On the night of December 31, 1999, Natacha Tormey stood huddled in her garden with her family, waiting for the world to end.
But when the clock struck midnight without the expected soldiers of the Antichrist making an appearance, the teenager had a sudden realisation that would change her life.
Natacha, now 30, told The Sun: “Everything I had ever been told was a lie. And I knew I had to get out.”
Natacha was brought up in the Children of God cult.
Founded in California in 1968 by self-proclaimed prophet David Berg, it was active in 15 countries at its height, including the UK.
Up to 35,000 people are thought to have been members, including the parents of actors Joaquin and River Phoenix and of the actress Rose McGowan — all raised in its sinister clutches by their parents.
To the outside world the sect presented a wholesome image of a Christian family living in harmony, helping the needy, performing music and praising God.
But for children like Natacha it was a sick system dedicated to brainwashing and sexual abuse.
Natacha, now a happily married human resources consultant living in Buckinghamshire, said: “There was a whole sordid world you got pulled into, but the outside facade would have looked quite innocent to people like my parents.”
Her French parents Marcel and Genevieve had joined the cult, also known as The Family International, as teens in the Seventies.
Natacha was born in Thailand in 1983, and spent her childhood moving around various sect communes in South Asia, France and later the African island of Reunion.
From a young age she and her 11 siblings were taught the various ways they might be raped or killed during the coming Apocalypse.
Children were readied for battle and promised superpowers, like the ability to shoot thunderbolts from their eyes, when the time came.
They were taught to fear the outside world, known as “the system”, which was “full of non-believers who wanted to kill them”.
But it was the cult’s teachings on sex that were most disturbing.
Berg taught that sex was the most glorious way to praise Jesus and members were instructed to “share” their husbands and wives.
Group sex was common and Berg also taught that children needed to “explore their sexuality”.
He once wrote that all sex pleased Jesus, no matter if it was between an adult and child or even between family members.
As a result, child abuse was rife.
Natacha was one victim. At the age of four, unbeknown to her parents, she suffered days of horrendous abuse in an outhouse at the hands of a middle-aged cult member.
She recalled: “I felt sick to the stomach and I knew something was very wrong.
“But we were never told it was wrong for an adult to touch you like that. On the contrary, we were told that you must obey adults, so I just kept quiet.
“David Berg had basically said that any sex was sanctioned by God, so there was an amazing opportunity for any paedophile.”
Berg’s own stepson, Davidito was another victim.
In 1982, when he was seven, the cult published a book describing — complete with photos — the “sexy experiences” he had been subjected to, including cult members performing sex acts on him.
It was meant as a guide for rearing children. Davidito eventually left the cult and changed his name to Ricky Rodriguez.
But he could not escape his memories and in 2005, at 29, he tracked down one of the women involved in his abuse and stabbed her to death. He then shot himself dead.
In the communes of 100 to 150 people, physical and emotional abuse was also common.
Natacha explained: “Many adults would carry fly swatters and just whack you around the head if they felt like it.
“If you did something really naughty, like telling a lie, you could expect a spanking with a wooden board.
“There were also psychological punishments such as silence restriction, where you would be forced to wear a sign warning anyone from talking to you. It was torture, really.”
Kids rarely left the commune, but adults would go out to preach the gospel and fund-raise.
Sometimes fund-raising took the form of “flirty fishing” — a practise advocated by Berg that involved women having sex with men in return for a “donation”.
Natacha said: “It was religious prostitution, simple as that.
“The sad part is that the women genuinely believed that this was the most perfect sacrifice you could make for God.”
When Natacha was 13, her family moved from Thailand to France, where for the first time she started to mix with the outside world.
It was then that doubts about her upbringing started to creep in.
She explained: “I saw that the ‘system’ wasn’t scary and that there were normal people out there. They weren’t evil and they weren’t trying to kill us.”
Two years after the world failed to end at the turn of the Millennium, Natacha, then aged 18, fled.
Despite initially struggling to cope in the real world, she eventually did carve out a new life.
She moved to England and finally managed to find a job, love with husband Kevin and happiness.
Her whole family has since also left the cult, which has been run by Karen Zerby, now 67 - mother of Davidito - since Berg’s death in 1994 at the age of 75.
None of the cult’s leaders have ever been brought to justice.
Natacha said: “I am outraged and disgusted by what happened, and I think a lot of members of my generation feel we were let down by the world a little bit.
“But for me, I have to let that anger go. I couldn’t let them win.”
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