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Protect Children from Harm by Destructive Cults

The trauma of being raised in a destructive group is real, causing lasting harm.

Key points

  • Children do not have the resources to protect themselves and need the help of adults.
  • Many children are raised in destructive groups they did not choose to join.
  • Being raised in such group causes lasting psychological harm.
  • Public outrage can force leaders and legislators to make changes that will better protect children from harm.
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Being raised in a high-control group can cause physical, medical, and psychological harm. Children do not choose this for themselves; the choice is made for them by a parent or caretaker. Yet, it seriously impacts them.

Suicide and Murder

Over 300 children died during the mass murder-suicide at Jonestown. In addition, young children in some extremist political and religious cults are brainwashed to become soldiers and kill enemies, as well as, conduct suicide bombings.

When members leave such groups, they often experience loneliness caused by shunning and guilt over not living up to the cult's standards. Such feelings may cause depression, resulting in suicide.

Sex Trafficking

In America, the average age of young people taken in by pimps and traffickers is 14. They are often runaways, recruited on the streets by being offered a hot meal and shelter. Some of these young people have run away from foster homes, some from destructive cults.

Even more dangerous, some groups are actually sex cults, which use children to make money for themselves.

Corporal Punishment

Some groups quote Scriptures calling for corporal punishment. Physical abuse is used to curb "bad behavior" and enforce obedience to the cult's rules. Countless victims have shared their stories. The physical and mental trauma can stay with someone for the rest of their life.

Lack of Proper Medical Treatment

In some groups, religious doctrine limits medical treatment. Children are forced to comply with a group’s rules on medical care. Some faith-healing and fundamentalist groups discourage or prohibit vaccinations, medications, and even visits to doctors, including psychiatrists.

Some groups do not allow their members to accept blood transfusions. The risk is especially high during childbirth, when the death of a mother may leave a child orphaned for life. Also, many under the age of 18 undergo surgical and medical treatment without blood, exposing them to harmful consequences and even death. Sometimes patients must be given blood transfusions by court order, an event that, while lifesaving, inflicts psychological harm.

Countless deaths and anguish could have been prevented had there been access to proper medical treatment.

Sexual Predation

Children in cults have an elevated risk of becoming victims of sexual abuse. Policy, the belief that religious leaders are infallible, fear bringing reproach upon the organization, and isolation of members are just a few of the reasons why this happens.

Accusations of sexual abuse are often handled internally, and reports of abuse do n ot reach public law enforcement agencies.

Religious sex abuse has become epidemic.


Some groups discourage higher learning or a university education. Deprivation of education leads to lost dreams and consigns people to low income, setting them up for poverty.

Without a proper education, children, cannot be expected to develop their ability to think. They are instead trained to believe and follow whatever the group leadership tells them. Some are told to drop out of school or are home-schooled by a less-than-qualified person. Some groups teach that the internet itself is evil and forbid access. Most destructive cults just tell followers that anything negative written or said about them is wrong and should be avoided.

Child Baptism

Many children are baptized at a young age, before the age of consent and without a mature understanding of the consequences should they ever decide to leave. They are under extreme social and familial pressure to conform to the group and outwardly display that dedication by public baptism.

The penalties are great if a child makes a formal commitment to the group and then later decides it is not for them. They are ostracized and shunned by family and friends.

Child Brides

Child marriage is widespread, even in the United States. “For a long time, nobody knew the full extent of America’s child marriage problem. A group called Unchained At Last recently undertook a groundbreaking research project. They retrieved marriage license data from across the U.S. They discovered that 12 states do not even track data. But in the other 38 U.S. states, in just a decade, 2000 to 2010, more than 167,000 children as young as 12 were married. Almost all of them were girls married to adult men.” (wbur)

The young girls involved in such arrangements are conditioned early on that their main role in life is to be a wife and mother caring for the needs of a man, the household, and children. They are robbed of their rights to an education and the ability to have a career and are stunted emotionally.

Worse yet, some groups encourage this practice, even abducting and forcing young girls to marry older men.

Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a form of undue influence through which one parent deceives and manipulates the child to feel fear, anger, disgust, or other negative emotions towards the other parent. The alienating parent may even attempt to instill in the child false memories of abuse or phobias about the other parent.

Unfortunately, among families within destructive cults, if one parent decides to leave, the believing parent often is ideologically driven to psychologically poison the children against the exiting parent. Such practices conflict great trauma on the parent as well as the children.

What Can We Do?

All of us need to take an active role in addressing this issue. The first step is to recognize the harm that can befall children based upon choices of affiliation made by parents. Learn about undue influence. Prevent damage before it is done. Come together to better protect children from the damaging effects of cults.

Children are precious and need and deserve our help. Our children are our future. They deserve love, safety, and encouragement to grow up to be themselves and not have a pseudo-identity imposed on them. They deserve medical treatment, including vaccinations against deadly diseases and an education that includes history, science, math, reading, media literacy and , especially, critical thinking.


Understanding 'The Full Extent Of America's Child Marriage Problem'

Third Man Accused of Child Marriage in Utah Sex Cult

Amy J. L. Baker, Ph.D: Researcher, expert, author, and coach in parental alienation

Child-Friendly Faith Project

CHILD USA: The National Think Tank for Child Protection

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