My mission is to tell the world that every single experience of people who were in any cult, high-control group be it NXIVM, or the Children of God matters, whatever form it takes. Most people in cults are either sexually abused, financially enslaved, or emotionally coerced. Whatever our experience was, it takes years to deprogram and unlearn, even if there is no physical mark. Sometimes the indoctrination is embedded so deep, OUR BRAINS WERE BRANDED with their philosophy, and that’s an invisible scar that never goes away.
I have to be honest it’s not easy to write this and expose myself, and my family. I think people choose to speak out because they need to expose the truth, clear their name and conscience, and for some to help make sure this never happens to anyone else. But the majority don’t speak out, maybe they don’t want to be known as the “cult person”, or believe their voice matters or deserves to be heard. More often than not, it can simply be too painful to relive. There’s a reason why people who’ve been in cults decide to put it all behind them, because facing it sometimes seems impossible. I was not only in NXIVM, I was born into a cult called ‘The Children of God’, known today as The Family International, and yes it is still active..
I want to provide a brief look at my what my life looked like growing up in a cult. We were living in Los Angeles, CA at the time my parents were invited to go to India. Growing up in a group like ‘The Family’ was all about communal living. There were often a couple or more families living together in the same household. We grew up with an unfettered devotion to God which honestly felt pure and peaceful. We sang for money and food, passed out pamphlets shared and worshipped the lord, and life honestly seemed good. When I was 5 my parents were invited to go to the Philippines. They were moving most everyone out of India and spreading them around the world, some families were in South American and Europe. My family was chosen to be near the leadership.
We moved to Manila, and the place we lived in was called the ‘Jumbo’. It was unlike anything we had ever experienced and a far cry from our happy home in India with mango trees, wild monkeys and a stones throw from the ocean. There was a gate with a guard who carried heavy artillery. There were many buildings within the compound and 100’s of people lived there. We would end up being separated by age, and I hardly saw my parents or siblings during our time there. It was at the ‘Jumbo’ where the abuse began and my life, that of my family’s and many others would never be the same. Rules and corporal punishment would become part of a daily ritual that seemed to happen for any reason. My caretakers would often punish us for being disobedient by hitting us with these little plastic sticks in the back of our legs, and that was the light punishment. We were not allowed to speak while eating. Once I broke this rule, I had to wear a sign saying I was a sinner and had to help clean the dinning hall. The abuse only got worse. I was just 5 years old when I was sexually abused by one of my male caretakers. I never told anyone, and I wouldn’t fully come to terms with it until I was an adult. Not really sure one can ever fully come to terms with an experience like that. It leaves a mark and has shaped me to the very core of my being.
The Family’s founder and leader, David Berg, had many names: ‘Moses’, ‘Mo’, ‘The Prophet,’ among others. He was a self-proclaimed profit from God, who would instill fear into the followers minds if they themselves did not obey the orders relayed to them. His teachings lead the followers to be abusers. Like many other cult leaders his teachings manipulated his followers to feed his predatory nature. It’s ironic that this cults name is ‘The Family’, because it’s anything but that. They would often times separate families, keeping children away from their parents for months and even years. This was used as a form of control. The abuse ‘The Family’ has inflicted on its members is generational.
As an adult I would find myself involved in another cult, NXIVM. I honestly think that my experience growing up in a cult lead me to NXIVM, but it also gave me the awareness to question the groups teachings and in short ultimately saved me from going deeper in.
Someone once asked me, why people joined NXIVM. They said everyone from the organization seemed too smart. My reply was this, think about it this way, picture someone you admire, someone you want to emulate, a personal hero, maybe a friend or family member that you trust. Now say this person tells you about a course something that changed their life, helped them be more successful, happier. Would you sign up?”
I have found strength in acknowledging my story, and listening to other people who have experienced this type of abuse, be it emotional, mental, and/or physical. There’s a certain strength that comes from no longer calling ourselves victims. We are all survivors. It’s through this experience of telling my story and seeking the truth that I had the opportunity to attend Keith Raniere’s trial in Brooklyn, NY. I say it was an opportunity because it’s so rare that people, especially men, get convicted for these types of crimes. And to be there witnessing the truth of this predator, narcissist, sadistic crime-boss like psychopath, was both painful and powerful. It was an opportunity for the world to see that this type of abuse has a name, and cult leaders around the world should live in fear. Being in the court room helped me understand the evil that I had witnessed, but it also gave me hope, in justice and in the courageous voices of women who came forward and testified. Outside the courtroom right after the guilty verdict, I surprised myself by shouting out a question at the press conference, Do you think this case will change the law on coercion, COERCIVE CONTROL? I heard someone yell, YES!, as I finished the question. It’s my hope that this case does set the precedent for coercive control and creates accountability for the abuse that goes on when staunch loyalty enables people to act on their predatory abusive nature.
When we step forward and share what we’ve learned, that’s what we’re here for. To teach one another, to share, to learn a better way forward, to keep sharing it, and to walk again into the light.
Naomi is a writer, actor, producer and activist. Through her experience in choosing to share her story and expose NXIVM, she has discovered the importance and power of finding her voice.