LAKE TWP. — Cults don’t necessarily use physical torture to get new members. More commonly, they demand time, emotional energy and other resources, said Ron Taggart of Cult Information Services of Northeast Ohio (CISNEO).
Still, members of the cult-prevention network found parallels to the experience of torture described by Todd Packer, former program coordinator with the Chicago-based Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture. Packer spoke at CISNEO’s annual picnic Saturday at Greentown Community Park.
Many of the group’s members have either been in cults, have had family members involved with cults, or have counseled people getting away from cults. That’s why heads nodded when Packer spoke of the “conspiracy of silence” among torture survivors, the way a community isolates people who have been tortured.
“The one statement I heard from many people coming out of cults was, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ ” said Barb Miller. Former cult members believed that all other members were experiencing miracles or believed in the cult, she said. In fact, others had similar doubts, but these doubts were suppressed by silencing or isolating the doubters.
Even after breaking out of a cult, former members find themselves keeping silent. “When a cult survivor talks to other people, people are like, ‘Why are you so stupid to join?’ ” Taggart said.
Taggart said the group may adopt the response Packer outlined for addressing someone calling for help: First, tell them “I can wait until you are ready to tell me what happened,” Packer said. Many who have experienced torture fear they won’t be believed.
Second, praise their strength in surviving the experience. It is important, Packer said, to emphasize survival rather than victimhood.
Third, tell the survivor what happened to them was wrong. “No one, nobody deserves to be tortured,” Packer said.
Fourth, ask “How can I help?”
The members of Cult Information Services of Northeast Ohio aim to help in at least two ways. First, by educating the public about cults — and how disturbingly familiar they can be. “It’s very easy when you see someone in saffron robes to go ‘Oh!’ ” said Taggart.
However, members agree, cults from the outside often look like the church down the road.
Secondly, the group acts as a network for former cult members, a place they can discuss their experiences and not get strange looks nor spark fear in their listeners.
That, too, related back to Packer’s speech, in which he spoke of isolation and withdrawal lasting long after a traumatic experience is over.
“The importance of this work you are doing here is to break this isolation,” Packer said.
For more information about Cult Information Services of Northeast Ohio, call (330) 929-9734