Insidious; Surviving A Cult

 Photos and Story by Magdalena Bleu Briggs

Her journal was all that was left behind.

Sad evidence within the pages showed how she struggled with the notion that everything she was told growing up was a lie.

She wrote she was talking to God and still trying to get prophecies.

As a child she was the most committed out of all her siblings a true believer she embodied gave the love they preached and taught all to portray.

Yet, she received daily beatings, told she was rotten and possessed by the devil.

After the beatings, she would go to her room and pray God to forgive her for her mistakes.

At 23 she started a successful business only after she had traveled the world with a professional dance company.

At 28 she put a gun to her head.

Her name was Victoria Ainis, and she was raised in The Family International, formerly The Children of God, one of the most notorious biblical based cults, [see page 33 for definitions of cults and seven signs your in a cult].

It was founded in the late 1960’s in Huntington Beach Calif., by David Berg.

Victoria’s mother and uncle joined the cult after members proselytized at their college in California.

The commune spread throughout the world and Victoria’s mother moved to several countries with some Family International members.

Like other women in the cult, she was used as bait for “Flirty Fishing,” a type of “holy” prostitution where the women sold their bodies.

They generated money for the cult, while also proselytizing to their clients.

This resulted in Jesus babies, a term used by the organization for children born out from Flirty Fishing and raised in large group homes.

After the fourth child, Victoria’s mother was forced to marry Romano Satanassi, which resulted in five more children.

Victoria lived with her mother in South Africa, along with sisters Maria Ainis, Martina and Carla Satanassi.

Maria recalled her early childhood as restricted. They were put into groups according to their age and lived in a boarding school within the community of more than 100 people. Children were only allowed to visit with their parents an hour a day.

“They didn’t like if you were creative. They didn’t like if you thought for yourself. They pretty much wanted to control everything that you did, thought and believed,” Maria said.

“Any sense of self or individualism was basically robbed from you to whip us into control.”

Their day would begin the same as other across the globe. They would wake, make their beds and get ready for breakfast.

However, after breakfast they had three hours of work and then they were supposed to pray and receive prophecies from Jesus.

Written reports were expected of what they learned in their prophecies.

Everything the children did was monitored by an adult supervisor, from how many glasses of water to how many times they used the bathroom.

Demerits were given any time any of the house rules were broken, which, according to Maria, were unavoidable because the house rules kept changing.

“So at the end of the week you would have certain amount of demerits. and you would get a fucking beating,” Maria said. “We just learned to not say anything.” Martina added. “Because if we would get in trouble we would get beat and our other siblings would get beatings.”

Their sister said Victoria received the worst of the beatings from their father, more so than her siblings. “It made me very angry and made me have a lot of resentment towards him, and I didn’t respect my mom because she kind of just let everything happen.

Members were taught they were supposed to be God’s right hand, prophets that would help Jesus re-build paradise on Earth after the apocalypse.

“I remember thinking I don’t want to be a missionary and feeling so much shame and guilt,” Maria said. “You were made to feel like you would rot in hell,” Martina added.

Like many Bible-based cults, the Family International believes a person can be saved and spend eternity in heaven only after they repent and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

They also believe that all other Christian faith groups are in error to some degree.

However, according to an article on the group in the Los Angeles Times, by Roy Rivenburg, sex was a strong theme.

Berg was quoted saying,

“There’s nothing in the world wrong with sex as long as it’s done with love … no matter who it’s with or what age or relative for that matter!”

The article also stated that Berg instructed the masturbation of young boys by their parents, sex with ghosts and sex with children.

Maria said, when she was growing up children were encouraged at a young age to be open about sex. Little girls were seen as adults at the age of 12.

They were encourage to not wear underwear or bras and wear translucent clothing, according to written materials by David Berg that were distributed throughout the commune.

“Women are taught and made to believe that their body was God’s gift of love to men, and therefore, they needed to go out into the world and share it freely,” Maria said.

She recollected that at the age of 12, she took her mother aside and begged to run away with her siblings, away from the commune and religion.

Maria feelt hopeful she was was able to to reach her mother’s sensibilities, but the cult won time and again.

“It’s a very psychotic way to raise a child,” Maria said.

Dr. Rachel Bernstein is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has specialized in helping victims of cults transition into society and deprogramming years of cult mentality and emotional abuse for more than 20 years.

Bernstein noted when a person is involved in a cult they are given the impression that without it they would be nothing, and, left to their own devices to make decisions for themselves, they will make the wrong ones.

The reason you are taught these things is so you stay and you are dependent on them for every decision, she said.

According to Patrick Ryan, a professional cult mediator since 1984 and founder of Cult Mediation, influencing or helping people maintain a relationship with their loved ones no matter what the circumstances is the most important.

“Ultimately you want to be able to come out to something,” Ryan said. “The worst thing possible is to come out of a group and you have no one on the outside, because you isolated everyone.”

Each sister, including Victoria, left the cult at different opportunities, and they eventually moved to Los Angeles to reunite with their grandparents and begin a new life.

Only their estranged father remains in South Africa and is still affiliated with the Family International.

The sisters are working on healing the pain and confusion of the past.

“I remember having this sense that it was wrong. I didn’t want this for me. When I grow up, this is not going to be me.” Martina recalled. “I don’t know how, but I knew this was not going to be my life.”

Eyes welled up as they spoke of their lives and healing, relating to others, getting to know themselves as who they really have become away from the programming.

“You are supposed to be God’s love, and yet there’s so much abuse. How do you hit your kids?” Maria asked.

According to Bernstein, cults tend to target people when they are in places of transition—most commonly colleges, prisons, hospitals and halfway homes.

“Cults usually send out charming, attractive people to recruit. What people don’t understand is that you get drowned into a well-oiled machine of manipulation,” Bernstein said. “There is a need for more professionals out there who are willing to understand and not blame the family or the victim for this.”

Bernstein worries there is a lack of help and understanding for people that have left a cult.

“I’d like to see more people doing this type of work,” Bernstein explained. “I would like to see the general public be more educated so people don’t have to worry about telling their stories and be judged and blamed.”

Both Ryan and Bernstein have seen cult members leave and come out without family without money, and, in some extreme cases, no education or the knowledge of how the outside world works.

“The hardest thing to deal with is cult mentality,” Ryan said. “You are helping someone re-evaluate or look at things they don’t particularly want to look at, and nobody wants to look at things you don’t want to look at.”

Ryan wants people to be better consumers, for people to learn to really investigate anything that makes amazing claims or seems too good to be true.

What helped these sisters survive and overcome was the strong bond they shared.

“Everything we are now is because we tried to be everything that they weren’t,” Carla said.

Martina credits her success to her sisters and the support they offer each other.

“We pulled away from everything they were, and that’s why we’re strong, because we just tried to be completely opposite.”

The sisters want people to have the strength to question everything.

Martina said of Victoria,

“She was in it the longest. She was the most committed and

got the worse of the beatings growing up, yet she was the sweetest, most beautiful soul on the planet. She was the love we were preached to be.”

Check out what the Pierce Community thinks about cults in a package by Paulina Vidanez here: