Woman Who Escaped From “Children Of God” Cult Tells Her Story Of Abuse And Brainwashing

Trigger warning: child abuse, suicide

A survivor of one of the most controversial cults shared her harrowing experiences, highlighting the religious movement’s exploitation of children, her advocacy against extremism, and the psychology behind cults

36-year-old Daniella Mestyanek Young detailed the abuse she suffered as a child growing up in the Children of God cult, exposing how the so-called “free love” ideals of the group promoted the sexual abuse of children.

Daniella escaped what has been labeled a “sex cult” at 15 and has since been working as a self-described “scholar of cults, extreme groups, and extremely bad leadership.”

In a bombshell exposé with The Sun, published on Sunday (March 10), Daniella, a daughter of high-ranking members who was shuffled between compounds in the US, Mexico, and Brazil, explained that when the cult was in its prime, it brought in hundreds of millions of dollars, adding that her grandfather — a senior leader — “still runs the money.”

In 1968, former priest David Berg founded Teens for Christ, which evolved to become the infamous Children of God cult, characterized by allegations of rape, child abuse, and religious prostitution.

36-year-old Daniella Mestyanek Young escaped the Children of God cult when she was 15

Image credits: Daniella Mestyanek Young

During its formative years, the cult attracted thousands of members worldwide, including the families of Hollywood figures like Joaquin Phoenix and Rose McGowan, who were both born into the cult.

Daniella was banned from any education that wasn’t based on the Bible and suffered physical, sexual, and psychological abuse at the hands of the cult in the name of Christianity.

“You’re taught that the outside world is evil and so bad,” she told the British tabloid.

Daniella’s mother, at 13, was forced to marry a 39-year-old high-ranking leader and serve as his secretary for years. She explained: “It was all about labor and child trafficking.

“[David] Berg was a failed, alcoholic preacher who all of a sudden, at 50 years old, got thousands of people to follow him and give up their freedom, their children, everything.”

Daniella alleged that she was trafficked as a child actress throughout Asia and Latin America — and made to sell and beg on the streets.

Daniella left the cult before turning 16, as this was the age members were expected to have sexual relations with “whoever asked”

Image credits: Daniella Mestyanek Young

Facing scrutiny and investigations from authorities in the early 1970s, the movement was subsequently labeled a cult by the New York attorney’s office, leading to Interpol and FBI involvement.

Despite nearly disbanding in the late 1970s, Daniella revealed that the group merely went underground and rebranded itself in the 1990s as The Family.

“We called ourselves one big family,” the survivor said, adding that a lot of time was spent “rehearsing answers about why we are not a cult.”

Daniella added: “It had been whitewashed so much that we performed in the White House twice.”

When Daniella was just five years old, she had already experienced sexual abuse, and by the age of six, she was having suicidal thoughts and knew she wanted out.

She recalled: “I had experienced a very bad sexual assault, and I’m like, ‘If this is God’s love, like, I don’t want anything to do with this.’”

“They watched as I was dragged [away] by a pedophile… and I was gone for 10 hours. And nobody asked any questions.”

In 1968, former priest David Berg founded Teens for Christ,  which evolved to become the infamous Children of God cult

Image credits: David Berg

The survivor, who wrote Uncultured: A Memoir about her experience, went on to explain that she had to leave the group before turning 16, as this was the age members were expected to have sexual relations with “whoever asks you and not use birth control as, of course, the cult wants you pregnant.”

Daniella’s mother reportedly helped her escape before her birthday, and she eventually managed to flee to Texas, USA, with only a passport, leaving behind everything she knew and 25 siblings.

“I’m 15, and I don’t know anything about the world. It’s like I am from another planet,” she recalled.

The American author went on to show up at a school without any education records and was told, “We can’t enroll you in because you don’t exist.”

She explained: “And I think, oh, I am from another planet. Got it. I think that’s what I feel to this day, really, it’s how it still feels.”

Nevertheless, the resilient woman overcame brainwashing and even put herself through school and university, graduating as valedictorian.

Daniella described David as an “alcoholic pedophile”

Image credits: David Berg 

In the US, a valedictorian is typically the student with the highest academic achievements in a graduating class who delivers a speech at the graduation ceremony.

However, Daniella grappled with a sense of displacement and difficulty forming connections, expressing feeling like an outsider.

She said: “When you grow up in a cult, you are not growing up in society, in culture… you are growing up in this completely separate thing.”

After struggling in a toxic relationship post-university, Daniella found solace in the military as an intelligence officer.

Daniella recalled: “I think I joined the military for all the same reasons that my grandfather joined a cult. 

“It seemed like it’s the opposite of everything I’ve grown up with.

“But, in fact, it’s quite the same… I already knew how to just shut down my individuality… and be in a high-control group.”

Daniella, now a mother-of-one, has since been working as a self-described “scholar of cults”

Investigations against the cult stalled after the death of its leader, David, in 1994, and the group rebranded once more as Family International. Eventually, the organization collapsed by 2009, leading to mass defections.

Daniella said: “What I think is most agonizing is that people still act like the cult can just clean up their act and be better.

“Even fellow [survivors] will be like, ‘Oh, but they don’t do that stuff anymore.’

“And if you talk to anyone who joined the Children of God, they’ll be like, ‘It started off so great.’

“‘It was this group of young people and all about love and faith and Jesus.’ And it wasn’t.

“It was an alcoholic pedophile who wanted to build a following so that he could play power games with people.”

The Family International has reportedly released letters of apology to former members and previously said it “has had a zero-tolerance policy in place for over thirty years for the protection of minors.”

Daniella, now a mother-of-one, said: “We think we know all about cults and we don’t.

“We think cults are this other distant, far away thing, and we would never be a part of it.”

She went on to admit that she saw evidence of cult-like behavior everywhere across groups and communities, adding: “[What] I really try to teach people is that the only way to protect yourself from extremism is being comfortable in living in the grey and understanding that there are many valid ways to live a life.

“Because the whole cult proposition is that ‘there’s one right way to live your life, and we have it.’

“I think the best anti-cult mantra is just telling yourself all the time, there are many valid ways to live a life.”

“Major creepy,” a reader exclaimed


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