Cults on campus

Cults on campus

The Times, 20 September 2001.
By Fleur Brennan

Manipulative sects are targeting students

Starting university is a time of excitement for students. It also brings with it fears and anxieties about funds, accommodation and sexual adventures. What is less well known, but something that vulnerable freshers and their parents need to be aware of, is the sinister threat of attention from recruiters to cults.

Next Wednesday a new book, Cults: A Practical Guide, will be launched. Its author, Ian Haworth, the general secretary of the Cult Information Centre (CIS), says: “A growing number of students in colleges and uni-versities is being targeted by cults. They look for people who are intelligent, idealistic and intellectually and spiritually curious. Universities are full of such people.

“Cults usually set themselves in opposition to mainstream soc-iety and the family. They conceal their real nature and goals from prospective members and adopt deceptive behaviour to attract recruits.”

Even relatively experienced students can fall prey to persuasive invitations. Sarah Cope-Faulkener, a student at Wolverhampton University, was readjusting to college life at the start of the second year when she was sucked into a sinister organisation that took over her existence and ruined her chances of a degree.

“A girl I remembered seeing in lectures in my first year came up and asked if I was a member of a church. She suggested that I go with her to her church, the International Church of Christ, which I did because I was feeling lonely,” says Sarah, now 31.

Once there, she was drawn into an ever deeper involvement, until she was living with other group members who controlled her every movement, including what she wore, ate, read and when she went to sleep. Sarah’s grades suffered in the 18 months that she was with the group. She left university without a degree in 1993 and had a nervous breakdown. She was on antidepressants for a year and suffered from severe emotional distress for another four years.

Catalyst is an organisation that supports people trying to leave groups. Its director, Graham Baldwin, says: “Cult recruiters use well-documented psychological techniques to break down and remould the victim’s personality, securing total dependence.”

Some universities have banned all cults. The University of Hull has banned a Danish-based organisation called Tvind, and the University of Birmingham’s Guild of Students has banned the International Church of Christ, the Church of Scientology, and a radical Islamic organisation, Hizb-Ut-Tahrir.

Audrey Chaytor, the secretary of Family Action, Information and Resource (FAIR), warns young people to be on their guard. “Sadly, they should beware of anyone who is too friendly. If they are invited to meetings they ought to check out thoroughly that the organisation is reputable and won’t ensnare them. It is so easy to be taken in.”

  • Cults: A Practical Guide, £3.99, plus 75p p&p, from The Cult Information Centre, London WC1N 3XX

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