Advertisement
  1. Archive

Lawsuit accuses Scientology, David Miscavige of child abuse, human trafficking, libel.

The 380,000 square-foot Flag building is Scientology’s international spiritual headquarters in downtown Clearwater. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2011)]
Published Jun. 19

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."

The FBI investigated Scientology for human trafficking in 2009 and 2010 but did not file charges.

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 tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Pasco firefighters said the blaze broke out at a home in the 3000 block of Thistledown Lane.
  2. Four, six-week old puppies rescued from inadequate breeding conditions, wait to be checked by veterinary staff at the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center. Over 300 small-breed dogs were rescued from a breeder on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    To qualify for a Hillsborough County lottery, apply in person Sunday and pass a background check.
  3. Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman was behind the push for a ban on teenage vaping. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
    The change makes it illegal to sell products to under-age customers and bans minors from possessing vaping paraphernalia.
  4. April Griffin
    The former Hillsborough County School Board member will compete against longtime agency employee Nancy Millan for the Constitutional office. The deadline for qualifying is June 12, 2020.
  5. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The first happened at about 4:30 p.m. in North Ybor and left one man wounded. At 5 p.m., a man was fatally shot in Sulphur Springs.
  6. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Stephone Johnson, 27, faces as misdemeanor domestic battery charge.
  7. These are four of the puppies rescued from a puppy mill in Valrico as they wait to be checked by veterinary staff at the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center. More than 300 small-breed dogs were rescued in September and will soon be put up for adoption. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    More than 300 dogs were rescued in mid-September from terrible conditions inside a Valrico puppy mill. They will be put up for adoption in a few weeks.
  8. When Hurricane Michael made landfall  in October 2018, the eye of the storm was 300 miles away from downtown Tampa. Yet Bayshore Boulevard along the city's waterfront was still flooded by a swollen and violent Hillsborough Bay. JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Researchers have spent two years identifying Hillsborough’s weaknesses in the face of sea-level rise. Now it’s up to county officials to do something about it.
  9. Tavoris Allen was arrested Dec. 10, 2018,  after deputies say he converted marijuana into cannabis oil inside the fire station where he worked. Florida Department of Corrections
    Tavoris Allen said he never had a chance to confront his accusers after they surprised him at the Hillsborough County fire station where he worked.
  10. Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill
    Merrill will retire as county administrator in June. That didn’t stop the three newest county commissioners from letting him know where he could improve his performance.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement