Feb 12, 2017

Senator Nick Xenophon vows to crack down on cult groups that are destroying lives

Psychologist Mary Janetzki
Kay Dibben
The Courier-Mail
February 4, 2017


CULTS face a major crackdown, as four people tell how one small cult split their families and a support group reveals there are hundreds of cult-like groups in Australia.

Senator Nick Xenophon said he would ramp up pressure on cults by early this year moving to introduce a range of amendments to protect victims of groups using psychological coercion.

“Right now in this country there are cults and cult-like organisations that are destroying people’s lives, ripping families apart and ripping off their money,’’ Senator Xenophon said. “Our current laws are too weak to tackle these sinister groups.’’

Psychologist Mary Janetzki and husband Lloyd lost their daughter and son to a small southeast Queensland cult, and were cut off from daughter Renee for years before she died, aged 29, in 2014.

Mrs Janetzki, 59, who now counsels ex-cult members, said anyone can get caught up in a controlling cult group.

Two men who say they were involved in the same cult as the Janetzkis’ children are still recovering from the damaging effects, years after leaving the group.

“He controlled us. Where we lived, whom we married, what car we drove, what type of clothes we wore. He controlled 99 per cent of our lives,” one of the men said of cult leader “Paddy’’.

Ros Hodgkins of Cult Information and Family Support, which represents ex-cult members and families, says there is a huge variety of cult-like groups in Australia.

She said judging from reports to CIFS, cults were increasing in Australia.

“We know of at least 200 cults people have informed us about, but there could be many more,’’ Ms Hodgkins said. “Some are Bible-based movements that have split from a church.

“Many start off as self-help groups. People go in and then find a belief wrapped around that. They can try to control what you eat, the hours of meditation a day, the meetings you have to attend together.’’

Some new-age cults offered healing and there were spiritual-type groups, mixed with eastern religions, cults coming out of Korea and some springing from exercise groups, Ms Hodgkins said.

“A lot of groups have no specific name. They run like a shopfront in the CBD, offering courses in meditation or yoga. Yoga groups can turn into abusive groups,’’ she said.

She said cults used psychological coercion to control members.

“People in these groups are totally unaware, when they go in, that there is an agenda to control and change them,’’ Ms Hodgkins said.

“When people leave sometimes they’ve lost 10 to 15 years, and a lot of money.’’

Ms Hodgkins said the effects of being caught up in a cult could last a lifetime.

“No one understands the terror, the trauma, the emotional upheaval, the wasted years,’’ Ms Hodgkins said.

“You feel like you’ve been assaulted emotionally.”

Senator Xenophon said he would move to legislatively strengthen the powers and resources of the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission to weed out coercive cults.

He wants the Commission to be able to clamp down on the tax-free status of organisations shown to psychologically coerce supporters and donors.

Senator Xenophon also will move to introduce a new criminal penalty and civil remedy for psychological coercion.

“The civil remedy would make it easier for people to sue for unconscionable conduct on the part of a cult, as well as for false and misleading promises the cult makes,’’ he said. “It would be modelled in part on French laws which have a criminal remedy in relation to psychological coercion.’’

The senator also will move specific amendments to Australian Consumer Law to protect victims of cult-like behaviour and promises.

He said this would particularly apply to organisations such as Scientology, which he said “charged a fortune for courses and used coercive tactics to extract money”.

Senator Xenophon also wants laws to establish a tough cult-busting agency, similar to the French government agency Miviludes.

“It’s about time we had the same in Australia,” he said.

http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/senator-nick-xenophon-vows-to-crack-down-on-cult-groups-that-are-destroying-lives/news-story/c9cb3f1abb511b8b71f7196a2e612e81

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