Real Lives: 'I was forced to have unprotected sex with 50 men'
By Tracie Bunce
Mary Faithful spent 18 years in the Children of God cult. As a lonely teenager, she thought she had found “instant" friendship. She had no idea what she'd have to sacrifice...
Mary Faithful, 42, has eight children and lives in Middlesex.
“I lost count of the number of men I slept with while I was in the Children of God (CoG). I'd say about 50 but that's a conservative guess.
"I became involved with the CoG when I was 17. I was out shopping and was handed a leaflet. My parents were divorced and I was at boarding school, I had no friends and was very lonely. So I took the leaflet and went along to a meeting at their then headquarters in Victoria. Everyone seemed so friendly and normal and really interested in me. They talked about an ideal society and offered "instant" friendship. It was exactly what I was looking for.
“I showed my mum the flyer and she tried her hardest to keep me away. She was so worried she made me a ward of court. I was furious with her and went to live with my older sister.
“A year later, as soon as I was 18, I went to Newcastle to work for the CoG as a nanny. I cut myself off from my family. Mum has since told me how, after I disappeared, she would go to Hyde Park, where she knew the CoG sometimes held meetings, with a picture of me asking strangers, "Have you seen my daughter?" Heartbreaking.
“Mary Faithful isn't my real name but the one I chose when I joined the cult. Renaming is a way of distancing members from their old lives.
“Life in the commune wasn't as bad as you might think. It was basic but comfortable and when new members were recruited they'd have properties we could live in or cars we could sell.
“Shortly after joining I met David. I was 19 and he was 28. I was incredibly attracted to him. He used to wake everyone in the commune in the mornings by playing his guitar.
“I was 20 and a virgin when we got married. I never wanted to sleep with anyone else, but the top leaders brainwashed us into thinking sleeping around was a good thing. They'd subtly introduce things like, "Wouldn't it be nice if love was free and everyone loved each other?" into their meetings. If you refused, you weren't "spiritual".
“My first time we were living in Malta and I'd been picked to seduce a wealthy Arab diplomat called Mohammed. I was supposed to be proud to help the group but inside I felt sick. I had to get us tickets out of the country as we were being kicked out for not having visas.
“As I sat in his huge, impressive house with an incredible winding staircase, David said to him, "This is your new girlfriend" and told him very matter- of-factly that the cult needed money. Mohammed was ugly, short and balding and about 40 years older than me.
“I was led up the stairs to Mohammed's bedroom. I felt cheap and apprehensive. I'd never slept with anyone but my husband David. It was over quickly enough. He never said a word - I could have been a doll lying there. He just pulled on his trousers, laid a bundle of notes down on the bedside cabinet and walked out without a second glance. I was so ashamed. I felt filthy and soiled. I spent ages in the shower, trying to get rid of the feeling of dirtiness.
“At the time I was pregnant with my first child, I just didn't know. "You love God and you're sharing your love for God with others," the leaders said. They called it "flirty fishing" - using feminine wiles to catch an influential man.
“I was too sexually inexperienced and shy to be any good at flirty fishing. The good ones used to go to the top hotel in Malta to pull wealthy business types whereas my "dates" were pre-arranged.
“I never slept with Mohammed again. But he did sort out the tickets for our family's passage to Italy so I served my purpose. We moved around a lot - India, Britain, France, Germany - often because we didn't have visas. Also, the leaders were paranoid about anyone discovering how the cult operated.
“Some of the girls had slept with more than 100 men. Many had joined escort agencies and brought in a lot of money that way. Most of the men I slept with were fellow members. I'd have a cuddle from the nice ones and think, "Well, that wasn't too bad", but there were an awful lot of pigs. One, a big, ugly Greek would call me to his room to "talk". When I got there he'd make me have sex with him. There was a very thin line between what he did and rape.
“David took to the whole sleeping around thing better than me. But then, surprise, surprise, most of the men did. When I was with David we used to say we loved each other and the physical side with other people was just sex. But I don't think I ever really believed that.
“The whole "free love" ethic didn't just bring shame and low self-esteem, it brought real fear. From the age of 21, I felt like I was permanently pregnant. In total I became pregnant 11 times. I lost three babies. We were actively discouraged to use contraception unless you'd picked up a venereal disease. I was so tired from having so many children, sometimes I'd pretend I had a disease so I could use contraception.
“Every time I got pregnant, I'd spend the whole nine months petrified that the baby wasn't my husband's. One time I was expecting soon after sleeping with an Indian guy in the cult. When I went into labour, I wasn't scared about the pain, just what colour my baby would be. The relief when I saw this little baby - the image of my husband, as all my children are - was immense. I kept a diary containing details of who I slept with and when.
“With every child, I put on more weight. Knowing my husband was sleeping with beautiful women made me very insecure. My self-esteem sank even lower when a commune leader gave me the ultimatum: "If you don't lose weight and start making an effort to look more attractive, you'll be kicked out and forced to leave your four boys here."
“My duties as a mum always came second to my duties to the cult. The Greek leader who forced me to sleep with him would stand over me and make me spank my children for the smallest thing. It was awful and I still feel a great deal of guilt about it.
“The final straw came when David fell in love with one of the women he was sleeping with. It was impossible to ignore them when they were upstairs having sex and I was in the kitchen making dinner but the leaders kept saying jealousy was a sin.
“Our teenage children started to rebel - they didn't like the way I was treated - and I was unhappy and desperate to leave. But after 18 years of living in a bubble the prospect of going back to the outside world was terrifying. Of course, the cult leaders tried to dissuade me, telling me it was "evil" out there.
“Eventually they sent me to live in Bradford with an ex-cult couple who helped me see how much I'd been brainwashed. My mum was overjoyed to have us back and before long we moved down south to be near her.
“Life "on the outside" wasn't easy. My children, now aged from nine to 23, had never been to school, watched TV or listened to a radio. Anyone caught with a TV or radio in the commune was put in solitary confinement. Other kids bullied them and called them "weirdos".
“Six years on, we're all still struggling to fit into the outside world. For a long time I felt like I was from another planet. I missed the social aspect of the cult, the meetings, the sing-songs. It's been tough to adjust but I have no regrets.
“I divorced my husband in 1996 for adultery. He's remarried, still in the cult and living abroad, although some of the kids are in touch with him.
“I'm training to be a counsellor and writing a book about my experiences. And I've met a very special man who knows all about my past.
“Cults are on the increase and anyone can be vulnerable. Right now it's the start of term-time and college campuses are a prime target because many new students feel lonely. It's happening every day, I'm just glad I escaped when I did.'
For more information, call the Cult Information Centre, which investigates cults, on 01689-833800.