A team of eight victims' rights attorneys on Tuesday filed the first of what they promise will be a series of lawsuits against the Church of Scientology and its leader, David Miscavige, on behalf of defectors who say they suffered a range of exploitation from child abuse, human trafficking and forced labor to revenge tactics related to the church's Fair Game policy.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of an unnamed Jane Doe born in 1979, outlines her lifetime of alleged suffering in Scientology where she was subjected as a child at the Clearwater headquarters to abuse inherent to auditing, Scientology's spiritual counseling that can more resemble interrogation. It states she joined the church's clergy-like Sea Org in California at 15, where people worked 100 hours a week for $46. She was at times held against her will. When she officially left Scientology in 2017, Doe was followed by private investigators and terrorized by the church as it published “a hate website” falsely stating she was an alcoholic dismissed from the sect for promiscuity, according to the complaint.
“This isn't going to be the last of the lawsuits being filed,” Philadelphia-based attorney Brian Kent told the Tampa Bay Times, declining to say how many more are forthcoming. “We've seen what can happen when there is truth exposed in terms of child abuse within organizations. You've seen it with the Catholic Church, you're seeing it with the Southern Baptist Convention now. We're hoping for meaningful change.”
The legal team is made up of lawyers from Laffey, Bucci & Kent LLP and Soloff & Zervanos PC of Philadelphia; Thompson Law Offices in California; and Child USA, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse. Scientology spokespeople Ben Shaw and Karin Pouw did not respond to an email or phone calls for comment.
Kent said Doe's name was withheld "to protect her from additional public harassment” by the church.
The lawsuit mirrors abuse defectors have alleged over the decades since science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard founded the church in 1953. Miscavige took over as leader following Hubbard's death in 1986.
“The Church of Scientology presents a façade to the outside world to disguise what in reality is nothing more than a cult built on mind control and destruction of the independence and self-control of those drawn into its sphere,” the lawsuit states. “Members are isolated from the outside world, their access to information is heavily monitored and controlled, and they are subject to physical, verbal, psychological, emotional and/or sexual abuse and/or assault."
Doe was born into a Scientology family and lived at the church's international spiritual headquarters in Clearwater from ages 6 to 12 as a member of the Cadet Org, the organization's clergy for children. There she endured “military like conditions” where she worked and cleaned from 8 a.m. to midnight without proper schooling, according to the complaint.
At the age of 10, the complaint states Doe was subjected to Bullbaiting, a practice used to teach people how to not react to any insult, threat or inappropriate comment. The technique is taught to members learning how to conduct auditing, Scientology's spiritual counseling where subjects are interrogated in order to clear their reactive mind, which the church says holds trauma and pain from past lives.
“During this process, adults would say vulgar and sexually explicit things to children and punish them if they showed any visible reaction,” the lawsuit states, adding the practice falls within California's definition of child abuse. “(Doe) was forced, at the age of 10-years-old, to sit in a chair while adults screamed things in her face such as, 'I am going to f--- you and then your mother.'”
The lawsuit states Scientology's institutional practices that demand secrecy and prohibit members from contacting law enforcement have kept victims from coming forward even longer than victims of abuse in the Catholic and Jehovah's Witnesses denominations. Some phones within Scientology facilities are incapable of dialing 911, according to the lawsuit. Hubbard taught that spirit-like entities called thetans are reincarnated into bodies, meaning there are no children, only adults in the bodies of children.
In 1994 at age 15, Doe joined the Sea Org, Scientology's clergy-like workforce for teenagers and adults who sign billion-year contracts with the sect. She moved to Scientology's Gold Base in California and became a steward for Miscavige, working with him personally seven days a week, according to the lawsuit.
Miscavige's relationship with his wife, Shelly Miscavige, became increasingly hostile in 2005, and Shelly Miscavige was removed as his assistant in the Gold Base, according to the lawsuit. Because of her insight into the relationship, Doe was forced into “the Hole,” a set of doublewide trailers where senior executives accused of ethics violations are held in isolation, according to the lawsuit.
After three months in the Hole and three months of manual labor, the lawsuit states Doe was assigned to work on promotional videos. The non-Scientologist actors on sets became her only connection to the outside world.
Doe requested leave from her superiors but was denied. On one occasion she was physically restrained from leaving, according to the complaint.
In November 2016, Doe escaped by hiding in the trunk of a non-Scientologist actor's car as it left Gold Base.
The lawsuit states the church tried to get Doe's mother and brother to threaten disconnection, a church policy of excommunication that prohibits Scientologists from contacting any person deemed an enemy of the church, including family.
To avoid disconnection, Doe returned to Gold Base to “route out” of Scientology, a process of interrogations and surveillance required to leave the church on good terms. It took three months, the lawsuit states.
After leaving Scientology in 2017, Doe began working for actor Leah Remini, a former Scientologist who created the Emmy award winning A&E series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, which has detailed physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuses in the church.
Doe was featured on an episode in November 2018 and Scientology created websites attacking her, as it has done for others featured on the show. The website cites “© 2019 Church of Scientology International. All Rights Reserved” at the bottom of each page.
The site states Doe is a “documented liar who would say anything for money” and who was dismissed from the church for promiscuity and “couldn't hold down a job selling condoms." The lawsuit states these claims are false.
“There is no religious liberty defense for harming others,” said Marci Hamilton, a constitutional law scholar and founder of Child USA who is part of the team representing Doe. “(Scientology) believers have the right to believe anything they want. But they cannot do whatever they want. This lawsuit continues the important work of the #MeToo era to bring institutions and individuals to account for child abuse, trafficking, and neglect.”
The lawsuit also states agents of Scientology “stalked, surveilled and followed” Doe while driving from 2017 to June 2018. Hubbard's 1967 policy letter outlining Fair Game states those who seek to damage the church “may be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.''
Scientology officials have said the Fair Game policy was canceled 50 years ago. But scores of defectors, attorneys, journalists, critics and other perceived enemies of the church have reported being followed, harassed, sued and smeared when challenging Scientology.
“Scientology has a choice for how they want to act and what they want to be known for,” Kent said. “If that is continued harassment, following people, fair gaming people, then that's fine. They can be known for that … at the end of the day, people like our client with courage is standing up against wrongs happening.”
Contact Tracey McManus at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.