FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Children as Young as 10 Years Old Forced to do Labor in Service of Scientology Instead of Receiving Basic Schooling; Isolated from Parents and Endured Verbal Abuse for Minor or Fabricated Transgressions
Plaintiffs Were Compelled to Join the Crew on Scientology’s “Freewinds” Ship, Forced to Work Under Extreme Conditions With No Way Out
TAMPA, FLORIDA – Three individuals who were raised in Scientology and forced to work in its service from childhood today filed a groundbreaking lawsuit against Scientology’s leader, David Miscavige, and five Scientology-affiliated corporations, alleging violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). The filing details the horrific mistreatment the plaintiffs endured under the control of Scientology, including forced labor, verbal and physical abuse, intimidation and coercion at Scientology’s primary hub of activity in Clearwater, Florida and for more than a decade on board Scientology’s cruise vessel, the Freewinds.
The plaintiffs allege that, beginning in childhood, they were required to commit to a lifetime of service to Scientology, enduring regular verbal abuse, crowded living conditions and sleep deprivation. Children were repeatedly told that those who attempted to leave Scientology could suffer awful fates, including death.
Beginning as young as 10, the plaintiffs were forced to work in Scientology’s Cadet Org and Sea Org, providing unpaid and extremely low-paid labor, including landscaping, food service and janitorial work. The plaintiffs allege that Scientology employs numerous psychologically devastating tactics to achieve coercive control over members, including lengthy interrogation sessions in which individuals who have been abused are compelled to take full blame for those abuses and agree to make amends to their abusers.
“For years, Scientology has exploited defenseless children and groomed them for a lifetime of servitude. Our clients were subjected to systematic indoctrination and manipulation that normalizes extremely abusive treatment. Throughout their formative years and into adulthood, they were forced to perform labor under unimaginable conditions,” said Neil L. Glazer, an attorney for the plaintiffs and shareholder at the law firm of Kohn, Swift & Graf, P.C. “Their lives have been forever altered by this mistreatment.”
“Growing up in Scientology, being separated from my family and subjected to severe verbal and physical abuse has scarred me in ways that I am still working through and uncovering. Sometimes it feels like it will never end. All the while, Scientology continues to abuse and exploit its members, including young children, and does so with virtually unchecked power,” said plaintiff Gawain Baxter. “To this day, there are completely defenseless minors being mistreated by Scientology leadership. Just as I was, they are isolated from family and have no way to protect themselves. Scientology must be held accountable for the human rights abuses and trauma it has inflicted without a shred of remorse.”
Plaintiff Gawain Baxter was required at age six to sign a contract pledging to serve Scientology, and by extension David Miscavige, for one billion years. Beginning at age 10, he alleges he was forced to attend expensive indoctrination sessions, the costs of which he was continually told were recorded as a mounting financial debt he would have to repay if he ever left the Sea Org.
As a teenager, Gawain Baxter was allegedly transported from Clearwater to Curacao and compelled to board the Freewinds, where his identification documents were immediately confiscated. There, he was forced to provide manual labor with few breaks and little sleep. Tasks were often incredibly dangerous, such as when he was ordered to squeeze inside fuel tanks to clean them from the inside, without a respirator to protect him from the fumes. When the Freewinds underwent extensive renovations, he worked more than 18 hours per day and was exposed to blue asbestos and concrete dust. He was not provided any protective equipment and soon became ill, coughing up blood.
“Scientology cannot be allowed to continue exploiting the labor of its members and inflicting emotional and physical abuse without facing justice,” said Ted Leopold, an attorney for the plaintiffs at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC. “Our hope is that this lawsuit will assist the plaintiffs in holding Miscavige and Scientology accountable for this egregious mistreatment.”
The second Plaintiff, Laura Baxter, grew up in Scientology in Germany. At age seven, her mother signed her up to take Scientology courses. By 15, she worked as a staff member for Scientology in Stuttgart, which required her to undergo frequent “auditing” and “security checks.” Her mother eventually signed over guardianship to a senior Scientology officer, after which she was transported to the Freewinds. Her identifying documents were also confiscated and she was forced to do labor and endure punishment for minor or fabricated transgressions.
In 2004, a prominent Scientologist celebrated their birthday aboard the Freewinds. At the celebration, the plaintiff was allegedly falsely accused of monopolizing their attention and, as punishment, was confined to the hot engine room for three days and was only allowed to leave for a few minutes at a time for meals and a few hours of sleep in her room. During her time on the Freewinds she continued to endure further abuse, such as being forced to confess to alleged crimes against Scientology, having her meager pay withheld, being confined and under constant surveillance.
Gawain and Laura Baxter met aboard the Freewinds and ultimately married. Eager to escape the Sea Org, they made the decision to become pregnant, which would give them the opportunity to leave due to a policy change following unfavorable news coverage of the Sea Org’s forced abortion policy. When Laura became pregnant, the two were offered a choice to terminate the pregnancy or leave the Sea Org. When they declined to terminate the pregnancy, they were isolated from the ship’s staff, put under full-time surveillance and required to undergo ethics handlings and security checks as punishment. Gawain was also interrogated and berated for not forcing Laura to terminate her pregnancy. After weeks of punishments and isolation when it became clear that they were not going to comply, Gawain and Laura were permitted to leave the ship.
To this day, they are traumatized as a result of what they endured since childhood. They regularly receive intimidating phone calls from Scientologists as a reminder that they continue to be monitored.
The third plaintiff, Valeska Paris, was subjected to Scientology indoctrination beginning when she was just four years old. During this training, which continued throughout her childhood and adolescence, she was regularly interrogated by adults who asked graphic questions about sexual acts for hours at a time. When she was six years old, Valeska’s parents deposited her with the Cadet Org in England, where she was provided minimal schooling and was forced to work for hours every day.
When she was 14 years old, Valeska was pressured into going to work in the Sea Org at Scientology’s “Flag Base” in Clearwater, Florida. There, among other things, she was punished for reporting having been sexually assaulted by a senior Scientology officer. After several years of mistreatment, Scientology’s leader, David Miscavige ordered her to be put to work on the Freewinds, where she toiled under extreme conditions for many years.
“Because of the horrors I experienced at the hands of Scientology from childhood and throughout my adolescence, I still have nightmares. Scientology is a system that is designed to perpetuate fear, and I continue to struggle with the trauma. No person – child or adult – should have to go through the daily abuse and manipulation I faced. Though bringing this lawsuit is a great personal risk, I could not stand by while countless children continue to be trained for a lifetime of slavery and abuse,” said plaintiff Valeska Paris.
TVPRA is a 2008 law that strengthened the federal trafficking laws established in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000.
The lawsuit also names Church of Scientology International Religious Technology Center (RTC), International Association of Scientologists Administrations (IASA), Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization, Inc., and Church of Scientology Flag Ship Service Organization, Inc. as defendants.
The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the three plaintiffs, who are represented by Neil L. Glazer of Kohn, Swift & Graf, P.C., Ted Leopold of national plaintiff firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, Gregory Hansel of Preti Flaherty, and Warren A. Zimmerman.
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