In late April, three people who grew up on a Church of Scientology ship filed a lawsuit against the organization and its leader David Miscavige, claiming they were trafficked as children and forced to do strenuous labor for little or no pay.
Now the former members—Gawain Baxter, Laura Baxter, and Valeska Paris—have filed an amended complaint detailing more accusations of abuse on the vessel, called the Freewinds, which is used by the Church of Scientology to train members who wish to reach Operating Thetan Level 8 (OT VIII), the highest level of Scientology (attaining this can cost up to $2 million). The ship is also used to house members of Sea Org, Scientology’s “fraternal religious order” and its most hardcore adherents. Freewinds was quarantined in St. Lucia in May of 2019 due to a measles outbreak onboard.
The trio claim that since filing their initial suit, the church’s operatives have harassed them and monitored their families outside their homes and in public spaces. Some of their relatives, who are still church members, have pressured them to drop the complaint or “disconnected” from them entirely, a Scientology term meaning the severing of all contact.
They are also now accusing Miscavige of concealing his whereabouts to avoid being served with their suit.
“Plaintiffs have undertaken diligent efforts to attempt personal service on David Miscavige, so far making fourteen attempts to personally serve him from May 31 through August 2, 2022,” states the amended complaint, filed on Aug. 2.
Since June, court papers say, the ex-members have enlisted a private investigator to conduct surveillance on Miscavige’s suspected residence and place of business in Clearwater, Florida. Their lawyer also spoke with Sea Org defectors in the area to ferret out his location.
And when a process server visited multiple Scientology properties, including the “Sandcastle Religious Retreat” building, security guards allegedly forced him to leave and refused to answer questions. Miscavige has also evaded service, the plaintiffs claim, by instructing corporate office staff to refuse to accept delivery of packages addressed to him.
When reached for comment, The Church of Scientology called the case “scurrilous,” a “scam and a sham,” and “nothing more than an attempted money grab.” They also alleged that it was in fact they who are the victims of “NON-STOP HARASSMENT” [emphasis theirs], and criticized The Daily Beast’s coverage of “porn and drugs.” They claimed that a previous law enforcement investigation into Paris’ allegations came up empty, concluding, “Hundreds of contemporaneous photos show the truth—Valeska Paris and the Baxters tellingly enjoyed their lives and the opportunity to spend their free time traveling in the company of friends while aboard the Freewinds.”
The lawsuit alleges forced labor and attempted forced labor in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, among other counts.
All three plaintiffs shared their chilling stories of abuse and harassment in the suit.
Gawain, a citizen of Australia, was 2 months old when his parents placed him in a nursery run by Cadet Org, a subdivision of the Church of Scientology’s ultra-rigid Sea Org intended for children. According to the lawsuit, kids in Cadet Org under 6 are “cared for, disciplined, and groomed” by Sea Org members in a program that “prepares them for a lifetime of servitude under Defendants’ control.”
Once he turned 6 around 1988, Gawain became a Cadet Org member, signed a contract vowing to serve the church for 1 billion years, and was forced to live in a dormitory that, according to the complaint, was a repurposed Quality Inn with about 100 other children.
Now 40, Gawain spent years doing unpaid labor at Flag Land Base—Scientology’s so-called “spiritual headquarters” in Clearwater, Florida—which included trash removal, landscaping, food prep, and clerical work, sometimes full-time if there were staff shortages. Once he turned 13, the complaint says, he received a stipend of $8 per week.
Gawain was then transferred to Sea Org, for which he allegedly toiled 12 or more hours a day doing jobs that included renovating a building, landscaping, and cleaning church facilities. The lawsuit alleges he was “sleep-deprived, given inadequate time to eat, and verbally abused by his adult supervisors.” Gawain eventually wrote a Flag Base officer a letter requesting permission to leave Sea Org because of these conditions. Soon after being punished for this missive, Gawain was assigned to the Freewinds ship.
Freewinds’ security allegedly snatched the teen’s passport, immigration documents and identification to preclude him from any escape attempts.
“Gawain asked if he could retain possession of his green card, but security refused,” the filing continues. “Several months later, Gawain asked to be permitted to leave the ship and return to the United States so that he would not lose permanent resident status, but his requests were denied.”
The lawsuit adds that Gawain worked 16 to 24 hours per day performing “arduous” and sometimes “dangerous” manual labor.
Eight months into his stay on the vessel, Gawain again asked to jump ship. The complaint says that anyone who informs fellow staffers they want to leave is accused of committing what’s known as a “suppressive act,” for which they are “punished, subjected to security checks and other handling until they confess to their ‘crimes.’”
In Gawain’s case, the lawsuit alleges, an executive officer of the International Association of Scientologists Administrations (IASA), brought the teenager into a room and “screamed and repeatedly kicked him in the shins.”
“Gawain was then sent to the engine room for the first of many times and ordered to write up his OWs,” also known as “overts and withholds,” where members self-report deviant thoughts and behavior, the amended complaint adds. “The engine room was extremely hot (more than 100 degrees), dirty, and very loud. There was so little room to move that it was difficult in some parts to stand up straight.”
“Many times after being sent to the engine room, Gawain was forced to write false ‘success stories,’ describing the ways in which he supposedly benefitted [sic] from it,” the filing alleges.
About a decade after Gawain was transferred onto the Freewinds, he was allegedly forced to aid in extensive renovations of the ship, leading to him working 18 hours a day. According to the lawsuit, Gawain became ill, coughing up blood, after being exposed to blue asbestos and concrete dust. He claims he was never given protective gear or allowed to see a doctor; instead he was given a brief rest period until his disturbing symptoms faded. “Gawain has experienced respiratory problems ever since,” the amended filing alleges. In 2008, Freewinds was grounded when government inspectors discovered blue asbestos on board.
Following the renovations, Gawain and most of the ship’s crew were ordered to cold-call Scientologists every night after their work shifts to peddle expensive sets of the church’s “basic books,” the complaint says, adding that he was ordered to purchase and read the volumes himself. As a result of a reading quota, he slept just two hours each night.
Gawain’s “round-the-clock labor” brought him $50 a week, which the lawsuit says was used to buy toiletries and other personal items. Sometimes he went weeks without compensation, supposedly because shipmates had failed to meet their performance targets.
“Gawain was also required to make annual contributions out of his meager pay towards birthday presents for David Miscavige and other executives on the Freewinds,” the filing adds. “Those contributions typically amounted to multiple weeks’ worth of his full pay.”
Laura was 7 when her mother signed her up to take Scientology courses in Germany. (She now lives with her husband, Gawain, in Australia.)
The 37-year-old was a teenager when she became a staff member of the church’s local organization in Stuttgart eight years later.
According to the amended complaint, Sea Org recruitment officers with the church’s Flag Ship Service Organization “began to visit her every night, manipulate, pressure, and coerce her to sign a contract pledging to service Scientology for life within Sea Org.”
“Even after years of indoctrination, Laura resisted,” the filing alleges. “She told them she always imagined her future to include being a wife and raising a family, which she knew would not be permitted if she joined Sea Org.”
But, according to Laura, the recruiters “would not take no for an answer.” She eventually relented.
She was forced to move to the U.K. for training, and her mother signed over guardianship of her to a Sea Org member and senior IASA officer, the lawsuit states.
Her accusations of forced labor are similar to Gawain’s: She says she was coerced into back-breaking work that included digging trenches and cleaning toilets and dumpsters. And for her hours of labor she was essentially paid pennies—roughly $25 a week. “During this time, Laura was denied adequate time to eat proper meals or take breaks,” the filing says.
She was soon assigned to the Freewinds in IASA files administration. The long hours and pay were the same, the complaint alleges. (At age 17, however, she was transferred to Scientology’s European Base in Copenhagen where she says she worked 18-hour days for $50 a week for about two years.)
The lawsuit alleges Laura would face punishments in the engine room just as her husband and other out-of-favor members had, too.
In 2004, the lawsuit says, “a celebrity actor celebrated his birthday aboard the Freewinds at Miscavige’s invitation” (Tom Cruise, a powerful Scientologist, celebrated his birthday onboard Freewinds that year) and Laura was falsely accused of trying to monopolize the actor’s attention.” She was ordered to be taken to a small room where three IASA officers allegedly “screamed abusively at her.”
“Laura was then confined to the extremely hot engine room for three days, allowed to leave for only a few minutes at a time for meals and to return to her room for a few hours of sleep,” the complaint alleges, adding that she was “sent to that horrific space” numerous times.
The supposed party incident had other ramifications for Laura, who was allegedly confined to an office during the day and her quarters at night, only permitted to leave for interrogations or with a chaperone, and kept under 24-hour surveillance. “On one occasion, she had no choice but to urinate in a trash can,” the amended complaint says.
After this two-month punishment, Laura was demoted from her administration work to becoming a crew steward, where she worked 12 to 18 hours a day unloading deliveries of food to the ship and working in the food storage rooms. Like her husband, she claims she was exposed to asbestos during the 2008 renovations of the ship and ordered to sell Scientology books.
Ship officers “systematically interfered” in her relationship with Gawain, the complaint says. The couple was eventually allowed to marry but allegedly banned from living together for another six months after their nuptials.
In 2011, the couple began plotting a way to flee the ship. They decided to get pregnant.
The lawsuit says Scientology was under media scrutiny over a “forced abortion policy” that prohibited Sea Org members from having kids, and they believed the only way to escape without punishment was for Laura to be showing during Miscavige’s next visit to the ship
“A pregnant Sea Org member would cause Miscavige to direct his wrath towards the senior Sea Org officers,” the lawsuit states. “They concluded that, if it were known to senior officers on the ship that Laura was pregnant and refusing to terminate her pregnancy, the senior officers would force Gawain and Laura to leave the ship and Sea Org.”
They resisted pressure to terminate the pregnancy and were removed from the ship after weeks of punishment and isolation, the lawsuit says. But before they left, they were allegedly forced to sign documents, on video tape, which they say they weren’t allowed to review.
The amended complaint further details the fallout of their departure. A ship official allegedly told the couple they “now owed a freeloader debt of around $12,000” they’d need to pay off.
Still, they stayed in Sea Org.
Because Gawain lost his permanent residence status in the U.S., he and Laura instead went to Germany, where she had family. Once they got there in 2012, Scientology brass repeatedly called them asking for payments of their debt.
“Laura and Gawain felt they had no choice but to go along, borrowing money to pay off their freeloader debt because their housing and employment was provided by Scientologists,” the amended complaint says.
In 2015, they moved to Australia to help care for Gawain’s elderly grandmother. They say they continued to receive endless phone calls from Scientology officers asking them to “confirm” their contact information and to agree to “more actively participate” in the church. “These phone calls were part of Defendants’ method of intimidating defectors by reminding them that Defendants always knew where they were, and constantly testing people for disloyalty,” the filing says.
After filing their original complaint on April 28, the couple continued to face surveillance from the church, which allegedly put pressure on their family. On May 12, Gawain’s parents and half-sister called to inform him they’d been required to relocate to Clearwater from their posts across the globe. “Gawain’s family yelled at him, attempted to pressure him to admit he was lying and to withdraw the lawsuit,” the document says.
On June 10, the amended filing adds, Gawain saw men surveilling him at an airport. Men also watched his house six days later.
“On several occasions in June and July 2022, Gawain observed people following him (and on at least one occasion, him and Laura), or sitting in parked cars for hours watching sites where he was working,” the amended lawsuit states.
In another episode in late July, the couple were with their children at a park when they saw a woman exit an SUV to go for a walk. When they left to take their children for ice cream, the woman rushed back to her vehicle. After they parked, the motorist parked nearby.
Laura’s sister and mother were also transferred from Germany to Clearwater in June, the amended complaint states, and have “attempted to engage her in a heated discussion of the lawsuit and to pressure her into dismissing it.”
According to the amended complaint, Valeska Paris was indoctrinated into Scientology from the age of 4 by her parents, both of whom were Scientologists. The 44-year-old recalls enduring oppressive Scientology training at a young age that included being “screamed at, verbally abused, and forced to listen to graphic descriptions of sexual content for hours at a time to condition her not to be upset or show any visible reaction and retain her composure in the face of verbal assault.”
Paris alleges that by the age of 6, her parents enrolled her in Cadet Org, where she was forced to sign a billion-year contract pledging to serve Sea Org.
She lived in Cadet Org dormitories at Stonelands, in England, near Scientology’s U.K. base, Saint Hill. “Valeska spoke only French and felt isolated from the other children and adults who spoke only English, until she learned to speak English,” the lawsuit states, adding that she was upset to be separated from her mom and that adult Sea Org members punished her for being “dramatic.” They allegedly forced her to wash pots and pans.
At the facility, the lawsuit alleges, Paris and other children were forced to work five hours, unpaid, cleaning the premises and providing childcare for newborns. The complaint adds that kids were permitted one day off every two weeks, and if they got sick, they were denied medical care; instead they were excused from work and isolated in their dorm. According to the lawsuit, Paris was denied medical treatment when she contracted mumps.
Paris also alleges physical and sexual abuse of children was common, and that she “walked in on an adult Sea Org member, who was responsible for the children, masturbating on a boy’s bed.” She also claims that when she was 11, a 27-year-old male Sea Org member ordered her to lie on top of him in her bed because he was hiding from Sea Org staff. (She claims she was punished for reporting both of these encounters to an adult.)
In the amended complaint, Paris says that when she was 12, her Sea Org superior “ordered her” into a room with him to confess the “crimes” she had committed—these being “alleged sexual thoughts she had.” When she branded him a “pervert,” she was punished with “lower conditions” for a period of six months.
One of the more shocking new allegations in the amended complaint concerns Paris’ secretive relationship with another Sea Org member, Chris Guider. She says that the two were married in March 2009 in a roadside ceremony, though because they did so without the blessing of their superiors, they were banished to a “a room with only broken-down furniture and no mattress on the bed,” and Paris was physically dragged by a senior Sea Org officer to clean out “maggot-infested garbage cans.” Since Sea Org members were not permitted to have children, Paris alleges in the complaint that she “purposely became pregnant.” Though Paris contends there was a policy in place of “forcing women in Sea Org to have abortions,” Paris refused because she knew such action would prevent her ability to leave.
During her pregnancy, Paris maintains that she was “denied any prenatal care” and still subjected to “work long hours and subsist on the squash pies, cereal, stale bread and other poor-quality food fed to Sea Org members.” She says that because of her pregnancy, her fellow Sea Org members “shamed” her and refused to speak with her, so she ate her meals alone in her tiny room. After six weeks, she “began bleeding” and went to the emergency room, where she suffered a miscarriage.
Sea Org, Paris alleges in the complaint, finally allowed her to leave following her miscarriage—though their harassment of her was far from over. Paris remembers taking a trip to Florida to visit her mother, who had previously fled Sea Org, where they were befriended by an undercover member of the Office of Special Affairs (OSA), or Scientology’s intelligence wing. This covert OSA agent managed to convince Paris and her mother to allow her to stay with them, and was “secretly reporting their moves and conversations back to OSA.” Not long after, Paris’ father “contacted her and abruptly informed her that he was disconnecting from her.” Paris was confused because she’d only confided in her mother about what she’d been through.
On April 29, 2021, one day after the initial complaint was filed, Paris claims in the amended complaint that the first of many “strange and unsettling incidents” occurred, observing a pair of men in a blue car following her. Two weeks later, on May 11, she says that someone tried to hack into her Instagram. Five days after that, what she believes to be the same blue car was seen loitering outside the home of one of Paris’ beauty-salon employees.
Paris says that one night, after closing her salon, which is located in a mall, a man followed her to and from the bathroom, yelling at her, “FUCK YOU, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU LOOKING AT?” She says that vehicles regularly trail her while she drives home at night, often putting on their high beams, and that strangers approach her young children when she takes them to play outside, retreating when she checks on them. Paris also explains in the amended complaint how a high volume of customers keep making new salon appointments and leaving without a trace; new customers are showing up without appointments, angrily demanding her attention; and that two individuals cornered her at her salon and grilled her with a number of “intrusive questions” that “reminded her of a Scientology security check.” The confrontation caused “her child to cry.”
Because of all these incidents, which Paris says is “consistent with OSA’s history of ‘fair game’ intimidation operations,” she “lives in constant fear that she or her family will be harmed.”
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