear and a grimacing determination.” Jessica explained.
About four months after Jessica left, a friend stepped forward to help save the rest of Jessica’s family. This friend suspected Toby Willis was guilty of sexual abuse, and he reported him. Jessica then shared her story with the investigators working the case, and it took the better part of a day to list all the abuse she had endured. Authorities used Jessica’s harrowing testimony to get the arrest warrant. Investigators warned Jessica not to speak to her family during this time for risk of putting her family at greater risk. “There was great concern on how to keep everyone alive and safe while trying to apprehend my father. It was no exaggeration to fear a violent confrontation, standoff, kidnapping or worse. It was a harrowing few weeks but my father was finally arrested.” Jessica said. Toby Willis is now serving a 40-year sentence for four charges of child rape.
"Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do." – Brené Brown . . Hello, world. It's me. 👋🏼 We've never really met before. See, I used to be something different than I am now. I've taken the last two years to do some much needed learning and healing – away from many things of my past. However, this Spring I feel the (re)turning of the seasons deep in my bones and my soul and I know it's the right time for me to share part of my story. And because it is too much to put here, I made myself a website. 🌿 www.jessicawillisfisher.com . . 📷 my love @mr.bootstraps
Jessica Willis Fisher Story: The Willis Family Today
As all the members of the family move forward with their lives after being victimized for so long, Jessica expresses gratitude for the chance they now have to heal and continue to grow closer. “My mom and siblings each have their own powerful stories and they are all beautiful survivors,” Jessica said. “I have felt such support from them in the telling of this story and I look forward to supporting them in theirs.”
Jessica has even more to be grateful for now. She married her husband, Sean, last year. “He too has his own truly inspiring story throughout this crazy tale and I'm so thankful that he constantly invited me towards a better life since the moment I met him.”
Jessica also thanked the other people and organizations who have supported her, allowing her to now be in a place of self-acceptance. “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.”
Jessica acknowledged that sharing her story with others is another step toward her healing. “Writing and sharing this piece is an important step for me in owning my story, loving myself and others, and moving forward to live the life that I truly want to live.”
The Jessica Willis Fisher story concluded with Jess reminding other victims of abuse that, “If you too are a survivor, you are not alone.”
Read the poignantly-told full account of the Jessica Willis Fisher story in her own words on her blog, here.
WATCH: Willis Family Audition on America’s Got Talent