Homeless since she left a cult in the 1990s, Bethany was taken in more than a decade ago by her friend, carer and ‘stepfather’ Henry, a ‘born-again Christian’.
She has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID) as well as complex post-traumatic stress disorder and can frequently ‘black out’. This makes her recollections appear fragmented and lacking in essential detail.
Various sounds and situations can trigger Bethany into different identities – one of them a little girl who likes donuts and balloons – and she has flashbacks in which she experiences her abuse in real time, rather than via traditional nightmares.
‘I’ve lost a lot of friends … I’ve seen them abused. I’ve seen them commit suicide. I’ve seen them being tortured. I live with it daily, the screams in my head.’
‘But I’m not going to let them win,’ Bethany said of the cult members she fled and whom she still fears.
When she was six Bethany was inducted, with other children, into the religious cult in front of numerous adult male members, including her biological father.
The ritual involved rape which ‘went on for hours’.
Other children at the induction were sexually abused by other members, she said.
Brought up on a commune, Bethany said ritualistic sexual abuse occurred frequently. It involved senior members of the cult and some high-profile citizens, particularly at ‘high’ times such as Easter and Christmas, as well as after several youth conferences.
At times Bethany was ‘sold’ along with other cult children to ‘men in suits’, and many rape sessions were filmed or videotaped. Many of these sessions were ‘orchestrated’ by her biological father, who was involved in ‘setting up the deal’ and the modes of transport used.
One of several episodes Bethany recounted involved children taken to a police station, then transferred to a hotel where several men who raped them gave ‘wads’ of cash to the officers who transported them.
She escaped the commune several times but was always caught, sometimes brought back by police and other times by her father.
She was distraught describing how her younger brother died during a medical emergency because members of the Church, as ‘punishment’, refused to give him his medicine.
After a large youth conference when Bethany was 14, her attempted escape from the commune was thwarted when male members of the cult forced her to perform filmed sexual acts on them for money. In exchange they promised not to tell her father her whereabouts. But they reneged on their ‘promise’.
‘I got punished twice,’ Bethany said, as ‘I didn’t perform properly [on camera] and they didn’t get the money’ that was expected.
Although she has attempted on numerous occasions to report to police, in several states, the abuse and exploitation of herself and other children, Bethany said she had been disbelieved, ignored and threatened.
One officer in Sydney threatened to commit her to a psychiatric ward and many don’t believe her identity because she does not have a birth certificate.
‘I’m not stupid,’ Bethany said. ‘I know I have a medical condition and I don’t remember things clearly but I don’t forget things when I’m abused.’
Despite numerous reports to them over the years, the police will not even take a statement, she said.
Both her ‘stepfather’ Henry and Bethany’s long-term psychologist, Adam, supported her in her private session. ‘I firmly believe that what this girl is saying has got merit and she’s never altered names or altered by circumstances in any way over these past 16 years,’ Henry said.
Adam, who has treated Bethany for almost a decade, said she has been ‘consistent in what she tells me’ and that her diagnoses of complex post-traumatic stress and DID ‘is a reality’. He told the Commission that she refuses medication because it was ‘used ritually’ on her. ‘There is no doubt that Bethany is traumatised, no matter which way we look at it.’
Bethany was proud of several academic achievements but said ‘everything’s a constant battle’. Without Henry and Adam, ‘and a few other friends … I would have committed suicide’ or returned to the commune to ‘survive’.
‘Because I’ve got a psychological issue they [the police] treat me like I’m not a human or I’m mentally deranged or something.’
Police need better or specialised training in how to work with traumatised people, and if they’ve had no training they need to call in ‘someone that’s trained’.
This is so police can cope with ‘the way they [traumatised people] act, the way they present’, Bethany said. ‘[If] their story doesn’t make sense … [it] doesn’t mean it’s not true’.
‘As a society,’ she said, ‘if we can’t look after our children then we’ve failed.’