New York Educational Outreach Committee

Mission Statement

The NYC Educational Outreach Committee of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) was formed in 2013 by people who have experienced and studied the impact of manipulative organizations, often referred to as "cults" or "high-demand groups" (committee members).  Like sexual abuse and domestic violence, cultic abuse is gaining recognition as a problem that needs to be confronted and understood.

Our goal is to provide the means by which educators, mental health professionals, religious advisors, families, and people in general can begin to recognize and understand the dynamics of a cultic relationship, and the potential harm it can cause. (See the committee's Model Presentations and Community Services, which has information on requesting one or more speakers.)

High-demand or cultic groups tend to make the news when they cause harm that is extreme, such as the tragedy of a mass suicide, or the sexual abuse of children, or an attempt to kill thousands of subway riders with poison gas.

However most of the harm done by such groups and their leaders is invisible to the public eye: a teenager drops out of school to distribute religious pamphlets on street corners; a loving mother begins neglecting her family to meditate; a sister begins refusing medical care; a promising musician abandons his instrument to follow a charismatic leader who will save the world; a family just stops talking with neighbors and friends.

How, and why, does a “normal” person, even a brilliant person, become ensnared in a cult? There is no simple answer to this question, for each person follows a unique pathway into a group. However, understanding the psychological dynamics of influence and control can shed light on the process of entry and exit from a group.

The focus of ICSA’s Educational Outreach is on the methods by which a group or individual exerts control, specifically, how authoritarian leaders or leadership exert undue influence, engender dependency, resist criticism, and as a result cause psychological, spiritual, emotional, and physical abuse. This dynamic may occur in many sectors of society: therapy groups, corporate/business organizations {e.g. pyramid & Ponzi schemes}, self-help groups and political groups, as well as spiritual movements.

One group, at a particular time and place, may be dangerous or abusive for one individual, yet not to another. In addition, people respond to the same group differently as they themselves change. There are many factors that may influence a member’s level of commitment and investment in a group and the severity of damage that may result. For example, “true believers” may suffer more when their leader/group manipulates their behavior, or is deceptive and abusive, than more peripheral participants, who may be quite unaffected.

The ICSA NYC Educational Outreach is a volunteer committee under the guidance of the International Cultic Study Association's Board of Directors, serving as an educational resource for schools, community organizations, churches, and synagogues that are interested in literature, speakers, and programs. Our goal is to raise public awareness, provide thoughtful, well-researched information, help frame appropriate questions, and suggest an approach to productive answers.