A woman who was brought up in the notorious religious sect The Family is suing its leader, Anne Hamilton-Byrne, for cruel and inhumane treatment she claims she was subjected to as a child.
Anouree Crawford, 34, was raised as a member of The Family from 1974, when she was four, until 1987, when she was removed from a property in Eildon during a police raid.
In a statement of claim filed in the Supreme Court last month, Ms Crawford, of Warrandyte, said she was assaulted and starved as a form of punishment.
She said her head was immersed in a bucket of water and she was regularly forced to spend the night locked in a shed in freezing conditions.
Ms Crawford told The Age the children, who ranged in number from 22 to seven over the 13 years she spent with the cult, were fed meagre amounts of salad, rice and fruit, supplemented with 25 vitamins served each day on a plate.
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“Basically food deprivation was a daily event. The reason for the deprivation was to control us, to make us weak and to feed us the most minimal amount of protein,” said Ms Crawford, whose father Michael Byrne, was Mrs Hamilton-Byrne’s stepson.
“We were always hungry, we stole food every day.”
In her statement of claim, Ms Crawford said she was hit with a bat, a metre-long ruler, a piece of wooden dowelling and a cane.
“They were called beltings, these were very serious events. I don’t believe we ever really misbehaved, but the perception we were given was that we had misbehaved,” she said.
“Again it was a control issue, thought control. The excuses were definitely rampant for beltings and missing meals.”
She claimed she was given a general anaesthetic for an unnecessary and dangerous manipulation of her spine, was force-fed when she was unable to swallow and was made to watch other children being abused.
Ms Crawford, who says she was removed from her natural mother when she was a baby, also alleges that Ms Hamilton-Byrne, 82, of Olinda, raised her in virtual isolation from the outside world and deprived her of a normal education and social interaction with other people.
She now suffers from a severe psychiatric and psychological disorder and has been unable to obtain regular employment. Ms Crawford is seeking unlimited damages for injury and loss of earning capacity.
She said she suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, an eating disorder, and was unable to socialise.
“It’s certainly a permanent consequence of the treatment up at Eildon,” she said.
Ms Crawford, who is painfully thin, said her eating disorder was not anorexia, and explained it as being “related to the perception of oneself. If one feels one hasn’t been loved, one doesn’t feel compelled to feed oneself.”
Her solicitor, Michael McGarvie, said Ms Crawford’s case was one of the saddest he had seen in his 22 years as a personal injuries solicitor.
“Anouree’s life has been shockingly distorted by her upbringing and the court will hear that she is not going to get over it,” Mr McGarvie said.
Ms Crawford said she felt strong anger towards Ms Hamilton-Byrne, particularly during a severe depressive bout two years ago.
“I didn’t know what a mother was. She called herself teacher, we were her children,” Ms Crawford said.
“I think if one were not to feel angry, one would not be able to experience a normal reaction to the situation.”
The case is likely to be heard in the Supreme Court next year.
The police removal of Ms Crawford and eight other children from the Kia Lama property in Taylors Road, Eildon, on August 14, 1987, was conducted with warrants issued under community welfare laws.
No charges were laid against Mrs Hamilton-Byrne for the abuse of children.
However, in September 1994, she and her husband William were fined $5000 each in the Supreme Court for falsely declaring that three children were their natural triplets.
After agreeing to be extradited from New York the previous year, the couple pleaded guilty to falsely declaring on New Zealand documents in 1984 that the children were their natural triplets.
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