Wed. May 22nd, 2024

My daughter has joined a cult. I have no idea how to get her out

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May17,2024
Why are we still drawn to cults and cult-like groups, and should we be doing more to protect people from them? Watch Insight episode Cult Following on Tuesday 30 April at 8.30pm on SBS and .
Maria (not her real name) was pleased when her 24-year-old daughter started Bible study classes, but two-and-a-half years later, she worries she’s joined a cult.
“Suddenly she started to become very secretive,” Maria told Insight. “She arrives [home] at around 3am and leaves again around 5am.
“My daughter changed her behaviour a lot. She even dropped her studies and her job.

“She dropped all her dreams.”

Maria and her family are Christian, but she believes this group to be a cult rather than a religious group.
“Religion is something you share. Something that improves families, that improves character.”
She said this group doesn’t follow Jesus or God, but instead a leader in South Korea, and encourages members to lie to their friends and family.
Maria found notes her daughter had taken in Bible study classes warning that members’ parents are controlled by evil forces.

“This group is teaching our young people that parents are the devil … So they need to fight against us.”

A still life with an open ancient bible on a dark old cloth.

Maria’s daughter joined Bible study classes; before long she was disappearing in the middle of the night. Source: Getty / Ana Maria Serrano

‘A Jesus Christ and mother figure’

Carli McConkey says she ended up in a cult without realising.
She was 21 and had just finished university when she went to the Mind Body Spirit Festival in Sydney for a psychic reading.
She was hoping to gain some insight and direction during a transitional period in her life, but instead says she was recruited by the psychic reader into a group she describes as a cult.
“She told me all about this fantastic course that I should do. That it would give me all the tools to help me reach my potential,” she told Insight.

Gradually the focus turned from personal development to members’ past lives. By that point, Carli was immersed. And for the next 13 years, she devoted her life to the New Age group. She even married a fellow member and had children while in the group.

A smiling woman with short brown hair holds a newborn baby, while another young child looks on.

Carli McConkey devoted her life to a New Age group for 13 years. Source: Supplied

Eventually, Carli believed the cult leader was training her followers to survive an impending apocalypse.

“The cult leader started teaching us that the world was going to end as we knew it. We would only survive if we stayed with her.”

The leader became “a sort of Jesus Christ and a mother figure”.

Same cult, different name

Counsellor and cult expert Raphael Aron told Insight it can be extremely challenging to hold cults and cult leaders to account in the legal system.
“Unfortunately, most cults manage to just fly under the radar as far as anything criminal is concerned,” he told Insight.
Raphael’s organisation, Cult Consulting Australia, has had some success with shutting down cult-like groups that had harmed members. But “each one of them emerged, literally within weeks, in another name, but it was the same group”.

Raphael defines a cult as “an organisation that robs you of your individuality and your independence, and your ability to do what you want to do”.

Group of people putting their hands up in the air.

Raphael Aron, who advises on cults, said they rob people of their individuality. Source: Getty / Valmedia

He said cults often share common features such as a leader, the promotion of its belief as the only truth, the creation of a meaningful sense of belonging, and a level of secrecy.

“You become subservient to a guru, a master, a system, an organisation,” he explained. “And your own self slowly disappears to a point where you’ve morphed into somebody who you never thought you could be.”
There are thousands of cults around the world, according to Cult Information and Family Support Australia, from religious or secular groups to interpersonal development organisations and multi-level marketing groups. Estimates on the numbers of cults in Australia vary between hundreds to around 3,000.

More recently, Raphael said Australia is facing a rise in Christian-based cult-like groups originating from Asia. These groups are fast-growing, and often target international students around university campuses.

A lengthy trial

Carli ended up working for the New Age group without pay for a decade.
While the group had initially seemed friendly and welcoming, Carli said she was subject to “a process of mind control and coercive control techniques like sleep deprivation, food deprivation and isolation”.

It was only when she left the group that she began to view it as a cult, and her former boss and mentor as a cult leader.

A woman with short brown hair smiles as she hold her baby.

Carli McConkey married and had children in a New Age group she now describes as a cult. Source: Supplied

After self-publishing a book about her experience, Carli was sued by the leader for defamation.

A lengthy civil trial ended in March this year, with a judge in the Supreme Court of Tasmania finding, on the balance of probabilities, that everything Carli wrote and said was “absolutely or substantially true”, including that Carli had been wrongfully indoctrinated into a cult, and had been abused by its leader.
The leader, who is currently a registered psychologist, disagrees with Carli’s account and is appealing some of those findings.
While operating or leading a cult is not illegal in Australia, Carli is hoping that the leader of the New Age group is investigated by authorities for potential breaches of existing laws

She also believes coercive control legislation should be broadened to include groups such as cults.

‘Absolute torture’

Maria has tried to persuade her daughter to leave the group, to no avail. She remains at a loss on how best to support her.
Police have told Maria they can’t interfere because her daughter is an adult and has a right to her beliefs.
“They basically cannot do anything,” she said.
Raphael says when someone in your family changes at the hands of a cult, it’s “absolute torture”.
“It’s painful to be able to see that children who would love their parents, children who would behave and respect their parents, are simply no longer there.

“They have no relationship, they have no connection.”

For those in that position, Raphael has two pieces of advice.
“One, retain a relationship at all costs. And two, don’t be judgemental.
“And then eventually you get to a point where you can say, ‘I’m concerned about you, I’m worried about you’.”
And for more stories head to Insightful – a new podcast series from SBS, hosted by Kumi Taguchi. From sex and relationships to health, wealth, and grief Insightful offers deeper dives into the lives and first person stories of former guests from the acclaimed TV show, Insight.
Follow Insightful on the , or wherever you get your podcasts.
Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “My daughter has joined a cult. I have no idea how to get her out”
  1. As a mother myself, I can only imagine the heartbreak Maria must be going through. It’s truly concerning how these groups can manipulate and control young individuals. We really need to raise awareness and provide more support for families dealing with these situations.

  2. It’s truly heartbreaking to hear how easily vulnerable individuals can fall into the traps set by cult-like groups. As a society, we should definitely prioritize educating and protecting our youth from such harmful influences.

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