This article is copied
and circulated with the permission of the University of Louisville Journal
of Family Law and the University of Louisville School of Law. It was
originally published in Journal of Family Law, Volume 29, Number 3,
Before one can understand
just how often and how seriously children are affected by their involvement
in destructive cults, it is necessary to have a general understanding of
cults, for "[a]ll (cults) have an impact-some benign, others destructive-on
the family unit."
Only after acquiring such an understanding can one hope to help children
victimized by destructive cults.
This paper attempts to
achieve this goal by discussing the general social, legal and psychological
issues surrounding children and destructive cults, by providing (1) the
definition of a cult, (2) characteristics of cults, (3) recruitment and mind
control practices, (4) the effect cults have on their members, (5) child
abuse in cults, (b) constitutional issues involving religious cults, (7)
litigating custody disputes, and (8) interviewing, counseling and
psychologically evaluating children in cults.
WHAT IS A CULT?
A cult is an organization
whose stated mission is religious, political, philosophical or
psychotherapeutic, with a covert mission to accumulate wealth and/or power
to benefit its leadership.
Although all cults may appear to be based on some variation of religion, not
all cults are religious. However, "the cults which have the greatest
potential for creating health problems for their members are usually
The members of a cult
generally follow a living leader. This individual is usually a dominant,
paternal figure. Occasionally, there is a pair or "family" of leaders.
The cult leader often ensures his dominance over the followers by making
absolute claims about his character, abilities, or knowledge.
Most cults are controlled by men,
and are basically totalitarian and sexist in nature. When women do gain
power within a cult, the power usually derives solely from a "special"
relationship with the male cult leader. The woman involved in such a
relationship with the cult leader is considered to hold a place of honor. As
a result, the woman's
"power" derived from her place of honor may entitle her to special treatment
or favors from the other members of the
CHARACTERISTICS OF CULTS
There is not one specific
sign or symptom that in and- of itself identifies a group as a cult. There
are, however, certain predominant characteristics possessed by all cults.
All cults manifest at least some variation of these characteristics,
although not necessarily all of them are possessed by all cults.
These characteristics include the following:
has, or had, a living, central, charismatic, authoritarian leader who
commands absolute control, loyalty and allegiance from followers.
claims to be infallible and omnipotent, possessing special powers and
insight or revelations not available to others.
will introduce to its members new and unusual beliefs, practices and values
which differ from or are in violation of conventional standards of behavior.
teaches that only it possesses the ultimate truth, and creates in its
members the belief that leaving the cult will put physical, mental and
spiritual health at risk.
"new" theology or philosophy is superficially coherent and appealing, while
its "real truth" remains secret and concealed.
practices some form of social separatism, elitism, and isolationism. The
cult leader encourages his followers to leave their current employment,
schools, families, friends and activites that are not cult-related.
cultivates, and the cult maintains, a sense of "outside" persecution.
adopts its own special language often using new terms and assigning
different and special meanings to common, familiar terms.
maintains tight control over members in ideological matters and all facets
of everyday living through the use of mind control techniques and
manipulation of the social structure of rewards and reinforcements.
maintains complete control over the members' lives; this includes their
sexual practices, as well as when and if the members will have children.
excessive control of the members' finances. Members may be expected to
contribute large tithes, offerings or most or all of their worldly
the cult belong to the leader, with all members of the group considered
their "family," and the leader, their father (or mother).
recruitment practices may be aggressive and deceptive.
cult's deviance reaches extreme levels, it may discontinue recruiting and no
longer accept new members into the group. However, occasional supervised
visitation from "outsiders" may be permitted.
establish a totalistic environment in which the character and identity of
the individual cult member is reshaped into the new creation desired by the
CULTS: RECRUITMENT AND MEMBERSHIP
A. Who do Cults
"[T]he single most
important thing to realize in dealing with . . . cults is that we are all
vulnerable to conversion," given the right circumstances, time, and place.
Although the recruit is no different from anyone else, people frequently
"look at the bizarre nature of cults and think you have to be very strange
to be involved in one."
As a result, victims are typically blamed for their own cult involvement. It
is precisely for this reason that it is important to note that almost no one
is exempt from or beyond the reach of being the next cult recruit.
"You don't have to be a
certain kind of person to succumb to the cults."
Individuals who become cult members are not necessarily more insecure than
the average person; they are not weak-willed, directionless, or, as a rule,
In a study of ex-members, Dr. Singer determined that at the time of joining
cults, only between five and six percent of the ex-members were previously
treated psychologically or suffered from a pre-diagnosed mental illness;
with two-thirds of the new recruits essentially normal and enjoying positive
relationships with their families. The remainder of the new recruits were
experiencing age-relevant depression at the time of joining.
"[C]ults generally avoid recruiting people who will burden them, such as
those with severe psychological or physical problems. They want people who
will stand up to the grueling demands of cult life," not someone who uses
drugs or is handicapped.
Cult converts are often
physically normal, bright, idealistic people who vary in age from the very
young to the old.
Many recruits are well-educated and have impressive careers, people that you
would normally find in leadership roles. Others, such as journalists, start
out intending only to do extensive research on cults by attempting to
"temporarily" join a cult for a personal experience and end up never
There are several myths
surrounding cult members. The first is that individuals freely choose to
join and remain in the cult. Cult members do not "choose" to join, but are
"subjected to mind-altering techniques which gradually induce" them to allow
others to make decisions for them.
The second myth is that
members are weak-minded or psychopathological. In fact, the best recruits
are those persons who are open, intelligent and sincere. New ones tend to be
idealistic and frequently naive about the manipulative practices of cults.
A third myth is that
members remain in cults because they are happy and satisfied. In fact, they
are not allowed to show any "negativity," whether it is discord or pain. If
members fail in this, they are punished (physically or psychologically or
both) by the group and may even inflict self-punishment. Guilt and fear are
instilled in members through mind control; they are convinced that the group
is their only way to salvation or worldly success. This fear may be
maintained inside the cult's closed totalitarian system through the
circulation of false tragic stories (death, institutionalization, and loss
of grace) regarding the experiences of members who have left the group.
B. The Recruitment
In attempting to obtain
new members, the cult recruiter, usually a member of the opposite sex, will
approach the potential recruit in the victim's own environment: college
campuses, dormitories, social functions, libraries, bus stops or even on the
The recruiter is instructed by the cult to focus on individuals who appear
to be alone or look preoccupied.
The recruiter may smile at the potential recruit, make eye contact and
initiate a conversation pertinent to the surrounding circumstances, such as
the victim's possessions, clothing or equipment.
The recruiter may attempt to discuss subjects believed to be of concern to
the new recruit. The recruiter may invite the victim to some group function
where one or more cult members will be assigned to stay with each potential
recruit at all times.
The recruit may be
constantly supervised, with privacy of the body and mind denied for days or
weeks into the future. This may extend even to the use of the bathroom.
The lack of privacy and chance to digest the surrounding stimulus deprives
the recruit of the opportunity for personal integration. As a result the new
recruit handles the situation by dissociating, which narrows the recruit's
mental focus. This in turn makes the recruit more susceptible to suggestion
and enables him to be absorbed rapidly into the cult.
This initial phase of recruitment has been called the seduction period.
The most seductive lure offered by cults to the new recruit "is the promise
of love, friendship and acceptance.
Cults often purposely
fail to inform recruits of the exact nature of their groups, concealing
their true identity through the use of front names, until the recruits are
By the time the recruit does realize what group he has actually joined, the
new member has lost his "ability to think freely and hence cannot rationally
decide whether or not he wants to join. [A] convert never has full capacity
and knowledge simultaneously."
Unification Church, not the only group using deception, has previously
rationalized the concealment of both its identity and objective by labeling
it "Heavenly Deception."
David Molko, a law
student, became a cult member after he was persuaded to attend a dinner he
thought was sponsored by an environmental interest group calling itself the
Creative Community Project. After being reassured that the group was not
religious, Molko unsuspectingly became a new recruit of the Unification
Church of Sun Myung Moon.
When you meet the
friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving
group of people you've ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the
most inspired, caring, compassionate, and understanding person you've ever
met, and then you learn that the cause of the group is something you never
dared hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be
true-it probably is too good to be true! Don't give up your education, your
hopes and ambitions, to follow a rainbow!
V. CULT THOUGHT
The new recruit is
involuntarily coerced into becoming a cult member through the use of mind
control; he or she does not "voluntarily" join the group. In fact, the cult
victim may unwittingly participate in the mind control process by
cooperating with the recruiters. The victim is most likely unaware of being
a participant in the process of mind control since the conversion is a
covert process, not involving physical harm.
The cult may even identify its name and jokingly refer to brainwashing and
the fact the members don't
"look" brainwashed, thereby falsely reinforcing the new recruit's feelings
of self control. This effectively utilizes the misconception that the
victims of mind control have a readily identifiable glazed look.
The cult victim
erroneously considers the recruiters and other cult members to be friends or
peers, making the recruit much less defensive and easier to convert. This
process has been referred to as "socialization," a period in which the
recruit begins to think like his "new friends."
The victim is made to feel that if he becomes a member of the group, he will
be considered "special."
It is during this seduction phase that the new member bonds to the cult
recruiter. The cult members encourage the recruit to believe that the cult
may provide a service that the recruit desires, or that the group is
committed to the same goals.
It is through
socialization that the elements of mind control work together to create an
environment in which the new recruit is isolated within a particular
cultural context so that the cult environment becomes the recruit's only
reality. Strict control is maintained over the amount and the interpretation
of information disseminated to the new recruit. Information is revealed
selectively according to the rate that the recruit will accept it without
Open discussions of both new and old members' doubts or criticisms of the
group, doctrine, or leader are discouraged or strictly forbidden by the
group's belief system.
This rigid control over
disseminated information extends to all relationships. Members are
instructed to spy on each other and report improper activities or comments
to leaders. New converts are not permitted to talk to each other without an
older member present to chaperone them. Most importantly, people are told to
avoid contact with ex-members or critics. Those who could provide the most
information are the ones to be especially shunned. Some groups even go so
far as to screen members' letters and phone calls.
This type of isolation
prevents the recruit from weighing new thoughts or beliefs being taught
against known reality. The individual is placed in a confusing situation,
with unfamiliar rules which do not "correspond to anything the individual
has previously known. . . . Being cut off from familiar reality bases, the
only readily available way to comprehend the new environment is to accept
the ideas and beliefs being offered:
The recruit may be
required to give public confessions in front of the cult members. These
confessions may include the victim's life story, prior social experiences,
family history, and acts that, according to the cult's standards, are
transgressions. Access to this information gives the cult the weapons it
needs to induce in the recruit a sense of guilt regarding the recruit's past
"transgressions" and privileged social status. The recruit is then required
to manifest, for the cult members, sufficient guilt and remorse for past
If he fails to be sufficiently contrite, the recruit runs the risk of the
other members withdrawing their support. This in turn results in isolation
and "seemingly endless negative feedback regarding deviations from proper
ideological positions and prescribed behavior."
The group thus increases
its power over the recruit's life by shifting "the target's social and
emotional attachments to individuals who have accepted the organization's
authority and rules."
These techniques enable the recruiter to rapidly persuade a victim to give
up all familiar and loved objects (parents, siblings, home, city), and both
emotionally and sometimes physically move him to a foreign environment.
The end result of the
entire process is that the victim rapidly takes on the persona of the
controllers. The drastic conversion of the new cult member, resulting in an
entire personality change with a new person now inside the old one, has been
defined as "snapping." The word "snapping" is used to illustrate how the
intense experience may affect the brain's fundamental information processing
B. Overview of
Brainwashing and Thought Reform
The term brainwashing was
first used in the 1940s to describe the Chinese Communists' attempts to
change the political thinking of their prisoners. Their techniques were a
aimed at annihilating the prisoner's sense of identity, reducing his
reactivity to a primitive, subhuman level. The prisoner's physical and
mental environments were controlled as strictly as possible. Breaking his
[the victim's] spirit was made easier because he was in continual conflict
with an inflexible environment, completely discordant with his natural
milieu. Both in permitted behavior and in admitted standards of reality he
was cut off from the "relatedness," without which he cannot survive. A
"divided self" results…
As cult recruiting
techniques have become more sophisticated and complex, the term
"brainwashing" has frequently been interchanged and replaced with the terms
"mind control," "thought reform" or "coercive persuasion."
These are terms used for
the indoctrination process, which itself is designed to cause the victim to
abandon pre-existing political, religious or social beliefs in favor of the
cult's ideology and belief system.
The cult creates a controlled environment which heightens the victim's
susceptibility to thought reform through sensory deprivation, physiological
depletion, cognitive dissonance, peer pressure, and a clear assertion of
authority and dominion. The aftermath of indoctrination is a severe
impairment of autonomy and the ability to think independently, which induces
a subject's unyielding compliance and the rupture of past connections,
affiliations and associations.
Various combinations of
the following elements of mind control result in the cult's coercive
persuasion of the unsuspecting victim. There is no one correct combination.
Rather, the effectiveness of any variation depends on the nature of both the
recruiter and the victim. Obviously, all of the elements listed below need
not be present for
thought reform to result:
isolation and total
control over the recruit's environment;
control over the
channels of information and communication;
depletion, which may occur through repetitious tasks;
exploitation of guilt and anxiety;
instructions that the
sole chance for survival lies in identifying with, and becoming a member
of, the cult;
assaults on the pre-existing self;
intense peer pressure
to give "all" to the cult;
symbolic acts of self-betrayal, confessions
and peer criticism;
harshness and leniency.
The utilization of these
mind control techniques causes the individual's personality to be "totally
reorganized; fundamental information processing pathways in the brain . . .
may become altered or destroyed, causing the disruption of basic capacities
to think, feel, and make choices."
The ultimate result is the rapid persuasion and conversion of the
One Harvard University student described his one-week stay with the
Unification Church as posing
the most severe challenge
to his independence he had ever faced. After a week he was ready to join, to
"give up the complexities of Harvard, my thesis and my Gen[eral] Ed[ucation]
requirements and live [the] life of [a cult member]. When he announced after
the first few days that he was considering leaving the cult, his "spiritual
brother" threatened to break both his legs, if that was what was necessary,
to win the student over to the family [the cult]. He was told that the devil
was in him, and that he was damning himself and his ancestors by leaving.
Although by this time he "believed [this] and felt ashamed ... [o]f the 70
recruits that joined, after 2 weeks, the author was the only one to leave;
"many are still there.”
Such radical conversions
are apparently easy for cults to accomplish.
The intellectual content of the cult material used in the mind control
process does not matter; it may be religious, political (left or right),
therapeutic, intellectual or philosophical.
The conversion occurs as a result of the quality of the recruit's
If the cult's control is “rigorous enough, it eventually becomes
self-imposed—the individual continues to manipulate his or her own thought
processes without the aid of external control and soon learns to manipulate
C. The Cult's
Cult members are also
given a new vocabulary, with specific, common everyday language being given
new and special meanings. For example, members of the Love Family teach
their children different names for the days of the week (renamed after the
seven churches in the Book of Revelations), the months of the year, (renamed
after the twelve tribes of Israel), and the word Christ (interchanged with
the words the family). The Love Family has even changed the calendar months
to consist of thirty days, the extra days being used for the celebration of
The cult slowly and
deliberately changes the members' language which, since early childhood, has
been a part of mind and body functions.
"Frequently words of any emotional importance have had some shifting of
their meaning to an oversimplified, special sort of related definition."
The words become highly
emotionally charged, creating a sense of oneness in the group, while further
separating the member from the outside world. This new language has been
referred to as "loaded language," comprised of catch words and phrases
which, if used by a religious cult, may include special God and devil terms.
To effectively evaluate
or even question the adult or child cult member, the examiner must first
learn the cult's special language.
For example, the member may tell the examiner that he or she has "a family
that shares." To the uninformed examiner, this may mean that the member's
biological family (the family) borrow each other's possessions (share). To
the cult member, this statement may actually mean that the cult members (the
family) have sex with one another (share).
DETRIMENTAL EFFECTS CULTS HAVE ON THEIR MEMBERS
The structure of
destructive cults predisposes them "toward abusive practices in general and
potentiates their propensity toward child abuse in particular."
In a study of the effects cult membership has on children, the following
were common responses regarding the role of children as perceived by the
(1) Children from
previous marriage (prior to membership) were considered
communally--not much access to parents; (2) [The] role of children depended
on whether they were born of a couple married by
Moon, in which case they
were supposed to be sinless according to the doctrine. The children were
special. . . . This is the new race Moon is creating;
(3) Scapegoated to
support authority of leaders and image as saints; (4) Chil-
dren are believed to be
"merely adults" who don't have their act together.
They are seen as
malleable machines . . .
This is particularly true
since cults isolate their children both physically and mentally from the
"outsiders" in society. As a result it is often difficult for an "outsider"
to recognize the cult's abusive practices. Due to the lack of outside
contact, the "positive front" the cult presents to "outsiders," and the fact
that cult children are instructed never to tell non-members about cult
activities, the cult's abuse of children may continue and possibly increase
in severity. One of the prime dangers of social isolation is that children
in many cults are virtually hostages, solely dependent on the idiosyncratic
ideas of the cult leader.
Cult involvement may
generate physical and psychological illness or degeneration in children and
Some secondary physiological problems which have been found to develop in
cult members include "extreme weight gain or loss; abnormal
skin conditions such as rashes, eczema and acne; menstrual dysfunction in
women and higher-pitched voices and reduced facial-hair growth in men."
The physical abuse
experienced by the members may include repeated beatings, torture, incest,
starvation, rape, denial of medical care, forced marriages,
prostitution, and other deviant practices. A cult's
abusive practices generally apply to everyone in varying degrees of
severity, depending on each member's status within the group. It is not
uncommon that preferential treatment be given first to the leader's
offspring, second to those born into the cult, and last to those brought
into the cult by their parents. Utilizing this hierarchy, one Canadian group
classified their children the New Root Race, Christ Children, or Bastards
depending on their origin.
In the Peoples Temple,
the leader, Jim Jones, commonly ordered various forms of public punishments
for innocuous activities. For example, as a result of being restless in
class, one five-year-old girl was taken out at night and left one-quarter of
a mile away from her living quarters. The child was told that snakes and
monsters were waiting for her. As she walked home, blind-folded, a snake (a
slimy rope) was placed on her bare shoulders, while hiding adults made
girl was kept for weeks in a plywood box with only two holes for air and a
can for a toilet, while periodically taunted by adults. The plywood box was
three feet wide, six feet long and four feet high.
For resting at work and
disagreeing on the proper amount of fertilizer, one boy had his teeth
knocked out. Another boy was stretched by four adults who pulled on his arms
and legs until he was unconscious.
The children of Jonestown were also punished for the acts of their parents.
If their parents were caught talking privately, the children were forced to
masturbate or have sex with someone they did not like in front of the entire
Some groups physically
hurt their children in order to "teach them a lesson," or "break their
To control the behavior of one two-month-old boy, the Garbage Eaters group
wrapped a piece of wire around the child's
thigh above the knee and tightened it every time he cried. His grandparents
discovered the wire after they were able to obtain custody. Doctors stated
that scabs around the wire were fresh, evidencing that it had recently been
tightened, and had cut so deeply that skin had begun growing over the wire.
These "lessons" may
involve punishment that is life threatening. A survey of ex-cult members
revealed that the punishment of children in cults may involve burying
children up to their necks in dirt, daily spankings, locking them in rooms
without windows, and depriving them of all contact with the outside world.
In the House of Judah,
the children live in constant danger of being placed in stockades and
"beaten repeatedly with cords, switches, branches, broom handles and axe
handles . . . ."
They are not permitted to express their feelings, "[c]rying when hit by an
axe handle or seeing their brother beaten to death over a five day period is
If a child's
behavior is considered bad enough, as defined by the "prophet" (the leader
of the House of Judah), beating the child, even until death, is condoned and
For these children, making mistakes brings very serious consequences, which
results in severe handicaps for later adult world functioning.
Cult members are
psychologically abused through emotional deprivation, social isolation,
denial of parental nurturing and bonding, and enforced absolute obedience to
the leader. The cult leader also places limitations on the cult members'
language, thoughts and experiences.
techniques used in the cult induction process build up pressures, anxieties,
and intense guilt, and create mental and emotional disorders in previously
Prior to 1987, the frequent psychological diagnosis of the cult victim was
an "Atypical Dissociative Disorder." This disorder, the result of coercive
persuasion and thought reform, was defined to include trance-like states,
derealization unaccompanied by depersonalization, and those more prolonged
dissociated states that may occur in persons who have been subjected to
periods of prolonged and intense coercive persuasion (brainwashing, thought
reform, and indoctrination) while the captive of terrorists or cultists.
In 1987 the diagnosis of
"Atypical Dissociative Disorder" was changed to "Dissociative Disorder Not
Otherwise Specified." The predominant feature of this disorder remains "a
dissociative symptom (i.e., a disturbance or alteration in the brain)."
Coerced acquiescence in the cult results in a drastic loss in the victim's
decision-making capabilities. The member's thought processes become
simplistic and begin to function at a lower intellectual level.
ex-cultists appear To be
much younger than their chronological age and display an asexual innocence.
They act childlike although they may be well into their twenties. Indeed,
during their time in the cult women often stop menstruating and the men's
beards grow more slowly. . . Those who remained in cults for many years and
did not achieve a leadership position experienced what initially appears to
be a diminished ability in the areas of perception, decision making,
discrimination, judgment, memory, and speech.
This is demonstrated by
the following example:
Edward C, a graduate from
an Ivy League university, was a member of a cult for two years. After
leaving the cult, he was unable to read a newspaper for several months. His
inability to focus his mind provoked anxiety, which made him withdraw by
falling asleep whenever he tried to read.
circumstances, cult leaders are able to train members to follow, while not
critically thinking about or questioning orders.
the Family Bond
In addition to limiting
the members' capability to think critically, the cult also induces members
to "believe that the outside world [outside the cult] is dangerous and
satanical, that [their non-member] parents hate [them], and that [their]
only chance for salvation lies with the group."
All family bonds are subordinated to cult loyalties, with the cult
considered the superior ("higher") family unit.
In an effort
to prevent bonding, one
cult leader instructed his followers that
[i]f you are not thinking
of the Supreme or of me, if you are thinking of somebody else [your child],
some other human being, then unless it is absolutely a mundane thought about
telling that person something totally unimportant, that is your destruction.
If you think of someone even with softness or tenderness, be careful: danger
is approaching you. . . .
The leader's objective is
to obtain unquestioning loyalty, undivided devotion, and absolute control
over the minds and bodies of his followers. One effective way to achieve
this objective is through the "denigration of the biological parent,"
inhibiting, and in many cases severing, the biological family bond.
To the cult member, the
term "family" includes only those who are members of the group. Cult
children are instructed that the leader is their true "father," and he is to
have the final authority in all things.
The leader, as the father, is the ultimate decision maker in the "family."
The "children are taught to place their allegiance with the cult leader or
the group as a whole, not their parents.”
Since the children are frequently physically and psychologically removed
from their parents and raised by the entire cult or others in the cult, it
is easier for the leader to obtain their allegiance.
Cult members are taught
that nonmembers can and will prevent the member from obtaining the ultimate
goals set forth by the cult, whatever they may be.
At the leader's
request, members sever all ties with nonmember family and friends,
particularly if the nonmember disapproves of the cult. As a result it is
common for nonmembers (or ex-members) to be prevented from locating or
communicating privately with cult members.
The nonmembers or
ex-members are considered by the cult to be its worst enemies, particularly
since the cult's members are instructed that nonmembers are satanic or
agents of the devil.
Members of religious cults are trained to believe that all persons not
members of their cult are satanic and cannot be trusted. Biblical scriptures
are often used to achieve this goal.
Some commonly used passages are Matthew 10:36 ("A man's enemies will be the
members of his own household") and Luke 14:26 ("If anyone comes to Me, and
does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers
and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple").
Since the members of a
cult often associate primarily with other cult members, it is common for
cult children to have a number of non-member relatives of whom they are
unaware. Fortunately, these individuals may prove to be a source of
emotional support for the new ex-member or child recently removed from the
cult by the state.
Participation in Child Abuse
Victims of mind control
are capable of being persuaded to commit acts that they would not normally
do outside the cult. "The victim of thought reform typically commits
criminal acts fully aware of their wrongfulness [according to society's
standards]. He [or she] acts consciously, even enthusiastically, and without
The cult member "may have even felt the decision to be his own at the time;
he may truthfully have said he was acting of his own free will."
As a result of thought reform, the member's allegiance lies primarily with
the cult's leader, causing the member to adhere stringently to the leader's
requests and teaching.
A parent's willingness to
participate in or allow the abuse of his or her children at the leader's
request is one indicator the leader uses to test the parent's devotion to
the cult. It is important to remember that the cult member has absolute
faith that the leader's instructions are biblically based or that the leader
possesses unquestionable higher knowledge and enlightenment.
If the parent or child should object to their leader's commands, the member
is considered to lack loyalty and allegiance to the cult, prompting public
ridicule or some other punishment.
Abusive practices are further facilitated by the fact that the members have
been taught never to question or criticize the leader. As a result, the
members are unable to protect their children from the cult's child abuse
The cult parent's failure
to prevent abuse of his or her children is characteristic of a phenomenon
frequently associated with battered women and known as the "learned
Learned helplessness results in the emotional numbing and a maladaptive
passivity in the cult member.
The victim, the cult member, begins to feel that surrounding events cannot
be controlled. The victimization at the leader's command combined with the
belief that salvation can only be obtained by following the cult leader,
both contribute to the loss of control or "helplessness" felt by the cult
Once the member feels
loss of control of surrounding events, he or she begins operating from a
belief of helplessness. In turn, this perception becomes reality and the
member becomes passive, submissive and "helpless."
The member experiences a feeling of surrender and consequently fails to
identify and realize the options available.
As a result, "things that appear to be out of . . . control actually . . .
get out of . . . control."
To the outsider the cult
member, like the battered woman, does not appear as helpless as he or she
However, due to this perception of helplessness, the member no longer has
the knowledge or ability to prevent the abuses from happening to him or
herself, let alone to someone else.
RELIGIOUS CULTS PROTECTED BY THE FIRST AMENDMENT?
Beliefs Are Protected
The first amendment to
the United States Constitution provides in part that "Congress shall make no
law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
"this includes the states'
The free exercise clause of the first amendment grants religious freedom to
hold religious beliefs.
This guaranteed right prohibits "any governmental regulation of religious
. . . ."
Thus, the individual has an absolute, protected right to hold religious
beliefs. The government is further prohibited from penalizing or
discriminating "against individuals or groups because they hold religious
views abhorrent to the authorities . . . ."
Although not all cults
are religious, the great majority have a religious basis or focus and look
to the first amendment for protection. Because of this, when litigating a
case involving a religious cult, it is important to refrain from litigating
the validity of the cult's religious beliefs.
Even the religious beliefs which are "'rank heresy to followers of the
orthodox faiths' are protected by the constitution"; that the "religious
rite is curious, unusual, unenlightened or abhorrent" does not prevent it
from characterization as religion.
However, whether the cult
does in fact qualify as a religion is, in most cases, not at issue. It is
false to assume that if the group is religious the state will not have
authority to prevent the cult's abusive practices.
Conduct Is Not Protected
There is no absolute
fundamental right of total religious freedom to act. While the government
cannot interfere with the individual's religious beliefs and opinions,
the government may prohibit religious conduct and practices motivated by
The first amendment does NOT prohibit the government from regulating and
legislatively restricting the religious conduct of individuals and groups
are prompted by and
result from religious beliefs, principles and convictions.
"Although religious belief is protected absolutely from governmental
regulation, religiously motivated conduct is subject to a balancing test
that weighs the interests of the religious group against the state's
interest in regulating or forbidding the activity.”
The state's regulation of religious acts must be justified by a “compelling
"The government's ability to enforce generally applicable prohibitions of
socially harmful conduct, like its ability to carry out other aspects of
public policy, ‘cannot depend on measuring the effects of a governmental
action on a religious objector's spiritual development."
No religious group has the authority or constitutional protection to act
contrary to or in disregard of the law.
To permit illegal actions based on religion "would be to make the professed
doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect
to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."
C. Freedom of
Along with the freedom of
religion, the first amendment also grants and guarantees the freedom of
The right of association "is connected to the fundamental right to privacy."
This includes the freedom to choose a spouse and to maintain family
Freedom of association is afforded to all groups regardless of how abhorrent
their goals or interests, as long as those goals are lawfu1.
However, like the freedom of religion, the right of association is
The state may infringe upon one's
ability to associate in furtherance of religious purposes if supported by a
compelling state interest.
The cult member parent
involved in a custody dispute may argue that the court, by granting custody
based in part on the parent's religious involvement, is violating the cult
member parent's freedom of association. However, the state's interest may be
sufficiently compelling if custody and restrictions on visitation are in the
best interests of the child's health, safety, and welfare.
FAMILY RELATIONSHIP AND STATE INTERVENTION
The relationship between
parents and their children is a constitutionally protected liberty, with the
freedom of personal choice in matters of family life protected by the
"[T]he custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents,
whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the
state can neither supply nor hinder."
However, as with religious freedom, parental rights are not beyond
"Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow
that they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their
children . . . ."
The fourteenth amendment does not remove or restrict the power of the state
to enact laws or award custody in order to further promote the health,
safety, peace, morals, education or general welfare of the people.
In its efforts to protect children, and in some cases the family
institution, the state has both the authority and a compelling interest to
intervene in the indoctrination and participation of children in religion.
Parents have argued that
they have a fundamental right, provided by the first amendment, to punish
their children in accordance with religious beliefs. However, in order to
guard the general interest of the minor, the state may limit or restrict
parental authority and control over matters of conscience and religious
authority to control the conduct of children is more extensive and goes
beyond its authority over
The state, in its
position as parens patriae,
has "unlimited supervision and control over their [the minor's]
contracts, occupations, and conduct, and the liberty and right of those who
assume to deal with them."
As parens patriae in custody disputes, the state in furtherance of the best
interests of the child, may determine which parent should be the primary
When the state acts as
parens patriae on behalf of the interests of the mental or physical health,
safety, and welfare of the child, it is "not an unconstitutional
interference with the parent's freedom of religion. "
This is true even when the state's actions are contrary "to a particular
parent's religious beliefs. "
For "it is the interest of youth itself, and of the whole community, that
children be both safeguarded from abuses and given opportunities for growth
into free and independent well-developed men [or women] and citizens."
In custody disputes, the
court's chief concern is the determination of what is detrimental to and in
the best interests of the child. "[C]ourts are not particularly interested
in custody or visitation rights of the parents, but are primarily interested
in the welfare of the children."
This requires that the welfare of the child prevail over the parents'
The court is given broad discretion and must consider all relevant factors
in the determination of the child's best interests.
This determination of the
child's best interests should include whether continued cult involvement
would be detrimental to the child.
The state may look to the religious tenets, practices, or conduct of the
parents, even when motivated by religious beliefs and feeling, if it poses a
danger to the health, safety, and welfare of the child.
In awarding custody of
children, it is appropriate for the court to judicially inquire into the
expected religious training of the child as one element which may be
considered in promoting the child's general welfare.
If continued religious involvement poses no potential danger to the health,
safety, and welfare of the child, the establishment clause may prevent the
resolution of custody disputes on the merits of the parents' religious
'[I]f the [custody] decree is silent concerning which parent is authorized
to make decisions about the child's care,
education, religion, or
training, such authority will be attributed to the child's custodian."
The child's preference
may also play a factor in the determination of the appropriate custodian,
unless that preference is determined contrary to the child's best interests.
LITIGATING CASES INVOLVING CULTS
Determine If It Is a Cult?
It is especially helpful
in litigation for attorneys to know when they are dealing with a cult. It
explains the members' unusual behavior and their intense dedication to their
leaders. Since the most important thing to cult members is to keep their
group together, it is common for adults and children to lie in order to
protect the cult.
The members have a vested interest in maintaining the cult's existence.
This is particularly true since their lives are ruled by the laws of their
leaders and not by the laws of the state."
Cults routinely encourage their members to disobey or disregard society's
laws in favor of the group's mores.
"When you undertake a
cult-related case, be prepared for legal, psychological" and sociological
When working on a case involving cult children, it has proven helpful to
explain to the court (1) what is a cult; (2) why it is important to
determine if the group is a cult; (3) why it is the cult's
practices, rather than beliefs, which are at issue; (4) what effect the cult
can have on the children who are members; and (5) what unusual cult
characteristics may be expected.
In such a case, the
commit[ment] to the
client, who is usually fragile because of the cult experi-
ence, must be greater
Than in an ordinary case. Be sensitive to the fact that
ex-members still feel
that there was something good about the group. So don't attack and say that
the entire episode was an evil scam. And don't attack low level cult members
who may come to court. They often don't know the whole story about the cult
themselves. There is usually idealism involved in cult membership, and your
understanding and support will have therapeutic value for the client and
provide psychic rewards to you. Keep a cheerful demeanor; humor infuriates
It is a difficult
psychological battle to obtain custody of children from cults.
The cult leader has prepared for the potential defect of the parent by fully
indoctrinating the children. As a result, when the parent plans or attempts
to leave the group, the parent must be prepared for one of three things.
First, the fully indoctrinated child may not be willing to leave with the
Second, the child may act as
a "pipeline," telling the
leader that her parents are planning to leave the group.
Finally, the child may be kept as a hostage by the cult to coerce the
parents into remaining with or returning to the group.
The parent also should be
prepared for the cult members' attempt to hide the children from the
ex-member, non-cult parent or the state seeking custody. The child may be
hidden within that same state, another state or even in another country.
Therefore, if at all possible, ex-members should take their children with
them when they leave or risk spending years attempting to find them.
When litigating a case
involving children, it is not as important to demonstrate that the group is
a cult as it is to reveal the group's abusive practices. The focus in the
litigation should be on who will do the actual parenting if the child should
remain in the cult. Since so many groups separate parents and children, it
is common for someone other than the biological parent to be assigned as the
"caretaker" for a child. Therefore, the court's inquiry must go beyond the
parent-child relationship, with the expert evaluation including issues such
1) who controls and
directs the parent's functioning and decision-making; 2)
who, other than the
parent, disciplines and cares for the child; 3) how much
time parents spend with
their children and what is the nature of the interaction; 4) who, other than
the parents, makes decisions about the child's up-bringing and education,
and what is the basis for these decisions.
If possible, once custody
is granted to the ex-member or non-member parent, very strict limitations
should be placed on the child's future contact with the cult member parent.
The child should not be left alone with this parent, and any further contact
with the cult members should be avoided at all costs.
Children in Cults
The attorney should
expect the cult children to be clean cut, well-behaved, disciplined and
Cult children often appear much older than their age, due to the cult's
demand that children behave like perfect adults.
Most cults have little sense of forgiveness for members' mistakes.
If the professional has
had no previous experience with cults and child abuse in cults, it may be
difficult to successfully interview cult members and to determine the
existence of abuse.
To be effective, a different, indirect approach must be taken in
interviewing members. This is particularly the case since cult leaders
mandate that their members maintain strict secrecy regarding cult teachings
The members are likely to have been coached on the appropriate responses
that should be given to questions presented by nonmembers. In addition, the
child knows that if she or he reveals secret information regarding the cult's
practices, she or he will be severely punished or even ostracized from "the
For a successful
interview of any cult member, the interviewer must be able to identify the
special language (buzz words) and mores of the specific cult's culture.
To obtain this information, the interviewer should consult with cult experts
or ex-members of the cult in question.
The interview process is generally lengthy and requires that the interviewer
know what questions to ask. The following list
may assist in determining whether the group is a cult, the amount of control
the cult has over the child, and the extent of abuse. Although these
questions were designed primarily to assist the interviewer in questioning
and evaluating children, they may also prove valuable in evaluating adult
cult members as well.
care provided for the pregnant members?
births or deaths legally recorded?
children immunized and do they receive medical care?
wear glasses or any special aids?
child attend school outside the group?
attend their sect school, is it accredited?
attend public school, do they have friends who are non-members?
participate in extracurricular activities?
group allow outsiders to talk to the children alone?
children exhibit emotions characteristic of children their age?
associate with relatives outside the group?
allow outsiders to touch them?
answer freely and without reservations when asked about the cult?
carry on a conversation?
speak of their natural parents as mother and father?
live alone with their natural parents?
allowed to play with children outside the group?
have their own toys?
speak about punishment and who sets the type and performs the punishment?
children make decisions on their own?
answer questions freely in front of their elders without looking to them for
feel that illnesses should be medically treated?
Psychological Evaluation of Children in Cults
Evaluating children in
cults is particularly difficult.
Although standardized psychological testing may prove to be helpful in the
evaluation, they may not reveal that the child tested is a member of a
The tests may erroneously determine that the cult child has not been
subjected to abuse
because standardized tests are designed to detect psychological
deterioration. Unfortunately, psychological deterioration may not be as
readily identifiable in a child raised in the cult's
peculiar deviant behavior.
A destructive cult does
not abide by the norms and mores of society, but instead regiments members
in the cult's standard of behavior. As a result, deviant behavior
incorporated into cult doctrine is considered normal by the cult members,
even though it is considered aberrant by society.
For example, a child in our society usually learns that deviant sexual acts
are abnormal, unacceptable standards of conduct. As a consequence, the child
will exhibit the coinciding psychological trauma if the sexual activity
should occur. In contrast, the cult child indoctrinated in a belief system
that condones deviant sexual activity may not experience the same type of
psychological trauma or deterioration because the child believes that the
abnormal activity is in fact normal.
This is particularly true in groups with members who are strictly controlled
and isolated from contact and communication with non-members. Therefore, the
"traditional" examination procedures may not detect the existence of the
extreme abuse suffered by the cult child. As a consequence the child may be
returned to the cult environment based on an erroneous determination that
the child's health, safety, and welfare are not at risk.
It is essential in a case
involving a cult that both the attorney and mental health professionals
consult with cult experts.
Especially in this type of case, trial strategy must include the utilization
of a variety of experts. At least one expert should act as the fact finder,
providing information for the court regarding the lifestyle, parenting
styles, conduct and various abuses of the cult.
There should also be one
or more ex-members of the cult in question available to testify regarding
the group's practices when the ex-members were involved in the group.
In addition, a showing is required that the cult continues to engage in
those practices. Therefore, an expert is needed to testify to that effect.
Cult experts advise that cults rarely change their practices, and if they do
it generally results in an escalation of the abuse and deviancy of the
A mental health expert,
preferably a child psychologist, is also necessary to testify regarding the
psychological effect that the cult's activities have on the children.
This expert, or a second mental health expert, should have the
responsibility of conducting an extensive psychological evaluation of the
LEAVING THE CULT
Due to the many negative
connotations attached to the word "deprogramming," the terms "exit
counseling," "psychological recovery" and "re-entry counseling" are used
interchangeably to describe formal methods of treatment for the ex-member.
Exit counseling (deprogramming) is defined as supportive therapy, with an
"emphasis on reeducation, restitution of ego strength that existed before
the trauma and alleviation of the guilt and depression that are the remnants
of frightening experiences and the loss of confidence and confusion in
identity that results from it."
A variety of methods have been tried by families in an attempt to retrieve
family members and friends from cults and deprogram them.
Although voluntary exit counseling has been seen as less stressful than
involuntary exit counseling, both have been used. Voluntary exit counseling
is legal; involuntary deprogramming is not.
Cult members are
frequently warned about the possibility that their parents may attempt to
involuntarily deprogram them. Several ex-members have even "reported they
had been instructed in a method for slashing their wrist safely, to evade
pressure by ‘satanic' deprogrammers-an instruction that alerted them to the
possibility that the cult's declaration of love might have some
Some cults teach their members intensive chanting, meditating procedures and
catch phrases in preparation for any situation where the members may be
faced with an attack on their cult beliefs. This procedure is to aid the
members in maintaining a hypnotic state, thereby preventing them from
forming any thoughts and doubts about the cult. Some cult members "can
apparently re-enter a trance state with a narrowed consciousness of reality
the first moment that somebody questions or challenges" them.
When family members have
utilized involuntary deprogramming, despite its illegality, the ex-members
have said that:
they were grateful for
the intervention and had been hoping for rescue. These
people say that they had
felt themselves powerless to carry out their desire to
leave (the cult) because
of psychological and social pressures from companions and officials inside.
They often speak of a combination of guilt over defecting, and fear of the
cult's retaliation—excommunication--if they tried. In addition, they were
uncertain how they would manage in the outside world that they had so long
held in contempt.
However, there are other
families who have unsuccessfully attempted an involuntary deprogramming and
have ended up being prosecuted or sued civilly.
Although it is extremely
difficult for the member to physically leave the cult, it is even more
difficult for the ex-member to leave psychologically. Cult leaders have
complete control over their followers as evidenced by the numerous
ex-members who have stated that "they would have killed for their cult
leader, that they made such plans and even attempted to carry them out, and
that they would have had no qualms about committing suicide, if told to do
Exit counseling is designed to assist the member in leaving the group
psychologically. Ex-members who have had the opportunity to receive exit
counseling are reported to have recovered much more rapidly than those who
Some recovering ex-members have also benefited from attending support groups
comprised of other ex-cult members. If unavailable,
others have benefited
from support groups for children from dysfunctional families or survivors of
B. Treating the
psychological treatment the "therapist must have a comprehensive
understanding of the process of mind control and brainwashing."
The therapist must possess knowledge of the cult's
"buzz words," language systems, philosophical teachings, specific types of
behavioral controls and demands to which the victims have been subjected.
Children have a
particularly difficult time when leaving a cult, due to the dependence and
attachment they feel for the leader and other cult members. When a child
leaves the cult he or she is, in some cases, leaving the only family and
friends ever known. The child knows that the current cult members are
instructed to break off all contact with the ex-member, regardless of their
In contrast to the
adult's experience, the ex-member child may have no prior frame of
reference. It would not be unusual for a child's life experience to be
limited solely to what he was exposed to while in the cult. Depending on the
idiosyncrasies of the cult, the child may not have a birth certificate, may
never have attended school, visited a dentist or doctor, eaten meat, slept
on a bed, seen a television or listened to a radio.
As a result, the child may experience a great deal of culture shock in
attempting to adjust and function in the outside world.
Various cults isolate
members in differing degrees. Some cult children may have attended public
school and consequently been exposed to outsiders. Other groups may
completely isolate their members physically and emotionally from the outside
world. One example is Michael, a thirteen-year-old boy removed from a
radical group known as MOVE. As a member of MOVE, he did not attend school,
learn to write, read and count, play with toys, watch TV, ride bikes or eat
cooked food, which made it difficult for him to adjust to the outside world.
Consequently, Michael was unable to grasp the conceptual difference between
the different valuations placed on money (i.e., quarters, dimes, nickels).
Michael also has had difficulty understanding the notion of time, and
learning the days of the week. On at least one occasion Michael went to
school carrying his teddy bear, which he dressed in underpants, shorts and a
Therefore a gradual
integration into society may be beneficial, depending on the extent of the
As stated by one teenage ex-cult member, "while growing up in the cult, you
don't think it is wrong; it is the only thing that you have ever known.”
The cult "taught you that you were someone special because you were a member
of the group, and that the world, outside the group, was a bad place. I feel
like I don't fit into either world. I don't belong in the group any more,
and I don't fit in on the outside."
Once out of the group, the child should be encouraged to develop his own
personality without the rigid limitations imposed by cult membership.
The cult leader's
denigration of the family unit makes it difficult for ex-members who do
obtain custody of their ex-cult member child. The ex-member parent may lack
credibility in the eyes of his or her children because, while members, the
children were taught that only the leader was vested with absolute and final
Consequently, children may distrust their non-member parent or guardian due
to the sudden change in rules and the distrust instilled through cult
ideology. At this point, the child's parents must explain to the child why
certain behaviors that were acceptable while in the cult are no longer
acceptable, and discuss the new opportunities now available.
A surviving friend, an ex-member of the Peoples Temple, delivered the
following eulogy for a young friend who died in Jonestown:
She grew up in P.T.
(Peoples Temple) all her life, she didn't know what the outside world was
like. And she'd wonder, she'd talk about it, she wanted to know . . . .
"Just for a day," she said, she'd "like to know how it was on the outside
world." It's hard for me to relate to her dying. Because I know she
wanted that chance and she never got it. She had no way to get out. Nobody
to turn to.
The key to litigating a
case involving a religious cult is to remember that abusive conduct and
practices of cults, which are detrimental to the child's health, safety and
welfare, are not protected by the first amendment. Attorneys must be
sensitive to the needs, concerns and fears specific to the ex-cult member.
Children in cults, due to their inability to speak and act for themselves,
as well as their isolation, are in great need of protection for they are the
helpless victims of an isolated totalistic society.
practicing in Palm Springs, California. B.A. University of
Washington, 1987; J.D. Gonzaga School of Law, 1990.
The author would
like to express her thanks to Shirley Landa for being a pioneer in
educating the public regarding child abuse in cults.
Shirley Landa, HIDDEN TERROR: Child Abuse in Religious Sects and
Cults, Justice for Children 1, 2 (1989) (emphasis added)
[hereinafter Landa, HIDDEN TERROR]. To obtain copies of
Shirley Landa's papers or other information regarding children in
cults, contact Ms. Landa at 19419 Bothell Wy. N.E., Bothell, WA
It is difficult
to determine the exact number of cults in existence worldwide. It is
estimated that there are between 2,500 and 8,000 cults in the United
States, with their membership ranging from a few individuals to tens
of thousands. Not all cults are destructive, and it may be difficult
for an "outsider" to discover a cult's destructive practices if they
do exist because the various groups attempt to present a positive
image to the general public. Crosby, When Friends or Patients Ask
About Cults, 242 J.A.M.A. No. 3, at 1 (1979); Schwartz, The
Meaning of Cults in Treatment of Late Adolescent Issues, 13
Adolescent Psychiatry 188 (1986) [hereinafter Schwartz, Treatment
of Adolescent]; West, Contemporary Cults - Utopian Image,
Infernal Reality, CENTER MAG., Mar.-Apr. 1982, at 35; Rudin,
The Cult Phenomenon: Fad or Fact?, 9 N.Y.U. REV. L. & SOC.
CHANGE 17 (1980-81) [hereinafter Rudin, The Cult Phenomenon]. As of
1985 the five largest groups were 1) The Unification Church of Sun
Myung Moon (Moonies), 2) The Church of Scientology, 3) The
International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna or
ISKCON), 4) The Way International, and 5) Rajneeshies. Big Five
Names in the Cult Converts Business, Glasgow Herald, Apr. 2, 1985;
F. CONWAY & J. SIEGELMAN, SNAPPING 16 (2d ed. 1979)
[hereinafter F. CONWAY & J. SIEGELMAN].
This paper will
reference, in addition to other groups, 1) The Love Family, 2) The
Garbage Eaters, 3) The House of Judah, 4) The Sullivan Institute for
Research in Psychoanalysis Fourth Repertory Company, 5) The Children
of God, and 6) The Peoples Temple.
The Love Family,
also known as Church of Armageddon, is led by Paul Erdman, who now
goes by the name of Love Israel (Love). The group lives communally
in the Pacific Northwest.
his followers that they do not need to obey any law except the law
of Love, Paul Erdman. F. CONWAY & J. SIEGELMAN, supra, at
69-70, 156-57; Telephone interview with Henrietta Crampton (Apr. 4,
1990) [hereinafter Crampton]. Ms. Crampton's daughter and grandchild
were members of the Love Family.
Eaters are a nomadic group who have acquired the name Garbage Eaters
because they literally eat out of garbage cans. The leader of the
Garbage Eaters, Jimmie Roberts, believes that, according to the
Bible, "child abuse and neglect were God's way to ensure obedience .
. . ." Landa, Child Abuse in Cults, presented at the Fifth
International Congress on Child Abuse and Neglect in Montreal,
Canada (Sept. 16-19, 1984), and presented at the American Humane
Association Children's Division 108th Annual Meeting and Training
Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect in Anaheim, California (Oct.
10-13, 1984) [hereinafter Landa, Child Abuse].
In the House of
Judah, children, though generally nutritionally healthy, are raised
in a physically unsafe and developmentally destructive environment.
Their bodies are seriously and permanently injured through repeated
physical beatings. Helfer, The Children of the House of Judah,
2 (1983) (unpublished article) [hereinafter Helfer]; Landa, Family
Relationships and Education of Children in Cults, presented at the
First International Congress on Cults and Society in Barcelona,
Spain (Nov. 27-29, 1987) [hereinafter Landa, Family Relationships].
Institute For Research in Psychoanalysis Fourth Repertory Company
[hereinafter the Sullivan Institute] is known as a therapy cult; it
is not a religious group. The Sullivan Institute is located on the
Upper West Side of New York City, with the majority of its members
well-educated professionals in their late twenties to early forties.
The four leaders of the Sullivan Institute maintain control over
every aspect of the members' lives through the ideology of
"therapy." The leaders' control extends to the members "living
arrangements, professional lives, finances, marriages, sex
practices" and decisions pertaining to the propriety and timing of
the conception of children. Reed, Two Anxious Fathers Battle a
Therapy 'Cult' For Their
Kids, TIME, July 25, 1988,
at 46 [hereinafter Reed, Two Anxious Fathers]; Kandel, Litigating
the Cult-Related Child Custody Case, CULTISM AND LAW 2 (Sept.
1984) [hereinafter Kandel, Litigating], reprinted in R.
ANDRES & J. LANE, CULTS & CONSEQUENCES: THE DEFINITIVE HANDBOOK
(1988) [hereinafter R. ANDRES & J. LANE]. Also see Temerlin &
Temerlin, Some Hazards of the Therapeutic Relationship, 3
CULT STUD. J. No. 2 (Fall/Winter 1986).
The Children of
God (also known as the Family of Love) is a somewhat nomadic group
led by David "Moses" Berg. The group has lived in and been kicked
out of several different countries, primarily for child abuse and
prostitution. The members frequently live in a communal environment.
There is no church per se. Instead the members' lives are regimented
by "God" Moses Berg, through a series of letters known as the
Mo-letters, written by Moses Berg. The members, both children and
adult, are encouraged to have sex with one another, their siblings
and their children. To obtain new recruits, the members are
instructed to do whatever is necessary, including using sex. This
practice is referred to as "flirty fishing." Telephone interview
with Debbie Davis, an ex-member of the Children of God and the
eldest daughter of Moses Berg (Apr. 8, 1990) [hereinafter Davis].
Davis has also authored a book on the subject. D. DAVIS, THE
CHILDREN OF GOD: THE INSIDE STORY (1984). For further
information pertaining to the Children of God, see the following
pamphlets: Moses David Berg, Rape! (Apr. 24, 1974); Moses David Berg
& Maria Berg, The Hooker! A Fisherman Instructs His Bait! (Feb. 2,
1974); Moses David Berg, DOES FF-ING PAY? (Sept. 6, 1977); Moses
David Berg, The Basic MO Letters, (Jan. 3, 1974). See also F. CONWAY
& J. SIEGELMAN, supra; Rudin, The Cult Phenomenon,
supra; Telephone interview with Una McManus, an ex-member of the
Children of God (April 8, 1990) [hereinafter McManus interview]. Una
McManus also authored U. MCMANUS & J.C. COOPER, NOT FOR A MILLION
DOLLARS (1980). See also Conway & Siegelman, Information
Disease: Have Cults Created a New Mental Illness, Sci. Dig.,
Jan. 1982, at 86; [hereinafter Conway & Siegelman, Information
Disease]; Delgado, Religious Totalism as Slavery, 9 N.Y.
U. REV. L. & SOC. Change 51 (1980-81) [hereinafter Delgado,
interview with Dr. Arthur Wassmer (Apr. 3, 1990) [hereinafter
Wassmer interview]. Dr. Wassmer, a clinical psychologist in
Kirkland, Washington, is an expert in cults, an author and adjunct
professor at the University of Washington. For more information
pertaining to the basic definition of a cult, see Goldberg, Cults
on Campus, How Can You Help?, CAMPUS L. ENFORCEMENT J.,
Mar.-Apr., 1986, at 13, 14 [hereinafter Goldberg, Cults on Campus];
S. HASSAN, COMBATTING CULT MIND CONTROL 39-40 (1988) [hereinafter S.
HASSAN]. Hochman, Miracle, Mystery, and Authority: The Triangle
of Cult Indoctrination, 20 PSYCHIATRIC ANNALS No. 4 at 179 (Apr.
1990) hereinafter Hochman]; Cidylo, Destructive Cultism Gained
Momentum Over Last Decade, 4 PSYCHIATRIC TIMES 1, 2 (Apr. 1989)
[hereinafter Cidylo, Destructive Cultism] (citing Dr. Michael
Langone, the director of research and education at the American