Extreme religious cults plan to target vulnerable schoolies recovering from end-of-year drinking binges, experts have warned.
Social workers, university researchers and friends of cult victims agree that the Schoolies festival, starting on November 21, will coincide with a recruiting drive by cults.
David Ward, a social worker based on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane, said some of the cults were dangerous.
Australia has proved a rich recruiting ground for overseas-based cults, with recent reports estimating up to 500,000 people in this country could be involved in fringe religions.
Mr Ward said his research for a Masters degree at the University of Queensland showed schoolies were an obvious target for cults.
“It’s one of the hallmarks of these groups that they look for people going through some sort of transition,” he said.
“At the end of school, when a person is unbalanced in life, they can be victims ripe for the picking.
“They’re open to a friendly face, someone who will say, ‘Come and have some soup, come to our Bible reading’.
“My advice to schoolies is stay in your group. It will provide protection for you.”
Mr Ward said Cavill Mall in Surfers Paradise, where 50,000 schoolies are expected to gather, would attract cultists.
The Reverend Cyril Muller, who operates a chaplaincy service and cult hotline at the University of Queensland, said cultists probably would approach schoolies towards the end of the week when they were “on the way down” from a high.
A typical scenario was for cult recruiters to tell a depressed and lonely schoolie to join their “camp” because they were having a marvellous time.
“They go into it like armies – they plan it, they have a strategy,” Mr Muller said.
Friends who are helping former cult members return to the community said the recruiters would target girls.
“Guys are not led as easily, unless it’s in the process of getting sex,” said a friend of several ex-cultists, who asked not to be identified.
Schoolies Board chairwoman and Tourism Minister Merri Rose said the Government was not aware of cult members descending on the Gold Coast for the Schoolies festival.
“But some do direct their recruitment activities at young people, who may be vulnerable at times of emotional crisis,” she said.
“There will be more than 1000 volunteers at Schoolies this year. They will be easily identifiable and easily accessible to anyone who needs help.
“The 50,000 school-leavers heading for the Gold Coast are going for a good time, so they are less vulnerable to approaches from religious groups.”
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