"A Current Affair" TV, 2 Nov 2011
Over 100 people attended a conference to discuss responses to abuses and harm in cult-like groups. The attendees included psychologists, lawyers, politicians, teachers, students, ex-members of cults and affected family. Television, radio and print media were also present.
Mr Peter Flinn, president of CIFS Victoria, welcomed the attendees and special guests. He hoped that the conference would shine a light into some hitherto dark places. (Full text...)
Senator Sue Boyce opened the conference emphasising the seriousness of the topic in Australia today.
Professor Patrick McGorry spoke of the psychological abuses which occur and why they are harmful. Chronic depression and anxiety disorders are common in people leaving cults as they adjust to normal life where every decision is not made for them; the cult environment does not allow development of normal mechanisms to cope with life. These psychological abuses also become a drain on the health system.
Raphael Aron, a professional counselor for victims of cult trauma spoke of the controlling environment where people are coerced to follow narrow patterns of behaviour and thinking dictated by controlling groups. He likened this mechanism to the way terrorists can be coerced to kill themselves and innocent people by intense indoctrination. Bringing a person back to a normal life after they leave a cult is a slow and difficult process of adjustment; further draining personal and public resources. (Full text...)
Michael Bachelard, author and journalist for the Sunday Age and Sydney Morning Herald, recounted his difficulties faced in reporting abuses and irregularities perpetrated by cult-like groups. He spoke of the harassment and hounding he had personally endured, and greeted the Middletons' lawyer in the audience contracted by the Exclusive Brethren to monitor him. Mr Bachelard also shared how he had been personally uplifted by helping expose the abuses of cults and the many people who have been heartened by his public acknowledgment of their harsh treatment - including forced separation from their friends and family. (Full text...)
Dr Stephen Mutch recounted the public policy decisions which had been made in this area which to date have been inadequate to deal with the issues. Personal trauma caused by cults and its prevalence has been known about by governments for a long time, yet nothing has been done. Law reform in the area of criminal law to address unconscionable psychological abuse needs to be discussed seriously at the highest levels. The 'Model Criminal Code of 1998' listed 'psychological harm' as a crime, yet this has not been entered into the statutes at this time. (Full text...)
Tom Sackville, President of FECRIS, a European network of people affected by cult abuses, told of the difficulties of implementing controls on these sometimes powerful cult groups. He agreed that abuses from controlling groups are prevalent in the UK and Europe. However, cult sympathisers can be found in key government positions. Therefore a strong political will is required to implement change. Mr Sackville cited the MIVILUDES system in France as an excellent example of how oversight of psychological abuses can be achieved through bipartisan support. [Video not available.] (Full text...)
Georges Fenech Georges Fenech, President of MIVILUDES, the French government ministry with responsibility for cultic deviances, spoke of the successes in prosecuting harmful practice of psychological abuse. He estimated that in France over 50% of the population knew of someone affected by cultic harm. Having a balance to the freedoms granted to religions is very important when 'religion' can mean so many different things in our modern society. While having no issue with particular beliefs, harmful behaviours are kept in check by the inter-ministerial MIVILUDES group. Only 31 cases had been prosecuted in the past decade, yet many other complaints had been received and referred for investigation. This has resulted in protection of citizens with no limitation of belief systems. (Full text...)
We also had three speakers (Paul - Nathan - John) tell harrowing personal stories of abuse, coercion and indoctrination by cults. The stories were harrowing and it was hard for many to understand how this level of abuse can exist in this country - with complete immunity from prosecution. The speakers were commended for their bravery in speaking out.
Stephen Pallaras QC, South Australia's Director of Public Prosecutions, spoke to the meeting in answer to a question. He stated that with changing expectation of the community, laws needed to be changed in response. Harm caused by abusive cults was a perfect example where the law was out of step with the needs of the community and it needed urgent review.
The Conference also heard from Senators Nick Xenophon (Independent), Sue Boyce (Liberal) and Penny Wright (Greens). We heard that cult abuses are where domestic violence was decades ago - that is, some people will say 'don't interfere, its a private matter'. The time has come where this kind of abuse and manipulation is no longer a private matter - it is a genuine community concern for many reasons. This message needs to be heard by all politicians and given serious attention. Abusive cults need to be restrained from hurting families which are, after all, the fabric of our community.
Mr Peter Flinn in closing said that these aims of law reform would be taken on as a goal of the CIFS network. And that CIFS would continue its mission to provide information, advocacy and support for people who have sadly suffered abusive treatment from cults.
The community does not tolerate these abuses being committed with impunity.
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