Anina moved to an alternative community centre when she was a young girl. Her father promised her the family wouldn’t be split up, but soon after they got there he was sent away to another centre. Before he left he signed papers giving legal guardianship of Anina to the leader at the centre, Zu Chang, and his acolyte, Lesia.
It was Lesia’s job to look after the children. They went to the local primary school, and did high school studies by correspondence. They had jobs around the centre, and practised the community teachings.
When Anina was in her mid-teens, Chang began sexually abusing her. She turned to Lesia for help but got none. ‘She was extremely violent’, Anina told the Commissioner. ‘I was really terrified of her … She would say “It’s my duty to please Chang … his needs are very important to be met, and people like me get sent far far away if you don’t comply”.’
It was unthinkable to resist, Anina recalled. ‘If I said no to either her or Chang I was saying no to … God.’
The physical, psychological and sexual abuse were ongoing. Chang raped Anina repeatedly and sexually harassed her.
‘He used to grab your boobs and you’d try fight him off … You never got away from it. It was just like a pinch here, a grab there, a finger up your vagina – it just didn’t stop. It was just relentless.’
As she got older, Chang and Lesia told Anina she wasn’t smart enough to continue her high school education. Instead, they wanted her to become a teacher for the community. They told her she didn’t need the world, or the education the world was offering.
‘I needed education from them because they had plans for my life’, Anina said. ‘I used to wake up every morning thinking “If this is what life is, I don’t want it”.’
Throughout these years Anina was always hungry and always tired. She’d be woken at night to do whatever Chang required of her, then have to get up early to do work.
‘In the end I started to hate, and get really angry’, she said. She became really difficult, and Chang turned his attentions elsewhere. In her late teens she escaped the centre and moved far away.
Sometime later she got involved in legal action against Chang and discovered that others had been abused too. That news ‘totally floored me’, she said. ‘I thought I was the only one and it turned out everyone was.’
The legal action against Chang by a number of victims succeeded in just one of the cases, and that conviction was overturned on appeal after he had served part of a jail term. He died shortly after.
It is now accepted by the community that the stories of abuse were true. Anina, though, feels that nobody at the community has ever acknowledged what happened to her, or taken responsibility for it.
It wasn’t just the sexual abuse, she told the Commissioner, but also the continuous psychological abuse. And as well there was the constant indoctrination.
‘My whole life has been ruined. I hate to think of it like that. I want to be positive but, you know … I’m a smart enough person to have a professional job, and an income, but I haven’t been able to really work properly my whole life. I can’t cope with stress. I’ve been on and off welfare my whole life, trying to manage trauma and anxiety. It’s like trauma is just sitting under there and the smallest thing makes it go off. Even now … I feel like I’m on the outside looking in on normal life.’