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Faith-based Medical Neglect and Undue Influence

With more than 8,000,000 purported members, it is likely Jehovah’s Witnesses are the foremost example of faith-based medical neglect and undue influence. Although they have abandoned their anti-vaccination policy (1952), and their organ transplant policy (1980), they retain a complex and evolving policy on blood transfusions.

While the blood transfusion policy was originally based loosely in scripture, a complex set of organizational rules dictates which types of blood products may be used, and which are prohibited. Additionally, this list has been repeatedly altered, with most members confused about what is allowed, and what is not. Members are required to accept whatever the current policy might be at any given moment, and dissenters face severe sanction if they choose not to follow the policy.

Compliance with the policy is bolstered by misrepresentations from physicians, scientists, and historians such that the average Jehovah’s Witness will generally be convinced that using blood is bad medicine. The choice to reject medically necessary use of blood products has led to countless deaths over the decades, with estimates ranging from 36,000 to as high as 56,000. http://ajwrb.org/jehovahs-witnesses-and-blood-tens-of-thousands-dead-in-hidden-tragedy

Lee Elder, a former JW elder, and the managing director for AJWRB (Advocates for Jehovah’s Witness Reform on Blood) points to the particularly troubling aspect of how the policy has impacted children and adolescents. Jehovah’s Witness parents are expected to reject blood even when the life of their child is in jeopardy, and in fact, numerous children have died as the Watchtower Society (governing entity) has acknowledged.

In more enlightened countries, courts will overrule the parent’s decision, and order necessary treatment to try and save younger children. However, in many parts of the world, adolescents can be granted “mature minor” status, and make their own decision. Frequently, the doctor or the judge will speak directly with the JW adolescent to see if they understand the issues.

Knowing that such interactions may occur, the Watchtower has the parents put the child through drills from a very young age so they will be able to recite the correct answers to the doctor or judges questions about the blood policy, and be granted the legal right to martyr themselves if need be.

A decision to support the Jehovah’s Witness policy on blood is too complex for a young mind to grapple with. This is particularly the case when the child has been carefully programmed to fear blood (via implanted phobias). The child is also facing tremendous pressure to conform, and will be shunned by their Jehovah’s Witness friends and family members if they don’t obey the organization’s dictates.

The rational choice in these situations is to authorize the physicians involved to provide the best level of care available for the child, rather than a second or third best option offered by a doctor who has promised not to use blood under any circumstance.

When the child reaches the legal age, their mind will have further developed, and be less likely to be unduly influenced or coerced. Historically, the majority of Jehovah’s Witness children eventually leave the group as they move into early adulthood. Physicians and courts have a responsibility to try to keep them alive long enough that they can reach adulthood, and make informed autonomous choices.



This post is an excerpt from Jon’s new book, Opening Minds – A Primer on Undue Influence, scheduled for release in the fall of 2019. This blog was a collaborative effort between Lee Elder and Jon Atack



Harry Potter and the Mysterious Mentor – Who Taught Harry Self-Respect?

The least believable part of the Harry Potter franchise isn’t the flying broomsticks, or the spells and potions, or even the fantastic beasts (wherever they are found). It isn’t even that people can disappear through a barrier in the middle of the busiest railway station in one of the world’s most populous cities without anyone noticing. These are all part of the rich fantasy world JK Rowling has created, a world we accept with a willing suspension of disbelief.

in New York City, Harry's cupboard could cost upwards of 20k a monthThe most unbelievable thing about Harry Potter isn’t that he’s a wizard; it’s that he is assertive. Orphaned at the age of fifteen months, and consequently raised by his only living relatives, the dysfunctional Dursleys, Harry endured a childhood of severe psychological, emotional, and physical abuse: forced to live in the cupboard under the stairs, bullied constantly by his cousin, coerced into domestic servitude, and subjected to an endless litany of ill-treatment in an atmosphere designed to suppress any individuality or sense of self-worth.

And yet, the youngster we see in the book first book and its film adaptation has a surprisingly assertive and vibrant personality, able to stand up for himself and insist upon his rights. He makes friends easily, and has no problem asking questions of adults when things are unclear; several times throughout the series he practices intelligent disobedience, calling out bad behavior on the part of his teachers and other authority figures.

This vital skill should be taught to all children, of course, but an abused child is not taught self-respect, let alone self-protection. We could assume that Rowling, who had a close and supportive relationship with her own mother, was not able to portray the character of an abused child. However, Rowling shows that she has no problem doing so: in the sixth book, we see a slice of life belonging to Merope Gaunt, a young woman who cowers in the presence of her brutal brother and father, clearly displaying every sign of someone who has lived with abuse from infancy, frozen into learned helplessness and unable to assert herself.

Neville Longbottom, friend of Harry and alternate "Chosen One"We can even see the aftereffects of abuse in Harry’s schoolfriend Neville Longbottom, whose family, doubting he possessed magical powers, devalued his life enough to allow an uncle to throw him out of a window (he only survived because he had enough magical power to save himself instinctually). When we first see this young wizard, he is timid and easily cowed, a stark contrast to his self-assured and confident friend, Harry Potter, who comes from an even more abusive home, but who has learned self-respect.

So where, if not at home, did Harry learn this self-respect? Although an easy (and enticing) answer would be that Harry, blessed with his mother’s parting protective spell of Love, was able to realize his own self-worth, it is much more probable that there was someone in this young wizard’s life who taught him this valuable lesson, long before he even heard of the wizarding world and his exalted place in it. In order for Harry to be the confident, assertive, and above all, self-respecting youngster we see entering school, he must have had someone in his life who, early on, taught him the valuable lesson that his opinions mattered, that he mattered, and that he could stand up for himself when necessary.

Although he might have been given this instruction by some kindly teacher at school, there is a more probable mentor already in his life: none other than minor character Arabella Figg, cat-crazy neighbor to the Dursleys, who knows of Harry’s origins and abilities, due to her own connection with the magical world. Moreover, as a “squib”, a non-magical person born to magical parents, she has personal experience of the second-class status bestowed upon those who are “different”.

Arabella Figg, crazy cat-lady, squib, and the most likely candidate for teaching Harry about self-respectThis woman, with her flat full of felines and stale cake, is often asked to take care of Harry in his younger years. Although Harry doesn’t enjoy his visits with her, finding her tedious, he does feel safe in her home, free from the emotional and physical brutality of his relatives. She alone treats him with respect, subtly teaching him through example that he is worthy of love and kindness.

Children learn what they live, and too many children are not given the basic tools they need to resist undue influence – the most powerful tool being simple self-respect: the sense of self-worth. Although anyone can be seduced into a high-control group or abusive relationship, the path of the predator is much easier with those who never learned how to stick up for themselves. To create a world free from undue influence, all of us, even those of us who are not parents, should remember to “be there” for the children in our lives, as Arabella Figg was for Harry, and bestow upon them the precious gift of self-respect.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Is there another popular culture fandom you’d like to see us discuss through the lens of undue influence? We’d love to hear from you!



Why Is the Jehovah’s Witness Child Sex Abuse Scandal Different?

Child sexual abuse is absolutely terrible, and the institutional coverup of abuse makes it even worse. From churches to sports organizations, we have seen so many institutions silence abuse scandals to protect the group’s reputation. However, when the group concerned is a high-control, destructive cult, there are extra layers of coercion and lies involved – layers which most lawmakers and justice professionals neither understand nor recognize.

Many people do not even realize that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a high-control group: most members of the public – judges and lawmakers included – think of them only as those “nice people” who go door-to-door offering “Bible studies”; pro-cult sociologists call them a “new religious movement”. When confronted with the covering up of sexual abuse by the Jehovah’s Witnesses (and other high-control organizations), these legal experts often make the mistake of treating the cases as they would one involving the Boy Scouts, the Methodist Church, or a sports club, when in fact, the organization they are dealing with is far less likely to cooperate with law enforcement. Mainstream religious groups have been reluctant to admit to abuse, but once that abuse has been exposed, many have done all that they can to expose the abusers. On his recent visit to Ireland, Pope Francis aligned himself with the victims of abuse, and has promised to do all that he can to root out this evil from the Catholic Church. This is not the attitude of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

We must not minimize cases of abuse in groups that are not destructive cults, but there are many reasons why child sexual abuse coverups are different – and should be treated differently – when involving high-demand groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses.


Jehovah’s Witnesses have a doctrine of ostracism or “shunning”, whereby contact and communication can be limited or even completely prohibited. Former members are often shunned by the entire congregation. Although the Watchtower’s lawyer recently managed to convince the Canadian Supreme court that “normal family relations” continue for those who are disfellowshipped, this is a base lie – the Watchtower’s internal propaganda films explicitly direct the faithful to engage in shunning. Anyone who speaks out about abuse risks isolation from their whole social group. They may well be cut off from their families, their friends, and their entire support system. In many cases, simply reporting the abuse to the proper authorities has become a disfellowshipping offence, meaning that parents have the Hobson’s choice of losing their community, or turning their backs on the needs of their children.

Predator-Enabling Policies

The “two witness” rule imposed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses – where a report of abuse is ignored if there is only one accuser – is the best-known, but abusive groups all employ a web of policies designed to keep the leadership and the followers in control – and to deny justice to those victimized by the wolves in the fold. The Mormons have come under fire for the battery of highly sexually charged questions asked of teenagers in closeted one-on-one sessions with bishops, and other groups use similar forms of interrogation designed to shame and confuse youth. Most high-demand groups have policies which explicitly forbid taking legal action of any kind against their fellow believers or the group, making it impossible to seek justice for any wrong done in the community.

Isolation from Society

High-control groups use a variety of methods to isolate their members: in the Jehovah’s Witnesses (as well as other destructive cults), members are conditioned to believe that those outside the group – especially law enforcement and social services – are controlled by Satan. This ensures that faithful members dare not think of reporting abuse to the authorities– or even realize that they have the right to do so. Additionally, those who leave the organization are viewed as apostates, not to be believed, and so past cases are dismissed as lies, even by those currently experiencing the same abuse.

Already Traumatized Children

Like many groups twisting Christian theology to wield control, the Jehovah’s Witnesses focus heavily on Armageddon or the “The Great Tribulation”, the final battle before Jesus returns to earth. Their literature is chock-full of violent images of destruction; children are taught that their schoolfriends, teachers, and even relatives not in good standing with the Watchtower will die in an excruciating holocaust of global chaos and destruction. Children suffering sexual abuse in such groups will have not only the trauma of the abuse, but an array of other phobias and emotional trauma to contend with.

Enculturated Guilt

When you’re a member of an abusive group, everything is your fault. It is not uncommon to hear from survivors of sexual abuse in the confines of a high-control group that they were made to feel as if they were the ones who had initiated the sexual contact, or that it happened because they were inherently sinful, or simply not a devout enough believer. Combined with the “usual” amount of shame experienced in such situations, this contributes to victims’ unwillingness to come forward.

Obedience as a Way of Life

Children raised in high-control groups are taught to obey without question or thought. In groups practicing “male headship”, a girl must obey the men of the group – no matter what is requested of her. Even without gender inequality, members of a destructive religious cult believe that their leaders are the ordained representatives of God, and to disobey them is to go against God’s will. Parents of abused children will be reluctant to act “against God”, and those who do go to the authorities will be wracked by guilt and paralyzed by fear, as they are now acting against everything they have been taught to believe and revere.

Zero Accountability

A predator never apologizes, and a destructive cult will never admit wrongdoing. While dozens of mainstream churches and other organizations are now admitting their guilt, apologizing to the victims, firing those responsible, and working to re-educate their officials, the leaders of abusive groups will never openly accept responsibility for the abuse or the cover-ups. They might pay millions in court costs, but, when talking to their members, they will still maintain that any reports of abuse are “apostate-driven lies,” and that the legal actions against them are the work of Satan.

Lack of Transparency

High-demand groups are notorious for their lack of transparency – recruits are not told what they will be expected to do, to sacrifice, or to believe until they work their way into the “inner circle” of believers. Many abusive groups, such as the Moonies, will claim that those just entering their group are not ready to receive the hidden “knowledge”, and compare telling new members the truth about the group’s more esoteric beliefs (such as Reverend Moon being the new Messiah) to feeding a baby a piece of steak, so they practice “heavenly deception”. Similarly, most destructive cults have a policy of lying to outsiders – particularly judicial and legal authorities – about the realities of group life. Because the “outside world” is controlled by Satan – or a conspiracy bent on destroying them – the leaders of groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses have no problem lying in court – even under oath. They justify this by referring to the Biblical story of Rahab, who lied to protect Israelite spies.

In conclusion, the covering up of child sexual abuse in any setting is despicable. However, in the context of an abusive group, the depth and breadth of the coverup is magnified, with more complex layers of lies, phobia, guilt, and coercion covering any truth. It is imperative that judges, police, lawmakers, and others working to reveal the institutional coverups of sexual abuse understand that they will hear nothing resembling the truth from the representatives of a high-control, destructive cult.

For more information, check out our article on pedophile grooming, and Barbara Anderson’s book, Barbara Anderson Uncensored: Eyewitness To Deceit.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about covering up child abuse in a high-control group that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 


The Blue Knot Foundation – Offering Support to Survivors of Childhood Trauma

In the wake of the Australian Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Childhood Sexual Abuse, many helpful organizations have stepped forward to aid the survivors and educate the public. One of these organizations is the Blue Knot Foundation, the “National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma,” which offers support, education, and training, not only for survivors but for the general public.

Their site provides helpful fact sheets to educate health professionals, employers, caregivers and survivors, with information on how to help, where to get help, and what cultural changes we must make to prevent future abuses. In the words of one survivor: “It was just helpful to know that I’m not alone.”

We salute the Blue Knot Foundation of Australia, and other similar organizations worldwide; through their efforts that we can help survivors – and prevent abuse to generations yet unborn.

Cardinal Accused of Child Sexual Abuse

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington. The Pope has ordered him to retire to a “life of prayer and penance” following allegations that McCarrick sexually abused both minors and adult seminarians over the course of five decades. McCarrick has been ordered to stay in seclusion until the allegations against him have been fully investigated.

Cardinal McCarrick was removed from public ministry on the 20th of June 2018, after allegations that he had sexually abused a teenage altar boy almost 50 years ago in New York. McCarrick protested his innocence. The New York Times reports that the Roman Catholic Church paid settlements amounting to tens of thousands of dollars in 2005 and 2007 to complainants.

McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals is the first since 1927, and the very first to be attached to a sexual abuse scandal. Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh waived his rights as a cardinal in 2013, after accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior with junior clergy, but he remained a cardinal until his death in March 2018.

In April 2018, Cardinal George Pell of Australia, the Vatican’s finance chief, was ordered to stand trial on charges of sexual abuse. A month later, Philip Wilson, the archbishop of Adelaide, was convicted of covering up a sexual abuse claim in the 1970s. Five hundred priests were mentioned by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

In June, Monsignor Carlo Alberto Capella, a former Vatican diplomat based in Washington, was sentencd to five years in prison by a Vatican court for possessing and distributing child pornography. It was the first time in modern history that a Vatican court had ruled in an abuse case.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, has said:

These cases require more than apologies. They raise up the fact that when charges are brought regarding a bishop or a cardinal, a major gap still exists in the church’s policies on sexual conduct and sexual abuse.

Since 2002, 6700 Catholic priests have been accused of sexually abusing children. Yet, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has yet to respond to calls for reform made in June.

Extensive information on abuse in the Catholic Church can be found at http://bishopaccountability.org/ The director of the site, Terence McKiernan, told the New York Times, “The officials responsible must be identified and disciplined, and the investigative files must be made public.”

McCarrick and other alleged abusers are often protected because the statute of limitation has expired on their crimes. The Open Minds Foundation is working alongside SCAARS (Stop Child Abuse – Advocates for Reform and Safety) in the US to abolish any statute of limitations on child abuse, and to reform the law. We also want those who have turned a blind eye to child abuse to be removed from office, and publicly named and shamed.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Jon’s new book? Do you have a story about sexual abuse in a church that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 


Drawn from this article in the NY Times

And Reuters.

For a discussion on clericalism and how it enables the sexual abuse of children, see our blogpost here.



Australia’s National Redress Scheme Offers Help for Survivors of Abuse

“Redress”, as defined by Australia’s National Redress Scheme website, means “acknowledging harm done.” For many survivors of child sexual abuse in institutions worldwide, this acknowledgement is the most important part of recovery. Although many survivors will require – and are certainly entitled to – financial restitution to help rebuild their shattered lives, the simple and all too rare act of an official apology is an important step towards healing the wounds.

However, for many survivors, that apology will never come. One of the primary hallmarks of a coercive, totalist group or abusive person is that they never apologize – any injury is always someone else’s fault – most often the victim is blamed. Abusers are gifted at laying the blame on the shoulders of those they have abused.

Fortunately, in Australia at least, abusive institutions will now have a harder time hiding their crimes; already over 2000 cases of abuse brought to light by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse have been referred to authorities, and thousands of survivors of abuse will be given the financial aid needed to help them access counseling and other services. With this restitution will come the acknowledgement that they were, indeed, innocent victims, and deserve an apology not only from the abusive institution, but from the society which failed to protect them. Those institutions that do apologize will show that they are willing to change, adapt, and learn from past mistakes; those organizations that refuse to accept responsibility will be shown as unwilling to address their mistakes, and, in their unwillingness, can be named and shamed in the public eye.

We hope that more countries will follow Australia’s bold example; in redress for wrongs done, we can both heal the wounds of survivors, and prevent future abuse.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about redress from abuse that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

Six Ways Undue Influence Erodes Family Love

Many people are shocked at how “easily” the natural bonds of family love can dissolve under the high-pressure undue influence of an abusive group or partner. They often ask: “How can a child shun their parents?” or, more poignantly: “Why would loving parents agree to cover up the abuse of their own child?”

One of the hallmarks of a high-control group is the way they tear families apart: married survivors of cultic groups talk about the group being “the third person in the marriage bed,” and those born and raised in such groups know that they came second to the leadership in their parents’ lives, abandoned emotionally, if not physically.

Worse, children in high-control groups who experience physical or sexual abuse at the hands of the leaders cannot expect the same love and support they would receive in a “worldly” family – their trauma is compounded as their parents cover up, deny, or, in extreme cases, encourage and even perpetrate the abuse, all in the name of the group, its reputation, and its goals. Open Minds Advisory Board member Alex Stein gives an excellent account of the disorganized attachment found in such relationships in her book Terror, Love and Brainwashing.

And yet, the members of high-control groups aren’t monsters; the “average” cult member is intelligent, well-adjusted, and capable of rational thought – about anything other than their group and its beliefs. Those who manage to escape are usually able to re-grow healthy family relationships with those outside the group.

So how can a daughter be swayed to ignore her mother? How can a father be convinced to keep silent about someone in his church sexually abusing his son? Here are six of the most prominent ways an abusive group erodes the natural bonds of family love and loyalty:

1. They position the group and its leadership as the Ultimate Authority.

For a person of faith, there is no authority higher than the Divine, and an abusive group will subvert that authority by teaching that they – and they alone – speak for God, Allah, Krishna, Mother Goddess, the Great Spirit, the Divine Principle, or Karl Marx or however their members have been taught to perceive Supreme Authority. Even in groups with no theology or political view, there will be an overriding principle or purpose to the group which members will view as all-encompassing and of ultimate importance; they are carefully groomed to believe that leaving the group is tantamount to betraying their principles, their cause, even the future of humanity. The group is equated with all that is good and worthwhile in the world; how could anyone turn their back on such lofty goals?

2. They equate obedience and loyalty with “goodness”.

In the closed system of an abusive group, obedience and loyalty are held up as the highest virtues, while independent thought and dissention are suppressed, even characterized as “evil”, “subversive”, “worldly” – a laundry-list of undesirable and questionable traits. Children in the group are taught to obey without question; adults are taught that questioning the leadership has serious consequences. Those who keep questioning the status quo are shunned, expelled, or, at the very least, lose status in the group, viewed as spiritually or intellectually “weak,” and to be kept at arms’ length – until they return to the fold.

3. They use fear and spiritual blackmail.

Those who consider speaking out against the group or partner face many indoctrinated phobias: they will lose their relationship with Divinity or their chance for Eternal Life, they will betray the world-saving goals of the group, and turn their backs on the Truth, with a capital “T.” They will be betraying the Revolution, or the People, or their partner. Although these are “false” consequences, there are often real consequences to rebelling:  those who speak out are often expelled, losing their families, their friends, and most, if not all, of their social support network. They are faced with the unhappy truth that those they have left behind now see them as apostate, evil, backsliders, or traitors.

4. They teach that “Earthly” life is worthless, and our bodies expendable.

How can seven to nine decades on a sin-filled world compare with an eternity in Paradise? Belief systems with an afterlife can dangle the carrot of eternal joy walking alongside the Creator to manipulate their members into almost anything – this concept of “jam tomorrow” teaches that the present is only a period of waiting, and the abuses and indignities of life in the group are tests of character at best, and meaningless illusion at worst. The faithful don’t have to worry about “Earthly” troubles, injustice or abuse: in the hereafter, all wrongs will be righted, loyalty will be rewarded, and those who died will live again.  An abusive group relying on an afterlife to keep members in line teaches that we only have to have patience, now, in this imperfect world: eternity is “just around the corner.” In political groups, an earthly paradise for future generations is offered.

5. They restrict reasoning into black-or-white, all-or-nothing thinking.

In the world of the abusive group member, there is no room for uncertainty: a member is either fully committed, or they are “backsliding” and in danger of damnation. A relative is either a member of the group, or a member of the “outside” unilluminated world. There is no in-between, no compromise, and no negotiation: you are either with us, or against us, and doubt is never an option. The dynamics of a healthy family cannot exist in such a moral “flatland”: the give-and-take, unconditional love, and all-encompassing acceptance most of us should expect from our family is warped and flattened into conditional, rule-enforcing domination, when focused through the lens of an abusive group or partner’s monochromatic worldview.

6. They keep members too busy – and too tired – to think properly.

This is perhaps the strongest – and definitely the simplest – of controlling factors. Caught up in the urgency of the group (and abusive cults are always in “crisis” mode), committed to punitive work routines, deprived of sleep and on a low-protein diet (or even fasting), the members of a high-pressure group exist in a never-ending whirlwind of activity and stress, barely keeping themselves together long enough for the next Bible study, the next course, the next fundraiser. There is no time to reflect, regroup, or recover – certainly no time to think things over, and definitely no time to question orders.

In conclusion, there is no excuse for shunning friendly family members or allowing the abuse of children to continue, but a working knowledge of the principles of manipulation go a long way toward understanding how otherwise healthy families can have their bonds of loyalty to each other eroded and co-opted by abusive groups or partners. Happily, with new knowledge of how healthy human interaction works, more families are choosing to leave abusive groups behind – and reclaim their loving relationships with each other.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about eroded family loyalty that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

It’s All About Undue Influence

Why would someone not report allegations of child sexual abuse to the authorities or the police? Unfortunately, it’s all about undue influence*.

Child sexual abuse is a global societal problem, but did you know that many individuals and institutions use undue influence to manipulate and discourage victims or their care-givers from reporting these crimes to the proper authorities? Or, they delay reporting because they’re influenced to report abuse to clergymen first, who then consult with attorneys instead of civil authorities?

California is no exception to the widespread problem of undue influence, and I am no stranger to this problem. Most of my life was spent in a high-control group, subjected to what I’ve learned is undue influence.

I now realize that undue influence is at the root of how institutions handle child sexual abuse cases. I have personally experienced how natural love and common sense can be overwritten by high-control groups. This puts me in a good position to help answer the question, “Why would anyone intentionally fail to report an allegation of pedophilia?”

In addition, my life experiences help me see how anyone can become a member of a high-control group. This is why I am an advocate for practical and beneficial laws, which recognize the negative consequences of undue influence, and specifically, this is why Robert Atkinson, Barbara Anderson, my wife Karin and I started SCAARS.CA**: Stop Child Abuse: Advocates for Reform and Safety.

SCAARS is a metaphor for the healing process. Our scars define us. This is the principal challenge for those of us who have left manipulative, insular groups. Perhaps the most difficult thing we’ll have to address in our life outside these highly-controlling groups.

A significant goal for SCAARS is to promote the process of moving from victim-to-survivor-to-thriver, after a person has been victimized by child abuse. And now teamed with the Open Minds Foundation, we hope to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Changing laws in the State of California by introducing Fact Sheets, which correspond with statutes that need revision. Using California as a template, we hope to spark reform in other states and countries.
  2. Educating legislators about the effect of undue influence by clergymen and mandated reporters, who either fail to report, or defer to a parent organization for reporting purposes.
  3. Strengthening mandatory reporting requirements in California along with enforcing penalties for failure to report.
  4. Educating the public on how current mandatory reporting laws are insufficient and endanger children everywhere. Victims should not be harmed by predators and weak legislation.
  5. Creating a special edition of Barbara Anderson Uncensored with an Introduction to Undue Influence by Jon Atack. The target market will be legislators, attorneys and politicians around the world, and potential volunteers for SCAARS and ambassadors for Open Minds Foundation.

I also want to congratulate Romy Maple, Janja Lalich and Barbara Anderson for their contributions to the Elizabeth Vargas A&E Special on May 29. Raising awareness of negligent child abuse reporting policies will lead to changes in the law to better protect children.

You can access the special here. If your local cable provider subscribes to A&E, you can sign in online using your local access account and watch this episode.

Join us now, and help us change and create laws that better protect children from child sexual abuse!


* One definition of undue influence: “Excessive psychological persuasion that causes another person to act or refrain from acting by overcoming the person’s free will, and results in inequity/lack of justice.”

** SCAARS.CA currently has a Facebook page, with plans for a corresponding website to be launched this summer.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Barbara’s book? Do you have a story about unreported abuse due to undue influence that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

Unduly Influencing Parents to Protect Pedophiles

Reclaimed Voices, a new foundation in the Netherlands, is giving an ear to the survivors of childhood sexual abuse by Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) in Holland.

Frank Huiting, a former victim of abuse, reports that many people feel afraid to come forward. When he was abused at age seven, his parents decided not to go to the authorities, because they were warned by a JW elder that it would create unfavorable publicity for the organization.

Because of the high level of undue influence present, Jehovah’s Witnesses are led to believe that the organization, as the only “true” religion, must be protected – even at the cost of its most vulnerable members.

Many religious groups have been struggling with pedophiles in their midst, and some, such as the Catholic Church, have actively covered up such crimes. But in high-control groups like JWs, this crisis is compounded by their shunning policy. Those who report the crime to the police, rather than to the elders, are most often shunned. This leaves the parents of a child who has been victimized with a terrible choice: go to the authorities and lose their religious community and extended family, or remain silent and risk the abuse happening again, and again.

Another complication to the issue is Watchtower’s “two witness” rule: very often the only witnesses to sexual abuse are the victims themselves. This means that many victims who go to the elders are not believed, and the matter is summarily dropped, because it is viewed as one person’s word against another.

Another factor which protects the perpetrators is the way such reports are handled: a victim of sexual abuse must tell their story to three elders in a private meeting, where they are asked questions which can be almost as traumatizing as the abuse itself. These elders are not given professional training in how to deal with cases of sexual abuse, and, in an isolated community, might be friends of the abuser.

The heavy web of undue influence in such insular high-control groups creates a perfect “hunting ground” for pedophiles: behavior which would ultimately come to light and be punished in a mainstream church, can go undetected for years and even decades in a group like Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Reclaimed Voices hopes to address this damage, by encouraging victims to speak out, get help, and share their stories. Their goal is to get as many cases as they can out in the open, bringing attention to this for both the board of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Netherlands and the government:  “We want to get the government to investigate these abuses. And not to start a fight, but really to focus on the victim.”

For more on this new organization, read the Netherlands Times Article.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about childhood sexual abuse that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

Teens and Online Grooming – Do You Know Someone in Danger?

Online grooming is a dangerous form of undue influence. It is likely that someone you know is being groomed. Online grooming hijacks a person’s loyalty and separates them from their usual support systems. It happens for many reasons: Internet cults divide people from their families; health gurus sell useless or harmful potions; sex traffickers groom youngsters; pedophiles search out victims; and tricksters groom would-be entrepreneurs into pyramid and Ponzi schemes destined to empty wallets and wreck lives; terrorist groups recruit idealistic people of all ages to perform suicide missions. Online grooming is not unique to teens.

But, while we are all vulnerable, we are at our most vulnerable to predators during profound changes in our life – and a teenager’s life is all profound changes. Much of a young adult’s social interaction will happen on the Internet, where the opportunities – and the people offering those opportunities – will be virtually endless. Many opportunities will be good, and most of the people honest. However, a predator will not look any different – at first – from any other new friend, and a dangerous group will do its best to seem like it’s the safest place you could possibly be.

So how can you tell when a friend is in the clutches of an online predator? There are some tell-tale signs. Remember, just one or two of these don’t necessarily mean that your friend is in trouble, but enough of these red flags occurring together might well be a sign that something isn’t right.

1. You’re worried.

You feel that something is not quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it. This is completely valid: we’re bombarded by sensory input from all directions, and most of it slips in below our conscious notice – including dozens of warning signals. If those subconsciously perceived warnings didn’t manifest as a gut reaction of danger, our species would have died out long ago. So, explore that hunch that your friend’s gaming buddy is creepy, or that your sister’s Bible Study group is becoming a bit too intense – then look deeper to find out why you feel that way.

2. There’s no time for anything else.

One of the chief hallmarks of any abusive group or relationship is the way they drain away your time; former cult members agree that they were often simply too busy to think about anything else. An exploitative Bible-based group may keep its members rushing to “perfect” themselves before Armageddon; multilevel marketing groups push their agents to use every moment to sell, sell, sell; a sexual predator will use emotional blackmail and the pretense of jealousy to keep a victim from spending time with anyone else. The concert or party that you and your friend have looked forward to for months is no longer important; the only thing that matters now is this new person or group.

3. They become a “parrot.”

When 14-year-old Breck Bednar was being groomed by the man who would eventually lure him to his death, he often frustrated his mother by refusing to do as she asked, using his Internet mentor Lewis Daynes – his murderer – as the reason for his disobedience. “Lewis says…” became the standard opening to many of his sentences. We normally quote people who make us think, but ideally, more than one person should be offering us answers. When your friend begins quoting an Internet guru (and nobody else) with every other statement, this is clear cause for alarm.

4. They’ve become someone else.

Young adulthood is a time to try on many different roles and adopt all sorts of new ideas. However, if a teenager, in trying on a new identity, and completely breaks with their old “self,” this is cause for concern. Any healthy philosophy, religion, or romance allows for a weaving together of the past and the present; the mentor, lover, or religious leader who demands your complete detachment from everything and everyone in your “previous” life is never going to be a good influence.

5. They show symptoms of psychological abuse.

This can be a tricky area: any or all of these signs can occur just because your friend is a teenager, let alone a teenager in trouble. Just as with this list in general, while one or two of these signs can be safely dismissed, more could mean your friend is in trouble, if they:

  • display extreme changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • have rapid changes in weight or appearance
  • become uncharacteristically violent, fearful, or negative
  • lose interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • suddenly have expensive items like cellphones or high-ticket clothing
  • suddenly display an uncomfortable amount of knowledge about sex, weapons, or drugs
  • become passionate about a certain religious, political, or philosophical viewpoint and dismissive of all other views

The most important words in this list are “extreme” and “sudden” – we all change over time, but abrupt, excessive shifts in personality and behavior are usually the best warning that something is wrong.

6. The person or organization seems “fishy” to you.

A groomer will drive a wedge between the victim and their caregiver, so sometimes a parent will be the last to know what is really going on. As a friend, however, you can see details a parent will not. Is this new person controlling? Do they make grandiose claims and promises? Do they constantly criticize your friend’s family, their former beliefs, your school, or your teachers? Do they give your friend expensive gifts, or buy them things teens can’t buy for themselves, such as drugs, alcohol, or adult-rated video games? Do they demand secrecy from your friend? If your friend sneaks around to take part in a new relationship or organization, this is a giant red flag; in normal circumstances, no honest person or group needs to hide from public scrutiny.

So What Can You Do?

As a young adult, there’s no better time to learn about confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance. Just as your parents’ disapproval of your new boyfriend or girlfriend only strengthens your commitment, telling your friend that you think they’re in danger simply won’t work. You want to maintain the connection, and we all tend to avoid people who constantly criticize us. Be friendly and listen: being argumentative and judgmental will not help.

You might not be able to tell your friend anything, but you can keep asking open-ended, curious questions, keep encouraging them to engage in activities that have nothing to do with the new group or relationship, and, above all, you can be there for them, as a friend. It is also a good idea to remind them of good times with family and friends before the new relationship began.

You can find a more definitive list of do’s and don’t’s here, but simply letting someone know that you care, no matter what, speaks volumes: when things go wrong, your friend will turn to you for the help they finally know they need.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree?  Do you have a story about online grooming that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!

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