Victor Program

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Victor Program graduation certificate

Victor Programs were used by The Family during the late 80s and early 90s to provide spiritual training to second generation members.

As second generation members reached puberty, in the mid-1980s, some of them rebelled against the strict living conditions under which they were required to live. When discipline failed to produce satisfactory results, some of the more difficult cases were separated from the rest of the children and teens and assigned hard labour and other disciplinary actions.

Initially, these extreme measures were reserved for the worst cases. An early group of these children and teens were called Detention Teens (or DTs) and were sent to a special center in Macau (Hac Sa village on the island of Coloane). Among these DTs was Merry Berg, granddaughter of David Berg.

As more "problem cases" occurred, the status became structured and defined. It was around this time (late 1980s) that these DTs became known as "Victors" and were sent to Victor Programs.

Eventually, the criteria for inclusion in Victor Programs became less restrictive, and just about anyone with a "bad attitude" could end up in one of these programs.

Disciplinary actions

  • Hard labour (long work days, up to seven days a week)
  • Silence restriction
  • Corporal punishment (including public beatings on bare backs and buttocks)
  • Strict diet & forced fasting
  • Seclusion from other children or teens
  • Denial of any and all entertainment (including movies, music, dancing, socialising, etc.)
  • Constant supervision
  • Locked in rooms at night (sometimes even tied to the bed)
  • Public humiliations & shamings (often yelling)
  • Rigourous physical exercises ('Duck walking' around courtyards, 50 star-jumps, etc.)
  • 'Smile machines' (a crude elastic divice attached to the ears and mouth corners to create a 'smile'.)

Victor Camps

When a suitable number of local candidates for a Victor Program was reached, Victor Camps were created in various regions.

Description of the Victor Programs by Lord Justice Ward

This was how World Services described the Victor programme in answer to the Official Solicitor's interrogatories: "As is the case in nearly any large group of teenagers, some of ours are naturally more positively motivated than others. School and teen homes, in particular, found negative peer pressure to be very disruptive and detrimental to the other teens' training. In efforts to nip any "teen terror" situations in the bud, some schools deemed this problem serious enough to warrant a separate programme for particularly problematic students." EM was an architect of the Victor programme and she explained its inception in this way: "By 1988 there was so much concern about the difficulties in various field homes being experienced with the Jett age (11 to 13 years), that a council of people was called. It had become apparent that some of the teenagers did not have the same commitment to the way of life of The Family as their parents (it wasn't so much that they didn't have the same beliefs as their parents, they probably did, but they didn't share the same enthusiasm and commitment and many of them bored and felt there was no challenge in their life and nothing to do.) We felt that the solution lay in providing for the teenagers the sense of enthusiasm that we had had when we first joined the Children of God in the early 70's to bring them a sense of excitement and adventure and to enlarge their vision and the goals of what it means to be in the family, and that is basically what we try to do with the Victor programme." After an initial programme for the Jetts, it was increased to include the teens in the 14 to 17 year age group. The Teen Victor programme ran for about a year and a half during about 1989 through to 1990. Her experiences were written up in January 1991 in the "Case Histories of Jett Victors." Maria said of them:- "I think these, along with the Techi GNs are going to be an absolute goldmine of material! They really go together! So many of the ways the Lord has shown me to handle Techi, he shown them also. Together they are going to be wonderful!" In her affidavit EM acknowledged that her methods were copied throughout the family. She sought to exculpate The Family by the assertion that her suggestions were: "Copied or applied too literally and the spirit or what we were recommending or suggesting appears to have been lost. This is particularly the case with silence restrictions. We had pioneered having periods of silence as a method of enabling each of us to commune with the Lord. It was intended that we would have half an hour of silence in the morning right after getting up, the one hour rest period during the day and then 30 minutes in the evening. It was never intended as a method of punishment." She acknowledged that the children were subject to corporal punishment but asserted it was never harsh nor cruel. She said that she was: "Familiar with some of the accusations that have been made concerning Victor programmes, that they are chilling examples of doctrination and brainwashing. ... What we have tried to do was give them inspiration and direction, not take over their minds." To assess that, it is necessary to look at the case histories. That defined the Victor programme in these terms:- "The Victor programme is an intense shepherding and training programme that is The Family's physical and spiritual counterpart to the system's many rehabilitation programmes. You will note that the Victor shepherds use some of the disciplinary measures such as silence restriction, isolation and occasional swats. It's good to keep in mind that our Victor programmes are extremely mild compared with system delinquent teen rehabilitation programmes. The system programmes are much stricter and more severe, even cruel but they are much less effective". These are some of the examples of the successes claimed by The Family and the methods of obtaining them.

T an 11 year old boy had been on intensive care status which means that he was with an adult 24 hours a day separated from the other Victors to receive "lots of personal counselling and spoon-fed Word." He was taken off i.c. status but returned to it after 3 days. "This meant he was on silence restriction - he wore headphones with word tapes while he was working and he was not allowed to talk to the other Jetts at all. ... He seemed to have a very hard time making it through the day without getting a spanking. The policy in the beginning was that as soon as they got 16 merits, they would get 6 swats. Some kids might stack up 16 merits in a week, where as T found it quite easy to stack up 6 in a day, so he would get swats almost every day. ... When he'd have to get a spanking, afterwards Ricky would hug him and say, "Look in my eyes. Let me see you smile. Do you still love me?" Ricky would make sure he was really receiving it before he would let him go on his way again. ... After being in the Victor programme for 4 or 5 months T graduated. During this time he lost about 30 kilos (66 pounds). He was down to about 45 kilos which was is a good weight for his height. He is probably the most changed person I have ever seen since working with Jett teens and Jetts." R was also 11 years old. He had: "Got into stealing and covering up. He lacked a real connection with the Lord. He seemed to have a fascination for encyclopaedias and any time he could get away with it he would read an encyclopedia. The real problem is that he would then basically use his newly found knowledge and wilfully put others down for their lack of knowledge. He went on i.c. status with T. These two boys spent the first 6 weeks together doing extra labour. R has been on the Jett Victor programme now for over a year. Although he is subdued in a way he has by no means graduated or been able to go on to something else." Dealing with the case of F, EM acknowledged that: "When we initially began the programme it was tough! It was boot camp, military style. ... What happened in F's story was that the regimentation and strictness carried through into the second session of the programme and because F was at a real discouraged point in his life when he came back into the Victor programme, feeling that he had completely failed, this approach didn't bear good fruit. He sunk lower and lower and lower until when Ricky and I visited the Jett Victor programme 6 months later, he was on i.c. status and in pretty bad shape..... So we took F off i.c. status and he pretty much sky rocketed back to a positive level again. So now we are a little cautious and much more aware that as you have the kids with you a longer time you have to adapt the situation. There is no set pattern or set rules for the programme. ... The correction and discipline have to be tailored personally for each child. The kids are not in the Victor programme to be punished for their sins. They're in the programme to get training." D1 is Ricky's son who was brought into the programme to: "Humble him a little but and help him overcome his problem of having such a high opinion of himself. He is not really committed to the Lord. He was infesting and infecting others with serious bad attitudes - especially along the lines of spiritual lethargy.

H was 11 and had an "emotionless" attitude: "where it is very difficult for them to give or receive love or show any sign of expression, of joy or sadness or gladness or whatever. We have a lot of emotion in the Victor programme and each class will either make them mad, sad or glad. Also the teachers are usually on fire and stirred up so we zero in on anybody who has this emotionless attitude right away to find out why and usually there are all kinds of reasons. The solutions usually take desperate prayer and digging in the word to find similar situations so we can try to apply the word to their lives and get them to respond. I think that's a key in the Victor programme: we expect response! We expect change and we're not satisfied if we don't get it!" K was aged 11. "Her NWO' (needs work on) were being unable to communicate with others (other than her mom), not respecting the Lord in others, not knowing why she was in The Family and not believing in The Family. She basically seemed to lack a connection with the Lord. Those who had shepherded her in her previous home had resorted to giving her quite a lot of discipline for her rebellious stubborn behaviour but were frustrated with the lack of fruit from the correction given. K really fell apart when she realised she wasn't going to be seeing or spending any time with her mom during her stay at the Victors. (She is very close to her mother.) She was a bucket of tears and very emotional for the first few days. In these difficult initial days when she was having such a hard time forsaking her mom, the Lord gave her, for the very first time in her life, some direct word from the Good Thots on forsaking your parents. She was in tears, she was overjoyed. It was very beautiful to see her so overjoyed in knowing she had made a connection with the Lord." EM's general advice with dealing with typical Jett girl problems of "self righteousness, criticalness, great difficulty getting along with peers and lack of respect for teens and adults", was to make the girls "learn to confess and be open and honest about their mistakes and to learn to connect with Jesus." "We found that the Jetts eventually saw the benefits of being honest and learnt to openly share their hearts. We feel sure that the Jetts are well aware of the seriousness of what they are saying by the time they pour out their heaviest confession. Honesty and honest confession is a real key to the Jetts gaining victories in the Victor programme and they all know this so they don't take it lightly." It is likely that Victor programmes were run throughout the world. I know of them in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Thailand and Mexico.

It is quite apparent that there was considerable cross-fertilisation about childcare. Ideas were communicated to and from World Services. Common patterns had already emerged and become quite well established. They included features such as:- 1. Paddlings

2. Isolation - the physical separation of troublesome children from their friends leaving them either alone or cloistered with an adult whose function it was to feed them the Word.

3. Silence restriction - this was widely practised as a form of punishment, not as an opportunity for contemplation as EM sought unsuccessfully to persuade me.

4. OHRs - open heart reports - were widely used as a means of forcing confession with the result that the children were made to feel guilty if they did not confess. If they had no NWO (Needs Work On) they were said to be self righteous and proud: if they expressed their doubts and their antipathies, then they were murmuring. Either way they could not win. In February 1991, Maria wrote "Jett/Teen Discipleship Revolution Needed Now" (the DTR): "We've got to institute a new kind of intensified Jett training programme not in every major area, but in each individual home throughout The Family. ... They have highlighted the fact that we have a big worldwide emergency with all our Jetts and there is no way one little Victor home in each area is going to be able to cope with that need! We've got to somehow institute a Victor programme in all of our homes if we're going to truly reach and win our Jetts and Teens and turn them into the dedicated disciples the Lord wants them to be. ... We may not necessarily have the constant high excitement level of a TTC where everybody's weeping and crying and praying and rah - rahing and shouting and everything. I'm not saying that they have to maintain that kind of emotional high. ... If our kids are capable of that level of commitment at 11, 12 and 13 years of age at a TTC, why can't they be capable of that kind of commitment when they get home too? What I'm beginning to realise is that too when our own Jetts and Teens to the Lord's cause, to get them really sold on the family and on fire for the Lord, we've got to go overboard. ... We need to somehow reach our kids and really get through to their heart. ... That's why they've had such success in the Victor's programme: they bring those Jetts and Teens in and they show them what the revolution for Jesus really is. They have on-fire word classes and bible studies, they have moving inspirations where they sing and cry out to the Lord with all their hearts praying in tongues and weeping and prophesying and really being moved and ignited by the spirit of God! The kids really see and experience the moving of the spirit and they go through the same sort of things that our new babes used to go through. ... So this is the challenge before us. Unless we touch them and reach them emotionally and really win their hearts to the Lord and to the family and get them turned on and on fire about it, we're not going to save them." It is apparent from this excerpt that the children, and especially the doubting Thomases, were placed under intense emotional pressure to conform.

Maria was no stranger to the problems of dealing with unhappy children. Davidito had at the age of about 12 or 13 on several occasions contemplated suicide. He was a disturbed child. Then Techi her daughter began to manifest difficulties symptomatic of some emotional breakdown - she was having nightmares and crying every half an hour. That led to the Techi series on her battles and victories. The letter set out the confessions that were taped. "She discovered the truth of the scripture, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whosoever confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" - Pro. 28, 13." I emphasise these words in hope that Maria and the leadership will remember those words when they come to read this judgment and will then practice what they preached. The series recorded Techi's problems of lying, unyieldedness, being fascinated with evil, having bad thoughts, being resentful and daydreaming. Coping with these problems seemed to have caused such difficulty that Amy who was in charge seemed as close to a nervous breakdown as Sara had been dealing with MB. Maria commented on the comparison between her sweet and loving talks she held with Techi and the stern dealings that Dad had with her. She said:- "When a child is having serious problems and is fighting heavy spiritual battles, the key question is not so much which method to use but when to use which method." It is quite clear that enormous pressure was put on Techi, however lovingly it was imposed.

Fear, not love, was another powerful weapon in the armoury of control. The first issue of the new "Teen Special" for teens aged 12 and over was the story of MB as a warning to those who might feel they could dabble with the Enemy. Then Singing Sam made his confessions and so did Crystal of lives filled with sex, alcohol, drugs and trouble. Later in November 1992, the "sad story of a delinquent teen," namely Ben, the boy from Macau who committed suicide, was told to the teens. All of these "traumatic testimonies" were accompanied by questions for the teens to "pow-wow". It was all pressure to conform, to obey, to remain faithful to The Family, indeed, and in truth, to remain in The Family.

It was not uncommon for individuals to be singled out and publicly humiliated in the Letters. Such a one was Tony Zack Attack. This series began in August 1991. He was apparently quite "famous" when he was a teen, having appeared in many Family circuit videos as a gifted musician and song-writer. He was then aged 24, married to Claire with a 2 year child. They were shepherds but had problems with criticism, doubt, murmuring and unyieldedness and they were eventually placed on a Victor programme. Tony felt dissatisfied and upset with the way things were going for him in The Family and had been tempted with thoughts of going to the system. EM was his Victor shepherdess. Tony and Claire were separated "in order to concentrate on the lessons they were learning." For this same reason their 2 year old son went to live at the school nearby, rather than living in the Victor house. Tony was put in intensive care. His OHR was published. He had there confessed: "Being under constant supervision and authority is one of my main battles. I feel I have very little freedom and I can't do anything without permission - unless it's on the schedule. I can't even ride a skateboard or a horse or go ice-skating or roller-skating or even climb a tree." Maria wrote to him and giving him his "last chance:" "You also have to be able to take the humiliation of public exposure or public correction for your mistakes because if you're not corrected, just as with any leader, their mistakes and wrong attitudes and NWOs easily filter down to and affect others." Eventually Berg delivered his letter "Grumblers Get Out" in August 1991. The message was "Repent or perish in the system": "He needs to get up and confess with strong crying and tears and real show of repentance and confession and humbling. He oughta grovel on the floor with strong crying and tears and ask everybody to forgive him and saying he's never going to do it again, and show it, or out he goes right now." The Teens had to pow-wow Grandpa's instruction to Tony's shepherds to take away his responsibility and make him "a flunky - mopping the floors and cleaning toilets." "When people see Tony mopping floors or cleaning toilets instead of being a Jett shepherd or playing the guitar in inspiration or leading teen witnessing excursions etc., it will serve as a reminder to all that he is being punished and humiliated because of his wrong-doing." The letter ended "Murmurers beware! Are you?"

Faced with this flurry of letters it is hardly a surprise that Tony made his confession. He wrote:- "I realised that I was more broken about my son than about offending the Lord. I've been making a god out of my son. The sin of putting my son before the Lord in my heart has been a weak chink in my armour that the enemy has been able to use. So now I feel I have to forsake him and really prove to the Lord that I am willing to put God first and bring forth fruits needed for repentance." The recording of his confession to his home is punctuated by his tears. His letter to Grandpa and Maria begs them to let him stay as "a hired servant because if I go to the system I fear it will be "going after her straight away as an ox goeth to the slaughter."

Three matters in particular trouble me about this series:-

1. The public humiliation to which this young man was exposed and with which he was threatened.

2. The starkness of the choice offered which virtually amounted to a denial of choice - grovel on the floor in confession and slop out the lavatories or get out back to the system where, according to Faithy, "the other kids who backslid, are either in prison or in serious trouble with drugs or homosexuality or prostitution or like Dicken, in trouble with Maria and things like that." (I am, incidentally, totally satisfied that Dicken is in no such trouble. He is a happily married undergraduate at University.)

3. EM remains a powerful voice in child care matters. It was she who removed this 2 year old boy from his murmuring parents. She said that if need be she would separate S from his mother in order to bring her to heel. It was an answer now imprinted on my memory. An attitude of that kind held by a responsible member in some position of authority within the movement constitutes a risk to the well-being of my ward.

Case studies

See Also: Victor Camp