Tonight is the premiere of the second season of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, the show that talks with former Scientologists about their experiences in the church. So, what does this have to do with sex? The season opener focuses on sexual abuse, specifically child sexual abuse, although it also covers child slave labor.
I have been following the Church of Scientology for many years, as part of my long history studying cults. I have quite a large library on the subject, with many volumes dealing specifically with Scientology. By the standard definitions of a cult, Scientology is definitely one. For most Scientologists, it is an effective tool for extracting large amounts of money from its members. The cost of going through all the course work, which is expected of all Scientologists, is about $380,000. Still, the average Scientologist has some autonomy and freedom of movement, something that most cults but strict limits on. Yes, the hallmarks of a cult, an unquestioned and unquestionable leader, and family shunning, are applied to all Scientologists, but it is in what is known as the Sea Org where Scientology reaches full cult status.
Child sexual abuse is almost guaranteed in any organization that is highly patriarchal, with a strict line of control and strongly authoritarian leadership. Religious organizations of this type are the most susceptible. In organizations that are insular, where the organization is more important than the individual (such as in Scientology and the Catholic Church for that matter, although Catholicism does not meet the criteria for a cult), child sexual abuse thrives, because it is more important to protect the institution than the children. Child predators quickly figure out that they can abuse children, get away with it, and be protected.
That is the story told in this season opening episode. It focuses on childhood best friends Saina Kamula and Mirriam Francis, both of whom were born into Scientology, and both of who wound up, as children, working in the Sea Org in 1994. Both were coerced as underage teenagers to sign billion year contracts, resulting in 60 hour work weeks with no pay. They lived in a Scientology compound and were not allowed to leave, and were essentially child slave labor. They had limited interaction with their parents and did not live with them. Scientology at this time violated just about every labor law on the books.
We learn from both women how reporting sexual abuse lead to punishment. Just the act of telling someone what was done to you gets you reported as a suppressive person. In Scientology speak, that is very, very bad. The younger members in Sea Org are virtual prisoners, but if you do manage to escape, you know that you will be disconnected, their version of shunning. From that point on your family members and friends will never be allowed to have anything to do with you. Of course, you have no friends outside of Scientology.
Their stories are heart wrenching. Their personal safety was never considered. Here is one bizarre thing- Children in Scientology are considered the same as adults. They do not have any of the special protections we expect for children. Since Scientologists believe we live multiple lives, they consider children simply adults in children’s bodies. It does not make a lot of sense, but it does create a near perfect environment for child abuse, both physical and sexual.
The Church of Scientology denies everything and considers Leah Remini an enemy of the church. Yes, they have an enemies list. Saina Kamula and Mirriam Francis are also on their enemies list.
The Church of Scientology owns a lot of websites, including leahreminiaftermath.com, with the sole purpose of attacking Leah personally and anyone associated with her. Once the church puts you on their list, the attacks can be brutal and very personal. Many times on the show last season Scientology agents followed and filmed Leah. Her confrontations with them were one of the highlights of last season.
I have been reading about complaints of child sexual abuse in the church for years. It isn’t just children. During L.Ron Hubbard’s reign, if he wanted to have sex with someone in the Sea Org, he was going to have sex with them. They were in no position to say no. His own son reported on these incidents in his book about his father, which is highly critical.
Accusations of child sexual abuse have been going on for years. There was the the 2005 case where a 16 year old was forced to live with a much older supervisor, who repeatedly raped her. The church wound up paying a $700,000 settlement for that one. There is the recounting of the 12 year old who was told by an Ethics Officer that her rape was her fault: “Everything that happens to you is what you pull in. You have to take responsibility for your lower condition in this.”
They provide near perfect conditions for child sexual abuse. Parents are encouraged to disconnect from their children. Children in Sea Org are kept in isolated environments and discouraged from contact with the outside world. They are provided with inadequate education and socialization. They are told to fear psychiatry as the ultimate evil, and told that if they report child abuse to the authorities, they will be turned over to evil psychiatrists. Scientology hates psychiatry (for obvious reasons once you learn more about their science fiction based theology).
While accusations have been made against church leaders, they have also been made against celebrities. The church places a strong emphasis on their celebrities, of whom they have managed to recruit many. The Celebrity Center was established in Hollywood for the soul purpose of recruiting celebrities, whom they tend to treat very well and far better than regular members. Besides Tom Cruise and John Travolta (and ex-member Leah Remini), some of their other celebrity members include Michael Peña (ChiPS, The Martian, Ant Man), Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson), Jeff Conaway (Taxi, Grease), Jenna Elfman (Dharma & Greg), Jason Lee (My Name is Earl), Juliette Lewis (Jem and the Holograms), Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), and many more.
Actor Danny Masterson (That 70’s Show), has had three separate accusations of sexual assault made against him, one from a woman as young as 14. I do not find it difficult to believe the accusations that the church told the women, fellow Scientologists, to not report these incidences. All three cases have been reported to the police with the encouragement and emotional support of Elisabeth Moss
Leah Remini. The LAPD is now investigating, and the case has been transferred to downtown due to the possibility that the Hollywood division has too chummy a relationship with the church (which I also believe to be quite likely.) We may hear more about this on the series, and it does look like this season will focus more on sexual abuse.
Organizations like Scientology are exploitive, and we learned of some of the lengths they go to last season. It is rare for an exploitive male dominated authoritative environment with accessible children not to include some form of child abuse. It becomes too easy to justify and too easy to get away with it.
Another factor that makes Scientology a breeding ground for sexual abuse in general is their teachings on sexuality. It is forbidden in the Sea Org, unless you are married. They are also anti-gay and anti-masturbation. While only married people can have sex, that does not mean they actually have any sexual outlet, because husbands and wives can be assigned to different cities, and married women who get pregnant and decide to keep their children can be kept apart. Many of the sexual assaults were perpetrated by married men.
The abuses of Scientology fill book after book. There are far more reports than we could even begin to cover. The important takeaway is understanding the elements that facilitate child sexual abuse- secrecy, authoritarianism, protection of abusers, and a willingness to sacrifice the needs of the children for the needs of the organization. We certainly saw that with Joe Paterno and his football organization. Unfortunately, too many churches offer many of the elements needed to provide a perfect hunting ground for child predators.