Thirty Years’ Experience in Helping Families to Survive the Trauma of Cult Involvement: a history of the Struggle by FAIR and The Family Survival Trust

Audrey Chaytor
Chief Executive of The Family Survival Trust

I welcome you all to London and hope you will enjoy your stay here. It is quite remarkable to me, that in the late seventies, only a handful of people in the UK and Europe had experience and knowledge of present day cults and sects. The picture today is very different and thanks are due to all, who have participated and worked hard to establish FAIR and later in Europe, on the development of FECRIS. The membership still grows, and the vital elements of sharing knowledge and experience, contribute to the great European effort in this continuing field of abuse.

I recognise and thank those few politicians who have given time, understanding and help in our endeavours. The late beloved Lord Rodney, who devoted himself and made great efforts on our behalf, with his parliamentary All Parties Committee of MPs and also as our dedicated chairman. I also pay tribute to our own Tom Sackville, who not only shows great interest and understanding of the subject of cults and sects, but somehow in his exceptionally busy life, manages to find time, to be our friend and guide.

I also thank the very few clerics and ministers of religion who have given us support and understanding of the problems involved with our work.

My contribution to this conference is based on my work and experiences of thirty years which have shaped my present day thinking and observations. Latterly, my expectations of both Church and State which initially were high, have now changed and I declare that I am unimpressed by both. In the early days my expectations were, that at least, they would try to understand the phenomenon which has swept into most parts of the world and deceived many senior politicians and clerics. Now it is obvious that efforts have not been made, either to understand or get to grips with the problem. It has been left to us, to find our own resources and to forfeit our lives in a struggle, in which they could at least, have had some input.

The lack of support in the UK has been an everlasting irritant to many of us who make great efforts to work and help. But, in fact, Government did do something. They made a gift of large amounts of taxpayers’ money and presented us with the result – a consolidated package known as INFORM. Following that event one could almost feel the sigh of relief, as Church and State relaxed into a state of inertia, expecting that we, in our ignorance and gratitude for their efforts, would not only give our full support to INFORM, but would retreat and allow them some peace. In the UK, we have been forced to accept INFORM and we work with the eternal insult which began in 1988. Available money has been wasted and let me be clear, my constant concern is that in the UK, there is no money available for helping ex-cult members. There must be many struggling to survive, with no support. How appalling is that?

Indications of real understanding would have helped but in the absence of that, at least, we do know where we stand. To date there is scant recognition of the problem of cults and sects, from both Church and State, the dangers appear to elude them. Some of the most scandalous, hideous events, have failed to even raise an eyebrow. Those are not my only concerns, but both Church and State appear to have missed the vital point frequently made by us and others, that the dangers are not only that families have lost loved ones, although that is bad enough, but there is a deeper and more dangerous link. Civilization now lives under the continual threat of terrorist acts every day.

As I write this on 29th March 2010, bombs were released in the Moscow underground, killing and maiming ordinary citizens. Our concerns must be that Church and State fail to accept vital facts which are clear to us but not to them, that in many instances there is no division between the “religious” and the “criminal”, a failure which is largely unrecognised. So far as I can see, Church and State are so occupied with other matters, that there is neither time nor inclination to make the “Link”, in spite of well publicised disasters and dangers, from extreme and uncontrolled “faith” and/or terrorist groups. There is no limit to what can be done, by unscrupulous masters, imposing their wills upon captive members. The fine line between the “religious” and the “criminal” is concealed and deeply held faiths can easily be transformed from one into the other. We all know and understand but we still wait for Church and State to realize and make the link.

Could anything be done to help this process to move along? It would help if unquestioning and wearisome lip service to “freedom of faith and worship” could be seriously debated without the influence of the many cult apologists. A board of serious scholars together with enlightened politicians, willing to learn, could be a beginning. The subject would benefit from the appointment of a Minister for Cults in parliament, instead of being conveniently hidden away and ignored, as a small part of some Government department, as it has been for many years and is still today. That might appear to be almost too simple, but in fact, so far as I am aware it has never even been suggested.

Too much ignorance and waste of time abounds. On occasions we hear of a report, which might be interpreted as “good news”, that some politicians are aware of “religious issues” but frequently they disappear before they have begun.

A recent report of new legislation, in The Sunday Times – 7th March 2010, stated that Harriet Harman, Government Equalities Minister, explained to The House, the legal implications of a code of practice of the equality bill. Ms Harman announced that religions need not be mainstream or well known, for their adherents to gain protection. She said “A belief need not include faith or worship of a god or gods, but must effect how a person lives their life or perceives the world.” The new code of practice, drawn up by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, would protect members of cults and “new religions” such as Scientology. It did surprise me to learn that Scientology needs protection! As one, who knows at first hand just how much protection the public needs from Scientology, I would challenge Harriet Harman’s abysmal ignorance of this subject. However this is just one example of how much we need intelligent politicians who understand and know what they are talking about.

Recently, I read an article by Virginia McKenna of BORN FREE fame, a wildlife activist campaigning against captivity of wild animals. She said “There will probably never be a time when there aren’t animals in cages, but there’s usually a compromise” she goes on “We didn’t celebrate our 25th Anniversary last year. The only cause for celebration would be if we were no longer needed”. That is something for us to think about and the thought really does appeal to me. IF WE WERE NO LONGER NEEDED!

Today in our world, the overall picture is that many who began this journey over thirty years ago, are still here. Many more have joined in the struggle. We have brilliant scholars, psychologists, psychotherapists, researchers, cult advisers and counsellors, all working away out there. The picture is of a world wide workforce, in fact, a developed job creation scheme, which helps victims and advises families. Looking at this overall impressive domain, should we accept that it is permanent? Should we be working and looking forward to a world, in which much more recognition in high places and help for victims, can be available. We need a greater awareness of the dangers and a way forward which might even result in eliminating many groups? Like Virginia MacKenna, I believe that a cause for real celebration would be, that we would no longer be needed. However, I do know that this is “Pie in the Sky” but I also know that society needs and could only benefit, from a new initiative of Church and State. In a sensible well regulated world, all church bodies, cults and sects should be required to prove their worth in order to gain tax exemption. If that could be achieved it would be a new base for an equality bill which I could support!

I accept that, probably, there will never be a time when there are no cults or esoteric groups – they have been there since the world began. But, there is no good reason to accept the situation, as it now is. It could be significantly changed and made much safer. I pose a question for your consideration. Why should we accept that it is possible for anyone, even any of you here today if you so wished, to set up a religious or esoteric group and be quite wealthy living off the proceeds of mind manipulation, which causes individuals to live in imagined cages?

Where could we begin? It would be difficult but it could begin with a Government board of experienced inspectors, who would be properly professional, discreet and with authority to inspect churches, faith groups, cults and sects, without prior warning. Existing religious bodies and esoteric groups would be tested and any group which failed to meet required standards would be closed. Those wanting to begin would need to apply for permission and submit to examination before permission could be granted. Automatic tax-free status would be abolished but could be re-granted to those groups achieving the required standards of preaching, teaching and behaviour. There would be no locked doors on churches or groups during services, meetings or teaching sessions. I am aware that these suggestions would need to be carefully researched and implemented but the present system of simply putting up a notice board, claiming to be a “church” and operating behind closed doors, is much too easy. It is equally easy to claim to be a Buddhist monk with special spiritual powers. There are many gateways through which criminals can earn an easy living by deception.

Lord Justice Denning, before he died, proposed a protection scheme in 1984 and believed that it could lead to a solution. He was convinced, that the ease with which cults and sects are allowed to operate under the present tax exemption rule, was foolish and should be stopped. I am one of the few people who supported him then and I support him now. I have been told that such a scheme would not work. I have listened to the arguments but I do not accept, that abuse of persons and underhand fraud of the tax system under the protection of religion or faith, should be an accepted part of life in a civilized country. The privileges which now exist protect any charlatan who masquerades as a minister of religion, or leader of a group.
I recommend that this present state of affairs should not be allowed to continue. Understandably, such a move would cause an outcry, but any church or cult group would be given the opportunity to prove its sincerity, honesty, good and transparent management and if it is proved to run on clearly defined lines, there would be nothing to fear. This could be a beginning and, though very unpopular, would replace the present system of “free for all” which goes unchecked at the present time.
My memories and experiences of a long journey into “dark” places began in February 1979, when I believed that I had lost my two beloved daughters, recruited into the cult of Scientology. That was the first event in my life as a mother which forced a serious conflict between us. It was not their fault but it was mine. They became the victims of lies. I still remember, vividly, how difficult it was to believe that something of which I had never heard, could be such a destructive force. Over the years many parents have told of similar experiences. As an intelligent working mother I thought I was clever enough to know what could happen to young people out in the world. I was wrong! Completely ignorant of this dark subject I sent my children out, unarmed, into the world and they were attacked. As I began to learn the almost unbelievable facts I was transfixed and paralysed with fear. But my experience of this early lesson, of a destructive cult, has brought me to realize the folly of allowing the present system, which has no boundaries, to continue unsupervised under the guise of “new religious movements”.

Over the years I have striven to help families, who under normal circumstances, would come to terms with events and tragedies of every kind, yet when faced with having a son or daughter in a cult they can be reduced to pulp. They lose their inner confidence, resources and strength and they are filled with fear.

On joining FAIR in 1979, I heard reports from other parents, who told me that some places in the world had become hotspots for cults. There were certain cities in the USA where it was almost impossible for young students to be safe from predatory Moonies and other places where Scientology was the prime danger. At that time, it was almost impossible to be in Oxford Street in London, without meeting a very noisy crocodile of dancing, singing and drum beating Hare Krishna members. Some unaware or unintelligent passers by, thought they were simply rather amusing and charming, a colourful picture. However most of us know that their lifestyle is something other than cute and the way they treat children is appalling. Our dear friend, the late Dr. Elizabeth Tylden, very wisely said “I do not mind what anyone believes, but I do mind what they do as a result of what they believe”. We are stronger today because of Betty’s wisdom and because of our acquired knowledge over thirty years. Yet very little has changed during that time. Many destructive cults and sects are still out there, preying upon vulnerable people, causing mayhem. Sadly there is still no sign that Church and State have made any moves towards a cult education programme within schools. It seems quite absurd, even though I know the reasons why, the dangers are still unrecognised except by us.

Cults/sects attract little attention, unless they either cause a national scandal, which is good for selling newspapers, or there is some horrible disaster which cannot be ignored. Then the interest will last only a short time until another scandal comes along to replace it. This has not changed in over thirty years.

The deception continues and in many instances begins with a simple question. When I go into my nearest city, I am sometimes approached by two inoffensive looking boys, who say to me “We would like to talk to you. Do you believe in God?”. They are not aggressive and it is difficult to tell them to go away, but that is the trap, they are carefully chosen because of their mild manners. I know that I must not answer their question, as these boys are recruiting for an “extreme” evangelical church which, I am sorry to say, is protected as part of the Church of England. As I watch this pair engaged in deep conversation with others, I know they could be setting up the beginning of a problem for someone, but I can do nothing. That church will continue to control. It is well attended and regarded, even by the Archbishop, as “successful”.

From time to time reports are published which raise our hopes, that “something” might be happening but then, nothing further happens. We could be forgiven for thinking that these reports are deliberately released in order to draw us down blind alleys and convince us that governments are interested. We need to ask, as in the case of Senator Xenophon’s report in Australia, will the government follow up and take it seriously? However, it appears that once again, an excellent report is “stuck”. Hopes are raised, then they crumble and fall, while the silence from Church and State is deafening and abusive groups continue to abuse. If ordinary citizens carried out many of the acts of the cults and sects they would be arrested on any number of criminal charges. But religious or esoteric groups do their worst, the Church is silent and State, the police and law enforcement, appear to be powerless.

The problem of damaged people who have spent many years in cults and sects is important to us all. The numbers of victims is unknown and there is yet no safety net for them. I assure you, in spite of my previous comments about the great spread of professional counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists who work in the field, that I have no wish to dispense with them. But it is time to move from the position we have had for the past thirty years. Church and State must be helped to recognise the problem for what it is. Financial resources should be moved from where they are now and made available, within the Health Service, for cult victims who need counselling, treatment or help. Unless victims belong to wealthy families there is no way they can afford to pay fees for professional counselling. The situation is ludicrous, with the added danger of charlatans in the business of cult counselling. The entire area of cult help and advice needs to be reviewed.

Children, taken into cult groups by their parents are vulnerable, as victims deprived of choice. When a person becomes a member of a cult or sect, at a young age, the best years of life are stolen. In time, some of these displaced persons might try to re-enter the real world without support, owning nothing. They will be lacking in confidence or qualifications and they might even be ill. How can these damaged people find the resources to pay professional fees for counselling? The system as it now stands is abominable and there is no official supporting network in place.

I will end with two heart-breaking experiences from this field of suffering. On the day of the Waco Ranch fire, I continually answered the telephone, from 7a.m. in the morning. I watched the all-day coverage on television as the ranch, which was known to be full of people being burned alive, continued to burn. The telephone did not stop that day. It rang again at 4 p.m. when my husband called out to me to leave it! However something made me pick up and the caller was a distressed man from Sheffield. He asked if I was watching the television? I asked him what he wanted to say to me and he said “There is nothing you can do, I just want to tell someone, that my wife and four daughters are in there!” The mother of those children, presumably joined David Koresh of her own choice, but her children were taken in there by her.

The second is more recent and happened only a few months ago. A woman who had been mentally, sexually and financially abused within two cults over a very long period, somehow managed to free herself and return to the UK. Because she had been abused for such a long period of time, her self esteem was nil. Her home/family situation had changed considerably and her parents’ lives had changed. They were now old and one of them was very ill, unable to help her. Then she fell into the wrong hands again, received diabolical counselling advice and arrived at our office, in great distress. Any mention of psychiatric or psychological help was met with tears and absolute refusal. So we decided to try, day by day, to help her along the road and eventually we hoped to move her on to accept further help. But, once again, there was absolutely no money to pay for anything. Julian Chater and I, spent many hours and some of our own money doing our best to help her. We thought we were managing “not too badly” and many times we brought a smile to her face. However one sad day, the news came that she had jumped out of a fast moving train into London and was instantly killed on impact. This happened as a result of twenty years of evil followed by extremely bad cult-counselling advice.

Yet today, advice is available on the web, implying that a cult experience might simply be regarded as a kind of adventure. It states and I quote “many felt wiser for the experience….” I leave you to be the judges of that.