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Dangerous Misconceptions About Coercive Groups and Relationships

Coercive groups and relationships are all around us  – from domestic abuse and pedophile grooming, to human trafficking and terrorist radicalization – millions of people worldwide are trapped in a web of undue influence, coerced to act against their own best interests.

Sadly, although these people remain caught up between false hope and real fear, most outsiders cannot see the elaborate web of coercion, and assume that the web does not exist, believing that the thirteen-year-old being prostituted to multiple men has “chosen” that life; that the woman staying with an abusive husband could leave if she really wanted to; that the cult member who believes his guru controls the weather is “stupid”; or even that the middle-aged couple who refuse contact with their nonbelieving children are simply “bad parents”.

Undue influence is designed to be invisible to outsiders, so those not in its grasp look for other explanations for the bizarre behavior they see. Because of this, a mass of dangerous misconceptions has arisen, myths about coercive control that need to be debunked. Here are some of the worst:

“If it was really so horrible, they’d leave.”

How much would you sacrifice to save the world? If you knew that, simply by denying yourself some comfort and happiness now, you could help all lifekind to ascend to a new level of enlightenment, wouldn’t you do whatever was demanded of you? Most cult members are convinced that they are working for the betterment of humanity, and through the lens of their faith, what we would see as “wrong” becomes their “right”, harm becomes help, and even murder can be explained away – what is one human life, compared to the fate of the entire universe? Even without the trappings of an afterlife, political extremists can readily contemplate suicide – or genocide – if it means creating a “better world” for their children. The fascist and communist movements of the twentieth century proved this conclusively. As Hannah Arendt said, the surprise was in the “banality” of evil: ordinary people committed atrocities because they believed in a purified world.

Many trapped in a coercive situation – especially those suffering domestic abuse – cannot see that there is anywhere else to go. Janja Lalich calls this bounded choice: whether through exhaustion, misinformation, threats, or a combination of these and other factors, those inside the prison of belief cannot see their options, least of all the option to escape.

“I would never …”

This unhelpful phrase is the bane of all survivors of high-control groups and relationships. Otherwise well-meaning friends and relatives seem determined to tell us that they would never fall for such nonsense, not realizing that they, too, could someday be vulnerable enough – or unlucky enough – to be trapped in a controlling relationship. Unfortunately, the probability of being seduced into a coercive situation has little do with who we are, and much more to do with changes to our everday relationships and routines: first-year university students away from home for the first time, seniors who have lost a spouse, or those seeking a new interest, income stream, spiritual path, or social outlet are all prime targets for manipulative people and groups.

“They must be stupid/ emotionally needy/ gullible.”

 Even in support groups for cult survivors, this phrase runs rampant – someone will mention some point of the cult’s credo they still believe, and others will pile on judgmental refrains: “You must be stupid if you believe that!” Even after years of describing the exact processes of manipulation used to ensnare people into high-control groups, popular vlogger and OMF Advisory Board member Chris Shelton still receives comments on his YouTube channel saying: “You couldn’t be all that intelligent if you were in a cult.”

Friends and family members of survivors speculate that those who were trapped must have been “emotionally needy” or just “plain stupid”. In reality, well-adjusted individuals – often with high levels of education – can and do join cults: Aum Shinrikyo (of the Tokyo sarin gas attacks) and Heaven’s Gate recruited computer programmers, heart surgeons and other intellectuals – the Rajneeshis were called the “PhD cult”; emotionally well-balanced people can be seduced by traumatizing narcissists into long-term, abusive relationships. Like those proclaiming “I would never …”, people who believe this myth have missed the important point – that coercion can happen at any time, anywhere, to anyone, given the right combination of circumstances. Indeed, those who are most confident in their invulnerability are among the most vulnerable. It is safer in this world to realize that we can be tricked.

“All religions are cults/ it’s just another religion.”

Espoused by “New Religious Movement” scholars and atheists alike, this is perhaps the most unhelpful fallacy of all. Whether they choose to ignore the coercion and maintain that those in a high-control group enjoy not having freedom or autonomy, or condemn all religions as equally coercive, such blanket statements only cloud an already highly complex issue. Comparing all religions to destructive cults is like saying that all marriages are abusive – it’s not only a vast over-simplification, it’s simply not true.

While some level of control can be found in any “mainstream” church, temple, mosque, or synagogue, it does not compare with the high levels of control found in a destructive religious group. This thinking also dismisses the reality of the high-control groups with no religious trappings, such as political groups, therapy groups, multi-level marketing scams, gangs, and human trafficking rings, or the many situations where coercion is wielded without the slightest spiritual pretense. On the other side, there are plenty of “new” (and old) religious movements which are not abusive – it is the coercion, not the belief, that is objectionable to those who love freedom. If we help people to think more clearly and to understand the manipulation of emotions, they can make their own choices about their beliefs: autonomy is the goal, not an imposed belief system.

“It’s their choice.”

No one chooses to be abused, degraded, or tortured, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Those in the clutches of manipulative people and destructive groups did not choose to become the pawns of their captors; undue influence, coercive control, gaslighting, emotional blackmail and other forms of manipulative pressure are in play, bringing otherwise sane people to believe the impossible, to ignore their friends and family, to hide abuse, to lie, cheat, steal, even murder or commit suicide – all from a lack of choice. From the wife who lies to friends that she “just fell”, to parents allowing their children to die for want of a blood transfusion, from the cult operative setting up a “hate page” full of lies about a critic, to the gang member who murders someone from an opposing group, people commit acts against their own self-interest every day – convinced, hoodwinked, and mentally bludgeoned into compliance through a web of fear, lies, pressure and undue influence.

To free society from the plague of undue influence, we must eradicate this fog of misinformation and disninformation that clouds the subject. We should gently correct those who believe them and point them to the evidence. Those of us with experience should speak out about our experiences without shame or embarrassment. The truth is it can happen to anyone, and we can only prevent that by educating the world about the reality of undue influence.

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 a misconception about coercion that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 




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!



Seminar for Counselors on Survivors of Undue Influence

Gillie Jenkinson - Advisory Board Member - Counsellor and Psychotherapist - Sheffield, United Kingdom

Our Advisory Board member Gillie Jenkinson, PhD, will be offering a two-day seminar for mental health providers, “Introduction to Counselling Survivors of Coercive and Radical Cultic Groups & Spiritual Abuse”, on Friday, September 28th to Saturday the 29th, at the Existential Academy in London. The two-day course will focus on understanding cults, how they exist, and their impact on an individual on a deeper level, moving on to understanding the recovery options available for survivors.

Participants will discuss a wide range of topics, including:

  • What is a cult and why do definitions matter?
  • Differences between First Generation Adults (joined) and Second & Multi-Generation Adults (born and/or raised)
  • The cult mind-set from Gestalt Psychotherapy theory perspective
  • What is thought-reform (brainwashing) – brief introduction
  • What is the harm caused?
  • The rationale for working with cult pseudo-personality
  • Understanding cult related introjects
  • What does recovery look like?
  • The therapeutic relationship when working with former members and mistakes counsellors can make
  • Consultancy on specific cases

For more information, consult the Existential Academy, or Gillie at Hope Valley Counseling.


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! 


Ah Po and the Perils of Only One Right Answer

Many years ago, in a tiny farming village in ancient China, there lived a widow and her only child, a son, named Ah Po. Sometimes, Ah Po thought his name was Ai Ya Ah Po, because his mother was always addressing him that way (“Ai ya!” was the local phrase for “Oy Vey!” or “Oh, dear!”). “Ai ya, Ah Po!” she would groan, rolling her eyes. For as much as she loved her son, the poor lad never seemed to be able to do anything right.

It wasn’t that he meant to do wrong, oh no! And it wasn’t that the lad wasn’t clever; he was able to add and subtract sums and he remembered everything he was told. And that was the problem – he remembered everything he was told. Desperately trying to do the right thing, he would remember some piece of advice his mother gave him, and then – well…

The real trouble all started on a hot summer day. After he’d tipped over the very last but one water jug in the house, Ah Po’s mother sent him with two of the least breakable jugs to the river to collect more, suggesting that he could take his time.

By the time he got to the river, Ah Po was drenched in sweat, so he stripped off his clothes and jumped into the chilly water. While he was splashing around cooling himself off, a thief came along and stole the water jugs and his clothes. Before Ah Po could reach the shore, the thief had disappeared.

As Ah Po stood wondering what to do, he heard a dreadful racket coming down the road in the opposite direction: cymbals clanged, and drums boomed over the sound of wails of grief. Then, around the bend came the source of the noise: a funeral procession, with the relatives of the deceased dressed in white, and a white silk cloth draped over the casket upon the shoulders of the pall-bearers. From the finery of the trappings, he could tell that this was the funeral of a very rich man indeed.

Remembering something he had heard his mother say about dressing well to impress people of high status, he tried to cover his nakedness, and, looking around for something suitable, dove forward and grabbed the white silk off the top of the casket, wrapping it around himself before turning to address the funeral party.

He only got as far as “I…” before some of the larger members of the group chased him away with blows and curses.

He arrived at his mother’s doorstep a half hour later, bruised and battered. While she patched him up, he related his tale, and she shook her head sadly. “Ai ya, Ah Po!” she sighed. “Those people would not have cared that you were naked; you should have shown your respect by offering your deepest sympathies to them.”

Ah Po nodded wisely. “I should have offered my sympathies. I’ll be sure to remember,” he groaned, rubbing the lump on his head.

The next week, there was a wedding in the village, and Ah Po stopped on his errands to see the spectacle: the people in all their finery, and the bridal party clad in scarlet and gold. He managed to see the bride and the groom very closely indeed, for the pillar he was leaning against was right at front of the temple. As the bridal couple reached the threshold, they looked straight at him, and Ah Po felt he ought to say something. He remembered his mother’s advice.

He bowed solemnly. “May I offer you both my deepest sympathies,” he intoned.

Half an hour later, he was stumbling back to his mother, who nursed his wounds and clucked her tongue as she heard his tale of woe. “Ai ya, Ah Po!” she cried bitterly. “That was a wedding! They had all their family and friends gathered round – you should have said ‘congratulations’, or even ‘good luck!’ Ah, well, my son. Go to bed; tomorrow is another day.”

Tomorrow, indeed, saw a change of fortune in the village: at some point during the nuptial revels, an intoxicated guest had set off a firework that had fallen on dry thatch, and several houses had caught fire. All the friends and family of the new couple were gathered together in the square, organizing a bucket chain to douse the flames. Ah Po, seeing them, remembered what his mother had said.

“Congratulations!” he shouted at them, waving excitedly. He jumped up and down, smiling cheerfully. “The best of luck to you!”

Once the flames were extinguished, several of the wedding guests looked as if they were going to extinguish Ah Po too – he made a run for it, but it was a close call, and he arrived home short of breath and trembling in fear.

“AI YA, Ah Po!” his mother groaned. “What did you expect? They were about to lose their possessions, and someone might have been hurt, or even died! That’s no time to stand back wishing them luck – you should have helped throw water on the fire!”

Ah Po nodded wisely, tucking this latest bit of advice away for later. However, the next day, by the time he had tried this tactic at the baker’s, the rotisserie, and the blacksmith’s shop, he barely escaped with his skin intact.

His mother, hearing of this latest mishap, shook her head. “Those fires were under control and part of those peoples’ work!” she told him sternly. “Instead of just diving in, stop and watch – see what the others are doing, and then do as they do.”

“That makes sense,” he mumbled faintly; that blacksmith had been particularly angry, and Ah Po’s poor head was still spinning as he went to bed.

The next morning, he chanced upon a group of younger boys, who were having a brawl, kicking and punching each other. Ah Po watched them, carefully, to see what they were doing…

“Ai ya, Ah Po!” his mother howled, after bailing him out of jail the next morning. “Beating up seven little boys! How could you?!?”

“But they –”

Enough, Ah Po! Could you not see they were hurting each other?”

“Well, yes, but you said –”

“NO, Ah Po! You should have gotten in between them, stopped them from their – oh, it doesn’t matter! I think you should stay away from the village. Just don’t go near any people, and maybe, just maybe, we can keep you out of trouble.”

So, the next day, Ah Po walked far away from the village, out to the meadow where the farmers kept their young bulls. Two of the larger ones were fighting: lowering their heads, they stampeded towards each other, banging their skulls together with a sickening THUD, then, stumbling, retreating, and repeating the whole thing again. And again.

Ah Po watched. They were clearly hurting each other…. Coming to a decision, he approached the center of the field, directly between the contenders. The next time they prepared for a stampede, he stood right in their path, his arms outstretched, prepared to prevent them from colliding.

“STOP!!!!” he shouted. And then they slammed into him.

Ah Po’s spirit flew out of his body, and flitted away upon the wind. To this day he blows around the world, mussing peoples’ hair, tipping peoples’ hats off their heads, and tearing important pieces of paper away from the people they are important to. Even as a ghost, Ah Po could never do the right thing at the right time.


This Chinese folktale, usually retold for its humorous notes, also holds a deeply meaningful message: we can absorb as much wisdom as we like, but unless we are able to think for ourselves and understand not only what to do, but why we do it, then we are helpless when circumstances shift and the very action that would have saved us yesterday would only destroy us today. Many dangerous, high-control groups have a “cookie-cutter” approach to the problems of life – do these courses, follow this scripture, or recite this chant, and everything will be better. No matter what happens, all you have to do is follow the instructions.

The bottom line is that the panacea – the cure-all – is a myth. It is only when our minds are open to all possibilities – that we can assess a situation and find the best course of action for that circumstance – or, at least, the course of action that won’t result in the rest of your village getting angry at you. Autonomy means being able to understand a situation and make your own decision.

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 fable? Do you agree? Have you read Spike’s dystopian novel? Do you have a story about only one “right answer” 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! 

The Mare and the Stable-Boy: the Deceptive Appearances of Undue Influence

A stable-boy, knowing that the master of the house liked everything to look clean and orderly, made sure that the carriage-horse, a beautiful dappled mare, always looked her best. He brushed her coat until it gleamed, combed and braided her mane and tail with colorful ribbons, and even oiled her hooves until they shone.

However, when it came to her diet and bedding, he fed her mostly on old hay, with only a smattering of oats, and would not clean out her stall properly, but piled fresh straw on top of the soiled, so that she would often have to stand in her own refuse. Similarly, although he polished the silver fittings of her carriage-harness until they gleamed in the sunlight, he ignored the parts he knew would not be seen, so a rusty buckle scraped her belly and brittle, stiff leather chafed her inner legs. When the master was around, the stable-boy became a flurry of activity, bustling from task to task, and paying the mare much attention, patting her nose and feeding her sugar, but when they were left alone, the boy loafed and napped, ignoring her completely.

Inevitably, the poor beast fell ill, and the veterinarian, seeing the true condition of the mare right away, told the master of the house just how matters stood, and why. The lad was summarily dismissed; passing through the stable door for the last time, he cursed his bad fortune for losing his place.

The mare admonished him: “It was not your bad fortune, but your own bad actions, that are responsible for your departure. For surely, had you cared for me properly, rather than just being seen to be caring for me, you would still have your place – and I would still have my health.”

One of the hallmarks of an abusive relationship or group is the “double life” led while in the grip of undue influence. From a battered spouse fabricating a story to explain the bruises, to a high-pressure organization covering up the sexual abuse of children (and doing nothing to change the policies that ensure continued, unchecked, abuse) – the picture presented to the outside world must be rosy. Predators are skilled at putting forward a charming veneer and will gaslight their victims into following suit. Appearances are everything: the neighbors mustn’t suspect that there has been an argument, and reporting abuse to the proper authorities becomes an act of betrayal to the group – and by extension, all the group stands for.

When groups or individuals spend more time and energy maintaining their good reputations than they do working to deserve a good reputation, then they have crossed over the line into dishonesty and manipulation. It is important for those practicing healthy skepticism to look beneath the “window dressing” of any situation – and critically assess the actual, rather than the promised, results.

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 Spike’s dystopian novel? Do you have a story about deceptive appearances that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 



Hercules and the Monster

Hercules, travelling along in between his famous trials, came across a foul-looking creature the size of a small rat, blocking his path, snapping and spitting at all who passed by. The demigod raised his club and gave the creature a sharp crack upon its ugly, shriveled head. Instead of falling injured, the creature spat flame, shaking with rage and swelling up to the size of a large dog.

Undaunted, the famous hero swung his club again, only to find himself facing a monster twice his size, a giant hulk of twisted flesh and bone, spitting bile and making the surrounding countryside tremble with its deafening roars.

He raised his club again, preparing for an epic battle, when his sister Athena appeared at his side. “Lower your club, brother,” she told him gently.

Hercules lowered his weapon, watching in amazement as the creature grew smaller again.

“What is it?” he asked, his brow wrinkling.

The Goddess of Wisdom smiled gently. “It is Spite; the more you battle with it, the larger and stronger it grows. If we leave it behind, it will no longer trouble us.”

Spite is often used in abusive groups and relationships – and can even become their identifying feature. Inciting rage by provoking indignation at some perceived wrong can countermand all our critical thinking, leading us to act without engaging our intelligence.

Rage, however, is not limited to predatory people and groups: those of us who work to expose and end the systematic human rights violations caused by undue influence are often indignant – and rightly so – at the abuses we see around us. Too often, what we see is maddening, the stories we hear terrifying. Our indignation can even become a defining point when we ask ourselves why we have chosen this path.

Historically, righteous indignation has provided valuable fire to act against such injustices as slavery, intolerance, poverty, sexism and war. However, we must remember, while we are travelling along upon our Herculean task, not to allow our indignation to become poisoned by Spite, and let our anger turn us against each other, or, worse, those who need our help the most, the people still caught in the grasp of a high-control group or relationship.

While it is important to stand against predation and undue influence wherever we find it, we must not descend into attacking people, instead of opposing abuse. It is not only possible, but necessary, to expose and work to end injustice, without giving in to Spite, as those who invoke it or act on it rarely have anyone’s best interests in mind. If we fight just to fight, then no one can ever truly win.

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 Spike’s dystopian novel?Do you have a story about Spite that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!


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