‘If I leave, I may be killed’: This is how abusers can brainwash girls into submission


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‘If I leave, I may be killed’: This is how abusers can brainwash girls into submission

It starts out kind and quickly goes dark

Last week, R. Kelly denied reports containing allegations he’s holding several young women in a “cult.”

Last night, further reports surfaced, with a 20-year-old fan claiming the singer “bought her $200 lingerie, and forced her to pose nude” — a claim R. Kelly has also refuted. 

Parents of some of the women allegedly living with him have voiced concerns but to reach a conviction, cooperation with a victim is necessary. And so far, only one of the alleged hostages, Joycelyn Savage, has spoken up denying all allegations of abuse.

We spoke to Gregory Sammons, the director of Wellspring Retreat & Resource, about gas-lighting and mind control. He’s treated hundreds of patients recovering from abusive relationships, cults and situations of trauma.

How does brainwashing begin?

“Some of these girls may be younger — they’re looking for a purpose in life. Maybe things aren’t great at home and there’s something that attracts them to a group. Abusers can be very charming. Most people don’t wake up one day and think “I’m gonna go join a cult” or “I’m gonna go sign up for this abusive relationship.” In the beginning of any relationship, it starts out kind: “Hey, I’m buying flowers for this person,” or “I’m taking this person on a date to the movies and dinner.” Now I feel indebted, Now I need to give something back. Young people are particularly vulnerable. If someone gives you attention or affirmation, it’s going to draw you in.

What is a telling symptom of Stockholm Syndrome?

Even when a woman leaves a sex cult or abusive relationship, they may still be floating back and forth into that mindset. When they’re not using critical thinking skills, we call it cognitive dissonance — whatever they say is defending the abuser/the controller. 

In this case, an exit counselor would need to speak to them to determine what state of mind they are in.

What are some tactics that could be used to control the minds of young women?

It’s a subtleness over time, or techniques used over time. It’s a form of mind control, meaning they’ve been in a system where tactics have been used to manipulate them, and their critical thinking has been shut down. Techniques like control, isolation — getting this person away from families, friends, outside influences, thinking like, “If I leave I may go to hell or I may be killed,” or “Bad things are going to happen if I leave, so I need to stay here.”

It’s a whole package of things going on psychologically. When you pair it with an abusive relationship, it feel like they’re not going to survive outside of it. They start believing the deception and lies the abuser is telling them.

What can be done to get someone into a more healthy state of mind after?

Treatment is important as soon as possible. Even before treatment, there may be a need for exit counseling. If they can be removed from that environment and be able to have some time with a professional, expert or exit counselor, there’s a chance that they’ll see the unhealthiness of where they’ve been. 

Some of them may know it’s unhealthy, but they’re in an environment where they’re afraid to speak up for themselves — it’s rooted in fear.”

What is necessary for a healthy recovery?

A good sign of a healthy recovery is anger. We want them to be angry with the cult leader, the abuser.

I’ve had many clients who have been in one group (cult) and they left and went into another group because they didn’t get treatment — they don’t know the techniques and are looking for some kind of support. I’ve had clients who have been in 3 or 4 different abusive groups.”

We’re always going to be in recovery from past events, but we can get to a place of healing and fulfillment in our lives. Therapy is hard work — it’s difficult and it’s painstaking, but it’s necessary. It’s like a physical wound, if you don’t tend to it, it’s going to get infected and it’s not going to heal right.

Is there anything the friends and family of the victims can do?

Try to keep a line of communication open with your loved one if you can. Sometimes it’s worse if you attack the leader or you say I think it’s a cult, because that can drive a person away.

Ask questions like, “I don’t know what you’re involved in but I would like to learn” or “I have concerns about it, but I would like to hear from you.” Let them know they have a place to come back to.

I had a girl I worked with some years ago who wasn’t contacting her family. But they kept contacting her — sending care packages, birthday cards. And when she did get to her breaking point, she knew she could go back to them.