An Australian woman has alleged that she was sexually assaulted multiple times by the 77-year-old leader of an international fringe religion.
Olivia*, from Melbourne, was a member of a controversial Christian group called Providence for six years.
It’s a South Korean sect also called Jesus Morning Star, Christian Gospel Mission, the Bright Moon Church, the Global Association of Culture and Peace and Setsuri, that preaches the Second Coming of Jesus has already happened.
The group was founded by Jeong Myeong-seok in 1978, who proclaimed he was the messiah, and the movement has spread to more than 50 nations including in Australia.
Jeong is now a convicted rapist. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting several female followers and was released from jail in 2018 but, Olivia alleges, just months after his release he began reoffending.
During her time in the sect, Olivia claims Jeong made unwanted sexual advances towards her and indecently and sexually assaulted her five times when she went on a church-funded trip to South Korea from 2018 to 2019.
“It’s hard for me to even look back on it,” Olivia told news.com.au. “We were brainwashed to believe this is our one-on-one relationship with our husband.”
Worshippers are taught that they are brides of god and by extension, the brides of the sect’s leader and messiah, Jeong.
The church has confirmed they are working with police investigators but wouldn’t comment further on the matter. It is understood they deny the allegations.
Olivia alleges Jeong indecently touched her twice and sexually touched her three times while she was staying at Providence’s head quarters in Wolmyeongdong, in South Korea’s Chungnam Province.
At the time, she was 27 while he was 73.
She reported the alleged crime to South Korean authorities and spoke at a press conference in March demanding that charges be laid against Jeong.
On March 16, her lawyers spoke in a televised broadcast at the Seoul Lawyer’s Hall in Jongno-gutwo alleging Jeong had reoffended since being released from prison in February 2018.
The lawyers represented two women, Olivia, and another woman from Hong Kong, who claimed Jeong had raped her dozens of times since his release.
Providence is “not some righteous religion, they’re an organisation that supports an actual criminal, a rapist and that is not OK, that can’t go on”, Olivia stated during the broadcast.
The lawyer representing both women filed a complaint about Jeong with the National Police Agency on charges of ordinary quasi-rape and ordinary quasi-forced molestation.
According to Article 299 of South Korea’s Criminal Act, quasi-rape is applicable to cases where a person “engages in sexual intercourse with another person by taking advantage of his or her state of unconsciousness or inability to resist.” It’s similar for quasi-molestation.
It’s understood that South Korean police have tried on three separate occasions to speak to Jeong over the allegations, but this has been delayed because each time Jeong said he was unwell.
News.com.au contacted South Korean Police for comment but at time of publication had received no response.
In a statement to news.com.au, the South Korean faction of Providence said: “The confidential investigation is ongoing and nothing has been proven so far. Jeong Myeong Seok has been co-operating with the police and the investigators.”
The Australian Providence branch added: “We are not in a position to comment on what may or may not have occurred in South Korea.
“The head pastors of each church in Australia are women and they do not tolerate sexual abuse in any form.
“Our churches are virtuous, and we are deeply rooted in Christian values, with fundamental beliefs in chastity before legal marriage. So the allegations are completely abhorrent to us. We have developed strict policies about our conduct and are in the process of putting them on a new website.”
During a church-funded trip in July 2018 when followers from all over the world came to the Providence compound, Olivia claims she was encouraged by Jeong to extend her visit.
Jeong personally asked her to stay longer and she found it hard to refuse as he was the messiah in her eyes, she claims.
It ended up taking her 18 months to get out of South Korea.
The first alleged sexual incident occurred within a few weeks of her arrival in the Asian country in July 2018.
Jeong called Olivia into a private space and presented her with a new set of clothes. She got undressed as she instructed to try on the new clothes. It was here he allegedly touched her private parts.
“I immediately went into shock,” she recalled. “The whole time my brain is thinking ‘what is going on, am I in a cult?’”
When the young woman raised concerns with other members of the church, they told her she should feel honoured that Jeong had treated her in that way.
They “told me that this is my blessing, he (Jeong) is my spiritual husband, then he’s my physical husband, so why can’t he do that (sexual acts)? That’s what a normal wife and husband do, I should feel blessed and thankful,” Olivia recalled.
Some time later, the same thing happened again, she alleges.
The second alleged sexual assault took place in “the cave”, a man-made tunnel in Wolmyeongdong.
She alleges he again touched her inappropriately.
In the cave, Jeong also allegedly told her “I cannot have sex with you” and also asked her to touch his upper legs as they were leaving, calling them “honey legs”.
The final alleged sexual assault took place when he gave her a pair of pyjamas. As she was trying them on, he allegedly knelt down and kissed her genitalia.
Jeong also allegedly indecently assaulted Olivia twice before she left South Korea.
In October, the elderly man gave Olivia a lift on a golf buggy on the way to a sermon and she claims he tried to unbutton her jeans.
“(Luckily) my jeans were just way too tight,” she alleged.
“I just think that was so disgusting, he was literally going to preach the holy word of god (afterwards).”
On another occasion, Olivia claims he touched her inner thighs over her clothes.
Providence has reportedly been operating in Australia since 1997 with “temples” currently in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide.
Olivia was 22 when Providence members recruited her at Melbourne Central Shopping Centre in 2014.
A year later she had her “passing ceremony” where she declared that she would be dedicating her life to Providence.
She was considered a “faith star” as she had vowed not to get married so that she could live for the cause.
In 2016 Olivia travelled on short trips with other members of her church to South Korea to visit Jeong in jail. In 2018, she also briefly met Jeong after he had been released from prison.
Olivia devoted most of her time helping the church but she also worked part-time in a coffee shop. She saved very little money and it all went trips to the Korean Providence compound, usually costing her around $2000.
However, Australian members were going away on another trip in mid-2018 and this time around, Olivia had no money to afford the plane ticket.
She wasn’t planning to go but the church fronted the money and then Jeong asked her to delay her flight back to Australia.
“I said I didn’t have any money, he (Jeong) said not to worry about that, of course I said okay,” she recalled.
“I ended up staying one and a half years. There were so many times when I wanted to run away, I had no money to get a flight.”
She was housed and fed in the Providence compound and was given a small allowance. Sometimes, Jeong personally gave her random amounts of money.
Finally, just before Christmas in 2019, she managed to make her way home.
In the following months she questioned her faith after what had happened to her and by October 2020, she had left the sect for good.
“It’s crazy,” Olivia said.
“It was very painful for those first few months, I was often in tears, feeling so scared about everything, I didn’t pray or anything.”
At the media announcement in March, a woman from Hong Kong, Maple Ying Tung Huen, claimed Jeong had raped her multiple times.
“I think the task that Heaven gave me before I die is to reveal the truth so that there are no more victims. Jung Myeong-seok is absolutely not the Messiah,” she said, according to a translation from the press conference.
When Olivia initially alleged she had been sexually and indecently assaulted, Providence released a video that was shared in the press conference.
An Australian churchgoer said, addressing the Australian victim, “We have a lot of big people so we will have a press conference against you and we will reveal every unfortunate, unethical and amoral thing that you have done.
“We don’t want to do this but again we need to do this to protect myself and other beloved ones that will be affected by your attacks.
“We don’t want to do this because it will detrimentally affect your life and definitely your future career.”
In a statement shared on their website, Providence said although they wanted “to express our regret for this situation”, they denied all wrongdoing and called the claims untrue.
News.com.au has previously spoken to three former Australian members of Providence, one of whom was in the sect for more than a decade before becoming disillusioned with it after watching Jeong play a game of tennis.
Another ex-worshipper met Jeong while he was in jail and was made to lie to and hide from her worried parents before boarding a flight to South Korea to see the messiah in the flesh.
A third Australian woman claimed she was made to give away a minimum of 10 per cent of her pay packet to the church as a tithe during her stint in the church. The church denied this was a requirement.
Earlier this year, news.com.au also revealed that the sect forked out $1.54 million to buy a commercial property in the Sydney CBD, located 4/173-179 Broadway, in Ultimo, which has been converted into a temple.
It’s understood Australian members plan to visit South Korean in the near future now that borders have opened, prompting concern from former members.
A Providence spokesperson previously denied to news.com.au that the religion fitted the technical definition of a cult.
In 1999, rape allegations about Jeong first came to light, prompting him to leave South Korea.
He was charged over raping or violently molesting five Korean believers and was arrested in 2007.
A year later he was found guilty on three counts of rape.
When he tried to appeal the decision in 2009, another four years was added to his original six-year bid. He finally was let out of jail in February 2018.
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