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Scientology sued by worker who says she was forced to marry abuser

A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court accuses Scientology leader David Miscavige of enabling a culture of sexual abuse.
 
David Miscavige, the ecclesiastical leader of Scientology, is seen in this undated handout photo provided by the Church of Scientology.
David Miscavige, the ecclesiastical leader of Scientology, is seen in this undated handout photo provided by the Church of Scientology. [ Church of Scientology ]
Published June 26, 2023|Updated June 27, 2023

After Church of Scientology officials learned in 1991 that a 16-year-old religious worker claimed to have been sexually assaulted, they failed to report the allegations to police and instead arranged for the girl to marry her abuser, according to a lawsuit unsealed last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The complaint against Scientology leader David Miscavige, recruiter Gavin Potter and three church entities alleges that the organization created a culture where sexual abuse was enabled by policies written by founder L. Ron Hubbard.

The lawsuit maintains that Scientologists are prohibited from reporting crimes to police committed by fellow members. It also alleges that minors are especially susceptible to sexual abuse in Scientology, which views them as “adults in the bodies of children.” Hubbard taught that each person is an immortal being who has lived many lifetimes over billions of years.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a woman identified as Jane Doe, who said Scientology officials facilitated Potter’s sexual abuse after he convinced her as a teenager to remain in Scientology’s full-time workforce called the Sea Org. She is now in her late 40s.

In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, William Forman, an attorney representing Scientology, called the lawsuit “a con job and an attempted shakedown.”

“The church has no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct of anyone — Scientologists or not — to law enforcement,” Forman said. “Quite the opposite, church policy explicitly demands Scientologists abide by all laws of the land. Allegations to the contrary are false.”

However, in a 1968 book called “Introduction to Scientology Ethics,” Hubbard wrote that reporting Scientologists to civil authorities constituted a high crime. Mike Rinder, a former Scientology executive who defected in 2007, previously explained that Scientologists are required to follow Hubbard’s words literally.

“Though Scientology claims it ‘has no policy against reporting crimes,’ these words from Hubbard make clear it is exactly what they demand from their members,” Rinder wrote in a 2022 blog post.

The plaintiff in the unsealed lawsuit is one of the women who sued Scientology and Miscavige in 2019 on claims that church officials stalked and harassed them after reporting to Los Angeles police that they had been raped by actor and Scientology parishioner Danny Masterson. That lawsuit is ongoing. Last month, Masterson was convicted of two counts of rape in the related criminal case and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 4.

Doe’s lawsuit, which was filed in December but remained sealed until last week, alleges negligence, child sexual abuse and fraud. She is being represented by Graham Berry, a Los Angeles attorney who began representing clients against Scientology in the 1990s. Her team also includes attorneys with the Edwards Pottinger and Motley Rice law firms, which have represented victims of pedophile and disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

The lawsuit describes Potter as a top church recruiter who allegedly used fear tactics and flirtation to bring young girls into the Sea Org, a military-style workforce that requires members to sign billion-year contracts.

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Doe was born into Scientology in 1974 and joined the Sea Org when she was 14, according to the lawsuit. At 16, she was assigned to become a receptionist at the L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition in Los Angeles.

Regretting her decision, the lawsuit states that Doe went to live with her parents. Potter was sent to the home and “convinced Jane Doe the world was ending,” getting her to return to the Sea Org, according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Potter began sexually assaulting Jane Doe during car rides when she was 16. She informed a coworker, who “immediately told a Church of Scientology International manager, who then told Gavin Potter’s manager,” the lawsuit says.

Due to policies regarding sexual contact between Sea Org members, the lawsuit alleges that Doe and Potter were given the choice to go to a prisonlike work camp for five years or be married. Because a judge in California would have had to sign off on the marriage of a minor, the lawsuit alleges that Doe’s “port captain” arranged for Doe and Potter to travel to Las Vegas to be married.

The lawsuit alleges that each time Doe had sex with Potter she “did so because she felt coerced.” She became pregnant at 19. She “escaped with her daughter” in 1997 when she was 23 and divorced Potter, according to the lawsuit.

Scientology officials “knew ... of Gavin Potter’s unlawful sexual conduct, that he was an unfit agent, and still placed him in a position to solicit young girls into an environment in which sexual assault and battery were commonplace,” the lawsuit contends.