‘Children's Rights Conference’ - A Government Funded Sham
by Eva St.John

December 2003

‘Children's Rights Conference’
A Government Funded Sham

by Eva St.John

The following is a copy of a full page article I wrote which was published in the Australian newspaper ‘The Echo’ on Tuesday December 9, 2003. It covers my experience attending a so called ‘conference’ on ‘Children's Rights in Religious Movements’ which I attended in good faith (being naturally very interested in the subject) in the hope that the issue was going to be genuinely addressed.

The conference turned out to be little more than an exclusive ‘PR and propaganda’ exercise for TF, featuring top Australian leaders Paul and Joy Hartington as some of the main speakers, and included a handful of seemingly naďve, duped academics being put forward as ‘experts’. Except for some coverage by one speaker of a few of Justice Ward's findings, there was absolutely no representation for the countless former children of TF (or of any other religious group, for that matter).

Not only was the conference given a funding grant by the Australian government of $20,000, but the ‘papers’ that were being presented that day are going to be compiled into an official handbook which apparently will be required reading for government employees working in the child welfare arena as the ‘official guide’ to children's rights in religious movements (based largely on TF lies, cover-ups and propaganda!)

Because of space limitations and the need to cover the story from a balanced journalistic approach, I could not go into more specifics in the article itself about what I actually said, and what else went down, but I will add on a few more details about it at the end of the article.

‘Children's Rights Conference’
A Government Funded Sham

Eva St John

Published in Australian Newspaper ‘The Byron Shire Echo’
- www.echo.net.au - Dec 9, 2003

    A government funded conference was held at the Byron Bay Community Centre on Saturday November 22 purportedly to represent and discuss the rights of children in religious movements and propose further government policy on the issue. One would think that a conference covering such a huge and controversial subject would attract much interest and attendance from many different sectors of the national community, including representatives from religious groups, social workers, community welfare organizations and support groups.

    Why was it then that on the day of the conference, which boasted nine speakers - (most of whom had been flown in, wined, dined and accommodated at the people's expense) - there were just ten people in attendance?

    Of these ten, one left at morning tea break, five conveyed that they were only curious spectators with no former interest or relevant experience, and two were there in protest over the way the conference had allegedly been hijacked from its Byron Shire visionaries and its original mission by Sydney-based celebrity ‘cult expert’ Reverend David Millikin.

    When the remaining two - a colleague and I - came along to observe the proceedings, we were unaware of the local controversy surrounding the conference. As the morning's agenda unfolded, however, we became increasingly alarmed by the obvious misrepresentation of the conference's purpose, the speakers' limited understanding and perspective on their subject matter, the incredible array of misinformation being deliberately put forward as ‘fact’, and the lack of representation of the children whose rights were supposedly being championed.

    After the question and answer session - during which I took the floor and publicly voiced my concerns to the conference delegation - I was approached by the two ‘attendees in protest’ Gill Lomath and Carol Platt of the Brunswick Valley Combined Churches Association.

    "The conference was initially the brain child of friends and members of the Combined Churches Association who had wanted to have a conference that could act as both an educational seminar to promote understanding of the new religious movements in our area, and as a forum on the rights of young people and children in highly controlling religious environments," Combined Churches Secretary Gill Lomath told me during the lunch break.

    She went on to explain that the only person they had heard of at the time who appeared to have some knowledge of the subject was Uniting Church Reverend Dr David Millikin. Earlier this year they flew him up and invited him to join their delegation of representatives - which included Councilor Jan Mangelson - when they met with the Minister for Youth and Community Affairs Larry Anthony to discuss the idea with him and ask for funding. Some months later Millikin took receipt of a grant of $20,000 for the purposes of holding the conference and that was the last time the Combined Churches Association and other interested parties in the Byron Shire ever heard from him.

    "He completely hijacked our conference for his own veiled agenda without any consultation," added Carol Platt of Mullumbimby. "He didn't return our phone calls. He wouldn't answer our emails. He just completely cut out and ignored virtually all local interest and refused to speak to those who wanted to participate or be involved in any way. We couldn't understand it. If the conference we wanted and asked for was going ahead, why wasn't he even telling us about it or including us in on the whole thing? We weren't even invited to come!"

    I asked Millikin's off-sider Robbie Lloyd what the $20,000 grant for the conference was mostly spent on.

    "Promotions" Lloyd replied.     I pointed out to him that I had only heard about the conference by accident when a friend mentioned she'd heard that the Community Centre had been booked for it in a couple of weeks time. I had phoned the booking manager at the Community Centre to ask for more info, but she had apologized that the organizers had given her no information about the conference itself other than an emailed list of the speakers and the titles of their talks. When pressed further she had reiterated that they had been sent no brochures or leaflets, there were no advertisements, no posters - nothing to even put up on the notice board or front window to attract interest and notify the public. When I had asked for the organizer's contact details, I was given Millikin's name and home phone number. I had phoned and left a message on his answer machine asking for more information. My call was never returned.

    Once the conference had begun, we observed that the front foyer doors of the Community Centre were closed and a sandwich board stood in front of them stating ‘No Entry. Conference Attendees Only.’ There was no mention of what the conference was about or that it was free and open to public attendance. If the conference on human rights held here in July had drawn a crowd of over 150, and the SPAA film makers conference held here the week prior had attracted over 300 attendees, it seemed clear that only a concerted effort not to attract genuine interest or local input could have produced such a non turnout.

    So what was the main thrust of this ‘Clayton's conference’ - as another observer described it? According to Millikin, the papers presented by the speakers that day were going to be compiled into a handbook - (for which they were getting more funding) - which would be required reading for public servants working in the child welfare arena. But apart from a brief opening speech by a seemingly naďve Minister Larry Anthony who left soon after, and a botched slide show on what physical child abuse looks like, given by Westmead Children's Hospital CEO Kim Oates, the conference appeared to be nothing more than a public relations exercise for David Millikin and the only religious movement represented at the conference, a controversial Doomsday Bible cult known as The Family, the Australian leaders of which appeared to be close friends of Millikin's.

    Interestingly, the group also happened to be the one movement I have extensive inside knowledge of, having fallen prey to their ‘love bombing’ recruitment tactics and intensive indoctrination as a lost sixteen year old in the 1970's. The leadership - which included the two leaders speaking at the conference - were so highly controlling and manipulative that, although I made several attempts to physically escape their clutches, it wasn't until seventeen years and four children later that I was finally able to break free altogether.

    Today I have a broad and eclectic interest in spirituality and I have close friends who belong to a variety of spiritual movements which are considered by some to be cults. However, this was the one movement I could honestly say - as an eye witness and former victim - were truly guilty of human rights and children's rights violations.

    These included their principal doctrines and taught practices of pressing the women into ongoing ‘sacrificial sexual service’ and subjecting the children to intensive control, bullying, indoctrination, and psychological, physical and sexual abuse. Myself and my own children - and a large number of others I know of - will spend the rest of our lives recovering from the traumas we experienced while in The Family.

    Yet this was the one group that was being held up as an ‘example’ of a relatively ‘innocent’ religious movement that had been formerly picked out for ‘unwarranted’ investigation and legal action by the NSW and Victorian Departments of Community Services in the early nineties over the welfare of their children.

    The most telling indication of the real intentions of the conference came when the final concluding forum - advertised on the program as a ‘plenary session for raising issues for further investigation’ - was mysteriously eliminated from the proceedings. And the conference, originally feted to be a two day affair, was brought to an early close after only five hours without any formal conclusion.

    When I later phoned Councilor Jan Mangelson, who had been one of the original team to ask Larry Anthony for the conference, but was out of town when it happened, she told me she was well aware of the whole fiasco. Although she had made attempts at communicating with Millikin during the time leading up to the conference, he hadn't returned her calls either.

    "It really needed local input," she told me, "and after all this, the issues we actually wanted to address still need to be genuinely addressed. We are going to have to have a real conference on the local level."

    And where will the funding for it come from, I wonder, now that $20,000 of much needed community money has been spirited away and squandered on a government funded sham? No-one has been able to come up with an answer for that thus far.

by Eva St.John

In his presentation, David Millikin made a concerted attack on the many former members and child victims by claiming that anything they might reveal about their experiences in the group was somehow "imagined" and could not be relied upon. He went on to contradict himself by declaring on the one hand that former members' and child victims' stories were "fueling the anti-cult movement", and on the other hand saying that former members' and child victims' stories only came from this same ‘anti-cult movement’ which had ‘brainwashed’ them. (Where did he get these bizarre ideas from, do you think?)

This was followed later by a presentation from a Consultant Forensic Physician, Dr Ed Ogden, who seemed to have no real point to his talk other than to deride the findings and conclusions of a plethora of books written by various experts on the signs and symptoms of abusive spirituality. Ogden asserted that ‘mind control’ did not exist in any form as far as he was concerned, and that when it came to groups such as TF, it was "not against the law to ruin people's lives". Later I asked Ogden if he believed there was such a thing as ‘milieu control’ - (where an individual becomes physically and/or psychologically isolated from their family, friends and regular life environment, and through misinformed commitment, constant group participation, rigid demands and imposed thought and behavior modification, is indoctrinated into a new identity and way of thinking and seeing reality). Ogden readily acknowledged his awareness of this well-known phenomenon. (Such tactics are purposely used in the American armed forces, for instance). From this I could only conclude that he had not actually studied the books and experts he had criticized, because several of them explain that the rather nebulous and ill-defined term ‘mind control’ (which he stated did ‘not exist’) is generally used to describe the phenomena of ‘milieu control’.

When the floor was thrown open for questions, I was allowed to come to the front and speak over the mic and address all present. (I had already personally voiced my outrage over the conference's content and proceedings to the government Minister for Youth and Community Services - who left early - and they knew they weren't going to get away without allowing me to ‘contribute to the discussion’). Speaking calmly but assertively, I introduced myself as a former long-time member of TF and gave just a few specific examples (with medical back up) of the sexual and other abuses my own children had endured during my involvement. I touched on the ‘sexual duties’, child bearing and child rearing demands that had been placed on the mothers; outlined TF's practice of making the children virtually memorize pat answers to any questions an outsider might ask them, which effectively silences them from expressing whatever their own personal true experience has been; and challenged as ‘utter bull’ various examples of the misinformation being propagated by TF leaders Paul and Joy Hartington (which was the usual re-writing of Family history, whitewashing, minimalizing, and fleetingly ‘apologizing for past hurts’ within a very unsorry context).

I demanded to know, if this was supposed to be a conference on children's rights in religious movements, why no former children of TF or of any other NRM were either present or being represented here, and why no other religious groups or community or welfare organizations were either. I expressed my outrage over having just heard about the fact that TF had received a $1.7 million compensation payout from the Australian government over the botched Police raids on their Homes in 1992, and I demanded to know where was the compensation for the many hundreds, if not thousands, of former children whose lives had been seriously disadvantaged and adversely affected by having spent their childhoods in TF. I closed by challenging David Millikin's statements about how former children's and ex members stories "were not to be believed" and said that of all people they would know, having had years of first hand experience. I also asserted that the conference organizers should be made to have a real conference where children's rights in religious movements really was the issue being covered, and that it should involve former children from both TF and other NRM's, as well as community and welfare groups and government departments, so that everybody was fairly represented and the major issues properly addressed from all angles.

In the afternoon the two Australian leaders, Paul and Joy Hartington, were given another half hour to try to refute my earlier impromptu presentation. They were visibly uncomfortable with my presence as I sat silently facing them knowing what I knew. - That they had presided as leaders during some of the worst eras in the group's sordid history, and yet here they were posturing as conference speakers and feigning innocence of any "personal knowledge" of the excesses of their own doctrines and practices. In their usual ‘double speak’ way, they openly admitted that there had been instances of hurt done to children in TF in the past, but their main justification for this seemed to be that "all" religious groups - such as the Catholic church, for instance - had a sordid past, so hey, what was the big deal? Besides, "nobody really was meant to put all those directives into practice, they were just mostly hypothetical theories anyway", etc. (They did not mention that the Catholic church is now being made to pay out millions of dollars in compensation to their past victims).

Paul Hartington then attempted to discredit me by using my own brother - (another former member who is now a fundamentalist Christian who, for reasons of his own is "sitting on the fence" and has maintained an ongoing casual friendship with the Hartington's) - as an example of an ex member who was their 'close friend and supporter' who therefore obviously "did not agree" with his own sister's point of view and supported TF's version instead. Amazingly enough, even though I do not have a particularly close relationship with my brother, we had spent over an hour-and-a-half talking on the phone the night before where he had told me a lot about the Hartington's history and how he really felt about them. Consequently, I doubted very much that he would have been happy to have been held up as a supporter and backer of a group who was now openly admitting to child abuse, so I again publicly challenged the Hartington's, asserting that from what my brother had conveyed to me he did not consider himself their "close" friend and wouldn't trust them as far as he could throw them.

The Hartington's also knew that I knew from firsthand experience as a former 'loyal canvasser' about the Family practice of befriending gullible individuals in positions of power and influencing their ideas and perceptions with carefully crafted written material and subtle, consistent verbal reinforcement disguised as sincere apologetics and friendly banter. I also knew that not only were Paul and Joy Hartington mouthing well-repeated phrases, arguments and terminology from The Family's notoriously inaccurate 'PR propaganda', but - whether they realized it or not - so were several of the so-called 'impartial experts' presenting papers that day.

During the conference my friend and I sat directly behind the Hartington's. At one point during the proceedings, I was speaking in my friend's ear clarifying some the many inaccuracies that were being put forward as 'fact', when Joy Hartington turned and asked me to go away somewhere else and talk (so she wouldn't have to overhear what I was saying). By this time I was so angered by the whole fiasco, that I turned and coolly said, 'No! Fuck you! I'm going to stay right where I am and talk as loudly as I want, and if you don't like what you're hearing you can leave.' (It was my first opportunity ever to say to TF leadership what I would have really wanted to say during my years of disempowerment and 'punishment' for questioning the practices while in the group).

I am interested in getting some feedback on how others here feel about TF's white-washed version of it's history and practices, and it's negating of former children's stories, being put forward as 'fact' in a government handbook on children's rights in religious movements. Personally, I think it's an outrage and I think we should put a stop to the whole fiasco. Before stumbling on this conference I wasn't expecting to ever get involved in anything to do with TF again. But through this experience it has been made abundantly clear to me that they are still up to their old tricks, and that they cannot and must not be allowed to get away with denying the rights of, and silencing the stories and voices of, their own second generation. It's time they be made to face up to the full consequences of their past teachings and practices and their ongoing insane denials.

Thanks again for letting me share, Eva

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Dec 3, 2004


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