I was forced to have sex with an older 'uncle' aged just 12 in abusive paedo cult but I escaped after 27 years | The Sun

JEMIMA Farris, 50, was born into the abusive Children of God sect in America – where girls as young as 12 were expected to have sex with much older men.

Here, she reveals how she finally reclaimed her life.

Standing outside a tent in the dark, waiting to have my fortune told, I began to shake.

I knew that inside, the woman would look into her crystal ball and tell me the name of a man I’d have to have sex with, as apparently it was God’s will.

I was just 12 years old – and was trapped in an abusive cult.  

In 1972, while she was pregnant with me, my mother Deborah, now 73, fled her unhappy marriage and joined a newly formed Christian missionary group called the Children of God, convinced by their promise to change the world.

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It was the same cult celebrities Rose McGowan and Joaquin Phoenix were raised in.

Mum remarried and had my five younger siblings.

We moved constantly, sometimes to a dirty, cold garage, or to a shack on the beach with no walls.

Though we stayed together, it was drilled into us that family didn’t matter, and our love and loyalty was to be to the Children of God before each other.

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Our lives were controlled by the cult leader, self-proclaimed prophet David Berg, who was in his 50s, though we never saw him – he was in hiding and in photos his face was covered.

Berg wrote and distributed books to thousands of cult members worldwide, telling us what to think and do. He declared that the outside world, and everyone in it, was evil. 

We were cut off completely. Television, films, books and music were all forbidden, and we only mixed with others in the cult.

Instead of attending mainstream school, we were trained by parents and the cult’s school for the “Great Tribulation” – the end of the world, which Berg claimed was just around the corner.

Berg was also obsessed with sex. According to his “Law of Love”, anyone in the cult could have sex with anyone else – including children.

In 1984, when I was about to turn 12, a leader suddenly told me I was being sent abroad to a camp with other teens from the cult. 

I wasn’t upset at being away from Mum for so long, as we had no bond due to the way the cult forced us to live, but flying to Mexico, I had no idea my life was about to become even worse.

Outside the US, cult followers lived in large compounds behind high walls, far from prying eyes. Teenagers shared rooms that were open to any adult who wanted to enter.

All I could do when an “uncle” came in during the night was desperately hope it would soon be over. It was terrifying, but I’d been taught that any doubt, however small, went against God.

Physical punishments were also rampant. Leaders would make us strip and stand in front of a crowd while they beat us with a huge cricket bat for something as minor as laughing.

During my teens, I constantly moved from one commune to the next, mainly across Asia, which made maintaining relationships impossible – I lived in 21 countries in 27 years.

When I was 15, a boy I liked wrote me a love note, but the leaders discovered it and he was put in solitary confinement for three months. For years I’d been terrified of getting pregnant, as contraception was banned and I’d seen girls as young as 14 become mothers.

But in 1996, aged 23 and living in a commune in Russia, I felt an overwhelming desire to have someone to love and who would truly love me back. 

After a month of trying, I became pregnant by a man in the cult. I asked the leaders’ permission to return to live with my mum in the US to give birth, but although I hadn’t seen her in 13 years, our reunion was emotionless.

My daughter Mikayla was born in December 1997, and holding her in my arms I felt a fierce love. It was the first chink in the cult’s indoctrination. Mikayla was a helpless baby and she deserved protection – as had I. 

Still, I couldn’t seem to break away. Berg had died in 1994, aged 75, but the cult endured, and it was all I’d ever known. Instead, I rebelled – I drank, smoked marijuana and had sex with outsiders.

In 2000, when the leaders found out, they banished me for six months. I was angry and scared, wondering how I was going to live in a world I’d been told was evil.

Thankfully, an ex-member helped me get on my feet, finding me a place to live in Seattle and a job as a housekeeper. As I met more ex-members and learned how Berg had lived in luxury, while his followers suffered in poverty, I realised we’d been exploited.

The entire cult had been a lie. By the time my six-month banishment was over, I knew that I was never going back.

Life “outside” was terrifying. After decades of indoctrination, I had no education and didn’t understand the world at all. I was constantly surprised by everyday things, like how much people would spend on clothes and furniture.

I’d never had anything new in my life and the first few years were a daze. Without Mikayla by my side, I wouldn’t have made it, but I kept going for her. 

A year after leaving, in June 2001, I was 28 and working in a new job as a waitress. One night a co-worker invited me to a party and there I met Tim – and immediately we had a connection.

We went on our first date four months later and he simply listened as I explained what I’d been through, and said he was there for me. We took things slowly before marrying in 2006. 

I had a loving husband and daughter, and was rebuilding my relationship with Mum, who’d left the cult.

But in 2011, everything collapsed. Tim, now 57, became disabled after an accident at the restaurant where he worked, a friend died, and Mum was diagnosed with cancer. 

Self-medicating with drugs, I wanted my life to be over. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and at my first therapy session I finally came to accept I’d been sexually abused from age 12.

I began to process what had happened with the help of therapy and support from friends and family. I knew I had to fight – if I relapsed or killed myself, it would be like the cult had won. 

It’s what led me to set up the Butterflies And Bravery podcast in 2021, with a former Children of God member.

We wanted a platform to tell our stories and those of others. By then, the cult – which has changed its name multiple times and is now known as The Family International – was facing investigations and charges of child abuse.

In recent years, I’ve had tentative conversations with Mum about the past. It’s been extremely painful for us, but I now know she was also a victim and I’m happy to have her in our lives. 

I work as a chef, though I still have my struggles. I’ve lost childhood friends by suicide, including the sweet boy who tried to pass me the love note, and it breaks my heart.

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But I refuse to feel helpless. I’m telling my story for myself and all those who didn’t make it. For years I didn’t have a voice. Now I’ll never be silent again. 

  • Visit Butterfliesandbravery.com.

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