An intriguing mind subject to study and a responsibility to raise awareness on: the sexual misuse of students by their spiritual teacher. I dived deep into the mind play of cult leaders and their tactics to manipulate followers for their sexual interest. A research that was provoked by the challenge to work myself through four years of personal experience with this as well as witnessing friends being victims too. I thoroughly examined in minute details the mind tactics of cult leaders, the severe effect it has on followers on their body, mind and spirit and researched what experts around the globe have to say on that matter.
What I am interested to explore in this article is why are victims of sexual exploitation by charismatic spiritual leaders reluctant to denounce their abusers? Women are persuaded to view the master as a deity and to be compliant with his wishes and whims, to undertake a punishing workload and be available for sex. They are separated from family and friends, discouraged from contact with the outside world and persuaded to see the organisation as family with the teacher (confusingly as father-lover) in absolute power and control. By the time women realise they are being abused, exploited and embedded in a coercive cult, it is often too late for them to extricate themselves. Their investment is total and their chances of making lives for themselves beyond the organisation have dwindled into non-existence.
Sociologist Amanda van Eck is deputy director of Inform, the cult information resource at the London School of Economics. She says fear is probably the main reason why women stay silent: “In some groups there has been fear of retribution,” she says, “which means they don’t want to speak publicly. In other cases, which may overlap with fear of retribution, they are fearful of negative consequences – damnation, of not being saved, of possession by evil spirits, of being attacked by negative forces and so on.” If the outside world has been demonised by cult leaders, Van Eck says, women may also be fearful that no one can be trusted. Many women who have described sexual exploitation anonymously on internet forums refuse to come out of hiding because they want to move on, rather than relive traumatic periods in their lives. Some also feel a need to protect their families.
In my personal experience, there are two taboos in such spiritual organisations, both of which have merit and both of which can be used as manipulative tools. One of them is an injunction against gossip – useful when trying to establish a calm mental state, but also useful to prevent the circulation of critical comment. The second is the bond of loyalty that is one of the key tenets of such cults. It supports the relationship between teacher and neophyte, but it can be deployed unscrupulously as a threat – break your loyalty and attract dire consequences to yourself and your loved ones. Another factor is that acceptance into the inner circle around an important “Master” delivers high status within the organisation. The play with followers ego as well as name dropping of ancient traditions, monks and titles as an apparent verification of status is often superbly managed.
Whether or not cult leaders relationships were abusive, they raise another question: how do often short, overweight cult leaders manage to attract beautiful women? Two main aspects stand out. The total surrender of seekers to their teacher and his requests as well as the teachings of such cults: their lure of liberation from life and apparent past-life residues to complete, that sex with the leader karmically cleanses the women and dissolves their blockages and that the highest rule in life is fulfillment….of apparent pending sexual engagement too; promoted under the umbrella of unconditional love and purity as a selfless service by the cult leader to the women. Unconditional love does not equal sex.
[Note: There are precious teachers in our world that offer invaluable support on our journey to the Self. As the Dalai Lama once said “For years we must investigate before accepting a teacher to see whether that person is really qualified or not. It is said in a scripture that just as fish that are hidden under the water can be seen through the movement of the ripples from above, so also a teacher’s inner qualities can, over time, be seen a little through that person’s behavior. We need to look into the person’s scholarship and whether the person implements those teachings in his or her conduct and experience.”]