I’ve been quiet for what seems like an age, and I’m going to tell you why...well at least in part.
Firstly, thank you for sticking around despite my absence on these squares.
Secondly, just a quick heads up that this post will be sensitive in nature. It’ll touch on the delicate issue of child sex abuse. I ask you to please be kind and remember that real people exist behind these squares.
Before I get into my story (shaking with nerves as I write this), I just want to say that the following account is in no way an attack on anyone’s belief system. I firmly support human rights for all individuals, including the right to choose and change one’s beliefs. If anything, I have so much more love, respect, and understanding for my fellow humans as a result of what I’ve been through.
So, why am I sharing this experience here? Well, this beautiful little business was, in part, born amidst a really traumatic time in my life. It was an effort to create something to call my own: something into which I can pour my energy and emotions...to help me heal.
As such, I’d like my small corner of this world to be a safe place and serve in some capacity to help others who may find themselves in a similar position. You are not alone.
So here it goes…
I was raised in a cult...through no fault of my parents for they were born in too. In fact, our family’s involvement with said cult stretches back several generations.
I know ‘cult’ is not a term you hear every day. Some also use the terms ‘high control group’ or ‘high demand group’. I’ll try not to bog you down with too many details about the cult thing, but I’ll have to give some context so you know where I’m coming from.
Like most cults, the organisation to which we belonged expected blind loyalty to their interpretation of the ‘truth’. Any deviation from their doctrines was met with discipline in the form of public humiliation. One’s deviation would be announced to fellow members and one’s continued “sinning” would result in excommunication.
This cult is secretive in nature. Let me tell you, the high-control aspect of these organisations is no joke. Everything is controlled, right down to the information you’re allowed to consume. Newspapers, TV, the internet, and radio are not to be trusted, and at no point are you permitted to read or watch anything that so much as questions the cult.
Holiday celebrations, including birthdays, Christmas, Easter, and even Thanksgiving, are forbidden. You are micromanaged right down to what you wear and how you behave intimately with your spouse. I told you I wasn’t kidding about the high-control thing.
If that wasn’t enough, homosexuality is viewed as an abhorrent disease. To grow up in this kind of environment while being too scared to openly disagree was torture. You are never free to express yourself.
The control extends to relationships with people ‘outside’ the cult. Basically, those aren’t allowed. They term anyone not a part of their group as ‘worldly’ and ‘bad association’: a danger that could spiritually weaken you. Even if you join the cult later in life, you are coerced into distancing yourself from unbelieving friends and relatives. Anyone who had a friend or family member join a cult will know what I mean.
As such, you lead an insular existence where your only community is the one within the ‘safety’ of the cult. In other words, the cult makes up your entire support network.
Do you think that sounds crazy? I haven’t even gotten to the craziest part yet. If a person is excommunicated, either because they chose to leave or the men who control the cult catch you “sinning”, you are completely cut off from the only support network you know. You are shunned. You are completely isolated from everyone you know. No one, including family, are permitted to do so much as greet you on the street or pick up the phone when you call. When so-called friends see you walking down the street, they will cross to the other side. It’s difficult to describe this to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Imagine everything and everyone you know are suddenly killed, because that is how you are treated. You are dead to them all.
In an instant the only world you’ve ever known and all the people you’ve ever loved are gone. Parents will cut off their children and never see them again, even refusing to attend their own child’s wedding. Children will cut their parents off and not even attend their funerals. Little kids will grow up never knowing who their grandparents are or meet their extended family. Lifelong friendships will be shattered. All of this because everyone’s love is based on conditions outlined by the cult. Yet, those within believe that shunning IS love...that it is a necessary part of bringing you back, for if you do not repent and return, your soul will be destroyed for all eternity.
In reality it’s nothing more than another control measure used by the cult: a measure of controlling people through fear. The most horrible kind of fear. The fear of losing everyone and everything forever.
You are conditioned at a very early age to suppress doubts. “Don’t question,” the say. “Just obey. Obey, or have your family taken away and be ‘condemned to death’ when god destroys the wicked. You don’t want god to think you’re wicked, do you?”
You become so indoctrinated that it takes nothing short of a life altering situation, often a traumatic experience, to trigger those latent critical thinking skills that you’ve spent your whole life burying under threats and lies.
That was when the brain washing started to unravel for me.
When one of my daughters was 18 months old, I caught an older child in the cult molesting her. Words could never describe my horror. I took my eyes off my daughter for a moment, and the next thing I know, this other kid is touching her inappropriately. That it happened in a public space full of other cult members made it all the more bizarre.
I want to point out that I don’t harbour a single ounce of resentment toward the child in question. The only reason that kid knew how to do the things they did was because they had also experienced abuse. Knowing that highlights just how insidious such groups can be.
You might ask, “but how do you know that they were also abused?”
I know because, as I later learned, sexual abuse is part of the “culture” in the high-control group. I was subjected to sexual abuse within the cult from the age of 5 onwards. Child sex abuse (CSA) has reared its ugly head in 3 generations of my family. My account will not include details of the generation before me. That is not my story to tell. However, I swore that I would protect my children from the things I experienced growing up. So you can imagine how failing my daughter in this regard added an additional layer of trauma to the incident. In fact, so strong was my sense of failure that it sometimes still overwhelms me years later.
Looking back, it’s no surprise that it drove me to do something the cult forbade: to research using outside sources of information. The second I gave myself permission to do that, I disappeared down a rollercoaster-shaped rabbit hole, and that’s where I’ve been all this time. The floodgates opened and there was no closing them. I spent months buried in articles written by former members and those who went through similar experiences inside the organization. The things the cult put some of these people through blew my mind. I found myself scraping my jaw off the floor every time I turned a new page.
As horrifying as it was to learn about these things, I owed it to myself. But, more importantly, I owed it to my two little girls. I’d always suspected deep down that the “religion” I’d been raised in was wrong. What kind of mother would I be if I’d ignored those doubts again and raised my kids as I’d been raised? Seeing that something was clearly fundamentally wrong, I could no longer squash my doubts. My mind...my heart...was trying to tell me something, and this time I was going to listen.
I also knew that taking a stand against the cult would result in harsh consequences. I quickly realised that those who loved me only loved me conditionally: so long as I did what was expected of me; so long as I remained under the cult’s control. I understood that as long as I stayed in the cult, the same conditions would be placed on my children. I refused to let that happen, no matter how dearly that might cost me personally. I decided that I could never do such a thing to my girls. Ever!
Through my research, I was shocked to learn that the organisation’s policies actively protected pedophiles. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. Further digging revealed that when a victim somehow found the courage to speak up about their sexusal abuse, the cult leaders usually sided with the abuser. Instead of receiving justice, the victim was blamed and shamed more often than not.
But how could anyone expect justice from a cult who would rather deal with cases of CSA internally and brush things under the carpet instead of reporting cases to the proper authorities. That’s right. When a child, or anyone else for that matter, comes to them with a sex abuse case, their policies prohibit their clergy from contacting the police. After coming under fire recently, they’ve changed some of their more condemning policies in writing but not in practice.
Victims are told that they can go to the police, but they know that they will suffer serious repercussions if they do so, and so they are passively coerced into protecting the cult instead of themselves and those they love. Victims are also encouraged against seeking help from mental health professionals, being told instead that extra prayer will make it all better.
Insane, right? And I haven’t even gotten to the “two witness rule” yet. What’s that, you ask? Strap in and keep your arms and legs inside at all times because this craziness is about to hit a whole new level.
In short, the “two witness rule” means that if someone makes an accusation against someone, that accusation will not be heard unless it was witnessed by two people. This includes cases of rape and child sex abuse. Now tell me, in cases of CSA, when are there ever two witnesses? Why isn’t the report from a traumatised child enough to warrant action? Rather, the organisation serves as a safe haven for sexual predators.
The men who run the show have secret guidelines that make sure they contact the cult’s head offices to receive instructions on how to handle a CSA case before they contact anyone else. Failing to follow these instructions results in serious repercussions. For example, in the Republic of Ireland, a small group of men in positions of authority defied these instructions, choosing instead to report a case of CSA, involving multiple children, directly to the police. Any sane person would praise such efforts to help children. Instead, the cult punished these men.
The organisation in question even refuses to report CSA cases to authorities in countries where mandatory reporting is law. Such was the case in the state of Montana last year. The point is, children are repeatedly being put at risk because organisations like this are failing to protect their most vulnerable members.
An Australian Royal Commission, held in 2015, investigated the handling of CSA within religious and charitable organisations, including the one I was a part of. I’m delighted to see that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) has recently been established in the UK. Once again, my former cult is listed.
As the IICSA itself explained, the commision was “set up because of serious concerns that some organisations had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse. Our remit is huge, but as a statutory inquiry we have unique authority to address issues that have persisted despite previous inquiries and attempts at reform.”
If you’ve read this far, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. It’s not an easy subject, but one that deserves more discussion.
It’s been almost four months since officially breaking free. I’m still neck deep in the grief of losing people I loved so deeply, and I’m still trying to figure out how to rebuild. I’m learning to navigate this new life slowly yet surely. To say mothering has been incredibly difficult amidst this life altering trauma would be an understatement. My patience has been paper-thin, my temper short-fused, and I’ve cried more times than I dare admit. Perhaps I’ll talk more about that particular aspect of the challenge more in a future post.
For now, I’d like to create a safe space for survivors of CSA and ex-cult members...somewhere people can have open discussions about their experiences. I’d like to see us move forward together and bring about positive changes in the policies of religious and charitable organisations to better protect the generations that will come after us.
I’m still not sure how this little business will figure into creating a safety net for CSA survivors. Honestly, part of me feels like they’ve been interwoven from the very start, but I don’t have to have all the answers right now. Things have a way of evolving over time, don’t they?
For the time being, it’s enough to know that my family is free...Free to truly live for the first time, to rebuild a life of our choosing, to champion communities such as the LGBTQ (Happy Pride Month!), and to love any and all whom we choose without conditions...and most important of all to have the power to stand up for the protection of future generations.
I was once a Jehovah’s Witness.
Now, I am free.
P.S. I tried not to delve too much into cult mechanics, but if the subject interests you, I will link to Stephen Hassan’s website HERE. He’s a renowned American mental health specialist and the Creator of the BITE model that is often used in identifying characteristics of high demand groups which is very helpful because people trapped inside a cult don’t know they’re trapped inside a cult.