Some former devotees of Sathya Sai Baba get upset that many survivors of his sexual and other forms of abuse do not go public. They make the same kind of mistaken assumptions that Sai Baba’s defenders make who ask e.g., where is all the proof? Both these reactions are ill-informed, inappropriate and insensitive.
People who are badly traumatized – very typically – feel acute difficulty in being able to talk about their traumatic experience. One human reaction to trauma is lack of awareness of the extent to which upheaval has occurred. Psychological denial, and wanting to ‘move on’ are common. See:
It is widely found in a great deal of professional literature that a great many survivors endure years in silence and shame at what has happened to them. The case of those who have suffered at the hands of Sathya Sai Baba and some of his servitors is no different. Common experiences are:
- Fear at being called a liar
- Loneliness and isolation, e.g., after being shunned by those one has come to love and trust
- Anger or suppressed anger
- Self-blame and feelings of worthlessness
- Flash-backs and other forms of disturbance at recollection of the abusive events
- Feelings of torn-ness and confusion between positive and negative aspects of the relationship between spiritual teacher and the aspirant
- Uncertainty about the exact order or nature of events – e.g., this lays an honest individual open to charges of fabricating, and many abuse victims who have faced adversarial lawyers have spoken about the experience of being ‘raped twice over’.
See below, a list excerpted from: Post-Cult Problems: An Exit Counselor’s Perspective, by Carol Giambalvo.
A few who allege that Sai Baba has sexually abused them have attempted for a while to expose him and leaders of the Sathya Sai Organization. From many countries, the evidence emerges that the Sathya Sai Organization has repeatedly and profoundly failed in its duty-of-care and its responsibility to act professionally – what to speak of truthfully, honestly and compassionately. Dispirited, many survivors have wanted to ‘move on’. Others have said they are willing to testify so long as there are proper jurisprudential processes and a decent chance of success. Some will speak, and have spoken, with the media but only after the former devotee network, which includes very highly qualified abuse professionals, have carefully gone through the issues involved. An occasional individual like Conny Larsson, the former leader of the Sathya Sai Organization in Sweden – no matter the hatred and ridicule hurled at him by pro Sai Baba antagonists – will write a book. He has be willing to travel at his own expense to various countries, speak at conferences, appear on national radio and television, agitate among government and other movers and shakers, and so on. By far the most prominent author of a book critical of Sathya Sai Baba is Robert Priddy, who taught philosophy and sociology at the University of Oslo, 1968–1985. Of this book (publ. Indian Skeptic/B. Premanand. Podanur, Tamil Nadu, 2004), he has written:
“In 2000 I resigned as National Contact person of the Sathya Sai Organization in Norway after 18 years fulfilling that role. This was no easy decision, since I did not believe that the allegations of sexual abuse could be true, even though I knew that Sathya Sai Baba was deeply involved in the massive cover-up of murders in his own bedroom, and hence an accomplice to the fact.
Having refused to read David Bailey’s account or any of the flood of allegations thereafter for months, I finally felt I must read the sexual allegation testimony. It took me about another six months of intensive investigation – contacting all the sources I could – before I was forced to arrive at a complete conviction that most of the allegations were both true and accurate. Subsequently I began to look carefully into all aspects of Sathya Sai Baba from the viewpoint of critical questioning and found, to my dismay, deceit after deceit and evidence of a major campaign of deception by him and all those close around him. This resulted in many web pages, which the award-winning rationalist, Basava Premanand, asked permission to publish”.
See also, Priddy on his earlier pro-Sathya Sai Baba book ‘Source of The Dream – My Way to Sathya Sai Baba’ (New revised ed. 1997 Samuel Weiser, Inc. P.O. Box 612. York Beach, ME 03910-0612. U.S.A. ISBN 1-57863-028-2), and the transition to his critical work.
Some survivors of sexual and other abuses by Sathya Sai Baba and some of his close servitors have, despite the great upheaval in their lives, joined our representations to governments, media and many civic institutions. Those who have dared to speak of their experiences on the Internet have been attacked in the extreme by some pro Sai Baba activists.
Many young males from countries around the world have come to our network with compelling accounts of being sexually abused by Sathya Sai Baba. Some much older men like Mark Roche who shared his ordeals – when very young – in the BBC’s ‘The Secret Swami’ when much older) also speak to us of being seduced by Sai Baba, sometimes when they were in their teens, at others, when still very young men. Repeatedly, we find that survivors have not availed themselves of highly qualified professional counseling – even when it has been offered to them free of any charge.
In short, not debriefing, with proper professional counseling, their experience puts at grave risk an abuse survivor’s chances of health and well-being.
Common Issues in Post-Cult Recovery
Some of the recovery issues that keep recurring in my work with ex-cult members are:
- Sense of purposelessness, of being disconnected. They left a group that had a powerful purpose and intense drive; they miss the peak experiences produced from the intensity and the group dynamics.
- Grieving for other group members, for a sense of loss in their life.
- Guilt. Former members will feel guilt for having gotten involved in the first place, for the people they recruited into the group, and for the things they did while in the group.
- Anger. This will be felt toward the group and/or the leaders. At times this anger is misdirected toward themselves.
- Alienation. They will feel alienation from the group, often from old friends (that is, those who were friends prior to their cult involvement), and sometimes from family.
- Isolation. To ex-cult members, no one “out there” seems to understand what they’re going through, especially their families.
- Distrust. This extends to group situations, and often to organized religion (if they were in a religious cult) or organizations in general (depending on the type of cult they were in). There is also a general distrust of their own ability to discern when or if they are being manipulated again. This dissipates after they learn more about mind control and begin to listen to their own inner voice again.
- Fear of going crazy. This is especially common after “floating” experiences (see point 18 below for explanation of floating).
- Fear that what the cult said would happen to them if they left actually might happen.
- Tendency to think in terms of black and white, as conditioned by the cult. They need to practice looking for the gray areas.
- Spiritualizing everything. This residual sometimes lasts for quite a while. Former members need to be encouraged to look for logical reasons why things happen and to deal with reality, to let go of their magical thinking.
- Inability to make decisions. This characteristic reflects the dependency that was fostered by the cult.
- Low self-esteem. This generally comes from those experiences common to most cults, where time and again members are told that they are worthless.
- Embarrassment. This is an expression of the inability to talk about their experience, to explain how or why they got involved or what they had done during that time. It is often manifested by an intense feeling of being ill at ease in both social and work situations. Also, often there is a feeling of being out of sync with everyone else, of going through culture shock, from having lived in a closed environment and having been deprived of participating in everyday culture.
- Employment and/or career problems. Former members face the dilemma of what to put on a resume to cover the blank years of cult membership.
- Dissociation. This also has been fostered by the cult. Either active or passive, it is a period of not being in touch with reality or those around them, an inability to communicate.
- Floating. These are flashbacks into the cult mindset. It can also take on the effect of an intense emotional reaction that is inappropriate to the particular stimuli.
- Nightmares. Some people also experience hallucinations or hearing voices. A small percentage of former members need hospitalization due to this type of residual.
- Family issues.
- Dependency issues.
- Sexuality issues.
- Spiritual (or philosophical) issues. Former members often face difficult questions: Where can I go to have my spiritual (or belief) needs met? What do I believe in now? What is there to believe in, trust in?
- Inability to concentrate, short-term memory loss.
- Re-emergence of pre-cult emotional or psychological issues.
- Impatience with the recovery process.
Carol Giambalvo is an ex-cult member who has been a Thought Reform Consultant since 1984 and a cofounder of reFOCUS, a national support network for former cult members. She is on ICSA’s Board of Directors, Director of ICSA’s Recovery Programs, and is responsible for its Project Outreach. Author of Exit Counseling: A Family Intervention, co-editor of The Boston Movement: Critical Perspectives on the International Churches of Christ, and co-author of “Ethical Standards for Thought Reform Consultants,” Ms. Giambalvo has written and lectured extensively on cult-related topics. In 2008 Ms. Giambalvo received ICSA’s Margaret T. Singer Award.
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