The Mirror: Our years of terror growing up in an evil child sex cult

From XFamily - Children of God

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REAL STORIES: Our years of terror growing up in an evil child sex cult

The Mirror/2004-10-22


LAUGHING together and finishing each other's sentences, Kristina and Celeste Jones seem as close as two sisters can be.

But for 25 years, they grew up on different sides of the world, separated by a religious cult where sexual abuse and incest were not just routine, they were actively encouraged.

Neither of them expected to live past their teens because the cult's founder, David Berg, promised that the world would end in 1993.

But as they tell the story of their extraordinary upbringing, perhaps the most surprising thing is that they are now such well-adjusted women.

Their parents, Valerie and Simon, were just teenagers when they joined The Children of God in 1973 and Kristina was born in a hut in Goa.

Then, when Celeste was four and Kristina was two, their parents split. Kristina and her younger brother, David, came back to the UK with their mother for a short time before returning to India.

But her father insisted that Celeste stay with him. Before escaping the cult just two-and-a-half years ago, Celeste had lived in 20 countries. "I didn't really remember Kristina or my mother but I still felt a connection to them," explains the 29-year-old.

"A lot of the time I wasn't with my dad either and was brought up by foster parents. We were taught that one person's kids were everyone's kids.

"That sounds nice but when I was 14 I realised that no one knew me because I'd never lived in one place for long. Not even my own parents knew me."

In India, her sister Kristina's daily routine was typical of life for most cult members. She was sent out every day to beg for food and money - busking or going door-to-door selling tapes of the group's religious music.

"Every night you had to write an Open Heart Report detailing your day - who you'd spoken to, what you'd said... Your thoughts weren't your own."

Both sisters were also subjected to systematic sexual abuse from a very young age. "An adult would read me a bedtime story and then fondle me," recalls Kristina, now 28.

"The group believed that we were all sexual beings from birth. They also believed in free love, so all the adults would swap partners. Everyone was supposed to love everyone else - and giving your love and giving your body was the same thing. If you complained, you'd be put into seclusion, prayed over or beaten. It was very scary - you didn't want to go against the flow. So by the time I was 12 I'd had sex with seven or eight men."

CELESTE explains: "It was a highly charged atmosphere. The adults had nightly orgies and the kids would watch. The women would do a strip-tease and the girls would copy them while the men watched. "From the age of five, they matched the girls up with boys and encouraged us to have sex. This happened about twice a week.

"Older men would ask me to touch them sexually and it seemed like a game. But they were grooming us. They started off with this playful stuff but then at around nine or 10, we were forced to have sex.

"The older men would make me simulate sex with them and despite everything I'd been told, I knew this was wrong. It disgusted me. I was lucky - I was never raped but many of my friends were.

"Once when I complained to a female teacher that I didn't want to go with the group leader, she just told me to pray and sent me back in with him. There was no point complaining.

"Once, I had to dance naked in a video they made for David Berg and he sent me a note saying I turned him on more than the others."

Luckily, Kristina managed to escape the cult's clutches when she was 12. Mum Valerie had read a book by Berg's daughter which opened her eyes to the cult's rampant sexual abuse. Valerie fled, taking Kristina and her other five children with her. Their main goal became finding Celeste, who was then 14. Throughout the search, her father hid her in communes in Asia.

"I didn't see sunlight for six months," Celeste recalls. "There were four bodyguards with me and I wasn't allowed to leave the house. I went crazy. We had prayer vigils for hours on end. Hundreds of communes were praying against my mother. They told me dreadful stories about her and I was told to pray against her, too."

But five years later, when she turned 18, Celeste was allowed to come to London to visit her mother and sister after first undergoing a month of intensive indoctrination about what to say and how to act.

THE meeting at the house of a go-between in London was the first time the sisters had seen each other in 14 years.

"But it wasn't the reunion I had dreamed about," Kristina admits. "It was very tense and bitter. "Celeste looked stressed and almost anorexic. She wasn't friendly to us - she was frightened because she'd been told we'd kidnap her and deprogram her.

"We met up a few times after that but I couldn't get through to her." Both girls stress that their father did not abuse them, or any other children, but Celeste still isn't sure how much he knew about what they suffered.

"While I was in London, I went to McDonald's with my parents and they started arguing. Mum was insisting that I'd been sexually abused and my dad said: 'No, she's a virgin.'

"I was shocked. After all I'd been through, how could he not know? All those men abusing me were his friends.

"I idolised my dad and didn't want to leave the group because it would break his heart. But I began to realise that everything the group had told me wasn't true.

"The world hadn't ended in 1993 and I realised I was going to get old after all. That's still a concept I struggle with. But the group just carried on as though this was a minor hiccup in God's plan."

Berg himself died in 1994 and at 22, Celeste, who was now based in Portugal, became pregnant by another boy in the cult. "I knew then that I wanted to leave but they wouldn't let me. I wasn't even allowed to write to my mother and tell her I was pregnant. They warned me she would steal my child.

"The baby's father wanted to stay in the group - he didn't see the dangers I saw in raising children in that environment.

"But even so, I was happy having a baby. She saved my life because now I had something to live for. Yet it wasn't until my daughter was three-and-a-half that I was finally able to phone mum to tell her I was leaving. She was shocked and very emotional." After a lifetime apart, the sisters now live 10 minutes away from each other, in the Midlands.

"Having my sister back is like a miracle," says Kristina. "I thought we'd lost her for ever. We're very close now and our relationship gets better all the time."

KRISTINA is engaged to Carl, a 39-year-old musician, and both sisters are studying psychology and educational development at university. They hope to use their experience of cults to help others. In the past decade, a flood of members have left The Children Of God and they know that adjusting to life outside is tough.

"When I came out at 12, I could read but I'd never been to school before," Kristina remembers. "I thought the other children my age were very shallow because they were interested in clothes and music - things I'd never cared about before.

"I didn't know who any pop stars were. Radio and TV were completely new to me because the only things we'd been allowed to watch were videos of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or the Sound Of Music.

"The only outside books we'd been allowed were the Narnia series. I'd watch hours of the Learning Zone on BBC2 to catch up on what I'd missed.

"One of the first things I learned was that young girls who had lots of sex were called sluts or slags."

So at 15, she was terrified to find she was pregnant by a boy she had met back home in the Midlands. "The father was just 17 and wasn't ready to settle down and neither was I, really. I'd had enough of looking after kids in the cult and hadn't planned to have kids until I was 30."

Her son, Jordan, is now 12 and, like Celeste's six-year-old daughter, Cherie, he enjoys the kind of simple freedoms which Kristina and Celeste never imagined. Celeste can't help looking wistful as she admits: "I'm living the childhood I missed through my daughter."