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Former Scientologist called police. When that went nowhere, she sued.

Challenging the battle-tested church can be difficult for defectors trying to prove their allegations.
The Church of Scientology's Flag Building at 215 S Fort Harrison Ave. in downtown Clearwater.
The Church of Scientology's Flag Building at 215 S Fort Harrison Ave. in downtown Clearwater. [ DOUGLAS CLIFFORD | Times (2019) ]
Published May 19|Updated May 20

Before she sued the Church of Scientology last month for allegedly trafficking her as a child, Valeska Paris, 44, tried to pursue criminal charges.

She filed a 32-page affidavit in September 2019 with the Clearwater Police Department alleging forced labor and sexual abuse as a child in England, a teenager in Clearwater and as a young adult on the church’s Freewinds ship in the Caribbean.

And she told police where they could find evidence to prove it.

Related: 10 things about Scientology now appearing in a Tampa Bay legal case

Scientology keeps extensive documentation on its parishioners through a detailed system laid out by founder L. Ron Hubbard. The church’s one-on-one counseling or “auditing” sessions are transcribed and stored indefinitely. “Ethics” files keep track of transgressions by church staffers and parishioners. And members are encouraged to write reports about fellow Scientologists’ misdeeds and information that could be a threat to the church.

The longer a person remains in Scientology, the more the trove of files grows as they sit for counseling and interact with others. Paris was a member for 32 years.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office denied the department’s request for a subpoena in Paris’ case in June 2020 because the justification did not meet the criteria to compel records, according to the police report. But when police Det. Eliad Glenn requested the church provide Paris’ records without a subpoena, Scientology legal director Sarah Heller responded that “notwithstanding any religious or privacy issues” she found no documents.

Since 2018, the state attorney’s office did grant subpoenas in two other cases for Clearwater Police to obtain the files of former parishioners as they investigated claims of abuse, according to records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. In both instances, Scientology’s legal director responded with the same language as they did in Paris’ case. They had no records related to the allegations.

However, church policies mandate precise storage of parishioner folders and require their retention even after death so they can be retrieved in future lifetimes.

The difficulty in obtaining information from Scientology, even with a subpoena, is one of many obstacles investigators and plaintiffs’ attorneys have faced over the years as the battle-tested organization has defeated challenge after challenge in court.

When asked how it could be possible that the church did not have files on former parishioners relevant to the police investigations, Scientology spokesperson Ben Shaw told the Times that “the Church’s responses to the Clearwater Police Department were complete and accurate.”

“We fully cooperated with law enforcement and there is no more to say on the matter,” Shaw said.

Glenn stated his investigation could address only the allegations Paris made about her time in Clearwater from 1992 to 1996 when she was ages 14 to 18. Police closed her case in August 2020, saying the statute of limitations had expired.

The report notes a lack of corroborating evidence and witnesses for child abuse and battery allegations, and it does not state police interviewed anybody else. For the child abuse allegation, it states that Paris “did not name any specific suspect responsible for forcing her to do hard labor and forcing her to live in filthy conditions.”

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Although Paris stated the evidence was in her church folders, Chief Daniel Slaughter said police had little recourse after Scientology officials said they had no documents “notwithstanding any religious or privacy issues.”

Securing the documents would have been a difficult undertaking, Slaughter said, citing what he described as a “well-crafted response” by the church. It did not confirm the records existed and suggested religious and privacy issues would be an additional barrier.

Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter
Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter [ Times (2020) ]

And in Paris’ case, he said, it would not have been possible to get a subpoena or a higher level of judicial intervention because the state attorney’s office advised the statute of limitations had expired.

“Because we didn’t have a prosecutable case, we didn’t have a leg to stand on to push the investigation further,” Slaughter said. “Once I don’t have an enforceable case or prosecutable case, nobody is going to give me a search warrant.”

He said that after closing Paris’ case and the two others that obtained subpoenas, he forwarded all the documents to the FBI.

“They don’t necessarily give a formal response but it was shared with them for anything outside of our jurisdiction,” he said of the federal agency.

Paris joined husband and wife Gawain Baxter and Laura Baxter in the federal lawsuit against Scientology filed in Tampa on April 28, all of them alleging they were trafficked as children. As members of Scientology’s military style workforce — the Sea Org — the three said they were heavily indoctrinated and trapped, unable financially, physically and psychologically to leave as adults.

“The allegations are both scurrilous and ridiculous and the lawsuit is both a sham and a scam,” said Shaw, the Scientology spokesperson.

Paris was born in Geneva and lived at Scientology’s base in England from ages 6 to 14, where she was separated from her parents, who were in the Sea Org. Workers in the full-time religious order sign billion-year contracts and run all aspects of Scientology operations, from landscaping to surveillance.

As a child, she was put to work cleaning the dormitory and taking care of newborns, according to her police report and lawsuit.

At 14, she was sent to join the Sea Org at the church’s Flag Land Base in Clearwater, known as “Flag,” where she studied Hubbard’s written policies and got no formal education, according to her report. She spent her days cleaning rooms at the Fort Harrison Hotel, where parishioners stay when they visit Flag for courses and counseling.

While in the Commodore’s Messenger Organization, a special unit in the Sea Org, she worked from 8 a.m. to midnight every day for $50 a week cleaning executives’ offices, doing their laundry and preparing meals.

“This included David Miscavige who I was scared of as he would scream nonstop at other executives and a couple of times at me when I was a kid,” Paris wrote in her declaration, referring to Scientology’s leader.

On this unit, Paris said a fellow Sea Org member repeatedly sexually assaulted her for three months by picking her up from behind and rubbing his genitals against hers.

She eventually reported him, according to her affidavit, and she was punished.

“We are taught very early on that if you say what is happening to you, you will be put on the meter and interrogated for your crimes,” she said in the affidavit, referencing the E-meter, a device used in Scientology during auditing. “We are taught that if you say you have been violated, you will get in trouble.”

Scientology teaches that people are entirely responsible for what happens to them and that they attract negative experiences when they do something bad in their lives.

If a person wrote a report on someone who assaulted them, for example, the victim would get interrogated and punished through Scientology’s ethics system, Paris explained in the affidavit.

After the Sea Org member assaulted her another time, Paris wrote that she did not report him again because she felt it would be pointless.

When she was 17, her mother fled the Sea Org and planned to sue Scientology to expose abuses, according to her affidavit. Paris was ordered to write her a letter stating she was essentially disowning her, according to the report.

Soon after, Paris was informed she would be transferred to work on the Freewinds ship in the Caribbean, a vessel the church operates to disseminate its highest-level courses to parishioners. Paris worked for 11 years on the ship, where, she said, she was forced to do excruciating labor for little or no pay and endured mental, physical and sexual abuse. Staff on the ship surrender their passports and other identification when reporting for duty, according to accounts by former Sea Org members over the years.

“No phone, no bank account, no passport and nowhere to go,” Paris wrote. In her affidavit, she disclosed multiple anecdotes of fellow Sea Org members who had died from lack of medical care or suicide.

In 2007, she was sent to Australia to work on the Rehabilitation Project Force, “a punishment rehabilitation and re-education program which is like a prison camp,” she stated.

“You do hard (labor) all day and then five hours of getting brainwashed basically with interrogations on the meter of everything you’ve done wrong,” she wrote in her affidavit.

Following multiple requests to exit the Sea Org, Paris was permitted to leave in 2009 by going through four months of intensive interrogation, according to her lawsuit.

There is precedent for acquiring information that exists in parishioners files.

In 2009, former Sea Org member Laura DeCrescenzo sued Scientology in Los Angeles, alleging she was forced to work grueling hours as a child and that church officials coerced her into having an abortion at 17 to ensure she kept working.

During the litigation, the court ordered Scientology to turn over 18,000 pages of documents related to DeCrescenzo, including her auditing folders. Scientology officials unsuccessfully appealed to the California State Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court to fight the order.

Transcriptions of her auditing sessions released in the court documents show that DeCrescenzo told her auditor that she did not want her abortion, according to court records published by Tony Ortega, who runs a blog critical of Scientology.

The folders also included DeCrescenzo’s handwritten letters from her time in the Sea Org, which corroborated her desperation and mental state. Scientology settled the lawsuit with DeCrescenzo in 2018, weeks before the case was to go to trial.

As for Paris, she said in her affidavit that it took her 10 years to come forward to police because of the indoctrination in Scientology, noting that sexual, physical and mental abuse is the norm.

”It shaped who I became and why I did nothing effective about the sexual abuse I endured at the church in Florida as well as other child abuse and human trafficking,” Paris wrote. “Why have you heard nothing about it? Because most of us didn’t even know that touching a child sexually was illegal.”

She added: “It is also in the church teachings to cover it up upon the belief it will get fixed with Scientology.”

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