Sunday Times: Sex-cult children held - Children of God

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Sex-cult children held - Children of God

The Sunday Times/1992-05-17

By John Huxley, Sydney.

More than 120 childen have been seized in dawn raids on houses in Sydney and Melbourne because of fears that they were being subjected to sexual and psychological abuse by a religious cult.

The children, aged from two to 14, whose parents belong to the Children of God sect, are being held in protective custody until a court decides whether they should be returned.

Welfare officials in the state of Victoria said the raids were ordered after a formal notification of concern about the children's lifestyle. The raids were quickly condemned by a leading lawyer as "legalised kidnapping" and "fascist lunacy". A court hearing tomorrow will decide the childrens' future.

Police and welfare officials raided four houses in Sydney's northwest suburbs, another one in the Melbourne suburbs and a property in rural Victoria early on Friday morning. Noel Perry, a police superintendent in Victoria, said nine adults would be interviewed to determine if any charges could be brought regarding the welfare of the children.

Melbourne police also removed documents and publications from the houses. They said they had received information linking the sect with a "number of deceptions" of businesses in Victoria state and possibly Australia-wide.

The Children of God, also known as the Family of Love, has long been a source of controversy because of the cult's bizarre sexual practices. Founded in California in 1968 by David "Moses" Berg, or "Chairman Mo", it preaches salvation through sexuality, asserting that the Ten Commandments were purely advisory and that free love was implicitly sanctioned by the scriptures.

Soon after the cult's inception it moved to Britain, where the practice of attracting new recruits by seduction earned its proselytizers the name "Hookers for Jesus". The cult was accused of kidnapping and brainwashing young people, denying them contact with their families while they were indoctrinated. More recently, it has been associated with allegations of sexual abuse, and several state authorities in Australia had begun to investigate.

The cult is now believed to have about 12,000 members, established in 70 countries worldwide. Members of the sect believe they have been chosen by God to survive the end of the world.

Australian police targeted half a dozen communes linked with the cult. A Melbourne court, which refused an application from parents to release 52 children seized in two raids, heard that some 40 were found living in a commune in Victoria.

There was evidence of infestation by rats and flies, food was 12 months past its "use-by" date and children were not adequately supervised. There was also evidence that young children were sleeping in the same room as adults.

The cult's members were described in court as "highly mobile", moving from home to home at short notice to escape investigation by social workers. The children, it was said, were required to keep so-called "flee-bags" with them at all times, to facilitate a speedy escape. Michael Dowling, acting for the Melbourne parents, told Judge Ian Gray that the children were being held illegally and demanded their release.

Chris Murphy, a leading Sydney lawyer who is representing the parents of 70 children seized in the raid on homes in Sydney's inner and north west suburbs, said: "The children were shanghaied. They were carried sleeping from their beds and their parents were corralled into another room. They (the police) kicked the door down in the raid at dawn."

David Berg, the cult's founder, is being sought by American police on kidnapping, rape and extortion charges. He is believed to be hiding in Japan. In a recent television interview broadcast on Australia's Channel 9, his estranged daughter said: "My dad was just an evil personality who was not talking to God at all." She said that her father had destroyed people's lives.

The number of followers of the Children of God in Australia is put at fewer than 1,000. The cult first came to public notice earlier this year when a Victoria man who had left the sect attempted to win custody of his nine children, claiming that they would suffer emotional, physical, educational and sexual damage if they were allowed to stay with their mother, who remained in the sect.

The court was told the sect advocated that children should have sex with adults and that young girls should act in a "provocative, enticing and pleasing way". The father said that children were forced to watch adult sect members have sex in communal bedrooms and told of sex between children as young as 12.

The children seized in the weekend raids are being held at institutions run by the Department of Community Services in both Victoria and New South Wales. Their parents in both are meeting lawyers over the eekend to discuss their next move.

Some of the parents have attempted to dissociate themselves from the Children of God. They say they belong to the Family of Love which "grew out of" that group, but that they are a group of middle-of-the-road, law-abiding Christians.