The Age: What prompted the CSV raids?

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What prompted the CSV raids?

The Age/1992-05-19

A Community Services Victoria official, who took part in the raids on the former Children of God, described in court yesterday the lives of children in the sect. Kevin Childs reports.

By Kevin Childs

Children who must smile all the time, never cry, even when they fall, are isolated from others, moved as a result of dreams, are beaten for breaches of discipline and taken across the globe to an astonishing number of countries, separated from their brothers and sisters.

This picture of the offspring of members of a sect once called the Children of God was painted in a Children's Court hearing in Melbourne yesterday. It was offered by a witness who has studied the Children of God sect and who took part in one of the raids last Friday.

Her evidence followed the scenes of 32 children being reunited with their parents in the court on Monday, and then separated. A lawyer for sect members told the court yesterday, "The sight of seeing the children coming in yesterday moved me, moved me greatly." These scenes, which were not repeated yesterday, are now set against two hours of evidence from an official of Community Services Victoria (CSV), which organised the two raids in Victoria. CSV is mounting a case to hold the children until September, when the hearing of charges against sect members is due to start.

The CSV official told the court that the raids had their genesis in a phone call from her manager on 28 April, telling her an investigation into the sect's children was under way. In November last year, the police child exploitation unit had checked a sect house in a smart Melbourne suburb. Next day it was empty, she said.

"A major factor in the investigation was the ability of members of the sect to disappear quickly," she said.

As the raids were being planned, a professor of child psychiatry was consulted. Inquiries were made as far as Barcelona, where sect children had been apprehended 18 months ago.

She said professionals in the United States and departmental officers in New South Wales were consulted.

Behind the approach of CSV, she said, was concern about significant emotional harm to the sect children. There was worry that their emotional development was at risk. They were subject to extreme isolation, which caused them to be deprived of ordinary children's experiences.

This deprivation could mean they would be unable to function as healthy individuals, she said. Her evidence was strongly challenged under cross-examination.

The children, she said, had no outside contacts, no recreation facilities, and were forbidden contact with extended members of their families, especially those who might have expressed concern about the sect. Children had told her they must smile all the time.

"They have been beaten with a wooden paddle and a wooden bamboo stick for crying when they have fallen and hurt themselves. Crying is not a response these children are allowed." The witness, who said some of her information came from other CSV workers, told the court siblings were discouraged from being together. Children of the same age were grouped together, slept together and were taught together.

There seemed to be a constant changing of the group in its houses, where children cared for other children.

Housework also fell to the children, she said, including caring for roomfuls of younger children. Those aged from 10 had responsibility for their younger brothers or sisters or other children.

Some of the children taken from one community were not living with their parents, she said.

"My understanding is that the group believes they all belong to the group," she told the court.

She said the investigators had been told a child with cerebral palsy and epilepsy had not been receiving treatment.

Last Friday at 6.10am about 19 CSV officials and three police made the first raid just outside Melbourne. A television crew was there, but only on the perimeter and only, a CSV lawyer told the court, because the program had been making its own investigation of the sect.

In a rumpus room there were 12 childen aged six to 13. In a sitting room were two adults and three children, including a five-month-old baby who was not the adults' child. Adults were on couches and the children on mattresses on the floor.

In another bedroom were five children and some adults. Two more adults were in a second bedroom with three children. In another small room were five childen aged two to 13 and an adult.

An upper level study held two adults and their baby, who was not their only child, she said.

Leaders of the sect were called "home shepherds" and were given the best facilities, she said, including being allowed to have their children sleep in the same room.

Three hours after the raid started, the children began to be moved, she said. One child had become upset and her parents had attempted to keep her until the CSV witness had taken the child to her older sister. She had then stopped crying.

Children younger than two had been left because the raiders understood that the children were breastfed for months, if not years.

In questioning the children, she said, a 12-year-old girl had said she had lived in Tahiti, Sydney, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, then Japan again, two Melbourne suburbs and the Victorian countryside.

A 13-year-old girl said she had lived in Sri Lanka, India, Montreal, Paris, New Zealand, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide.

A Queen's counsel for the parents later told the court they were all missionaries and went on missions to spread the word.

The CSV witness said that at the end of the children's beds were suitcases known as "flee bags". She said she had been told the group could move at two hours' notice and would do so after dreams, if members were followed home, if there were "hassles" in other cities or if people were asking questions.

This girl had lived in about 20 houses.

Another girl had, the CSV witness said, told her that she had moved from a city address because of persecution, the newspapers and people asking about sect members.

One boy had seemed embarrassed when asked about his nine moves around Melbourne. He had told the CSV witness that he was not supposed to talk.

She said the security of the group was set out in two books, called MOP volumes. These included:

Security is let out when the system is let in.

It is everybody's duty to report any violation of the rules by any other member.

Failure to report a crime is a crime.

The best security is sometimes the kind that cannot be recognised as security but just looks normal.

A real revolutionary must be revolutionary enough to pretend not to be revolutionary when dealing with the system.

The CSV witness said her understanding was that the sect regarded anybody outside as part of the system and they were called "systemites".

When an official was bathing some children, she saw one unfold a large piece of paper left by a CSV worker. "She looked at it and became visibly distressed." The girl, she said, had then repeated, "Security has been breached." She was shaking, pale and had tears in her eyes.

Older children had indicated to the younger ones not to talk to interrogators, she said. They had done this by eye contact, touching and taking them aside to whisper.

She said she was concerned for the children who had spoken; that is, the vast majority. They had done so despite being aware of the sect rules and being warned by sect solicitors not to talk.

One child had told CSV officers she had been instructed to tell a psychologist ordered by the court how happy she was.

Breaches of security were treated seriously, said the CSV witness. Offending children were isolated from their peers and not spoken to by anyone except an adult allotted as supervisor.