#minorsextrafficking | ‘I’m free but others are still trapped’


I was sitting in my studio, my dog lying at my feet, on one of the hottest days of the year, reading the headline “Hidden Epidemic of Abusive Cults Operating In the UK”. I scrolled deep into the research, absorbing the statistics of ex-cult members subjected to modern-day slavery, sexual abuse and human trafficking. Every piece of data that I read conjured up memories, vivid flashbacks from my own childhood in a dangerous cult, the years after I left, my attempts to recover, and then my adulthood, when as a documentary maker I joined 10 more cults in an effort to understand them.

When you are in a cult, its system is your normal, your ordinary. You don’t stop to contemplate or decipher the mechanics or formulas at play. But now, in hindsight, and especially thanks to pieces of research such as the one published by the Family Survival Trust, the mystery is gone. There is a formula, a psychologically destructive system, fundamentally based in coercion.

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I was born into the Children of God (COG). Our parents believed that they were changing the world, that they were enlightened and that our lives had immense spiritual significance. My parents “gave up everything to follow God” a statement they wore like a badge of honour. But we, the children, were the ones who paid the real price. We unknowingly gave up our education, our mental health and our physical well-being, and we were deprived of our innocence.

The FST Research is clear and broken down into easily digestible pieces but when statistics reflect your own lived experiences, things get tangled; abuse can be tied to depression, to violence, to PTSD. It’s hard to distinguish where one thread begins and another ends.

Data show that 37 per cent of ex cult members in the research (105 people were surveyed by the FST, half of whom were born or raised in “high control” groups, while the remainder came in as adults) experienced unwanted sexual contact and 17 per cent were raped in their group.

The community that I grew up in was known as a sex cult and abuse was normalised to the point where the group leaders created a manual on how to sexually abuse children. The aftermath continues to this day.

Cameron escaped a cult in the UK aged 15 (Photo: Bonnier Books)

As I write a memory pours in. I had just had my 16th birthday. I sat breathing in sickly fumes of chemist-bought perfume in a tiny bedsit in London, watching my friend Leah, who had escaped our cult a few months before me, getting ready. She drew brown liner around her lips and applied layers of powdered make-up to give herself the appearance of someone older than 17.

She picked out a silver sequined shred of an outfit. She was dressing to attract customers that night as a sex worker. I had witnessed her own abuse within our cult and I was now watching her preparing to do what she had to, to make rent. She had left our group with no education, limited options and the instilled belief that we were objects to be used. Abuse can beget abuse. It doesn’t necessarily stop when you leave.

The aftermath of the cult experience is profound. Outside of the physical elements such as cults stalking and harassing ex-members (38 per cent) and threatening them (25 per cent) the research showed that 82 per cent experienced mental-health issues, including PTSD and depression with 60 per cent having suicidal thoughts. Suicide ravaged the youth of COG, it didn’t quietly creep in.

My book is dedicated to the kids I grew up with, the ones who made it, and the ones who felt that this life, and that pain, was not for them anymore.

Bexy Cameron’s book ‘Cult Following: My escape and return to the Children of God‘ is dedicated to other victims of cults (Photo: Supplied)

This is a dark aftermath that is so prevalent, there is a dedicated Twitter account that alerts us of our “stars that fade in the sky”. It pings far too often. One of the very public and heartbreaking suicides, was of Rick Rodrigues, the son of the COG leader. Rick was the boy used in the photographic manual the group had created and disseminated.

After he left the cult, Rick arranged to meet his childhood caretaker (and abuser) and stabbed her to death. I remember watching the video that he released, calmly explaining his actions, tears running down my face, understanding where his rage came from. He then turned the camera off and shot himself.

As someone who is part of a generation of kids who slipped under the radar, I am frustrated that cults seem as elusive now, as they did in the 1990s. I have spent so much of my life trying to understand why my parents would raise us in a dangerous cult. But when I read research such as this, I think, where was the government? Where were social services? Who protects the innocent when the parents can’t be guardians, or are the perpetrators?

My friend Leah now has a degree and owns her own home. I am thriving with a happy life and a sense of purpose. I understand how lucky that makes me. My brothers and sisters are all out. But what both my journey into the world of cults and this research shows is that the fight is not over. The world that I escaped when I was 15 continues to exist today.

I am in a position where I can talk and write about my childhood because I am free of it. But I will be damned if I will quietly stand by and let one more child go through that. And while I can let go, for myself, when it comes to injustices against vulnerable young people, it’s not my place to let go, forgive or forget. Instead we, the children of yesterday, demand that it does not happen again. We demand that the violation of children’s human rights are not a part of any parent’s right to freedom of religion.

‘Cult Following: My escape and return to the Children of God’ by Bexy Cameron is published by Bonnier Books Ltd.



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