The Scotsman: Family business of abuse and murder

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TV Review: Family business of abuse and murder

The Scotsman/2006-08-22

By Iain Heggie

Cutting Edge: Cult Killer, Channel 4

Rick Rodriguez's voice on his video diary sounded drug and drink damaged. As he geed himself up to a revenge killing for the sexual abuse he suffered as a child, his words rarely improved on the semi-coherent cliches that he could have picked up from social workers. I don't doubt that the damage was real. But why exactly was he able to live with the abuse as a child and not as an adult? And how likely is it that taking drugs made recovery that much harder? These are questions that last night's documentary, Cult Killer, didn't touch.

David Berg was the founder of a cult called The Family, for which he kindly introduced The Law Of Love, which said that we should all have sex with whomever we want. He also developed a practice called "Flirty Fishy" where the ladies of the cult went out clubbing to lure men to sign up. No-one from the cult was pursued by the makers and manipulated into justifying these practices. As a result The Family feels like an invisible monster which the makers lacked the will and ingenuity to get hold of.

Rodriguez was the result of a spot of Flirty Fishy between his mother and a waiter. He - along with his sister - were groomed to take over the leadership of The Family and throughout his childhood he had sex with his mother while his sister had sex with Berg. If she didn't seem so visibly damaged, the sister's description of this as their version of "happy families" would have been horribly funny. There were enough tears to make us assume that this abuse was not fun but not enough information to help us understand what it was like. We were marooned in a dark dungeon of unspecific pity.

In spite of a briefly hopeful period when Rodriguez escaped and had a settled relationship he could never shake off his past and set out one day to kill his mother. He had trouble finding her and ended up going through a family friend. But he murdered the friend instead of his mother for some reason and committed suicide. There is no attempt to explain why or how Rodriguez got diverted from his original quarry. Cult Killer lacked the rigour to show how abuse made a killer and a wider perspective on the relationship between cults, sex abuse and personality damage.