Cult leader James 'Taipan' Salerno jailed for repeated sexual abuse of teenage girl

ABC News, Australia/July 28, 2019

By court reporter Rebecca Opie

The leader of a cult, once based in the Adelaide Hills, who repeatedly sexually abused a teenage member of the group has been jailed for at least eight years.

James Gino Salerno, 72, was found guilty at trial of eight counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with a child.

District Court Judge Paul Slattery sentenced Salerno to 10 years in prison with a non-parole period of eight years.

After the sentence was handed down, the victim — who cannot be identified for legal reasons — told the ABC she felt "justice has been served".

"The girls can sleep easy now, the ones that are still left in there," she said.

"That's all I wanted from the start, to help the other girls."

In handing down the sentence, Judge Slattery said Salerno — known to his followers as "Taipan" — groomed his victim and sexually abused her over a two-and-a-half-year period.

"You abused your position of primacy within the group to not only groom and sexually abuse the complainant but to ensure that she was fearful of speaking out about your actions," he said.

"[You] instilled in her thoughts that no-one would believe her, even if she did speak out."

"Your offending has had a profound effect on the complainant as she is still suffering ongoing physical, mental and emotional issues."

Salerno has denied he committed the offending and has launched an appeal against his convictions.

"To this day you have maintained your innocence and shown no contrition for your actions," Judge Slattery said.

'Ideal human environment' involved female submission

During the trial, the court heard Salerno operated the cult from a historic mansion at Aldgate in the Adelaide Hills, before the group relocated to Queensland and later to Western Australia.

The group was based around Salerno's desire to create "the ideal human environment".

The court heard the cult consisted of about 30 members and each was ranked below Salerno by what he called their "emotional quotient".

They would hold regular meetings where they would dress in white and commonly say "praise Taipan" while discussing ideas around the notion of the "ideal human environment" and "paradigm shifts".

The court heard women in the group were submissive to men and had to tend to Salerno's needs.

The victim told the trial a group of females were selected to serve Salerno and that involved performing "healings" on him, massaging him, cutting his nails, running his baths and cooking his dinner.

She said the members of the group who were deemed to have a lower emotional quotient were treated like "shit kickers" and would have to salute higher-ranked members.

The rankings were decided at the group's meetings and if someone wanted to move up a rank, a subgroup called the "Wisdom Bank" would vote on it.

The victim told the court that those who believed Taipan was God and carried out what he wanted were ranked higher in the group.

Victim felt like 'piece of meat'

During a pre-sentencing hearing earlier this month, the victim told the court that the crimes had destroyed her childhood.

"I felt like I was only ever a piece of meat for Taipan to use when and where he wanted," she said.

"I feel ashamed, upset and hurt that I let Taipan treat me like I was nothing and that I didn't have the courage to stand up to him sooner."

She spoke of feeling suicidal and like she "couldn't see the light at the end of this terrible and traumatic tunnel".

"I felt like I was being brainwashed, belittled and isolated," she said.

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