Save The Children's Project "Go On"
Helping second generation ex-members enter society after leaving isolated religious communities/New Religious Movements (NRM)
— by Turid Berger (projectleader); Barcelone, mai 2002
First of all I want to thank you for inviting us to this meeting.
Us are: Angelina Dyke and Andrew McMillion who are second-generation ex-members of The Family. At the present both are students at the University in Oslo. They will speak for themselves later.
And myself, Turid Berger, who is the leader of the Norwegian project "Go-on". My professional background is as family mediator and attorney-at-law.
There are two more members working in the project, Randi Enes and Ellen Kartnes. Their expertise are as skilled social workers, with many years experience within child-care, Civil Service and local administrations
The entire tree is working part-time on the project.
* * *
The project "Go-on" was a pilot project lasting for two years, and terminated in the end of December 2001.
Young people who had left "The Family" initiated the project.
In the summer 1999 some of them managed to meet with the Minister of Education and Research. The Minister promised them some funding.
The next step was to find someone to carry out a project. They then met with Save the Children, Norway.
As you probably know Save the Children is a non-governmental organisation working for Children’s Rights. From this perspective (children's rights), Save the Children found the subject area very interesting, and entered into a co-operation with Ellen, Randi and myself.
Since the very beginning we have been in close contact with the initiators. And further on we have also had frequent contact with all the others who have called upon us.
This close contact has given us unique insight in their struggle for establishing themselves as independent individuals in the society.
* * *
The objectives of the project have been:
First of all to give practical help to those who needed such assistance. The starting point was to help them obtain their rights in the Norwegian society. This has been the most challenging part of the work. Both those who have left isolated religious communities abroad and those who have left such in Norway, were not equipped with the knowledge that was needed to orientate in society. Worse than that, the authorities met them with scepticism and disbelief, and knew nothing about the subject area.
Secondly we should collect information about the subject.
And thirdly, from our experience in the project, we should advice the Ministry what to do ahead.
During these two years, in fact nearly three years, we have had personal contact with more than 150 persons. Most of them were between 18 and 30 years of age, some younger and some older.
Several are parents themselves, struggling with their parenthood.
They have left or have been expelled from different religious communities. Some are Norwegian communities only, and some are international.
We have been in contact with different professionals; historians, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social-workers, school-leaders, teachers, child-care workers, doctors, health centres, jobcentres, Social Security offices, etc.
We have looked for literature, researches, articles etc. on children in religious communities. The books we have collected are mostly about adults. Some articles focus on children. Most of them are about sex abuse accusations and child custody disputes.
And we have surfed on Internet on several addresses.
We have also been in contact with the leaders of four different communities. And they welcome us to talk to the young people in their community about Children’s rights.
* * *
What did we find?
Shortly I will say that several articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child have been violated.
The most important violations are against children’s right
- to form and express their own views, and that their views are given due weight (article 12).
- to freedom of expression, that includes the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kind (article 13).
- to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (article 14).
- to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and treatment (article 24).
- to education that develops the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential. The education shall among other things prepare the child for responsible life in a free society (articles 28 and 29).
- to rest and leisure, to engage in play and activities appropriate to the child’s age, and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts (article 31).
Several of our contacts have also been exposed to punishable offences; Such as birching and spanking, isolation, humiliations and sexual abuse.
As I mentioned earlier, there are few books on the subject, and most of the professionals know less than little about the challenges those meet who try to settle in the society after having lived all their life in an isolated religious community.
* * *
Our experience is that leaders in isolated religious communities as well as the leaders in mainstream Christian congregations speak more about parent’s rights than children’s rights.
We have a vital discussion in Norway at the present – about exemption from mandatory education in religious and ethical subjects. Parents, teachers and politicians all talk about their own opinion. Nobody talks about how a child shall be able to form their own opinion so they can choose at the age of 15, weather they want to have the same religion as their parents, another religion or maybe non at all.
The adults refer to the European Convention on Human Rights, which among other things establishes parent’s rights to demand that their children receive a religious or philosophical education according to the parent’s belief.
This freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitation as are prescribes by law and necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedom of others. (Others are children also.)
* * *
The project is now in a new phase:
We have given our recommendation to the Ministry. And we recommend focusing on information and education on all levels.
We have not yet received the final answer, but are continuing working as if they will accept the suggestions.
It would be very helpful if you could share with us knowledge on the following areas:
...In trying to get research and systematic knowledge about second generation who have been born in, and grown up within New religious movements.
...In trying to make contacts with governmental departments that have knowledge in these areas.
...To gain insight into research and systematic knowledge of how to the second-generation ex-members adjust to their new position in society at large.
...To find research on how the individuals who are born in and have grown up in a NRM create meaning and coherence in their lives when he or she tries to acclimatize him or herself to an unfamiliar society
* * *
Finally I want to say:
Some times during this nearly three years I have heard stories that have made me furies and in despair. And I have wanted revenge on behalf of those who have suffered. But they do not want revenge themselves! What they want most of all, are that their parents approve their choices.
This is food for though, ladies and gents.
Source: Cults: Prevention for Children and Teenagers
Editor's note: The above are second-generation ex-members of The Family. Some of the quotes are from MovingOn.org participants.
"We feel it is appropriate at a conference on children and cults to suggest a path forward. All those who feel with and understand the plight of children whom have grown up in cults and have exited must agree that there is a need for structure during their exit and transitional period. Go-On in Norway has given Norwegian Citizens just that and we propose that others engaged in this area--as all of you are--do your utmost to establish a guidance center in your respective countries to aid such as fall under this category. Such a center can make the difference between life and death, successful and useful members of your society or a loss and expense. A short term investment from the side of government and/or NGOs can cause the incorporation of these children back into their culture and nation avoiding the problems that surround the lack of proper socialization from which they suffer and the obvious result of that lack—isolation. We would now like to present a compilation of views of the second generation in the form of anonymous quotes.
"The end time very well may come and there is nothing I can do to stop it when
it does. But chances are that I will live the rest of my life and die before it
happens...I will not hang about, not studying, not living, not soaking up life,
waiting for some crisis. Again, what a negative existence for me."
"The Family is a law unto itself. It never turned over known child abusers to
the authority but felt that the ultimate punishment was to excommunicate them
from the group. Of course those people were free to re-join on babe's status
and once again be a part of the group, forgiven and forgotten."
"It is discouraging for second generation x-members when they read statements
put forth by The Family's leadership trying to portray the movement as an
innocent Christian missionary organization, and when we see that the "experts"
are so easily fooled by the facade that is hereby portrayed."
"Preaching heaven while being so negative about other human beings, either
because you were an obstinate teenager caught up in the rebellion of the day,
or because your parents and some “prophet” told you to. Argh. I’m going to live
there and it’s gonna take years to get over the negativity I was fed my whole
life. America is a big monster in my subconscious and I’ve never even lived
there! How dare Christians teach their children to hate!"
"They call themselves Christians, and for that reason they have a
responsibility to do their utmost to right wrongs. That’s what they teach.
That’s what they’re being expected to follow through on but they never have and
never will. I am just one of the thousands of people that have been fucked over
by them and I can attest to the sad fact that the chosen of god don’t apologize
because they are above it. Somebody’s gonna pay for what happened to...all the
other girls. What you meet out comes back to you-it’s the law of the universe-
and there’s a whole lot of bad stuff waiting to return on the heads of a lot of
people. I don’t care if the Family wants to ignore their shit. Doing wrong in
God’s name or with good intentions doesn't make it right and doesn't absolve
the guilty from being compelled to retribution. I have full faith that a day
will come when we’ll all be sorry for the things we pretended never happened."
"To me, what Berg, Mama Maria, Queen Peter, and yes, Grant, have done is just
as vile and horrific as the dirty deeds of some serial ax murder because of how
it has traumatized the lives, and permanently scared the consciences of
countless Family children."
"Did you know that I only know one X-member girl that wasn't sexually abused
at least once as a child! I swear to god--and that's not something to joke
about. (One hopes that at the very least these people might be discovered and
feel mortified for the tiniest fraction of a second. Excuse the human in me...
Some of them probably feel, as many of us do, that they cannot really be held
accountable for what they did when they weren't in their "right mind", but in
some brainwashed Twilight Zone state. Regardless however, one needs to feel
vindicated, especially if you always blamed yourself for the misadventure. I
think I could officially forgive the men involved in my cases if they
materialized into faces and were truly sorry. But so long as they remain black
hole memories, they will ever be [evil doers].
On Liminality (being in-between society and the Family)
"I feel that the Family has caused much harm in the lives of young people by
not properly preparing them for life, giving them the false impression that
they wouldn't really need an education and nothing could be better to do with
themselves then to be a missionary. This didn't take into account the fact that
some children may have had other desires and dreams for their life. When those
children grew up and left, they often left with little support, little money,
little help. Many times their parents were still in the group and the child had
to forge for themselves in a world they were ill-equipped to handle."
"In the past two years I went through periods of intense anger and blame,
trying to find someplace to set down the searing pain, freeing my hands to feel
life in all it's textures and temperatures. I went through so many stages. It
kind of felt like these science fiction movies where the alien has the ability
to take on the appearance of anything it sees or touches, and when it is in its
last dying moments, it quickly morphs through everything it every mimicked,
finally appearing as its true self in death. In the end, far from dying I found
just me was what I liked best. I didn't have to explain why I had been just me
all those years, or blame someone or something for me not fitting the mold."
"In many respects I suppose that growing up the way has made me a stronger
person, but I certainly didn't choose the easy way out, and sometimes I can’t
help but wonder if things hadn't been less problematic if I’d just stayed on
the inside, content with looking out. But then I seem to attract adversity, and
besides, I was never really on the inside, just like I’ll never really be on
the outside, you’ll find me floating in those fuzzy gray zones, in between."
"They speak so much about "the Light" and "bringing people to the light". Did
you ever notice how many weirdo's the group attracts or how much they dwell on
the "enemy" and "rebuking the demons and the devil" and "protection"? I wonder
if secular children regularly grow up with even half of the fear that I did?
Fear of those I'm supposed to trust and love, fear of any and all dark, fear of
being alone, fear of certain colors. Later on (things I'm now trying to get
over) fear of failure, fear of opinions of others, fear of not being right or
not being accepted by the whole. Fear, fear, fear. There was always so much of
How it affects them long after they've left
"How these people brainwashed my mother and ruined her life has made my life
difficult as well. In the family we lived off of other people and when we
finally got out we still had to live off of other people's generosity...It's
pretty embarrassing to have try and not lie to my friends about why I have 8
brothers and sisters and half of us are from different fathers. My mother must
look awful in their eyes and my whole family strange. Then they wonder why I
don't talk to my dad any more, well if they only knew that he has his own
family across the globe and probably doesn't even know about his "other"
children. To sum it up, it's all an embarrassment, for myself and my family.
I feel isolated, like I can never tell someone the actual truth about what went
on in the family, they wouldn't understand. The incidents that occurred while
in the COG are ridiculous, absurd, and degrading! I wish I could pull my
other "brothers and sisters" out of there, but with a convinced and brainwashed
father, who knows if they'll ever make it out. They'll never get an education
and will be forced to stay in the family because of their dependence on them.
I wish there was a way someone could dismantle the group and stop the silly
nonsense about the end time and their role in it."
"A brilliant SGA [second generation adult] made some interesting observations
to me. Every Family member of the first generation bears responsibility for the
abuse suffered by thousands of SGAs. We may not all be guilty of criminal acts,
but we are all responsible for actively supporting a wicked organization. We
all read the... numerous letters about child sex...and we kept sending in our
tithes and inheritances. We maintained the regime that oppressed the children
in our care. Every single adult in the Family was responsible.
This sounds like collective guilt, but it is really collective responsibility.
Every adult Family member has sworn several unconditional pledges of loyalty
and fealty to Maria. They have pledged to believe her unquestioningly, all her
denials of wrongdoing. They continue to support her financially. So, in my
mind, there is a point where they become responsible and accountable for the
sins of the organization. As time goes on, there are fewer and fewer "innocent"
Family members. They are assisting in a massive cover-up of heinous crimes
against thousands of young people raised in the group.
It is serious. Thousands of lives have literally been destroyed by the Family.
And kids growing up in the group are being screwed up as we speak by the
horrible doctrines that they are force-fed day and night. Screwed up kids will
continue to exit the Family for years to come. Especially as now they will be
denied a decent education."
From a court case the Family settled in California
"It wasn't the leadership that was abusing me it was the leadership who let it
go on, and slapped my perpetrators wrist, if that, at times they did nothing at
all except send me at the age of 8, 11, and 13 to confront my perpetrator. They
wouldn't even go with me, I faced them alone only to be intimidated and
humiliated by them once more...
My brother who was 16 yrs old just committed suicide after the family had there
fun with his life. I have 4 other brothers and sisters that are still in and I
can't stand by and watch it happen to them...
there are so many that are there and that have been devastated or will be
devastated when they realize that they have been giving their dedication and
loyalty to a pervert who used them to further his own cause and now two sick
fucks have taken his place. I believe a court case would do one very positive
thing for both us and those still in the process of leaving, it would validate
and it would put the responsibility on the Family instead of on the victims
shoulders. So many of us have had guilty consciouses about pointing the finger
at these child molesters but here's the real deal, they wanted us to think it
was ok that they did these things and then when they got caught they tore some
pages out of a book and said "we've changed" Do you really think that after 20
years of indoctrination all it takes is saying ok don't read that any more and
lets take those pages out. That is not taking responsibility, and I will tell
you what I told the leadership that came to that court case, when some one is
violated (especially a child) and you do nothing about it, that makes the
victim believe it wasn't wrong, and essentially that is what you are saying, if
you don't say this is wrong and bad then what you are saying is that it is
good. And with something like this that has the power to devastate lives by
just saying it is wrong is not enough, the evil doers must be punished. Not out
of some sort of revenge motive, but rather to validate that what they have done
is wrong both for the victim and the offender.
By the way this court case happen 5 years ago and the charter was out and the
Family had already "changed" or so they said, but they were still more than
willing to harbor a child molester, and still are...
I guess what I am trying to say is that putting together a class action suite
against the family would be for many more reasons than just revenge for those
that have already left, it would be more for those that are still there and
need protection. Because the Family hasn't changed they are still as sick as
they ever were, and there sickness lies not just in encouraging these acts of
violence against children but also not protecting the children and then
fighting the children or SG's when they realize they have been wronged and lied
to. Because lets face it most of us have given up and gotten past the abuse, it
is the lies that still haunt us and confuse us. I have three sisters that have
left and one brother who died trying. It was the confusion and guilt that they
had planted that finally ate away what was left of him, and I can't stand by
and watch it happen again...
That is my hope, that we can give the second and third generation of children a
fighting chance, even though some of us are still quite young ourselves. "
"Because in order to survive in the Family I was going to have to convince
myself that I was wrong, wrong, wrong. I deserved everything I got, even if it
came out of left field. I was nothing but the dust of the earth, lower than a
dung beetle, and I just had to suck it up and somehow come out on top. Oh, and
lets not forget, keep all the anger inside, not talk to anyone about it or let
my peers know how much I was hurting, not even my husband. He had to be on the
shepherd's side, so I had no one. He felt trapped between wanting to be my
shoulder to cry on and having to uphold the judgment of the leadership. That's
nowhere for a marriage to be. When there's nobody else, you're supposed to be
able to count on your mate. There are few feelings worse than that of your only
love acting cold to your tears."
"The Family and Family leadership have not meant to harm. It is not an evil
organization and the people in the Family are not evil people. Most of them
are at heart, good people who are trying to do their best to live their
lives in the way that they think is right for them & for their families.
Life in the Family is not always easy and many members remain in the Family
at great personal sacrifice because it is a cause that they believe in. As
whole, the Family has done a lot of good and it has helped a lot of people.
But somehow in the middle of trying to do good, they have become like the
Biblical example of Jesus on the cross "He saved others, but himself he
could not save". They have helped many people outside of their organization
through their relief and humanitarian programs, and in the process they have
screwed up so many of their own children.
From the foundation of the Family onward, the leadership did not take into
account the fact that a good portion of their children would not want to
remain in the Family. They didn't (and still don't) see the need for
advanced education because Jesus was going to (and still might) return any
day. They didn't see the need for secular socialization because
"fellowshiping with unbelievers" might tempt their youth to the evils of
the world. They did not realize that children and young teenagers do not see
and understand the world and adult concepts the way that adults do, and many
children lost the innocence of childhood and the right to just be children
because of it.
The Family has seen some of the problem and has made steps to adjust
policies that adversely affect children in the group. But they haven't taken
this far enough and unless they do, the Family will continue to churn out
The beneficial side of raids or "persecution"
"Because of persecution, raids and court cases the Family has changed things to
make a better situation for their children, but they seem to forget that those
changes were forced on them from the outside, and promote that they are a good
group for their youth because they really care. The truth is, if those changes
hadn't been forced, the group would probably be carrying on today as it did
years ago. It's a scary thought."
"The benefits of the raid were definitely substantial; I met my grandparents
for the first time, which was extremely exciting for me because I did not know
what grandparents really were, I knew who Grandpa was but not what personal
grandparents were. I have recently learned that they had been looking for my
parents and us kids for quite some time and because of the publicity of the
raid were finally able to track us down. Another was a lot more difficult but
still very beneficial. I’m not sure exactly why but after the raid families
were chosen to go off and stay in campgrounds for a while and my family was one
of them. But we were not just going to stay temporarily in a campground but
rather kicked out of the...home. This was very good for me because the first
time in as long as I could remember I was not with a million other families and
I did not have to wait till every Sunday to see my parents... I was slowly
introduced into a new world which was very painful but I am very glad that it
happened and be it not for the raid we may never have gotten out of the homing
system...I tried very hard to put this behind me and have finally decided to
give up and to just openly accept that it happened."
It is our experience in dealing with all sides involved in cults, be it
apologists, anti-cult activists, or cult leadership themselves that all agree
on the point that progress needs to be made in the area of helping second
generation ex-cult (we use the word isolated religious communities or IRCs)
members through their transition into society at large.
It is our view that due to the polarization between the different sides
involved, such efforts have been sidelined and no cooperation to achieve such
aid has been established.
Despite the findings of Lois Kendall that the second generation has higher
levels of anxiety, anger, dissociation and psychological stress Than the first,
we maintain and have shown that if given the proper help at the crucial liminal
period, these problems can be remedied. These children and young adults can
become ”normal” persons.
We have tried to focus on the positive sides of the lives of the second
generation and have found a number of similarities with TCKs (Third culture
Kids. See www.tckworld.com). When presented with their strong sides, self-
confidence is boosted and paths forward begin to arise in their minds. They
stop viewing themselves as victims and begin to find their potential and
identity, and can eventually become productive members of society."
On Time Perspective
Interwoven with my section was Angelina's section which is as follows:
Many who have been born and raised in an ICR have a completely different perspective on time than society at large.
Those of us who have been raised in an apocaliptic cult have been raised with the notion that the world will end within our lifetime. Consequently we have never pictured ourselves getting old. This is one reason that long-term education seems, initially, to be a waste of time.
Results of this can be (among other things):
- Unrealisticly high goals or expectations for ourselves
- We often fell compeled to ”catch up”, and do it all in one go
- Difficulty in making long term plans and following through
- Short attention span
- Keeping appointments
- Following through with a therapy or even starting
- Living in one place for an extended amount of time
- Joining the army and in some cases quitting half way through
Turid Berger was surprised to find that this fenomena was not limited to those who grew up in an environment where we were always moving, but also to those who grew up in one country and attended one public school
Regarding Sexual Abuse
I wanted to comment on the amount of time that was spent discussing sexual abuse of children at this seminar. There is an incredible amount of research done on the results of sexual abuse of children. This is not a recent phenomena and neither is it confined to sects and cults.
For those of us who are 2nd generation ex- IRC members there are issues that have a much more profound effect on our lives than the sexual climate we were exposed to and there are far fewer ”experts” who have a knowledge of what we are refering to.
Lois Kendalls research indicated that sexual abuse didn’t make a significant difference in a second generation former cult members psychological distress after leaving. In other words distress was just as high in those who hadn’t been sexually abused as for those who had.
An example of this is the fact that most of us were raised with a set of values that condemned such qualities as pride, self-esteem and independance as vices or sins, when they ere precisely the qualities one needs to be successfull in society at large."
In addition to this I spoke on the topic liminality, the lack of true experts, our opinion on the “experts” in the field, and how the second generation really are the experts and haven’t been referred to enough.
We made good contact with another second-generation ex-IRC member, Lois Kendall, who has done/is doing her doctoral research on ex-IRC member. She had lots of interesting ideas and statistics that I will try to send links to once I get a hold of.
Here is a portion of the suggested reading she sent me:
- Langone, M.D. (1993) Ed. Recovery from cults. Help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse. Norton & Company. New York.
- A good book to read for former members of IRC's which does included a chapter on those raised in groups is:-Tobias, M.L. & Lalich, J. (1993) Captive Hearts, Captive minds.
- Clinical work with children in cults has been done by, Singer (1995), a psychologist from the University of California, who has worked with children raised in these groups in her book includes a chapter on children raised in NRM's. She includes the effects on the children once they reach adult hood. Singer, M.T. & Lalich, J.(1995) Cults in our Midst. San Francisco: Jossey Bay Publishers.
- Gretchen et al (1997) has written a critical perspective on Singers (1995) work, mainly saying that she is generalising from those seeking counselling and from those raised in these groups involved in court cases, which is not represntative of those who have left IRC's as a whole. (For more information see: http://www.csj.org)
We also met a lot of the old anti-cult crew from earlier court cases, and lots of people from other countries we couldn’t talk to because of the language barrier.
Also present was a woman, Inge Mamay, who has a help center in Germany and has written, in German, on the second generation of the Family. I am trying to get a hold of this as well, and would like to ask if anyone knows German well enough to translate it. If anyone is interested in helping out with a translation, that would be great. Her web-site is www.wohnhof.com.
We were also contacted by representatives of: http://www.cultinformation.org.uk, http://www.xenu.net, http://www.xenu.net/fair.
Thank you all for your contributions. Please feel free to contact me if there is anything you want to know about specifically at andrew AT mcmillion DOT net.
Until next time,