Scientology insider's nightmare childhood
March 12, 2010
A former Scientologist who says she was a "child slave" and alleges she saw a six-year-old boy chained up in a ship's hold is disappointed the Senate has blocked a full inquiry into the religious organisation.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has been calling for a full inquiry into the church since revealing claims of forced abortions and other abuses in Parliament last year.
Keryn, 54, grew up in the church and has asked the ABC to identify her only by her first name.
She says she was a victim of "hard labour, mental brutality and separation" on Scientology ships, which were used for the Church's elite band of followers in the 1960s to 1970s. She is angry the motion for a Scientology probe has been blocked in Parliament.
"Australia is an egalitarian society; Scientology is not egalitarian," she told ABC News Online.
"There is no protection for workers and no protection for children. It's the push for the inquiry that has brought me out of the woodwork."
Keryn says her mother was a founding member of the church and went on to become the CEO of Scientology in South Africa.
"It should be banned; it's a very dangerous pseudo-religion and corporate enterprise, and it really needs to be looked at very closely," she said.
"If it's not looked at very closely and monitored and checks and balances put in place, then one day people are going to look back and say, 'This is bad news and we did nothing'.
"The structure is very totalitarian, and I just think it's very bad for mental health. They need to look into the separation of families. I know many broken families because of Scientology."
Keryn wants an inquiry to investigate living and labour conditions as well as schooling for children working for the organisation at a young age.
"There is a belief in Scientology that normal schooling simply indoctrinates you with social norms and ideologies ... so they prefer to indoctrinate with their own ideologies, with the result that Scientology children, if they manage to leave, are usually unskilled and uneducated.
"This forces them back into the world they know - in other words Scientology recreates its own labour force," she said.
"People just get so brainwashed and it's made so difficult for people to leave, they just don't. Staff members don't get paid so they can't accumulate money to leave.
"There's a belief system that if you find something wrong with Scientology, then there's something wrong with you. That's instilled in you so deeply that it's very hard to shake."
Keryn's decision to speak openly about her experiences comes after ABC1's Four Corners program, The Ex-Files, in which former members told of forced abortions, pressure to work extreme hours and being forced to hand over large sums of money.
Members of Scientology's elite unit of full-time staffers the Sea Organisation - or Sea Org - detailed allegations of a strict regime of discipline and punishment in place during the 1960s.
Scientology has denied the claims, but Keryn says she can back up the allegations.
She says she signed a billion-year contract as a 12-year-old, lived on the Scientology vessels The Royal Scotman and The Athena, and was in effect a "child slave".
"When we were on the ship, we had people working 20 hours a day, seven days a week," she said.
"It was a nightmare for me and my brother. For most of our lives, we were separated from our mother because she was in the Sea Org.
"A lot of the children hadn't seen their parents for months, and their parents were on the same ship."
She says what she saw happen to one child, a six-year-old boy named Larry, still haunts her today.
"I've carried him with me all my life and I want to put it on record what I saw," she said.
While working on one of the Sea Org boats, which was a former cattle ship, Keryn heard a clinking sound and found the boy in the hold.
"Larry was chained by his leg and he was there for a few days. He was fed, but he was chained," she said.
She says she was forced to "disconnect" from her father, who did not want to be part of the church.
"They say they don't break up families but they most definitely do," she said.
"[On Four Corners, Scientologist Tommy Davis] claimed they have no disconnection policy - that's an outright lie, unless they've changed that. I was told to disconnect from my father, that he would suppress us. I was told to write a letter to him when I was six to disconnect from him."
L Ron Hubbard
Originally the prospect of "sailing the high seas, having adventures and not going to school anymore" was exciting to Keryn, but she soon realised the reality of life in the Sea Org. She says it was "worse than jail".
"My brother was allocated a job in the engine room of the shift as a greaser - he was 10 ... I was working in the canteen and we were both working 20-hour shifts," she said.
"I didn't see him for weeks and then one day I bumped into him in the doorways between the dormitories, and he was this little thing, covered in grease with these big red eyes, and he saw me and he started crying and he said he wanted to go home.
"At that stage, you could petition the commodore, who was L Ron Hubbard, who was living on the ship up in his luxury apartment. I petitioned him and he went home straightaway, but you had to have a replacement for him, so I took my brother's place in the engine room."
While Keryn was not aware of any forced abortions, she says she remembers cruel punishments such as people being locked in dark hatches and at other times being forced to do hard labour at "double time".
"One of the punishments they had was throwing you overboard, which happened to my mother on a regular basis," she said.
Those thrown overboard were rescued.
Keryn also knew Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard, and recalls seeing him around the ship in a "white sailor suit".
"He was a very powerful, enigmatic figure," she said.
"As an individual, he had a very powerful force about him and I could see people would quiver in his presence, he had immense self-belief. In the flesh, he didn't wander around like some demented, nutty professor."
Tracking her down
Keryn, who moved from South Africa to Australia in 1989, worked on the ships until she was 13, when she was "rescued" by her grandmother.
For years, she has kept the torment to herself and only occasionally spoken about it to her brother, who is still bitter and angry about their upbringing.
She did not want to speak publicly out of fear and "conflicted loyalty" to her mother, who stayed a devout Scientologist until she died.
Keryn was left frightened after Scientologists tracked her down on Facebook and called her, 42 years after she left the organisation.
"I thought it was well and truly behind me," she said.
She also says they have been harassing her brother, who still lives in South Africa, calling him day and night.
Keryn says over the years Scientology has changed from the more idealistic early days.
"They've really refined their acts and become very slick at marketing and promotions and corporate management," she said.
"They're still doing what they've always done, but they've just morphed into something slicker so they're much more dangerous than they were before.
"I'm really nervous about where it's going - it's just infiltrated so many educational programs, management programs."
What makes Keryn very angry is the celebrity following.
"When I hear John Travolta and Tom Cruise come out and say 'this is the way', I think 'have you actually ever been behind the scenes of the Celebrity Centre to see how they live?' They don't," she said.
"The hard work is done by staff members. The people that have money do what people with money always do. They just throw money at stuff and people are nice to them. And Scientology has always courted celebrities because that is their legitimisation and it's working.
"If there's one thing I can say though, because Tom Cruise jumped on that stupid couch, that actually started the ridicule, and the ridicule has grown bigger and bigger and started to undermine Scientology's image."
Scientology 'has changed'
The ABC has approached the Church of Scientology about Keryn's claims.
Scientology's Australia spokesman Cyrus Brooks says after the Sea Org was formed in 1967, it "took several years to settle itself" and "there were a few staff who were violating the church policy at that time".
"What we have today is far from its earliest days," he said.
"As we have grown and evolved, we have formulated strict regulations as to conduct of staff and conditions and we also have a much firmer screening policy of those who apply and join."
He says children have not been allowed to join the Sea Org for more than 20 years, however the ABC's Four Corners investigation found members have been recruited and separated from their families from the age of 14 since then.
Mr Brooks says the Sea Org's 5,000 members, who are now on dry land, do not get paid.
"We don't expect a wage and we don't do it for a wage. We know this before we join and it is a major decision to do so," he said.
"We understand that we are going to be working almost full time - including a work day, along then with religious studies and practice daily."
Mr Brooks says if members are in touch with people the church opposes, they cannot go to church services.
"If a current member by way of family connection or another relationship is connected with someone who is violently opposed to Scientology and engaging in conduct to attack the church, we state that while the upset remains, they are unable to have church services until they resolve the situation," he said.
"A person who is connected with someone against their religious faith by experience does not make spiritual gains, as any gains they make are invalidated by the antagonistic source."
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