Children of God|
Children snatched from their homes in dramatic raids on the Children of God sect in 1990s trials
March 04, 2013
The operation involved the removal of 56 children in Victoria and 65 in New South Wales amid claims they were at risk of psychological abuse.
The Victorian children spent six days in state care before the courts reunited them with their distraught parents, finding no evidence they were in danger.
female devotees were encouraged to lure new members with sex
The Children of God sect, which became known as the Family of Love, had gained notoriety in the 1970s over claims of child sexual abuse and a practice known as “flirty fishing”, where female devotees were encouraged to lure new members with sex.
Children of God was formed by US pastor David Berg, who called himself Moses David, in 1968.
By the 1980s, the group’s leaders in the USA had renounced many of its former practices and declared there would be no more “flirty fishing”.
But questions had remained over sect literature, with claims it promoted sexual activity involving children.
concerns had been raised
Secrecy and negative publicity involving overseas branches of Children of God served to fuel the controversy surrounding the religious group in Australia.
In Victoria and NSW, authorities claimed concerns had been raised about the welfare of children in the sect two weeks before the 1992 raids.
They were initially looking for one child that they had a warrant for, but after entering the properties decided to remove all children over the age of 2.
"I have never been abused, either physically,
emotionally or spiritually."
Child protection services sought court orders to keep the children, aged up to 15, from the group.
tug-of-war that followed
The Victorian children had been taken from properties at Glenlyon, near Daylesford, and Panton Hill, near Eltham. The NSW children were taken from Glenhaven, Kellyville and Cherrybrook in Sydney’s north-west.
One of the children, aged 15 at the time, would later tell a court, “I could not understand why any of these people were there, or what conceivable reason they could have had for thinking they should take me or any other children away.
"I have never been abused, either physically, emotionally or spiritually. In particular I was not isolated as a child and I was not brainwashed."
Yet the landmark legal tug-of-war that followed the raids would last more than seven years, and cost millions.
In Victoria, the first court ruling was by a children’s’ court magistrate who temporarily placed the children in the care of Community Services Victoria.
"We commenced this initially because we had strong concerns about the welfare of these children whilst living in the Children of God cult communes," CSV director-general John Paterson told the Herald Sun after the raids.
40 children in one house
The families, who home-schooled their children, insisted they were simply a fundamentalist Christian community spreading the word across the globe.
In the initial proceeding, the children’s court magistrate was told there were up to 40 children in one house with only one toilet, and children sharing rooms with adults.
Lawyers for CSV told the court secrecy was paramount for the sect, and they feared the children could be punished for revealing information to authorities if returned to their parents.
A child welfare worker claimed some of the children told them they were required to always smile, and crying was punished with a beating using a wooden paddle or stick.
They alleged that the children were made to do the community’s housework and look after younger children, and that older children were “indoctrinated” at special camps.
CSV said that on five occasions when social workers had arranged to speak to group members about complaints, they arrived to find that they had disappeared.
It was argued authorities feared the children could “disappear” within hours of being sent home.
They claimed members of the religion had been known to vacate houses at a day’s notice.
Some of the children had already lived in sect homes in four other countries as well as up to nine different homes in Australia.
The magistrate’s decision to keep the children in state care was quickly appealed by their devastated parents.
The appeal was heard several days later by the Supreme Court.
the most serious of concerns
Appearing for CSV, Ian Freckleton argued that the magistrate had acted to protect the children.
Dr Freckleton told the Supreme Court the state’s case would include evidence from a child psychiatrist, an overseas expert on the sect, police officers who had investigated the group, and former members.
“Those persons will say that they harbour the most serious of concerns if those children are returned even for an extremely short period to this community,” he told the court.
“They’ll say that there is a possibility of significant emotional and physical misfortune befalling these children immediately.”
But in a landmark ruling, the court ordered that the children be reunited with their families until a future court hearing.
They’ll say that there is a possibility of significant emotional and physical misfortune befalling these children immediately.
The judge said each case had not been considered on its merits and the children should not be deprived of their liberty until the Children’s Court had properly assessed the alleged risks.
It was ordered that each parent give an undertaking to the court, with special conditions including giving up their passports and allowing case workers access to the children, until the Children’s Court was in a position to properly examine the alleged risks.
A Sydney children’s court made a similar decision.
bitter dispute continued
Acting for the children in the initial court proceedings, Robert Richter QC argued many of the allegations against the group were “guesswork” and that they had been persecuted.
A forensic psychologist interviewed some of the children, and found they had been traumatised by the raids. They were terrified they would be taken away again.
But he found they were otherwise happy and well-adjusted children, not isolated or abused.
The bitter dispute continued through the courts for many months, with CSV maintaining that the children were in danger.
The families struggled to obtain the representation needed to fight the claims, and a magistrate determined this was unfair. The case was indefinitely adjourned in December of 1992 until funding could be found for the family members’ lawyers.
Despite hopes the case could be resolved out of court, state authorities refused to back down, and it was not until 1994 that a proper hearing began to decide whether the children should remain with the sect.
It ended in a government backflip that involved both sides agreeing to a 15-month supervision order that allowed independent social workers to monitor the children.
In NSW, the protection case had settled reasonably quickly, with agreement between authorities and the families in November 1992.
But the families involved sued for damages, saying the raids had left the children with ongoing psychological trauma.
The civil case took years, with a NSW Supreme Court judge finally ruling in 1999 that the raids had been illegal because the officer named on the warrants was not present when they took place.
The claim for damages was confidentially settled a month later.
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