Tuesday 26 November 2013

Invisible Handcuffs I

An unusual case of human trafficking in Britain is generating extensive coverage in the world press: but why are people surprised that people can be controlled in this way?

Police and other professionals fighting human trafficking seem amazed that the victims in this case appear to have been virtual slaves for 30 years without being physically restrained.

One senior officer has spoken vividly of the “invisible handcuffs” that appeared to bind the three women involved to their alleged captors.

But why so surprised?

Anyone working in the field of cultic abuse could tell them that it is perfectly possible to reduce people to virtual slavery through emotional and psychological abuse.

The professionals working in human trafficking however are clearly used to less subtle, more brutal methods.

Here are the basic facts to date: On November 21, police acting on a tip-off from a charity arrested an elderly couple in London over allegations that they had kept three women for up to 30 years in conditions that amounted to slavery.

A statement from New Scotland Yard identified the victims as a 30-year-old Briton, a 57-year-old Irish national and a 69-year-old Malaysian.1

“These women are highly traumatised, having been held in servitude for at least 30 years with no real exposure to the outside world...,” said Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland of the Met's Human Trafficking Unit (HTU).

“Our unit deals with many cases every year but has never unearthed such a staggering example of people held against their will for their whole life time,” he added.2

In a statement the following day Commander Steve Rodhouse tried to spell out what for them was the unique aspect of this case.

Officers in the Human Trafficking Unit were used to dealing with cases in which the victims had been physically and sexually abused to keep them in captivity, he said. This was something different, however.

“We do not believe that this case falls into the category of sexual exploitation, or what we all understand as human trafficking,” he said.

“It is not as brutally obvious as women being physically restrained inside an address and not allowed to leave.

“What Kevin [D.I. Hyland] and his team are trying to understand is what were the invisible handcuffs that were used to exert such a degree of control over these women.

“Trying to label this investigation as domestic servitude or forced labour is far too simple.

“What we have uncovered so far is a complicated and disturbing picture of emotional control over many years, brainwashing would be the most simplest term, yet that belittles the years of emotional abuse these victims have had to endure.

“We believe at this stage to the outside world this may have appeared to be a 'normal' family.”3

Forget the shackles

Anthony Steen, chairman of Britain’s Human Trafficking Foundation, made a similar point in comments to BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.

"You've got to think of slavery as something different from what it was in the 18th century when people were in shackles,” he told journalist Sean Ley.

"It's psychological slavery, it's emotional slavery, it’s debt bondage slavery. It's changing: every time we catch up with it is running away in another direction..." he added.

In this case, he said: “The so-called slaves did have mobile phones and apparently they had television and they could go out so it's going to be very much more psychological slavery than actual physical slavery and that is even more difficult to detect."

Initial media coverage of this affair compared it with the ordeal of Elizabeth Fritzl in Austria, whose father imprisoned her for 24 years and repeatedly raped her. But that is well wide of the mark.

We know already that in this case, the victims were not locked away, at least not physically. They were, on the face of it at least, free to come and go as they pleased.

Professionals in the field of human trafficking are more used to dealing with victims who have suffered beatings and sometimes rapes to keep them compliant.

The harrowing case studies at the Human Trafficking Foundation’s website – forced labour, child/sex trafficking, domestic servitude – make that abundantly clear.4

They appear to be less familiar with the idea of these “invisible handcuffs” that control victims with a minimal of physical coercion.

But for anyone familiar with the cult phenomenon this is old news.

The days are long past when “cult mind control” was presented as a unique, almost magical form of manipulation against which unwary mortals were helpless.

Professionals in the field now place it in a broad spectrum of abuse that operates in different forms in other walks of life. They draw parallels for example between cultic manipulation and the dynamics of an abusive relationship.

Other academics studying cults – or new religious movements as they prefer to call them – have fought a determined rearguard action to play down the significance of mind control. Some have questioned its very existence.

This time around however, it may be more difficult to dismiss: because this time, the phenomenon has broken into the mainstream; and this time, we are not talking about a religious movement.

Latest reports in the British media suggest that both the suspects and the alleged victims were once members of a political cult: they appear to have been active in something called the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre, in Brixton, south London.

If that proves to be the case, police could do worse than to consult one uniquely qualified cult expert.

Dr Janja Lalich, professor of Sociology at California State University, spent more than 10 years in the San Franciso-based Democratic Workers Party, which she now characterises as a political cult.

It was that experience which shaped her subsequent academic career investigating the dynamics of cultic abuse. She spent some time working with cult expert Dr Margaret Singer, (who will be a familiar name to some of the regulars here).5

But what does all this have to do with Scientology? Well, more than you might think.

A review of recent US lawsuits by former members and a look at a case out of Mexico reveal more than a few ironies – of which more next time.

1 Two people arrested by Human Trafficking Unit”, New Scotland Yard statement, November 21.

2 From the November 21, police statement. Officers launched their investigation after being contacted by the London-based Freedom Charity, which campaigns against forced marriages: one of the three women, the Irish woman had approached them after seeing them featured in a BBC documentary on the subject. On Saturday the charity reported a five-fold increase in phone calls since the story broke.

3 From the November 22 police statement “Update following arrests by Human Trafficking Unit”. In the same statement, DI Hyland said that all 37 officers in the HTU were now assigned to the case, a measure of how seriously they are taking the case. Given the case spans 30 years of alleged abuse however, they made it clear that the investigation would take months: officers have seized 55 bags of evidence – more than 2,500 exhibits – which they will have to examine.
4 You can get an idea of the kind of cases they normally encounter at this part of their website.
5 I recommend the book they produced together, Cults in Our Midst. You can see a complete list of Lalich’s books at her website, cultresearch.org.

Monday 11 November 2013

The Paris Trial coverage: 2009-2014

Start here for exhaustive coverage of the Paris trial of Scientology for organised fraud: reports from inside the courtrooms and details of the broader political controversy.

Listed below is Infinite Complacency's complete coverage of the Paris trial of Scientology for fraud, organised fraud and the illegal practice of pharmacy.

You will find reports from the original trial in 2009, the 2011 appeal, all the way through to the final ruling at the Court of Cassation, France's top court, in 2013. There is extensive analysis too of the battles fought outside the courtroom.

And since Scientology tried to take its case to the European Court of Human Rights, I covered that in the final article, "Case Closed".

A Paris court is to try six Scientologists and two of the movement’s associations in a case that could lead to much of its operations in France being shut down.

After the first plaintiff had testified, the defendant accused of having defrauded her gave his side of the story.

On the third day of the Paris trial of Scientology, the judge questioned another defendant, one of the movement’s top salesmen.

A second plaintiff told the court how her Scientologist employer had put her under ever-increasing pressure to take the movement’s courses.

Scientology’s techniques abuse the transference process familiar to all therapists, a psychiatrist told the court.

A Paris court heard how a company director's massive spending on Scientology put his business at risk.

As a Paris court considered the high doses of vitamins used in Scientology's Purification Rundown, an expert witness dismissed the programme as quackery.

Scientology's Purification Rundown – combining exercise, sauna sessions and massive doses of vitamins – is not just a religious ritual but can also cure radiation, one defendant told the court.

The onetime executive director of Scientology’s Paris Celebrity Centre, presented a vigorous defence to the court – to the point that he had to be called to order by his own lawyer.

Questioned closely by the judge about the substantial amounts of money taken from clients, the former executive director of the Celebrity Centre insisted that Scientology was about “ethics, honesty, respect”.

Between tears and anger, the former president of Scientology’s Paris Celebrity Centre denounced what she called the persecution of her church – and her own harassment by critics of the movement.

Under hostile questioning from the plaintiffs' lawyers and the prosecution, the former president of the Celebrity Centre became increasingly emotional.

Scientology called two expert witnesses to defend the effectiveness of the e-meter used in their counselling sessions – but did not quite get what they had bargained for.

This short annexe explains why one expert thought that Scientologists didn't know how to operate their own e-meter.

Veteran politician Jean-Pierre Brard sketched a damning profile of Scientology in a presentation that ranged from its financial structure to theories of mind control.

Scientology’s personality test is fixed to exaggerate people’s weaknesses and Scientologists themselves are trained to lie to the court, former member Roger Gonnet told the court.

Scientology’s Purification Rundown is so dangerous it almost killed one of his clients, former Scientologist Roger Gonnet told the Paris court.

A US doctor mounted a vigorous defence of Scientology’s Purification Rundown, the controversial treatment at the centre of the Paris trial.

A succession of defence witnesses lined up to defend Scientology, including an internationally recognised concert pianist, a distinguished academic – even a psychiatrist.

More witnesses stepped forward to speak up for the defendants and denounce what they said was French persecution of their religion.

As more Scientologists spoke up for the defendants and their own beliefs, the gulf between their vision of accused and that of the plaintiffs grew ever wider.

Should UNADFI, the French anti-cult federation, be allowed the status of plaintiff in the case against Scientology? UNADFI president Catherine Picard debated the issue with the movement's lawyers.

The personality test is not a major recruitment tool, all refund requests are granted and “hard sell” means taking care of people, a Scientologist told the court.

The Purification Rundown is a religious purification rite that cures nothing, Scientologist Eric Roux told the court.

Scientology’s network of bookshops in France is entirely independent of the Paris Celebrity Centre, its representative insisted, defending a key plank of their joint defence against fraud charges.

As the third week of the trial drew to a close the main plaintiff, Aude-Claire Malton, fended off a final challenge from the defence lawyers.

Medicinal claims made for Scientology’s Purification Rundown – and the high doses of vitamins used – amount to the illegal practice of pharmacy, said the lawyer representing France's Order of Pharmacists.

Unscrupulous organisations can gain a psychological hold on people, argued the lawyer for the plaintiffs -- and Scientology is a past master at the art.

The prosecutors’ closing arguments created a sensation at the trial: as well as calling for convictions for the individual defendants, they argued for the dissolution of the two organisations charged.

The second half of the prosecution’s closing arguments focussed on the evidence of fraud – by the individual defendants and the two Scientology organisations charged.

A round-up of the sentences the prosecution called for.

The go-between who supplied vitamins for the Purification Rundown is a victim of France’s obsession with prosecuting ‘cults’ and its refusal to respect European law on food supplements, her lawyer argued.

The Scientologist who supervised the Purification Rundown had no case to answer: her accusers had decided she was guilty simply because of her beliefs, her lawyer argued.

The former president of the Celebrity Centre is a scapegoat in a symbolic trial against Scientology, said her lawyer, citing a host of distinguished legal authorities on freedom of religion.

A devoted Scientologist risks being convicted for his beliefs because the government has left the job of dealing with Scientology to the courts instead of assuming its responsibilities, his lawyer argued.

The Scientologist and salesman accused of fraud has been tried in an atmosphere tainted by media hysteria and soured by a prosecution summing up that smacks of the Inquisition, his lawyer argued.

The former executive director of Scientology's Celebrity Centre should not be convicted because three people out of thousands of happy Scientologists had filed complaints, his lawyer argued.

SEL, France's network of Scientology bookshops, is the victim of a modern witch hunt in which the trappings of the movement's beliefs have been interpreted as evidence of its guilt, said SEL's lawyer.

The Celebrity Centre should not be convicted on the basis of prejudice and preconceptions against Scientology, lawyer Patrick Maisonneuve argued, as the trial drew to a close.

A hitherto unnoticed change in French law will prevent a court from dissolving the two Scientology organisations charged in the Paris trial, as prosecutors had recommended.

A summary of the verdict and sentences in the Paris trial of Scientology, following the same format as What the Prosecution Wants, posted earlier.

A detailed review and analysis of the original court judgment ahead of the trial on appeal.

Even before its appeal trial opened, Scientology fought back against the 2009 fraud convictions with accusations of judicial bias and suggestions of political pressure.

Scientology had vowed to expose the case against them as empty. In court however, the procedural motions launched by their lawyers' delayed any examination of the facts of the case.

Scientology’s lawyers took three hours to attack counter-cult group UNADFI’s bid to be admitted as a plaintiff in the Paris appeal trial. Ten minutes into their lawyer’s response, the proceedings degenerated into a shouting match.

The judge in Scientology’s Paris appeal trial deferred a decision on French counter-cult group UNADFI’s status at the trial, effectively allowing them to play a full role in proceedings – a major blow to the defence.

On the sixth day of the trial on appeal, after the court rejected Scientology's final bid to exclude the counter-cult group UNADFI from the proceedings, the defendants and their lawyers walked out, claiming they were being denied a fair trial.

The prosecutor in the Paris appeal trial of Scientology called for the fines handed down to the two Scientology organisations convicted at the original trial to be more than doubled.

The Court of Appeal in Paris confirmed the convictions of the two Scientology organisations for organised fraud, a decision which some say is the beginning of the end for the movement.

Leading opponents of Scientology say the Paris appeal court convictions of two of its organisations mark the beginning of the end for the movement in France. It is no idle threat.

Scientology is arguing that the magistrate who prepared the organised fraud case against it was “indoctrinated”: the latest in a series of bids to get its conviction overturned.

Scientology's campaign to present its Paris convictions as a miscarriage of justice betrays the movement's conspiratorial mindset.

France's top court will next week rule whether the appeal court's fraud convictions against Scientology should stand. Here is how we got here.

It was not the role of the Paris Court of Appeal to act as a chamber of inquisition, a Scientology lawyer told France's top court.

Vitamins used in Scientology's Purification Rundown are no more medicines than sweets or beauty products, a Scientology lawyer told France's top court.

Scientology's religious freedom defence is irrelevant, the lawyer for counter-cult group UNADFI argued, as the state prosecutor denounced the movement as a “villainous enterprise”.

Four years after the first court ruling against the movement, Scientology has lost its appeal against fraud convictions at France's top court.

A French court has awarded Scientology damages for delays in the long legal battle that ended in fraud convictions against it last year. But it's not quite the victory they were hoping for.

A Scientologist who tried to get France’s counter-cult group UNADFI sanctioned over its role in a major court case against the movement got a taste of her own medicine.

57 Case Closed

The European Court of Human Rights has dismissed Scientology's bid to challenge its conviction for organised fraud in France. A second conviction in France could threaten its very existence there.