Jan 31, 2020

Hanukkah stabbing suspect searched ‘why did Hitler hate the Jews,’ prosecutors say

Officers escort Grafton Thomas from Ramapo Town Hall to a police vehicle on Sunday. (Julius Constantine Motal/AP)
Shayna Jacobs,
Deanna Paul, Maria Sacchetti and Hannah Knowles
December 31, 2019

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — More than a month before he charged into Hanukkah celebrations with a machete, prosecutors say, Grafton Thomas used his cellphone to search the Internet: “Why did Hitler hate the Jews.”

That query — entered three more times over the following weeks — was just one red flag authorities found when they combed through Thomas’s belongings, officials said. There were more online searches, for temples “near me.” There were journals with the words “Nazi Culture” on the same page as a swastika and a Star of David.

The discoveries detailed by an FBI agent would bring Thomas to court Monday on federal hate-crime charges, a day after he was charged with attempted murder in the stabbing that wounded five people at a rabbi’s home in New York’s Rockland County. The 37-year-old defendant answered routine questions, telling a judge he was “coherent,” before shuffling away slowly, feet shackled, to be held without bail.

Thomas’s family has said the suspect has “no known history of anti-Semitism” and attributed any responsibility in Saturday’s rampage in the New York suburb of Monsey to “profound mental illness.” But the federal criminal complaint points to Thomas’s handwritten journals and online history as evidence that the man sought to target Jews in an assault that quickly renewed fears of rising anti-Semitic violence.

Thomas, a resident of Greenwood Lake, N.Y., did not enter a plea for the latest charges at his court appearance in White Plains, where he faces five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs by attempting to kill with a dangerous weapon and causing injuries. He pleaded not guilty on Sunday to five state counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary.

Even before Monday’s charges brought a potential motive into focus, many officials and community leaders had denounced anti-Semitism and expressed concern about a spate of attacks on Jewish residents. Saturday’s stabbing was the 13th anti-Semitic incident in three weeks in New York state, the governor said, calling the Monsey stabbing “domestic terrorism.” Earlier this month, four people were fatally shot in what officials called a targeted attack on a Jersey City kosher grocery store.

The hate-crime charges were a welcome sign of accountability to Yossi Gestetner, who lives near the rabbi’s house and headed over the night of the stabbing. He doesn’t think the anti-Semitism described in the complaint has heightened his community’s fears, though, because “the concern that hate exists was already out there.”

“People in the Orthodox Jewish community have been expressing concern for a very long time that there is a strain of hatred targeted toward them,” said the co-founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council. He said of Thomas: “We saw today … he chose Orthodox Jews.”

Authorities found Thomas within hours of the attack, with blood on his clothes in a car that smelled of bleach.

The suspect’s browser history showed queries related to Nazis, Jews and synagogues dating to at least Nov. 9, according to the complaint filed by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York. A day before the stabbing, the complaint says, Thomas accessed an article on New York’s decision to increase police presence in multiple Jewish neighborhoods amid fears of anti-Semitic violence.

Journals discovered in Thomas’s home also include anti-Semitic statements, an FBI officer wrote in the federal complaint. One page questions “why [people] mourned for anti-Semitism when there is Semitic genocide.”

Another says that “Hebrew Israelites” have taken from “ebinoid Israelites,” an apparent reference to the Black Hebrew Israelites, a movement that officials said the suspects in the Jersey City shooting expressed interest in. Organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have pointed to members’ anti-Semitic beliefs, prosecutors note.

Thomas’s family sought to dispel accusations of anti-Semitism in a statement released Sunday through a lawyer, saying he was not a member of any hate groups and “was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races.” Speaking to reporters Monday alongside Thomas’s mother and the family’s pastor, attorney Michael Sussman said his client’s behavior on Saturday stemmed from hallucinations — “one might say demons” — and he emphasized Thomas’s history of hospitalization and medication for mental illness.

Thomas described hearing a voice or voices that instructed him to go to the place of the attack, Sussman said.

“My impression is that the situation he found where he went in was not the situation he expected to find, and that may have been a trigger for him,” he said.

Noncompliance with his medications could have played a role, Sussman added, saying Thomas has psychosis and “severe depression.” He is seeking an in-hospital evaluation of the defendant.

The lawyer rejected descriptions of his client as a “domestic terrorist” who carried out a targeted attack. He said his review of papers from Thomas’s home revealed not anti-Semitism but the “ramblings of a disturbed individual."

In federal court Monday, defense attorney Susanne Brody asked that Thomas receive medical attention in jail, saying that she understands “there are issues with bipolar and schizophrenia.”

Little more about the defendant’s mental health was discussed as the defendant said he understood the proceedings and declared himself indigent and eligible for free counsel.

Brody said it’s not clear whether the state’s case against Thomas will proceed, and the Rockland County district attorney did not immediately clarify Monday.

Federal prosecutors said the hate-crime charges should send a “crystal-clear” message, as the filing drew approval from groups that had called for concrete steps to address anti-Jewish attacks.

“As alleged, Grafton Thomas targeted his victims in the midst of a religious ceremony, transforming a joyous Hanukkah celebration into a scene of carnage and pain,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement, calling the eighth day of Hanukkah and the new year moments “for renewed hope and resolve: To combat bigotry in all its forms — and to bring to justice the perpetrators of hate-fueled attacks.”

Other officials have vowed action to prevent more violence.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), who directed the state’s Hate Crimes Task Force to investigate, is calling for harsher punishments for mass attacks motivated by hatred of an identity group. Officials in Rockland County said police would partner with private security to give area synagogues armed guards — a measure that community members say some congregations have already taken in recent months amid concerns about attacks across the country.

Cuomo calls stabbing at Hanukkah celebration 'act of domestic terrorism'

As most leaders focus on anti-Semitism, one federal official on Monday attempted to link the attack to unauthorized immigration.

“The attacker is the U.S. Citizen son of an illegal alien who got amnesty under the 1986 amnesty law for illegal immigrants. Apparently, American values did not take hold among this entire family, at least this one violent, and apparently bigoted, son,” Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security and a longtime immigration hawk, said in a now-deleted tweet. Signed by President Ronald Reagan and passed with bipartisan support in Congress, the landmark 1986 law granted legal status to 2.7 million undocumented immigrants who entered the country before 1982.

Thomas’s mother, Kim Thomas, is a “law-abiding” nurse and longtime resident of New York City who gained citizenship in 1986, said Sussman, the family’s attorney.

DHS, the domestic anti-terrorism agency where Cuccinelli is second-in-command, did not immediately respond to requests for information about his allegations. Hours later, Cuccinelli’s tweet was deleted.

Saturday’s stabbing shook a county where a third of the population is Jewish and where officials said anti-Semitism has risen in recent years as increasing numbers of Orthodox Jews have made homes there.

Concerns in the Orthodox community flared last month after a 30-year-old rabbi said two people approached him from behind on a secluded street in Monsey and beat him for several minutes — though Police Chief Brad Weidel has said there is no evidence that the man was targeted for his religion.

Acts of anti-Semitism are on the rise in New York and elsewhere, leaving Jewish community rattled

Then came Saturday’s attack as dozens celebrated the seventh night of Hanukkah inside the home of Hasidic Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg. Face covered with a scarf, the assailant told those gathered, “No one is leaving,” according to Monday’s federal complaint.

Witnesses say he unsheathed a machete, described by one person as a sword nearly the size of a broomstick, and started slashing at random, moving through the entryway, then into the dining room and eventually toward the kitchen, where people fled through a back door.

Attendee Joseph Gluck said he eventually hit the attacker in the head with a small coffee table from the entryway. Both men moved outside, and Gluck realized that the man was headed toward the synagogue, where congregants locked the doors after hearing the commotion at the rabbi’s house. Gluck screamed warnings, then watched as the man tried a second door.

The attacker fled to a car and sped away, officials say, but Gluck was able to write down the license plate number. Authorities arrested the suspect in Harlem about midnight.

Authorities found Thomas with a machete and a knife, both showing what seemed to be traces of dried blood, Monday’s federal complaint says.

Yisroel Kraus, a 26-year-old teacher who was celebrating Hanukkah at the rabbi’s home with his family, said it was lucky that people had already started to filter out for the night when the attacker starting swinging at “everyone he could.”

“If he had come 10 minutes earlier, the place would have been packed,” Kraus said. “No way to move. No way to run. It was a miracle. It was a Hanukkah miracle.”

Katie Mettler, Marisa Iati and Kevin Armstrong contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the hate-crime charges were filed in Manhattan. They were filed in White Plains. The article also described Thomas as 38 years old based on his statement in court; his lawyer said he is 37.


Jan 29, 2020

Surviving and Moving On After a High-Demand Group Experience: A Workshop for Those Born or Raised in Cultic Groups or Relationships

Facilitators of 2019 CT Workshop:  (left to right) Lorna Goldberg, Nitai Joseph, Ann Stamler, Bill Goldberg, Patrick "Ck" Rardin, Elizabeth Blackwell, Leona Furnari, Rosanne Henry, Eva Mackey
When: Friday 4:00 pm April 24, 2020 to Sunday 2:00 pm April 26, 2020 (Check-in time is 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm.)
Where: Guest House Retreat & Conference Center, 318 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412 (860–322–5770).

As increasing numbers of people born or raised in cultic groups or relationships have reached adulthood, the International Cultic Studies Association has developed a program that addresses their special needs.

People born or raised in cultic environments cannot look back to a “pre-cult” identity. Raised in fringe subcultures, they often have educational and other skill deficits that interfere with adjustment to mainstream culture. Having grown up under the influence of irrational belief systems, they struggle with issues of dependency, self-esteem, and social conflict, and often have to deal with the trauma of physical and/or sexual abuse. They have difficulty getting help because they tend to lack finances and be wary of other people, including helpers.

Meeting annually since 2006, this workshop addresses the needs of people born or raised in cultic environments through presentations by specialists and former members, including discussions in which attendees may participate according to their comfort levels. Special attention is paid to attendees’ needs for privacy, reflection, and working at their own pace.

Workshop subjects include:

  • Critical Thinking: What Is It and Why Does It Matter? 
  • Is There Such a Thing As a Healthy Family? 
  • Stages of Development: What Did We Miss and How Can We Catch Up? 
  • Now We Are Parents: What Have We Learned? 
  • You Mean I Have a Right to Boundaries? 
  • What Are Our Strengths and Challenges Building a New Life? 
  • Perfectionism, or The Inner Critic: Can We Accept Success? 
  • Moving On: What Does It Mean and Is It Possible? 
  • Postcult, How Should We Feel Toward People Who Harmed Us? 
  • Relationships: Why Are They So Difficult? 

Details including information about financial aid and an application are available at icsahome.com/events/workshopsgas

'It's a Pandora's box that we opened': Fort Collins police on human trafficking

January is Human Trafficking Awareness month
January is Human Trafficking Awareness month

Russell Haythorn
Denver 7
January 28, 2020

Report: ‘Significant' increase in human trafficking cases in 2016

EATON, Colo. -- She was held captive for five years, not by force, but by mental manipulation.

"I was trafficked from the age of 23-28 as a single mom," said Megan Lundstrom.

Exploited for sex while her children were asleep in another room.

“I perceived there to be no other option,” Lundstrom said. “It’s the most common form of domestic human trafficking. It’s either a family member or an intimate partner.”

In Lundstrom’s case, it was a man who said he loved her.

“It’s called grooming and over the course of that grooming process, vulnerabilities are either identified or created by the trafficker and then they’re exploited," she explained.

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness month, and while Hollywood often projects images of kidnappings and victims being tied up, the truth is surprising and eye-opening.

“Sex trafficking, especially in Colorado, is not something that people understand," said Colette MacFarland, co-founder of Coffeehouse Ten24 in Eaton, a nonprofit that donates all proceeds to local, regional and international sex-trafficking organizations.

Doris Meeker is the cook and baker who first had a vision for the coffee shop.

"We just wanted a place where people could gather," said Meeker. "We also needed a mission. What can we do to make the world a better place?"

Eighteen miles west of Eaton is the City of Fort Collins, where police say sex trafficking is prevalent.

"Fort Collins is the number one city in Colorado for the demand for commercial sex trafficking, which floors me,” said Fort Collins Police officer Rob Knab.

Knab said domestic human trafficking looks much different than the movies.

“I think a lot of people look at the movie Taken with Liam Neeson and see a girl chained to a bed with a line of guys lined up outside a curtain and the girl’s doped up on heroin,” Knab said. “The vast majority of these cases aren’t like that.”

Lundstrom said it’s usually a toxic relationship with someone you know.

"A lot of people think this can't happen to a U.S. citizen,” Lundstrom said. “This can't happen to a person living in suburbia. But, if it can happen to me - it is absolutely happening to further marginalized individuals."

Lundstrom’s partner ended up pimping her out in Colorado.

“And then I was sold from him to another pimp in Las Vegas and trafficked out there for another year," she said.

The problem is so pervasive, financial institutions like Western Union are tracking the movement of dirty money, daily.

"It’s a very complex issue. The criminal element is looking to exploit these people, purely for financial gain," said Scott Apodaca, director of Western Union’s financial intelligence unit.

"As the traffickers continue to get more advanced in their techniques to hide the funds and launder money, we are doing the same," Apodaca said.

Police are, too.

Knab recently posed as a young girl online and got hundreds of text messages.

"It was like - beep, beep, beep, beep," Knab said. “In 24 hours, we had 258 different people contact that ad."

Fort Collins police stumbled upon the trafficking issue just four years ago.

“We started investigating unusual hotel crimes back in 2015,” Knab said. “Fights, robberies, stabbings, drug calls.”

Knab said they quickly figured out that trafficking was at the core of all those calls.

“It’s literally a Pandora's box that we opened,” he said. “The majority of the time it does start as an intimate partner and we call those 'boyfriend pimps,'” Knab said.

Why Fort Collins is such a hub for the criminal activity is still somewhat of a mystery.

“I think it’s a number of things,” Knab said. “It’s our proximity to major highways, the fact that we do have a lot of wealth in parts of our community, we’re also close to oil fields in Weld County which attract that kind of activity. And now, we have this reputation among the ‘Johns’ that this is the place to come.”

Knab has now made trafficking one of his signature issues.

“My goal is to reverse that completely,” Knab said. “This is my home. I want to make Fort Collins the most hostile community in Colorado for this to occur.”

In the past few months, Fort Collins has conducted 10 stings and charged 127 men for crimes related to trafficking.

"What does it look like when it's down the street?” MacFarland asked. “What does it look like when it's my teenager who somebody is targeting online?"

MacFarland said awareness is the key to stopping it.

“Our kids are on Tick-Tock, they’re on Facebook, Snapchat,” she said. “These predators are really intelligent. They know where to go. So, we are bringing awareness and showing people what it looks like when it does happen.”

Lundstrom has now started her own nonprofit called Free Our Girls, a network of exploited women and men and their journey to freedom from exploitation and trafficking.

“It’s about creating a platform that’s empowering for survivors,” Lundstrom said. “You’re told by everybody – your abuser, society – that you’re choosing these things. I’m here to tell you that’s not true.”


Jan 28, 2020

Cult Leader Aharon Ramati's Arrest Extended For 2 Days,103 Testimonies Collected Against Him

 Aharon Ramati, suspected of running a cult,
Yeshiva World News
January 27, 2020

Two weeks after the arrest of Aharon Ramati, suspected of running a cult, the police investigation is not yet completed and the prosecution is requesting to carry out further investigations, B’Chadrei Chareidim reported. The court acceded to the request and extended his arrest by two days.

“The defendant has already proven that if he is released he will obstruct [legal proceedings],” the police representative said at the hearing. The police suspect that Ramati received information on his impending arrest two weeks ago and hid some of the minors that were at the “seminary” complex.

Since the investigation began, 103 testimonies have been recorded against Ramati.

Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Elazer Bialin stated: [Ramati’s] crimes are supported by wiretapping carried out by the police. At this stage, much of the investigation is vulnerable to obstruction [of legal proceedings] and therefore his detainment is extended to January 29.”

As YWN previously reported, the case began with reports to the Jerusalem District’s Fraud & Economic Crime Unit about the existence of a closed community operating as a “girls’ school,” at which women live together with their children in cramped and squalid living conditions in a housing complex under the control of a man suspected of abusing the women and children physically, financially and emotionally.

Over the past two months, police investigators, together with the State Prosecutor’s Office, conducted an undercover investigation and gathered evidence against Ramati of maintaining absolute control over about 50 women, coercing them to cut off contact with friends and family and isolating them in the complex. It was also found that Ramati maintained control over the women through various “punishments” and exploited them financially, with women working in various jobs approved by Ramati and then handing over their wages to Ramati.

Aharon Ramati, a name infamous in Jerusalem’s Chareidi circles, has been arrested at least once before under similar allegations when running the Be’er Miriam “seminary” in Sanhedria and other locations. There have been allegations against him for at least a decade for housing teenaged girls in squalid living conditions and maintaining cult-like control over them. There was even a protest against him by Chareidi residents of Sandhedria and nearby neighborhoods about five years ago. Prior police investigations led to Ramati’s arrest and the seminary being closed down in 2013 and 2015.

Unfortunately, Ramati was let out of the jail each time and the police investigations were closed for lack of evidence and Ramati would just open another “seminary” in another location.

Many many years ago, both Hagaon Harav Elyashiv z’tl and Hagaon Harav Ovadia Yosef,z’tl signed statements condemning Ramati as dangerous and forbidding girls from studying under him.

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)


Building Bridges; Leaving and Recovering From Cultic Groups and Relationships

Joseph Kelly and Patrick Ryan
International Cultic Studies Association
October 10, 2019

Topics discussed include:

Assessing a family’s unique situation; understanding why people join and leave groups; considering the nature of psychological manipulation and abuse; being accurate, objective, and up-to-date; looking at ethical issues; learning how to assess you situation; formulating a helping strategy; learning how to communicate more efficiently with your loved one; learning new ways of coping.

Jan 23, 2020

Pema Chödrön calls out Shambhala leader over sex abuse

Pema Chödrön calls out Shambhala
Stephanie Domet
January 23, 2020
The Coast Halifax

Pema Chödrön calls out Shambhala leader over sex abuse

Famed Buddhist nun resigns to protest the return of disgraced Osel Mukpo.

One of Shambhala Buddhism's most prominent figures announced she's stepping down as a senior teacher. Pema Chödrön, best-selling author and Buddhist nun, has had a decades-long association with Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton. She sent a letter to the Shambhala board announcing her resignation from her position as an acharya, then shared it more broadly through the Shambhala Times, the Halifax-headquartered Shambhala community's global news site.

"When I read the recent letter from the Sakyong saying that he wished to start teaching again and would do so for all who requested, I was disheartened. I experienced this news as such a disconnect from all that's occurred in the last year and half," Chödrön writes. "It feels unkind, unskillful and unwise for the Sakyong to just go forward as if nothing had happened without relating compassionately to all of those who have been hurt and without doing some deep inner work on himself."

Osel Mukpo, known in Shambhala as Sakyong Mipham, "stepped away" from teaching and administrative duties at Shambhala in February 2019, after some of the allegations of sexual assault and clergy sexual misconduct that were documented in reports from Buddhist Project Sunshine were confirmed by an independent investigation by Halifax law firm Wickwire Holm. Mukpo's return to teaching comes at the request of a small group of students in Europe, and is sanctioned by the Shambhala board.

Chödrön was called out in one Buddhist Project Sunshine report for telling a woman who says she was sexually assaulted that her assault didn't happen and, if it did, "you probably liked it." Chödrön subsequently apologized to the woman.

In her letter, Chödrön urges the board to consult broadly across the Shambhala community for ways to move forward with full accountability for the allegations that Mukpo and other teachers abused students—and that the board knew and did nothing. In response the board issued a statement of its own, noting it intends to meet with her to discuss her ideas. The statement includes this further note from Chödrön:

"I have no intention of leaving the Shambhala community and would always do my best to be there for anyone who might need it. However, if no path forward can be found, that would break my heart, and I'm not sure what I would do."


Watch unearthed footage of George Harrison performing ‘Something’ at his last ever concert

Far Out Magazine
January 22, 2020

In the early nineties, there was one former member of The Beatles that was breaking out from the shadow of one of the most famous bands the world has ever seen. For a time, George Harrison was a bonafide pop star.

Following 1987s commercial and critical success Cloud Nine, mostly buoyed by his mega-watt pop hit ‘I’ve Got My Mind Set On You’, George Harrison was a household name again for the first time since the 1970s All Things Must Pass.

His first record had ascertained Harrison his legendary status on his solo work alone but, despite all his experience, Harrison was never a big fan of touring after his 1974 tour. The pain of that tour with Ravi Shankar had clearly landed quite heavily on Harrison and for many years, despite commercial success, the Quiet Beatle was, for the main part, remaining quiet.

After sharing the stage in Los Angeles in 1990, Harrison was seemingly dipping his toe into the touring water when he joined the legendary Eric Clapton for a joint tour of Japan, the next year. It seemed as though the Beatle was gearing up for a tour. Yet after Harrison and Clapton performed at 12 shows across the land of the rising sun the guitarist would again retreat to his life off the road.

On only two occasions would the ‘My Sweet Lord’ singer be lured out of hiding and on to the stage. While one, technically his last on stage, was a short performance as part of the Bob Dylan tribute show in October 1992, the last full performance from Harrison came a few months before.

Taking place at the Royal Albert Hall just a few days before the British General Election with the evening acting as a benefit concert for the National Law Party. A party founded in 1992 on “the principles of Transcendental Meditation”, the laws of nature, and their application to all levels of government, seemed the perfect fit for George Harrison at the time.

As such, Harrison banned all commercial filming of the performance but luckily the touching performance of his 1971 tune ‘Something’ has surfaced online. It’s a beautiful moment in the evening and represents one of the final times Harrison would ever perform ‘Something’.

Jan 21, 2020

Cult leader and members indicted for murder, abuse of followers

Taipei, Jan. 21 (CNA) Ten executive members of a Taiwan-based religious cult, called "Zhonghua Ri Xing Yi Shan (中華日行一善學會)," were indicted Tuesday for involvement in "organized crimes" and the use of physical violence against several members resulting in the death of one in China and the blinding of another in Taiwan.

Based on evidence collected by police during a raid of the cult's premises in central Taiwan, 61-year-old Lin Hsin-yue (林欣月), head of the cult, and nine members of her staff were charged with breaching the Organized Crime Prevention Act, as well as causing bodily harm and bodily injury leading to death, according to the indictment released by the Taichung District Prosecutors Office.

The case stems from March last year, when a Taiwanese woman surnamed Fang (方) was allegedly beaten to death by a cult member at the cult's place of practice in China's Guangxi Province in a form of "exorcism," when she accompanied the cult leader on a visit there, the office said.

In an attempt to evade an investigation by Chinese public security authorities, Lin fled to Taiwan and hid in a mountainous area of Nantou County in central Taiwan, it said.

After learning of the group's possible involvement in Fang's death, Taiwanese investigators raided their headquarters in Nantou County and Lin's home in Taichung on Aug. 21, where they found several cult members were kneeling outside the office after being beaten and seized evidence of the assault.

During the raid the investigators confiscated several items, including doctrine teaching materials, cash, uniforms and steel rods that were allegedly used to beat members.

A follower gets kicked in the chest by another member of the religious cult in this undated photo (Photo courtesy of Taichung prosecutors)
Lin, whom her followers address as "Holy Mother," and over a dozen staff were detained for questioning.

Meanwhile, with assistance from Fang's family members, prosecutors obtained a report detailing the cause of Fang's death from the Chinese hospital where she was treated. They also have testimony from Fang's family who visited China to deal with the aftermath the death, the office said.

The cult was established in 2008 by Lin, purportedly to inspire good virtue and promote physical and spiritual health.

Headquartered in Nantou County, it has two branch offices in China, as well as one in Taichung, and about 100 followers, according to the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB).

According to the bureau, at least 15 followers have been subjected to physical abuse.

Meanwhile, the cult had also allegedly been persuading minors to run away from home and beating up members who want to leave, the bureau said.

(By Su Mu-chun and Ko Lin)

Surviving Straight Inc.

Surviving Straight Inc.

"Straight, Inc. (1976-1993) publicly claimed to rehabilitate teenage drug users by using tough love and Alcoholics Anonymous principles. Straight, Inc. provided NO professional counseling: Straight, Inc.'s "treatment model" relied exclusively on "positive peer pressure" from unprofessional staff (program graduates) and from the teenage clients. Straight, Inc. claimed to have an astronomically high success rate and was supported by both the Reagan and Bush administrations. However, Straight, Inc. did not publicly reveal what many survivors will tell you. The REAL Straight, Inc. was a facility that used coercive thought reform (aka mind control, brainwashing), public humiliation, sleep & food deprivation, extremely harsh confrontational tactics, kidnapping, isolation and emotional, mental, psychological, verbal and physical abuse to forcibly break us down then remold us in the Straight, Inc. image. Straight, Inc. also operated in secrecy, just like a cult (Straight, Inc. has been listed on at least 2 cult expert websites). No outsiders were ever permitted to know what really went on. Straight's rules and our fear of harsh punishment prevented us from talking to outsiders or from reporting abuses.

Trying to survive Straight, Inc. devastated many of us. Some former clients have committed suicide. Others have serious disorders as a result of their time in Straight, Inc. For example, some of us suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, panic disorders and severe depression. In addition, many of us have experienced other long-term detrimental effects such as inability to function normally in relationships, fear of therapists or any form of counseling, severe distrust of people, paranoia, nightmares, etc.  This is certainly not a complete list but does give one an inkling of the serious long-term adverse effects on survivors caused by Straight Inc.

This website has multiple sources of information - survivor stories, newspaper articles covering Straight Inc., documents from The Ronald Reagan and George Bush Presidential Libraries about Straight, documents on investigations and original Straight program documents. There are also videos of news programs such as 20/20 and 60 Minutes that covered Straight. To the right there is a directory for each type of documentation."

Straight Inc. Collection

Troubled Teen Industry Collection


Raniere loses battle to keep NXIVM 'tech'

Keith Raniere
Robert Gavin
Albany Times Union
January 17, 2020

NEW YORK — Keith Raniere just lost in court — again.

The jailed NXIVM leader known as “Vanguard” will be powerless to prevent the federal government from seizing a Delaware company that owned the rights to the ideology of Raniere’s cult-like organization, a judge ruled Friday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

Raniere, who awaits a possible life sentencing on his trial convictions last June on all counts of sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and racketeering, claimed he was the “innocent owner” of a 10 percent stake in the First Principles corporation.

But Senior U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who presided over Raniere’s trial, ruled that Raniere’s petition submitted by Albany defense lawyer Paul DerOhannesian “contains only one allegation that could be construed as attempting to set forth a factual basis for Mr. Raniere' s alleged interest” in the corporation. The judge found the claim bereft of details.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said last fall that First Principles belonged to NXIVM president Nancy Salzman, who pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge before Raniere went to trial in May. The government moved to seize First Principles in July as part of their asset forfeiture effort against Salzman.

Prosecutors said they had a right to seize the corporation because it owned NXIVM's ideology or "tech" that allowed it to isolate NXIVM members, encourage them to take expensive NXIVM courses and make them dependent on the secretive organization. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karin Orenstein previously said the ideology taught philosophies that "there are no ultimate victims; therefore I will not choose to be a victim" and a "precept that women make excuses and claim victimhood to avoid commitments."

It was that tech and philosophy taught in NXIVM and its affiliates that, according to prosecutors, culminated in Raniere's creation of Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS), his secret "master/slave" group in which women were "slaves" ordered to live on 500-calorie-a-day diets, obey all commands from their "masters" and painfully branded with Raniere's initials on their pelvic areas.

DerOhannesian argued that Raniere held more of a stake in the corporation than Salzman, her daughter Lauren Salzman, who later testified for prosecutors, and actress Allison Mack. Lauren Salzman, Mack, Seagrams’ heiress Clare Bronfman and NXIVM bookkeeper all pleaded guilty before the trial as well.

Raniere's sentencing date is on hold as the judge awaits a pre-sentencing investigative report conducted by a federal probation officer. The judge's decision Friday follows an earlier one Tuesday in which Garaufis ruled that individuals who will deliver victim impact statements at Raniere's sentencing can speak under anonymity.

Justine Harris, an attorney for Russell, who has been scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 29, asked the judge Friday to adjourn her client's sentencing until April 21 or later because federal probation officials said they plan to issue Russell's pre-sentencing report at the end of January.

Robert Gavin covers state and federal courts, criminal justice issues and legal affairs for the Times Union. Contact him at (518) 434-2403


Demonstrators to demand Fall River Diocese release names of clergy accused of sexual abuse

The Herald News
January 20, 2020

FALL RIVER -- The leader of a charity that assists victims of sexual abuse and their families is calling for a demonstration Tuesday outside the headquarters of the Diocese of Fall River to demand the bishop release the names of clergymen who have been accused of sexual abuse.

The call comes days after the diocese announced that two retired priests have been suspended from ministry due to separate allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, said to have occurred decades ago.

“It is time for Bishop Edgar da Cunha of the Diocese of Fall River, MA, to release the complete list of clergymen who have been accused of sexually abusing children, teenagers, and vulnerable adults,” Robert M. Hoatson, co-founder and president of New Jersey-based Road to Recovery, said in a press release Monday. “His refusal to release the list re-victimizes innocent victims and does not help children remain safe.”

The demonstration is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 11:30 a.m. outside the headquarters of the Diocese of Fall River, 450 Highland Ave.

According to a diocese press release, the suspended priests are Father James F. Buckley and Father Edward J. Byington. Byington served as an assistant priest at St. George Parish in Westport from 1982 to 1984.

The separate, unrelated claims of abuse were referred to the appropriate law enforcement authorities and remain under investigation by the diocese. Both priests have denied the allegations. The suspension from ministry is required by diocesan policies. The diocese is committed to resolving both cases in a fair and expeditious manner, the press release stated.

Hoatson describes himself as a former priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, and a victim/survivor of clergy sexual abuse.

Naturopath who claimed 'quasi-divine' powers on trial for sex assaults

Nicolas Agapiadis, a naturopath and restauranteur accused of sexually assaulting two women in his Old Montreal office, at Montreal's Palais de Justice Jan. 7, 2020.
The Montreal restaurant owner is accused of assaulting women during treatment sessions and telling them they needed to cooperate if they wanted to heal.

January 18, 2020

Warning: The testimony quoted in this story contains explicit details.

A Montreal naturopath who made claims of having what a judge described as “quasi-divine” powers is on trial for allegedly sexually assaulting two women during treatment sessions.

Nicolas Agapiadis, 56, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of sexual assault. Both assaults are alleged to have taken place in his office above the Old Montreal restaurant he owned.

The complainants in the case were 19 and 31 years old at the time. One was an employee at his restaurant while the other was an acquaintance.

According to evidence presented during his trial, Agapiadis is alleged to have used his position as a naturopath to commit the assaults.

In both instances, the Crown contends he assaulted the women on the massage table during treatment sessions and that when they urged him to stop, he told them they needed to cooperate if they wanted to heal.

Agapiadis’s trial began last month at the Montreal courthouse and will resume in February. He has not yet presented a defence.

After closing its evidence, the Crown applied to have the two cases accepted as “similar fact evidence.” The legal principle allows the similarities between the cases to be considered by the judge and can bolster each complainant’s credibility.

Quebec Court Judge Dennis Galiatsatos granted the application in late December, listing 17 parallels between the two women’s accounts.

Among them were Agapiadis’s claim to be able to “read” people’s energy by observing them and that he told both women their ailments were the result of “bad sperm” while he had “good sperm.”

“It seems highly improbable that these collusion-free allegations against this same accused could be attributed to coincidence,” Galiatsatos wrote in his decision. “The parallels in the accounts of both women are striking.”

Both of the complainants’ names and any details that could identify them are protected by a court-ordered publication ban.

In one case, the 19-year-old complainant met Agapiadis when she was hired at his restaurant in June 2014.

According to a summary of the Crown’s evidence detailed in Galiatsatos’s judgment, Agapiadis told the complainant he was a naturopath after her first shift at the restaurant. He offered his services for free.

She didn’t know what a naturopath was at the time, she told the court.

During her first session, the complainant says, Agapiadis repeatedly told her to relax and she was “doing great” while he did increasingly inappropriate massages on a table.

She said despite her telling him she was uncomfortable on several occasions, the touching escalated to putting his hands under her shirt and inside her bra, telling her he was looking for her “chakras” or energy centres. He also put his hand inside her underwear.

He explained his theory she had received “bad sperm” and women need “good sperm” to obtain good proteins for their brains.

At one point in the session, the decision says, he suddenly jumped on top of the woman.

“Very quickly, he sat on her thighs, pinning down her legs and pulling down her panties,” Galiatsatos writes in his decision. “He warned that he was going to give her treatment and that she had to cooperate in order to get better.”

Agapiadis stopped when his son knocked at the door, the decision says. The complainant felt frozen and unable to move. She called her roommate to tell him “something bad had happened” and left the building in tears.

The other complainant was 31 years old and planning to have a child with her boyfriend when she met Agapiadis in 2015.

She was stressed and worried about her menstrual cycle being irregular. Agapiadis told her he could help.

He told the woman her “magnet was broken” and that she had too much acid build-up before again explaining his “good sperm” theory, the judgment says.

Agapiadis had “read” her boyfriend by looking at him, he told the woman, and could tell her boyfriend would not be able to get her pregnant. If he did, there would be the heightened chances of a miscarriage or sick child.

The Crown contends during one meeting in his office, Agapiadis picked the complainant up and placed her on the massage table before sexually assaulting her.

The woman “anticipated that he would try to penetrate her,” the decision says. “She voiced, ‘don’t do that’. The accused responded by whispering if she wanted to heal, she needed to comply.”

Agapiadis’s lawyer, George Calaritis, refused to comment on this article since the trial is continuing. He would not confirm whether his client intends on presenting a defence.

Galiatsatos notes in his judgment it can be inferred that, based on questions in cross-examination, Agapiadis might argue the 19-year-old woman fabricated the allegations because she was dissatisfied with her work schedule.

The judgment says it appears he will also argue the other complainant forced him to have sex with her to get pregnant.

The trial resumes Feb. 10.



Blumhouse and Epix Will Examine One Town's Satanic Panic With Docuseries "Fall River"

'The Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults' (1994)
John Squires
Bloody Disgusting
January 19, 2020

If you can’t get enough of true crime documentaries, which are all the rage at the moment thanks in large part to Netflix, the network Epix has just announced out of the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour that they’re partnering with Blumhouse Television for the upcoming docu-series “Fall River,” a tale of murder and Satanic Panic.

Here’s the rundown, via Deadline:

“1979 – Fall River, MA – home to the notorious Lizzie Borden, three young women were killed in a series of brutal murders. Police alleged a satanic cult was practicing human sacrifice. The cult leader, a man named Carl Drew, was captured and sent to prison for life without parole. Twenty years after the trial, the lead investigator became so haunted by inconsistencies in the stories that he re-investigated his own case after he retired. Evidence surfaced bringing the entire story into question.”

“This documentary series will tell the shocking true story of a town caught in the grips of the Satanic Panic, with new witnesses and evidence that shed light on murders that were thought to have been solved.”

“Fall River” is produced by Blumhouse Television (The Jinx, No One Saw A Thing, The Loudest Voice) and Pyramid Productions.

The docu-series is directed by James Buddy Day (The Lover’s Lane Murders, Manson: The Women, The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell).


CultNEWS101 Articles: 1/20/2020

Events, LDS, Jehovah's Witnesses, Terrorism, White Supremacy

This event will have three tracks: professional counselors, law enforcement and one for the general public. Cultic Experts, Trauma Counselors, Domestic Terrorist Analysts, the Greeley PD Gang Unit, the Colorado State Patrol - Human Trafficking Division, and a Sex Trafficking Research Expert share their knowledge in working with such populations. A panel of survivors (gang, cult, and sex trafficking) will share their story and answer audience questions.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis is involved with efforts to stem Human Trafficking in our state. Interestingly, Human Trafficking falls under the larger umbrella of cultic leadership and dynamics. The conference is February 8, 2020, in Loveland, Colorado, at The Ranch Events Center Complex First National Bank Exhibition Hall. We are inviting State Representatives, District Attorney Offices, Police Departments, Probation Officers, Pastoral staff, hospital staff, jail employees, counselors, social workers, crime victim's compensation representatives, victim's advocates, community leaders, educators, students and the community-at-large to learn about how manipulation has been utilized to coercively persuade individuals to vulnerably join under their leadership. The cost is $40.00 per person with lunch included if registered in advance.

Please consider covering for this groundbreaking conference to give you further insights and understanding into these exploited populations. A direct link to register is: https://www.FreedomsHopeCounseling.com/events/undue-influence.

"Two dead spouses, two missing children and rumors of a cult.

"Confusion is growing around a series of mysterious deaths and the disappearances of a 7-year-old boy and 17-year-old girl that tie back to a couple who have since vanished themselves.

Joshua "JJ" Vallow and Tylee Ryan haven't been seen since September. Lori Vallow and her husband, Chad Daybell, never reported them missing and disappeared soon after being questioned about the children. What has followed is a twisted tale spanning two states that revealed the deaths of both their previous spouses, the couple's doomsday beliefs and children who slowly slipped away from relatives who are desperate to find them.

"All I want before I go is just to see those children, and especially — and I'm being greedy — especially my boy JJ. My little man," grandfather Larry Woodcock said this week at a press conference in Idaho announcing a $20,000 reward for information leading to the kids.

Wife Kay Woodcock's brother, Charles Vallow, adopted JJ when he was a baby. Charles and his wife, Lori Vallow, also raised Lori's daughter from a previous relationship at their home in suburban Phoenix.

Lori Vallow was a hairdresser, always keeping JJ's hair trimmed and styled, Larry Woodcock said. The Woodcocks, who live in Lake Charles, Louisiana, visited their grandson often and shared frequent phone calls and video chats when they couldn't be there in person.

"I do know that Lori always had the best, the absolute best interest in heart for JJ. She and Charles were the absolute best parents," he said.

But things began to change a few years ago, Kay Woodcock said. Her brother confided that he feared Lori was cheating on him with Chad Daybell, an author of several religious-themed fiction books about prophecies and the end of the world.

Charles Vallow eventually filed divorce documents in an Arizona court last February claiming that Lori believed she was a "translated being" and "a god assigned to carry out the work of the 144,000 at Christ's second coming in July 2020," the Arizona Republic newspaper reported.

He also accused Lori of threatening to kill him if he got in her way, prompting him to seek a protection order."

"Leaving the Jehovah's Witness religion isn't easy. You know that you will lose family and friends immediately after letting everyone know about your decision. This is a hard, often tragic situation.

After being out for a while, you notice that there are plenty of friends and interests that you can finally be involved with. You enjoy your freedom and the fact that you are alive for the first time.

But, amidst these wonderful times, there are dark days. I don't know how to explain these days adequately. There are days when you feel an "otherness" in your life. You realize what an outsider you are. You don't fit into the JW world and you don't quite fit into the regular world around you.

No matter what crowd you are in, you feel painfully alone. As everyone converses glibly about old college days (that you never had), politics (that you don't understand), funny stories about acting crazy as a teen/young adult (which you never did), the adventures of their children (which you didn't have), great movies and concerts (which you weren't allowed to attend), or other subjects that you have never experienced, you feel isolated, even ashamed of your lack of experience. You are an alien everywhere you go. And, it hurts.

I don't know what the answer to this problem is. I don't have any great suggestions for coping with this feeling because I get overwhelmed by it frequently. My current theory is that you have to keep pushing your boundaries and experiencing things so that you can join in everyone else's conversation someday."

"When Dylann Storm Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, he joined the Bible-study class before gunning down nine African-Americans as they prayed.

Roof still communicates with his admirers on the outside. In jail, he began exchanging letters with a man in Arkansas named Billy Roper. A former schoolteacher and the son and grandson of Klansmen, Roper leads the Shield Wall Network, a group of several dozen white nationalists who organize rallies and conferences — often collaborating with neighboring hate groups — with the goal of building a white ethno-state. "I have a lot of empathy for him. I'm 47, and he's young enough to be my son," Roper said of Roof when interviewed recently for this project. "These millennials and now, I guess, Gen-Zers that are coming up, they are not stupid about the demographic trends and what they portend for the future. That angst, that anxiety that plagues them, drives them to do rash things — whether it's that rash or not — I can empathize with." I would humbly suggest we believe that Roper is being sincere, and that he speaks for many.

Roper and Roof are only two of those affiliated with the 148 white-nationalist hate groups in this country. Though it is impossible to calculate their exact membership numbers (as individual groups either conceal or inflate them), their violence is indisputable. White supremacists were responsible for the deaths of at least 39 people in 2018 alone. And the activity has not slowed this year: not in January, as neo-Nazis plastered flyers outside newspaper offices and homes in Washington State and the Carolinas and an army veteran pleaded guilty to killing a black man in New York to "ignite a racial war"; in February, as Vermont synagogues and LGBT centers were vandalized and a self-described white-nationalist Coast Guard lieutenant was arrested for plotting a domestic terror attack; in March, as WELCOME TO GERMANY and GAS THE JEWS were spray-painted outside Oklahoma City Democratic Party and Chickasaw Nation offices and, on the Upper East Side, classmates handed their school's only black ninth-grader a note reading "n—–s don't have rights"; in April, as a shooting at a synagogue left one dead and three injured and FBI Director Christopher Wray called white supremacy a "persistent, pervasive" threat to the country; in May, as swastikas fell from the sky — on flyers dropped by drones outside an Ariana Grande concert — and were scrawled on public spaces in at least three states; in June, as far-right groups rallied in Portland, Oregon, for the first time that summer; in July, as a man promoted a white-power manifesto on Instagram before killing three and wounding 17 others at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California; in August, as another angry young man — this one 1,000 miles away in El Paso, Texas — posted an anti-immigrant manifesto online then committed this year's most deadly mass shooting, killing 22 and injuring 24 at a Walmart; in September, as the Department of Homeland Security added white-supremacist extremism to its list of priority threats, the same month a swastika appeared on its walls; in October, as swastikas also appeared on Cape Cod and invitations to a white-supremacist gathering were mailed to Maine residents; in November, as a white-supremacist group filmed a video outside Mississippi's Emmett Till Memorial; nor this month, as students flashed possible white-power signs at an Army-Navy football game."

News, Education, Intervention, Recovery

Intervention101.com to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement.
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'A long time coming': These Muslims are bringing sex abuse by sheikhs out of the shadows

Aysha Khan
Religion News Service
January 15, 2020

(RNS) — For Sidrah Ahmad-Chan, the moment felt surreal.

Listening to a Muslim psychologist speaking about patterns of abuse while on stage at the American Islamic College on Saturday (Jan. 11), she pulled up Twitter.

“First panel discussion and I am already reeling,” typed Ahmad-Chan, a Toronto-based researcher studying gender-based violence and Islamophobia, who was one of about 100 other attendees at the newly launched Hurma Project’s first conference. Started by prominent Canadian Islamic scholar Ingrid Mattson, the three-day research conference was the first to focus entirely on abuse in Muslim spaces.

“We are actually having conversations on spiritual abuse and sexual abuse in our community,” Ahmad-Chan wrote. “It's actually happening. Been a long time coming.”

Over the past two to three years, scholars and advocates say, North American Muslims have risen up in an unprecedented movement to openly confront sexual and spiritual abuse perpetrated by Muslim religious leaders.

“I’m definitely seeing an increase in people willing to talk about these issues,” said Phoenix-based certified sexual health educator Angelica Lindsey-Ali, who founded the Village Auntie Movement two years ago and has worked with victims of Muslim religious leaders accused of sexual abuse. “The unfortunate part is that it isn’t necessarily by choice. In some cases, I think the recognition of the rampant spiritual abuse in the community has forced them to have to talk about these issues.”

The conference comes in the wake of several explosive scandals impugning well-respected Islamic teachers, including Bayyinah Institute founder and superstar preacher Nouman Ali Khan, who was caught in a sexting scandal and accused of luring women into sexual relationships disguised as secret marriages; Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Swiss Islamic scholar and author who is currently awaiting trial over charges of raping multiple women who accused him at the height of the global #MeToo movement; and Usama Canon, whose organization Ta’leef Collective published a statement saying the founder “deeply betrayed the sanctity of the position of spiritual teacher" through "verbal abuse and abuse of authority," as well as actions of a "more serious nature."

“The rise of these celebrity sheikhs is a fairly recent development, just in the past few years,” said UNC Chapel Hill professor Juliane Hammer, who attended the Hurma Project conference and whose new book examines Muslim activism against domestic violence. “And with that rise comes the possibility of this kind of exposure. Because every person, especially men, in positions of such power is prone to abuse.”

Advocates also attribute the new movement to a number of other developments: the growing sensitivity to women’s leadership and access in Muslim spaces; the explosion of sex abuse scandals and crises in a number of other faith traditions, which showed that Muslims are not unique in struggling to stamp out the problem; increased social and political visibility of Muslims; and the broader #MeToo movement, which empowered survivors to share their stories and offered a roadmap for accountability.

“The #MeToo movement was definitely a catalyst and gave a roadmap and a sense of urgency to people who were sitting on a secret,” Lindsey-Ali said. “But the reality is that now is just the time that Allah is finally bringing to light the fact that there are abusers in the community. Allah is the Reckoner.”

Most new initiatives are approaching the issue of sexual abuse by wrapping it into a broader category of “spiritual abuse,” which encompasses all abuses of religious authority by faith leaders. That includes physical abuse, fraud and embezzlement and initiation of secret, temporary or child marriages and also hints at the damage such abuse can inflict on a victim’s own relationship with their faith.

Zahra Ayubi, a Dartmouth professor researching gender and Islamic ethics, cautioned that use of the phrase “spiritual abuse” as a euphemistic catch-all term may minimize the damage of sexual violence and confuse the vulnerable communities it aims to protect.

Others see it as a critical strategic move.

“Calling it spiritual in order to get people to talk about it can also be a very intentional strategy,” Hammer observed. “If they walk in and say, ‘I want to talk about sexual abuse by religious authority figures,’ people want to shut down the conversation. So advocates are looking at where the community is and what will allow them to talk about it.”

Ten years ago, the Chicago-based non-profit Heart Women and Girls was the only national initiative openly discussing sexual violence in Muslim spaces. Public health advocate Nadiah Mohajir founded the organization 10 years ago to offer sexual and reproductive health programming to local Muslims, making the argument that a lack of sex education enables sexual abuse.

In 2015, Mohajir became a leading voice on effectively dealing with sexual abuse in Muslim communities when a prominent Chicago-area imam, Mohammed Abdullah Saleem, was charged with committing sexual assault and battery against minors at the Islamic school he had founded. Despite vocal backlash against the accusers by the conservative cleric's supporters, Mohajir and other local scholars, lawyers and therapists urged victims to speak up and worked with other local schools to develop stronger policies to protect their students.

Mohajir’s team is no longer alone in its uphill battle.

Two years ago, Facing Abuse in Community Environments (Face) launched and began publishing reports investigating incidents of sexual abuse in U.S. mosques and naming alleged perpetrators. In Shaykh’s Clothing sprung up three years ago to document incidents of spiritual abuse and offer resources addressing the root causes of the problem. Lindsey-Ali’s Village Auntie Movement takes a traditional African approach in teaching Muslim women about their “sacred sexuality” and their rights in the marital bed. Muslim poet-turned-rapper Mona Haydar’s 2017 song “Dog” calls out the “sheikhs in my DM / begging me to shake it on my cam in the PM.”

Two weeks ago in Chicago, at the Muslim American Society and Islamic Circle of North America’s annual conference, Muslim leaders held a panel on “breaking the taboo” of sexual and domestic abuse. Maryland’s Family and Youth Initiative has published a toolkit on spiritual abuse. The Peaceful Families Project will soon host a training session for imams and Muslim chaplains on preventing and responding to domestic violence. And this week in London, the women’s group Hawaa Empowerment will host a discussion on sexual abuse in Muslim communities.

“What’s happening right now is different from before,” Ayubi confirmed. “Prior to this, the main paradigm with regard to sexual abuse, and what people like to call spiritual abuse, was one of silence. That’s going to change with these new initiatives.”

That silence, Ayubi said, was in large part due to Muslims’ unwillingness to unearth the skeletons in their closet while already facing heightened scrutiny and surveillance due to anti-Muslim sentiment. Some Muslim leaders have therefore prioritized ensuring victims’ silence, she argued, whether by guilting them out of speaking out or pursuing legal action, pushing them to handle incidents through informal mechanisms like arbitration, or even requesting male relatives help convince victims to remain quiet and avoid embarrassment for the family.

That fear persists despite data showing that levels of sexual abuse by Muslim leaders are not extraordinary. A survey last year by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that 8% of U.S. Muslims say they personally know someone who has experienced unwanted sexual advances from faith leaders – about the same as the general public and other major faith groups. (Muslims are about as likely as other faith groups to have reported the incident to community leaders, but are the only group more likely to have reported the incident to law enforcement, per polling.)

Now, activists are increasingly “calling out the fallacy in crying Islamophobia,” Ayubi said.

“Stamping out abusers will always help clean up the image of the community,” she noted. “The stereotype that Muslim women are oppressed is already out there. Rejecting the abusers from our communities would actually show that sexual abuse is not tolerated by Muslims and that women are, in fact, heard and valued and have an important leadership role within our communities.”

That’s the model championed by Face, the Texas-based non-profit created by Muslim community organizer Alia Salem to work toward exposure, accountability and consequences for those who abuse their authority.

“Our goal is to be a mechanism to help victims, to be a place where vulnerable people can go in the first place,” Salem told RNS. “Because there are no other mechanisms to interrupt the process of abuse, someone might get fired, but nothing stops them from getting hired at another place.”

Salem was watching the film “Spotlight” when she received a message from a Muslim mother seeking help in dealing with the Texas imam she claimed had groomed her daughter for sex. The imam allegedly requested sexually explicit images from and later had intercourse with the young woman in a motel, all while promising to consider her for marriage.

“I realized there was nobody to help,” Salem said. “There was literally nobody to do anything that would have any long lasting, sustained impact. … I thought, ‘Holy crap, this is happening. And we have to do something about it, because nobody else is going to. We have a moral obligation.’”

Salem’s training in organization development soon kicked in. She launched Face, spent a year thoroughly investigating the imam’s misconduct, then published a bombshell report that documented the results. A judge soon ruled that Imam Zia ul-Haque Sheikh was guilty of sexual exploitation, clergy malpractice and grooming, winning the victim a landmark $2.5 million judgment.

A second 11-month investigation by the group accused Phoenix-based imam Moataz Moftah of sexual battery, child abuse, misappropriation of charitable zakat funds and falsely presenting himself as single in order to pursue female congregants while in fact having two concurrent concealed marriages.

Salem attributes the success of Face's evidence-based methods to the increasingly “robust” willingness of American Muslim leaders and community members to support such work in the past two years, as well as the #MeToo movement and the shock at prominent leaders’ recent falls from grace.

“We've gotten a lot of pushback, that we're exposing the community to more harm, et cetera,” Salem said. “But even if people don't like our methodology, the positives outweigh the negatives because they're like, ‘Well, we don't want something like Face to exist, so let's create something else.’ And that’s what our goal is anyways.”

The Hurma Project is one of the most prominent developments in the movement. Rooted in a distinctly scholarly, religiously based approach, its founder, Ingrid Mattson, is well-known globally as the first woman, first convert and first North-American born president of the Islamic Society of North America.

The project, Mattson explained, “was established to uphold the sacred inviolability of each person who enters Muslim spaces” from abuse or exploitation by anyone holding or invoking religious knowledge or authority. She pointed to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad describing an individual’s physical body, property and honor as having the same hurma, or sacred inviolability, from exploitation, abuse, mutilation and harm, as the holy city of Mecca.

Advocates agree the conference was a crucial step in naming the problem. But many say there is a long way to go. One attendee told RNS that conference moderators failed to include content warnings in its proceedings, even when presenters detailed graphic sexual violence, and instead suggested there was a blanket warning for sensitive content throughout the conference.

“Certain harms wouldn't have happened if it was led by survivors, and if the voices of actual survivors carried more authority in this space,” the attendee, who asked not to be named, said.

Attendees also expressed concerns that both the conference and the movement’s efforts are focused narrowly on protecting a so-called “ideal victim.” A woman who is attacked by her boyfriend, for instance, may not be received warmly by a Muslim shelter, said Hammer. A victim who drinks, uses drugs, does not wear hijab or is LGBTQ may be dismissed when reporting abuse by Muslim leaders, advocates worried.

“Yes, we may be at a watershed moment,” the attendee said. “But it also seems like the only kind of violence that the community is dedicated to stopping is if you're abused when you’re sitting in a Quran class and following all the quote-unquote Islamic rules.”

Still, all the advocates RNS spoke to emphasized, anything is better than nothing.

“Right now there cannot be too many cooks in the kitchen,” Salem said. “We need cooks, period. If we can all take on different pieces of it, then maybe we can finally deal with it.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that scholar Tariq Ramadan has been convicted on multiple charges of rape. In fact, he is currently awaiting trial for those charges. RNS regrets the error.