Warning: This contains content that may be triggering. There is much that I intentionally left out, but what is here is still disturbing. Two of the links also contain difficult content, but they match the experiences that were present in the book I am discussing and that is why I have decided to include them. If you find the content here triggering, please do not read the material shared through the links.
Until This One
I have read a lot of books about a lot of topics, and some I have honestly hated. I love nonfiction, and fiction based on real events, and sometimes the content is not pleasant. Sometimes it’s just heartbreaking to learn what people experience, but I have always found it valuable to do so in order to be compassionate and educated and when possible, helpful. I have loaned books out to friends who returned them and couldn’t continue to read because of the content. Many challenging books I have read as required texts in my own coursework. But I have never thrown a book in the trash over all these years, until this one.
Not a Typical Book Review
I will not share the title or the author, and so I realize that this is not a typical book review. Someone asked me, “Isn’t it good to pass it on so others can learn about it?” Normally I’d say yes, but this book was too much for me and I do not feel comfortable passing it on for anyone else to read. I am still seeing the images in my mind from the book weeks later, and these are images no one should see.
The book caught my eye on a local bookstore shelf, and the story of three sisters drew me in. I knew that it was about a cult, but I had no idea it was a cult that involved widespread child abuse, incest, and pedophilia. It was disgusting, and enraging that many people who did this were never held accountable.
A Cult Centered on Abuse
The “family” would raise the children so biological parents just left their children under the care of strangers. One of the sisters described being sexually abused for the first time at age 6, and immediately walking into a church after to fundraise with the group of abusers. No one in the church they were visiting as “missionaries” suspected a thing. The strange sexual nature of the cult revolved around children and it was described in detail. The cult leaders made bedtime storybooks and coloring books for children that described and illustrated sex between children and adults as a representation of “God’s love.”
When I thought it couldn’t get any more sick, the cult created a new rule. Adult men could only have sex with children under the age of 12 and over the age of 16. This was because young girls were becoming pregnant and the cult didn’t want attention drawn to them if the girl had to be taken to the hospital. There were descriptions of children being abused as babies, and toddlers. The abuse happened to boys and girls, and it was done by men and women.
I cannot recommend the book. Not because I don’t value the personal story and want justice for the trauma these people experienced, but because the graphic content is not something I think anyone needs access to. I have never read more disturbing things in my life. I had a student who escaped from a religious cult and some of what she shared with me was very similar to what was described. Between that personal experience and having children of my own, the book was difficult and I still can’t shake it from my mind.
The Children of God
What I would like to do is to mention the cult because you may have heard of it, but not known what it was actually promoting. The fact that the group still exists is horrifying. It began as “The Children of God.” Now it is known as “The Family International.” At one time, according to the book, there were over 36,000 members. Let that sink in – 36,000. Reports from other sources say 15,000. It began in 1968 in the United States. Evidence was destroyed to protect members. Testimonials given were from new or younger members who had not seen the abuse. The people who spoke out about what they experienced were said to be “influenced by the Devil.” Pedophiles were protected.
The son of the leader of the cult killed himself after killing his mother’s secretary, who had been pictured with him naked in a variety of ways when he was a child. Actual people were shown in the storybooks abusing children and these books were then distributed to all members. The man’s own mother sexually abused him for years. He had been looking for his mother to confront her, but was unable to find her. The cult moved constantly to protect themselves from law enforcement. They used names from the Bible, making it hard to identify them. They required everyone to change their names when they moved to a new location. Many former members of the group committed suicide, some who were abused and some who reported being ordered to abuse children.
A Worldwide Operation
There was big money involved – the cult moved from the U.S to the Philippines, to India and Thailand, to Japan and Europe. If locals or law enforcement suspected anything was amiss, the cult would just move. Of course some locals joined the cult, including government officials, offering more protection to the leaders. The creator of the cult, David Berg, had naked pictures of children all over his room. He required members to videotape children dancing naked for him, some as young as three years old. Berg also abused his own daughter and granddaughters. He would summon whatever children he wanted from the videos, and they would be sent.
The Family International
It’s estimated that the cult has over 1,400 members today. The website says they operate in “nearly 80 countries.” I am referring to it still as a cult. Reading the beliefs on their site is eerie – so many remind me of the practices they had while abusing children. I cannot understand why anyone would continue to be a part of a group with the history it has. Of course, they have never admitted to wide-scale abuse. You may have heard that Joaquin and River Phoenix and Rose McGowan were once in the cult as children. River Phoenix, who died of a drug overdose, reported being raped at age 4 before his family left the cult.
Some Kind of Peace
Reading this book reminded me of the great responsibility we have for our own children’s well being and safety. We also have a responsibility for other children when we see something that just doesn’t seem right. Religion should never be used to manipulate and harm others. It’s difficult to understand how people were so brainwashed they would allow their own children to be abused in this way. One mother who was featured in the book did fight to find her children and gain custody of them, but it took many years and they were suffering abuse the entire time she was without them. I hope that there will someday be justice for all of the members of the cult who did the unthinkable, for decades.
I realize that being able to throw this book in the trash is a way for me to try to get rid of it, to stop thinking about it. The children who suffered will never be able to just “throw away” those memories. I hope that they will be able to find some kind of peace.
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