Ex-Scientologists File Lawsuit Over Forced Child Labor, Trafficking, Usual Scientology Things
This weekend, The New Yorker ran a profile on actor and Scientologist Elisabeth Moss, in which she called the church "misunderstood" and responded to questions about former members' accusations of abuse in the church with a breezy “I would just encourage people to find out for themselves,” adding, “I’ve certainly been guilty of reading an article or watching something and taking that as gospel.”
Let's hope that no one actually takes her advice. In a world that frequently beggars belief, one of the more astounding things is that anyone would still sign up to be a Scientologist, not just based on what we know about it from those who have left the church, but by the way the church responds to critics and the way it behaves, in public, in full view of everyone. Even if all of those critics are collectively lying, it's still a verifiable fact that no one has seen Shelly Miscavige, the wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige, since 2007, that there is footage of Scientology people stalking their critics, and that the religion creates bizarre websites disparaging those who have left and now criticize the church.
They made one of those websites for Paris Valeska, an outspoken critic of the religion who is one of three former members currently suing Scientology for having trafficked them as children by forcing them to do hard labor, often aboard the Freewinds, the Scientology ship famous for "overboarding," a practice in which members who fail in some way are (allegedly) thrown overboard into the sea. She joins Gawain Baxter and his wife, Laura Baxter, in alleging six counts of forced labor and peonage in violation of Australia's Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
According to the lawsuit, Valeska was forced to sign a billion year Sea Org contract at the age of six. After her parents, both Scientologists, divorced, her mother was hauled off by two Sea Org members and Valeska was not told when she would see her again. Her father got sole custody, but she was only permitted to see him about an hour a day. That changed when she turned 10 and was barely able to see him at all.
Valeska was distraught at being separated from her mother, but adult Sea Org members responsible for Cadet Org reprimanded her for being “dramatic” and punished her by forcibly dragging her to the galley and making her wash pots and pans.
She was also not given any education, making it all the more likely that she would not be able to survive on her own without Scientology.
As a member of Cadet Org in England, Valeska had minimal schooling; she attended Greenfields, a Scientology run school where the only curriculum is a Scientology check sheet used to apply Scientology indoctrination techniques such as “word clearing.” Valeska was also regularly disciplined using Scientology punishments including writing up all of the alleged wrongs and crimes she had been led to believe she committed. Following school, Valeska was required to devote two hours a day to the study of Scientology. The cost of each course was recorded as a debt that she was told she would owe if she ever defected from Sea Org. As she grew up, and throughout her life in Scientology, she was regularly reminded that she would be responsible for paying this mounting debt should she ever leave.
As if all of that was not horrifying enough, when Valeska was older and forced to join the Sea Org or become homeless, she was sexually assaulted during her time in the Estates Project Front, a prerequisite to joining the Sea Org. When she reported it to higher-ups, she was blamed and punished.
Even after moving from England to Florida, Valeska was forced to relive her experiences with sexual abuse in an exceptionally humiliating manner. During numerous auditing sessions with an adult male interrogator, Valeska was required to remove her pants and sit with a towel on her lap. Her interrogator then asked Valeska explicit questions about her accounts of sexual abuse that she had described in the reports that she had written about the individuals who sexually assaulted her. In these sessions, Valeska would be required to work out how she had “caused” the abuse and accept responsibility for causing it.
She was then repeatedly sexually assaulted by another senior Sea Org member, while she was still a minor, and subsequently punished for reporting it.
It did not even occur to Valeska to report Webb to the police not only because she did not understand that this was criminal sexual abuse, but also because it was a high crime to report another Sea Org member to law enforcement.
In addition to this — which could certainly be construed as child sex trafficking — Valeska was also required to do hard labor for hours and hours a day for the sum of $50 a week. She continued to be abused and sexually assaulted by multiple Sea Org members during her 11 years on the Freewinds. After repeatedly trying to leave and not being allowed to, she was finally given permission to leave after being subjected to four months of security checks. She was then left in Australia, where she was not a citizen, with no identification and no ability to even open a bank account.
Gawain Baxter was also placed in Cadet Org and required to sign a billion year contract at age six, only permitted to see his parents for an hour a day and then barely seeing them at all from age 10 on.
During this time, he was forced to live with about 100 other "Cadet Org" children in a repurposed Quality Inn run by the Church of Scientology. He and the other kids were barely educated, receiving only about three hours a day of schooling from the wife of the Cadet Org leader.
Beginning when Gawain was ten years old, he was required to spend one to two hours daily in Scientology indoctrination courses as well. The cost of each course was recorded as a debt that Gawain was told he would owe if he ever left Cadet Org or Sea Org. As he grew up, and throughout his life in Scientology, he was regularly reminded that he would be responsible for paying this mounting debt should he ever leave SeaOrg.
Following daily schoolwork and Scientology indoctrination, Gawain was forced to provide five to ten hours a day of unpaid work at FlagBase, including food preparation, trash removal, landscaping, and clerical work. During staff shortages, Gawain was made to work full-time and skip his schoolwork entirely. At age thirteen, Gawain was provided a stipend of eight dollars per week, which was contingent on his completing his training courses and performing his work to the satisfaction of Cadet Coordinator. Gawain used this paltry amount to purchase necessities, including his toiletries and shoes.
So basically what is happening here is that they were conscripting children into labor, brainwashing them, and then telling them that they have to do said labor forever in order to pay for said brainwashing.
Gawain Baxter went on to be transferred to the Sea Org, where he says he was physically and mentally abused and forced to work for more than 18 hours a day, frequently around asbestos. When he was forced to work on the Freewinds, he alleges that the "security confiscated Gawain’s passport, immigration documents, and identification documents to prevent him from escaping and to force him to provide free labor and services."
In Laura Baxter's case, she wasn't pushed to sign her billion year contract until the ripe old age of 16. While completing her time in the Estates Project Force, she was "required to spend eight to ten hours per day performing arduous physical labor, including digging trenches, cleaning toilets and dumpsters, and landscaping under the supervision of the senior officer in charge of EPF" for $25 a week.
Because this "job" required her to move from Germany to the UK, her mom literally signed over parental guardianship of her to some random Scientology guy. In order to officially join the Sea Org, she first had to submit to a series of interrogations where she "was repeatedly asked a series of sexually explicit questions, as well as questions about her affiliations with law enforcement or intelligence agencies, past criminal behavior, and drug use" for up to 12 hours at a time.
Gawain and Laura Baxter were only able to escape the Sea Org after they were married by devising a plan to get pregnant and not have an abortion, as is required for Sea Org members.
This is not the first time Scientology has been accused of human trafficking. They've been sued for it before but have largely gotten out of it because Scientology said that the woman who sued them, Claire Headley, was "a minister serving in a key position in the organization and the First Amendment insulates a religious organization from civil court review of how it treats its ministers." This time, it's people who were children when they were forced to sign their billion year contracts, so there might be a better chance.
That being said, regardless of the outcome, it seems fairly unnecessary that anyone "find out for themselves" about Scientology, unless they are for some reason dying to be on a boat with a bunch of abusive psychopaths who take them from their parents and force them to do hard labor.
Wonkette is independent and fully funded by readers like you. Click below to tip us!
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse