The FBI is investigating an international cult with strong links to the Gold Coast after a barrage of affidavits from second-generation members who say their lives were ruined by sexual abuse and mind control.
The Family, formerly known as The Children of God, claims it has changed, no longer promotes sex between children and adults and has apologised to past victims, but former members warn it is still recruiting in Queensland.
Eva St John, a Gold Coast resident who quit the cult in 1989 but monitors its activities, estimates it has hundreds of members on the Gold Coast despite its own claims of just a few dozen.
"They're still recruiting and they're still going strong," Ms St John said.
Ms St John has compiled an assortment of literature that showed children involved sexually with adults.
"I usually like to sleep totally nude and free and ready for love . . . when all of a sudden this beautiful, dark-haired girl of about 10 or 11 came and crawled into bed with me!" a passage in one book read.
Heaven's Girl, a book given to home-schooled children, shows a pre-teen girl consenting to rape by several men, exclaiming it was an act of God's love.
Redlands resident [Ms M.], who was born into the cult, said she was forced into sex at the age of 10 when she was living in a cult house in Poland.
"It was expected that if anyone touched you, you just went with it," she said. "If you didn't want to do it, they'd punish you."
Young women were taught to dress seductively and engage in "flirty fishing" – getting money and favours for sex.
Ms St John said she has received death threats by telephone for speaking out against the cult, which has several hundred members in Australia.
The Courier-Mail attempted to speak to two alleged members of the cult at Nerang and Burleigh Waters on Thursday. One hurled profanities at a journalist and the other ran into a supervisor's office.
Taskforce Argos, a pedophilia unit of the Queensland Police, is aware of The Family's activities, but will not comment on any investigations.
The Australian Federal Police is interested in whether cult members are gaining access to child pornography online.
Family International spokeswoman Claire Borowik said the "Christian fellowship" adopted a policy for protecting minors in 1986.
"We regret that prior to the adoption of this policy, cases occurred where minors were exposed to sexually inappropriate behaviour," Ms Borowik said.
She said sexual contact between adults and children was banned, and questionable literature had been "officially renounced and expunged".
But the Australian Cult Awareness and Information Centre continues to brand The Family as perverted. "The danger this network sees in The Family is not what they now believe but how in the past they believed the things they did believe," it said.
The Watchman Fellowship, an international group that monitors cults, said The Family had intensified its efforts in Australia and "has begun a massive PR campaign to create a new public image".
Meanwhile, hundreds of former cult members are urging cult leaders to help authorities track down former child molesters within their ranks.
"Now is the opportunity to come clean and take responsibility for their actions and the harm they caused," reads an open letter sent to Family administrators.
Richard Hutch, a professor of religion at the University of Queensland, said The Family was a "new religious movement" that has pushed social norms.
"It represents an experiment by human beings to reframe their everyday lives," he said, adding The Family was "about as good as any other" religious organisation.
While there were "perhaps pockets of abuse", he said it was a matter for the police and courts and The Family should not be made into scapegoats.
Glenn McLaren, a former soldier, learned of the cult in 2002 when he was working at a Gold Coast club where some of the strippers were cult members.
He developed a relationship with [Ms M.], who left the cult five years ago, and became active in helping her expose its activities.
"It was quite strange. I couldn't believe a girl like her could be mixed up in something like this," he said.
In August, his car was damaged with a brick in the middle of the night and his house was hit with rocks and eggs.
Mr McLaren said cult members were clever and well organised, avoiding prosecution by keeping their literature exchange and activities more secretive than they did in the past.
"They've gone underground with the way they do things," he said.
The cult recruits at liberal "new wave" churches, according to Ms St John.
"They change your name, they isolate you from your family and friends. They won't let you think. They take over your life and mind so every single thing in your life is controlled."
Ms Borowik said that since 1993, The Family had issued "seven official apologies" to people with grievances, but other claims were unsupported.
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