Sunday 3 January 2010

8 Carmel Underwood's Letter II

Pressure to abort, child exploitation and physical abuse: Carmel Underwood had witnessed enough abuse over the years to have serious doubts about Scientology even before she quit.

It was a series of abusive interrogations that ended Carmel Underwood’s association with Scientology.

Even before that however, what she had seen and experienced during her years as a staffer had given her increasing pause for thought. Some of this she listed in her letter to Senator Xenophon.

In 1982, for example, while working on staff she fell pregnant. She already knew that she would come under pressure to have an abortion, as a pregnant colleague had been pressured by executives to have an abortion just months earlier.

So she kept quiet about her own condition until two weeks short of her first trimester.

Sure enough, she wrote, when she did speak up, “…I was put under extreme pressure to have an abortion, as having a child would cut across my contribution to the CoS [Church of Scientology].

“I was put on a disciplinary programme for about two weeks… The disciplinary program got dropped when I reached three months pregnant, but by then I was bleeding…"

She wanted to see a doctor, she wrote, “but I was told that ‘bleeding’ during pregnancy was normal…”

She was refused permission to see a doctor.

Then, about four months into her pregnancy, she started to get bad cramps and was bleeding heavily. She told a colleague (whose name has been deleted from the letter filed to Senate).

“She told me that I had a job to do, and that at the end of the day I should go home and get some rest over the weekend,” wrote Underwood.

Later that night, she was rushed to hospital from her home suffering major haemorrhaging and had to undergo an operation.

Underwood was 23 years old at the time, and she concedes, “…I was na├»ve, and made the mistake of not getting medical attention when I needed it.

“However the pressure put on me to get an abortion, and then later, the denial of medical attention, put me at severe risk physically, and was inexcusable.”

Nor was she the only staff member to experience this kind of pressure, she wrote. Through her job supervising Scientology counselling, she knew that most of the women in management position at that centre had been pressured into having abortions.

Those who had complied, she added, ended up regretting the decision.

Covering up child abuse

Underwood also described an incident dating back to the mid-1980s in which the step-daughter of one of their trainee counsellors told her mother that her step-father was abusing her.

The mother contacted the authorities, wrote Underwood. The next day both the mother and her daughter were with the staff of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs [OSA]. The girl was being coached on what to tell investigators.

“I argued with these people that day, as I objected to what seemed to be occurring, but I was ‘over-ruled’…” wrote Underwood. To her shame, she added, she did not take it any further.

Years later, she discovered through a colleague that the victim had been coached into lying to the authorities about the abuse.

The abuser was subsequently prosecuted, she wrote, “…but the CoS officials covered it up at the time, to protect the ‘PR’ of the ‘Church’.”

Physical abuse

In 1985 she and a colleague were sent by Scientology to Florida for conference. On the way there, they stopped over in Portland, Oregon, to join a protest involving a court case against the movement.[1]

But when they tried to leave for the Florida conference the next day, the movement’s security guards physically prevented them.

A friend helped them get hold of their luggage and escape to a motel room, but there they were confronted by several senior Scientology executives.

“I was physically shoved against a wall and slapped across the face,” she wrote.

Child exploitation

In the 1990s she saw how the children of Scientology’s management staff were themselves subject to exploitation: after attending their Scientology school, they would be put to work for the movement.

“These children… were expected to perform like adults, and were treated as such. They saw their parents for maybe an hour, maybe once or twice a week.

“The boys had an especially hard time of it, and were often subjected to bare minimum food rations and made to do heavy labour.

“I was aware of this as I was on the Board of the school at the time, but I have found out more about it in the last few years, as some of these boys are grown up now, are out of Scientology, and are friends with my sons.”

Abuse of auditing files

Years after Underwood had quit the movement she decided to speak out because the same abuses were still going on.

She started contacting former colleagues in October 2008 she soon received a phone call from a Scientology official.

This official, whose name has been deleted from the copy of the letter filed to Senate,
warned her that embarrassing details from her youth would be revealed if she kept speaking out.

“He told me that if I didn’t get posts that I had made on the internet retracted/removed, then I would regret it,” wrote Underwood.[2]

Sure enough, by 2009 she had heard from several people that personal material about her youth had been leaked to Scientologists – information that had come from her supposedly confidential auditing files.

If this was a bid to discredit her, appeared to have some success, wrote Underwood.

“Many past friends of mine, still in the CofS, have disconnected from my family and I.

“The ones who haven’t hide the fact that they are in contact with us for fear of losing employment by Scientologists, clients/customers who are Scientologists, and/or having friends/family disconnect from them… just as has happened to those of us who have spoken out against the ‘Church’.”
[1] This would have been the Julie Christofferson Titchbourne case, which had been dragging on since 1977. The May 1985 jury verdict awarding damages of $39 million against Scientology (of which $20 million was against the founder, L. Ron Hubbard himself) was overturned two months later after a Judge Donald Londer granted a mistrial on the grounds that her attorney had made an improper and prejudicial closing speech. For more on this, see the relevant passage in Jon Atack’s A Piece of Blue Sky (Part Eight, Chapter Three).
[2] She had been posting as “Carmel” on the Ex-Scientologist Message Board since July 2008.

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