from Big Sister - Wednesday, April 20, 2005
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Here is the English translation of Guds Misbrukte Barn by Bjørn K. Bore, (2005) originally published in Magasinet [the weekend magazine] of Dagbladet [a major national newspaper]: Oslo, Norway on April 9, 2005.
The original article can be found at: http://www.dagbladet.no/magasinet/2005/04/09/428372.html This material was translated with permission of Dagbladet and is not meant for commercial publication.
THE ABUSED CHILDREN OF GOD
As a child, Ricky had been sexually abused by leaders of The Children of God in the USA. In January he shot one of them—and himself. The cult is still active in Norway.
“THERE’S A NEED for revenge.”
The young man with short hair speaks to a video camera as he puts bullets into a magazine. His name is Ricky Rodriguez. He is twenty-nine years old. He was called Davidito when he was growing up as crown prince of the controversial Christian sect The Children of God, also known as The Family.
Ricky putters around with his knife and firearms as he tells about the sexual abuse his mother and stepfather inflicted on both him and his sister. And he tells about all the other kids who were abused.
“What about the thousands of us who were literally ‘fucked over’?”
DURING THE 1970s they called themselves The Children of God. The sect’s founder David Berg spoke out against the consumer society and the Vietnam War, and he was in favor of a collective lifestyle with everything shared by all. He was also in favor of sex. Lots of sex. He saw sexual freedom as an expression of God’s love.
“I practice what I preach, and I preach sex, boys and girls,” he said in a recording put out by the group in the 1970s.
There is no such thing as adultery among The Children of God, who believe that also children should participate in God’s sexual freedom.
“There is nothing at all wrong with sex, so long as it’s practiced with love, neither with what you do, who it’s with, or how old they are . . .” Berg wrote in the booklet “The Devil Hates Sex—But God Loves It.”
During the 1970s the cult grew to many thousand members—an estimate is fifteen thousand—and spread to all parts of the world. The organization says that it’s still active in over a hundred countries.
In Norway there were at most a few hundred members. The sect now states that about twenty members live in Norway. In addition, forty missionaries with a Norwegian background work for the Children of God in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe.
Cult members concede that their views on children and sex during the 1970s were too permissive, but assert that they have cleaned things up. An official statement claims that Rodriguez’s claims are unsubstantiated and were intentionally spread in order to harm the group.
RICKY RODRIGUEZ is the adopted son of the late David Berg, the sect’s leader. Ricky’s mother is the sect’s current leader, Karen Zerby. She became pregnant with Ricky while she was practicing so-called flirty fishing—sex with strangers to bring in income and attract new members. His biological father was a waiter named Carlos, whom she met in Tenerife during the 1970s.
In the video Ricky says he wants to kill his mother for the abuse she exposed him to.
“My own mother . . . Fucking shit! How can you do stuff like that to little kids?” he says.
Throughout the entire video he fiddles around with his knife and other weapons.
The videotape in which Ricky Rodriguez says good-bye to those close to him is fifty-six minutes long. He made it himself this year on January 7 in Tucson, Arizona. The next day he took first the life of fifty-one-year-old Angela Smith, a former leading member of the cult’s, and then his own. The video was intended as an explanation for his survivors. Magasinet has seen the video, which is available on the internet. An excerpt was shown on American TV.
The murder and the video have led to strong reactions among both former and current members of the cult. A number of people who grew up in the sect have come forward to tell how they were exposed to mental, physical, and sexual abuse.
“Nothing Ricky says in the video is exaggerated. I met him several times. His abuse was documented in writing and photos, and published internally within the cult. I’m not surprised that his life ended so tragically,” someone who belonged to The Chldren of God’s secretive inner circle for many years tells us.
“There are many who grew up in the sect who carry the same mental burdens as Ricky. They were abused in front of others their own age. These children need help,” he says.
“PETER” GREW UP in The Children of God. Part of his childhood was spent in Norway. He now lives in Oslo. As a little boy, he traveled around Europe with his parents in a trailer as they proclaimed the Day of Judgment and brought in money for the sect.
“We would go into churches in the middle of the service and tell about the Day of Judgment. Once the police came after us. That was frightening, but also funny,” he recounts, and says that he witnessed his first orgy at the age of seven.
“All the grownups were dancing around naked. It was very sexual. But I believed that was the way things were.”
When he was eight years old, his father burned his school books.
“He said that it was all over, that the world was going to be destroyed. What good would I get from school books?”
Instead of going to school, children had to go out to sell cassettes and flyers to bring the group income.
“We weren’t allowed to come home before selling our quota. The days were long, but we were good at it. The flyers about free love went fast, but the ones about the Day of Judgment were harder to sell.”
Peter lived in several of the sect’s camps for young people. He told about the iron discipline.
“We always had to say ‘sir’ to the grownups. Taking a glass of milk after breakfast was grounds for verbal abuse. If you talked back to the grownups, you’d be beaten. Shoe horns, belts, bamboo sticks. If that wasn’t punishment enough, you’d be beaten in front of the other kids. Once my brother was beaten until he lost consciousness. It was like a meatgrinder,” says Peter.
He spent some of his teen years in the cult’s commune at Flisa in Eastern Norway.
“That was one of the better places, but a lot of strange things happened there, too. Some children were punished by being locked up, or by so-called silence restrictions. Then nobody was allowed to talk to them, they couldn’t speak to anyone themselves, and they had to go around wearing a sign.”
The Family’s child rearing handbook still allows physical punishment [it is illegal in Norway] and up to three hours’ denial of the right to speak. The handbook is published on their website.
Peter now has a job, children, and a partner. He left the cult several years ago. He is doing well, but the memories are hard to bear for this man in his thirties.
“I get really upset talking about this. I’m afraid of getting depressed.”
“Do you want revenge?”
“No. I’ve taken the time to learn how to manage on my own. When I left The Family, I had no education, no money, and most everyone I knew were still members of the group. Now I have a job and my own family, and want to spend the rest of my life enjoying that. But The Family has never asked for forgiveness. If they want to make a fresh start, they have to admit what has happened.”
“I’LL NEVER FORGIVE my parents.”
“Mark” was born and raised in The Children of God. He was born in the United States, has American parents, but spent almost twelve years of his childhood in Norway. He lived in Oslo, Trondheim, and Bergen, and at the Flisa commune.
“When I was six years old, I was forced to have oral sex with a grown man. Mama found out about it, and he got a reprimand. But he stayed in the group for many years after that. He liked to watch me undress,” says Mark.
“I’ve seen kids have sex with grownups. I had to watch my sister dance naked in front of the men—she was just beginning to get breasts. And my mother worked as a prostitute.”
Mark left the cult several years ago, lives in Norway, and has a job in the business sector. His childhood in The Children of God is something he never discusses with anybody, not even close friends.
“Every fucking day I have to tell a new lie to people I don’t want to know about my childhood.”
He tells about other defectors, his age, who’ve committed suicide.
“We count on it. We have on the average one suicide every six months among us who grew up in The Children of God. Many just can’t take it any more. Many girls have become strippers or prostitutes.”
Mark has much to say about the Flisa commune.
“The municipality agreed to let us receive home schooling, but we never got any real instruction. When the child welfare authorities came, we left. The grownups called it persecution.”
Several days a week the children had to go in to Oslo to sing, ask for money, and sell flyers, he recounts.
“None of the grownups had jobs. We solicited vegetables and clothes and said that they were for the poor. We lied, and people were so incredibly naïve. I’d be standing out on Karl Johan [Oslo’s elegant shopping street] for hours in thin clothes freezing in the cold. No one reacted. I mean, I grew up in Scandinavia. I didn’t get any schooling, I wasn’t allowed to talk to kids outside the cult, I stood on the street asking for money. Why didn’t anyone react, where were the authorities?”
JON EINISSON was head of the social welfare department in the Åsne municipality when The Children of God settled in Flisa at the start of the 1990s. He remembers the sect well, but says that he’s professionally obligated to keep some things confidential.
“But I can say that on a general basis I found grounds for concern. Children were kept out of the school system, and they glorified sexuality as a sign of God’s grace and love. But that was more than a small rural municipality could handle. We weren’t capable of mounting a serious investigation. We reported it to the county, but nothing happened.”
The municipality carried out several inspections of the commune that were announced in advance, but decided not to intervene. Einisson stepped down as head of the social welfare department some months after The Children of God came to the area.
“In all my decades of public service in the fields of education and social welfare, this case is mong those that aroused my very greatest concern. But I felt completely helpless. We had no resources to mount an investigation,” he says.
When he stepped down, the assistant head of the social welfare department, Ulf Stener Olsen, took over the case. On July 18, 1991, Olsen authored a report in which he held that the child welfare department found no conduct substantiating suspicions of child sexual abuse or neglect. He described how beautifully the children sang and how disciplined and unafraid of expressing themselves they were.
“We found no grounds to call for an intervention, although things can, of course, be covered up. Once it’s too late to do anything, you can hear the craziest things. It’s hard to catch such things with our current system,” says Olsen to Magasinet.
The commune at Flisa no longer exists. According to what Magasinet understands, The Family now has no large communes in Norway.
FIFTY-FOUR-YEAR-OLD AMERICAN DAVID LYKINS joined The Children of God in 1971. Since 1998 he has been in charge of the sect’s work in Norway. He rejects the allegations of extensive child abuse.
“We’ve heard these allegations for years. We’ve had several court cases lodged against us and were acquitted each and every time. I myself have ten children and am expecting my seventh grandchild. If any child abuse had occurred in The Family, I would have raised hell. But we have several thousand members in over a hundred countries, so I can’t say that it’s never happened. There have been isolated incidents, but we have zero tolerance for such things,” says Lykins.
He believes the allegations are a private matter between defectors and their parents.
“I know quite a few of these former members and their parents, and ninety-nine percent of the cases are about internal family conflicts. This doesn’t have a thing to do with The Children of God.”
THE FAMILY’S LEADERS admit that child abuse could have taken place within the group, but claim that it ended after the organization introduced rules against sexual contact with children in 1986.
“There’s talk of a few isolated incidents,” says Abi Freeman, spokesperson for The Family in Europe.
She says that during the seventies and eighties the group’s theology was too permissive and lacked boundaries to shield children from the adults’ sex lives.
“We were more sexually permissive then, and it could have happened that minor children experienced things they shouldn’t have. But it wasn’t very widespread,” says Freeman.
The sexual violation of Ricky Rodriguez is to some extent documented in the book The Story of Davidito, which the cult’s leadership published in 1982. Photos in the book show the three-year-old boy kissing the breasts of his babysitter, posing in front of naked models, and kissing and embracing other children. “Romantic Triangle of Three-Year-Olds” reads one caption. The book was intended to be a child-rearing manual for the cult.
“The book includes ideas on education, coping with problem behaviors, and so on. And then there was something improper in it, and we’ve apologized for that,” says Freeman.
“What kind of thing was it that was improper?”
“There were some things, like if a boy wasn’t circumcized, then he needed help, you know, to keep it clean. From what I remember there could also have been a discussion about how to help a boy with a tight foreskin. Advice you can expect to find in any book on child rearing. And then there were some pictures that shouldn’t have been published.”
“Did it include sexual material concerning children?”
“The Story of Davidito is a book of four hundred pages, there were maybe ten to twenty pages with pictures or text with an implied crossing of the normal bounds of tenderness. But we’ve distanced ourselves from that book,” says Freeman.
IN 1991 AND 1995 , in detailed messages sent out to all their communes, The Children of God’s leadership instructed its members to destroy a series of publications. A former member of the leadership has provided Magasinet with copies of the lists of what was destroyed. Titles like “The Girl Who Didn’t Want To,” “The Devil Hates Sex,” and “Child Brides” indicate the content of the literature that had to be destroyed or censored. Freeman says that she can’t confirm that the list is an authentic document, but admits that Berg did indeed write, on several occasions, about children and sex.
“David Berg was thinking out loud about whether the bounds society had placed on sexuality were valid, about when the cross-over from childhood to adulthood actually occurred. The idea that one isn’t yet adult when one reaches puberty is quite a new one, and in large parts of the world the sexual age of consent is still only fourteen or fifteen. But Berg distanced himself from this later on,” says Abi Freeman.
In 1986 sexual abuse of children became grounds for ejection from The Children of God, and David Berg moved away from his earlier teachings about children and sexuality.
“There were bad things that happened, but we do don’t them anymore. No one meant to harm anyone, but we recognize and admit that there were some problems. Therefore we introduced new and stricter rules, and now the children in The Family are probably less exposed to abuse than children in the rest of society, where such abuse is widespread. We’ve been exposed to a series of investigations by child welfare and police departments all over the world, and there have been several court cases. No one has been convicted. We’ve cleaned up our act, and we’d like to speak about all the other things that we do, our assistance to tsunami victims, our evangelization, and so on,” says Freeman.
DID THE FAMILY REALLY CLEAN UP ITS ACT in 1986? A series of former members have come forth in the American media, asserting that they were exposed to abuse in The Family after 1986 and after the clean-up efforts at the end of the 1980s.
One of them is spokesperson Abi Freeman’s own daughter. In March of this year she told the British Evening Standard that she’d been subjected to abuse in The Family after 1986. Freeman prefers not to comment on her daughter’s assertions.
“I don’t really know what my daughter has or hasn’t said. The same journalist interviewed me and I wasn’t accurately quoted. Her problems are her own personal problems; this doesn’t have anything to do with The Family. There’s a great danger for any woman, no matter where she grows up, of being subjected to sexual abuse. And do you believe I’d want to be in an organization that tolerates this?”
Internal documents that Magasinet has obtained show that as late as 1993 the leadership was advocating a permissive point of view regarding intimate relationships with minors.
Abi Freeman confirms the existence of the documents, but she says that these statements were later regretted and disavowed.
ANOTHER EX-MEMBER, twenty-nine-year-old Kristy La Mattery from San Diego, California, tells Magasinet that incidents of sexual abuse continued after 1986 and that the leadership didn’t respond.
“We were required to make videos where we stripped or danced for the men,” she recounts.
Now she’s working to start up a foundation to help people who grew up in The Children of God.
Kristy reported the abuse to the leadership. They eventually made the perpetrator ask for forgiveness. According to Kristy, who later left the sect, the incidences of abuse continued. In 1998 Kristy’s little sister was taken away from her mother by Child Protective Services of San Diego.
NOW THE CULT’S LEADER, KAREN ZERBY, requires members to have sex with Jesus. The so-called Loving Jesus doctrine is described in the organization’s homepages. Believers who want a more intimate relationship with Jesus, according to Zerby, can imagine that they are having sex with Jesus when they masturbate or copulate. Since the sect is against homosexuality, men must imagine that they are women having sex with Jesus. The sect confirms that they have developed special instructions for ten-year-olds who are interested in Loving Jesus.
“I’d been thinking about leaving the sect for a long time,” says Peter, “but Loving Jesus was the last straw for me and for many others who’d grown up in the sect. It was then that we realized that The Family would never change.”
“ANNE,” A YOUNG BLOND woman living in Oslo, is another ex-member who tells how she was sexually abused as she grew up in The Children of God. Anne says that the abuse occurred when she was living in one of the cult’s communes in Asia.
“From when I was eleven, there was a man who would hug and kiss me all the time. I was tall and blond. When I sit in a café these days, I always sit with my back against the wall. That’s because the grownups in the commune where I lived would often grab my breasts from behind.”
Once, when the commune had arranged a costume ball, Anne didn’t want to dance with the man she’d reported as having assaulted her.
“Then my mother told me that other girls my age gave big hugs and were much more open. We should show forth God’s love.”
Anne got help from Save the Children. Through its project Go On instigated in 1999, almost forty children and young people raised in The Children of God were helped to begin a new life in Norway. Many of the defectors are struggling to create a normal life for themselves after growing up in the sect during the seventies, eighties, and nineties.
“The sexual abuse wasn’t the only thing. Other things were at least as bad. You could never place yourself first or think your own thoughts. Pride and independence were looked down on. Such an upbringing makes it hard for us to get along in a normal society,” says Anne.
She herself grew up in the fear of dying.
“They told us all the time that the world was about to be destroyed. When I was six years old, we had to escape to Asia. The North had turned its back on God, and nuclear war was at hand,” Anne recounts.
The grownups talked about signs that the apocalypse was near all the time.
“I never counted on living more than sixteen or eighteen years.”
“I made a list of things I wanted to do before I died. Ride a horse, have kids, things like that.”
“THE ABUSES REPORTED in the Children of God were inherent in its system,” says Turid Berger, a family lawyer and mediator.
She has worked as a lawyer in child welfare cases for many years and was director of the Go On project for Save the Children.
“The stories of Anne and the other defectors are trustworthy. Many of them tell of similar circumstances. What I heard from defectors from The Children of God was worse than anything I had ever previously experienced. And I’d seen some of this country’s worst cases during the course of my child welfare work,” she says.
Dag Hareide, former secretary general of the Society for the Conservation of Natural Resources and member of the Verdikommisjon, took part in initiating Go On. Now he’s director of the Nordic Forum for Mediation and Conflict Resolution. Hareide knows both current and former members of the cult.
“There are good sides of this sect as well, children get a communitarian and international upbringing. But it’s a tough, totalitarian upbringing. I haven’t gone into their private histories and can’t say anything about what occurred, for example, in terms of sexual experimentation. But many of them need psychotherapy,” says Hareide.
His commitment has been to help them establish themselves in Norway.
“When you come out of a cult at the age of twenty-one and are a Norwegian citizen, but can’t speak Norwegian and haven’t gone to high school and know very little about how a normal society functions, then it’s tough,” says Hareide.
THE GO ON PROJECT has made it possible for many of the cult’s defectors to get along reasonably well in Norway. Things didn’t go so well for Ricky Rodriguez, the young man in the video.
In his farewell video he describes his gruesome plan.
His mother, Karen Zerby, is living in an undisclosed location—her last known residence is in Portugal. Ricky tracked down his mother’s former secretary, Angela Smith, who took part in his upbringing. Ricky says that he intends to use torture to get her to tell him where his mother is hiding.
He shows the camera a silencer-equipped power drill, a stun gun, and a sharp steak knife.
“A rather primitive set of devices I believe will work wonders,” he says.
The plan goes wrong. The former secretary doesn’t reveal his mother’s location. Angela Smith dies on the floor of her apartment, her throat slit and twelve stab wounds in her body. Ricky gets into his car and drives to California. He calls his wife to say farewell. A few hours later he shoots himself in the head near the little town of Blythe’s water works.
A worker there finds his corpse the next morning. Ricky “Davidito” Rodriguez lies drenched in blood, with a gunshot wound in his head, against the hood of his Chevy Cavalier, a Glock 40-caliber pistol by his side. The cult leader’s prodigal son, the assumed crown prince, the one who proclaimed the End Times’ arrival, is dead.
When the police come to his residence, the dead man’s phone begins to ring. It’s his wife, Elixa Munumuel, on the line. She tells the police that her husband called her the previous night to confess that he’d committed a murder. In his farewell call to his wife, Ricky Rodriguez told her about the conversation he’d had with his victim, Angela Smith, before her death.
“She didn’t understand what she’d done that was bad,” Ricky said according to his wife.
ANGELA SMITH’S MURDER and Ricky’s subsequent suicide stimulated much media attention in the U.S.A. Many ex-members came forth with their stories. For “Mark,” Ricky Rodriguez is a sort of hero.
“I’m completely against anyone taking another person’s life, but many of us who left The Family haven’t spoken about this for years. Now it’s all coming up again. All the repressed feelings are coming to life.”
He pauses to reflect a bit.
“Honestly speaking, I can’t really criticize him for what he did. Now something might actually happen. But it was too bad Ricky took his own life. Now, of course, there won’t be any trial.”
First published Saturday, April 9, 2005
The Children of God was founded by the Swedish American preacher David “Moses” Brandt Berg in Huntington Beach, California, in 1968. The sect later used names like The Family of Love and The Family and now operates under the name The Family International. They also operate under other names, such as Activated Ministries and the Family Care Foundation. In Norway they use the names Familien IMS and Norrøne Hjelpeorganisasjon. The latter’s mailing address is at Tangen in Hedmark.
During the seventies Berg developed a theology in which sex was an expression of God’s love, freely shared by all. Women were required to get jobs as escorts or prostitutes to earn income for the cult and bring in new members. This was called flirty fishing.
In 1986 Berg and his inner circle instituted a major upheaval in their doctrine about children and sex and put an end to flirty fishing. The sect and a number of individual members have been investigated by the judicial systems and child welfare departments of several countries, but most of them were acquitted.
David Berg died in 1994, and his wife, Karen Zerby, took over the leadership role. It’s not known where she currently lives. Her last known residence was in Portugal.
The Family International currently states that it has around eight thousand (8,000) members and eighty thousand (80,000) supporters in over eight (80) countries.
The movement’s website: www.thefamily.org
Website for ex-members who grew up in The Family of God: www.movingon.org
Testimony from current members: www.myconclusion.com
Website for current and former members: www.newdaynews.com
Website run by former members: www.xfamily.org
Foreign newspaper articles about The Children of God: www.rickross.com
Ricky Rodriguez’ farewell video: ww.ishiver.com
Dagbladet editor THOR GJERMUND ERIKSEN
Magasinet editor JANE THRONDSEN
Mailing address: PB 1184 Sentrum, 0107 Oslo
Phone number from USA: 011 22 31 05 57
Fax from USA: 011 22 31 05 22
Magasinet takes no responsibility for unsolicited material. Copyright Dagbladet.no 2005.