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Three Australian residents are accusing the Church of Scientology of child trafficking and severe verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
In a legal claim filed in Florida on Thursday, the plaintiffs Gawain Baxter, Laura Baxter and Valeska Paris are seeking significant “compensatory and punitive damages” against Scientology leader David Miscavige and five other Scientology organizations for alleged human trafficking.
In the almost 90-page complaint, the plaintiffs — who “grew up in, and were raised by Scientology” — claim involvement with the church “was not a peaceful or loving environment; instead, it was a world filled with abuse, violence, intimidation, and fear.”
“Plaintiffs were placed on a ship they could not leave and routinely punished by being humiliated, interrogated, and imprisoned, for the sole purpose of ensuring Plaintiffs would continue to perform back breaking free labor,” the claim alleges.
The Church of Scientology sent Global News a statement about the allegations:
“The allegations are both scurrilous and ridiculous and the lawsuit is both a sham and a scam. Valeska Paris already wasted the time of law enforcement when she made these fraudulent claims years ago. It is public record they closed her file stating ‘There are no corroborating witnesses or evidence provided to support the allegations.'”
All three plaintiffs say they signed one-billion-year-long contracts with the church while they were still minors, agreeing to work within Scientology for the rest of their lives, and other lives believed to come (as the church believes in reincarnation). Gawain Baxter and Paris say they were both six years old when they signed.
Within this contract, all three former Scientology members agreed to work in the highly regimented faction of the Church, the Sea Org, on the ocean cruise vessel the Freewinds.
The lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs were forced to work for years onboard the Freewinds “under highly dangerous and abusive conditions” and “under the direction of Miscavige.”
Sea Org members also allegedly had to self-report deviant thoughts and behaviour to higher-ranking officials, material they claim that would later be used against them.
Onboard the Freewinds, the plaintiffs had their passport, immigration documents and identification documents confiscated to “prevent (them) from escaping and to force (them) to provide free labor and services.”
During his time onboard, Gawain alleges he “was forced to perform arduous physical labor and menial tasks and punished for any failure to fully comply with the commands of higher-ranking Sea Org members.” This included hard manual labour and menial and administrative duties for little to no pay, he claims.
In one instance during extensive renovations to the Freewinds, Gawain says he “worked more than eighteen hours per day and was exposed to blue asbestos and concrete dust.”
The lawsuit alleges he “soon became ill, coughing up blood.”
Gawain also allegedly experienced physical abuse at the hands of high-ranking Sea Org officials.
Laura Baxter (who later married Gawain) worked as a files administrator onboard the Freewinds.
In 2004, the lawsuit claims, she was falsely accused of monopolizing a celebrity’s attention onboard the ship. For this, she was “confined to the extremely hot engine room for three days, allowed to leave for only a few minutes at a time for meals and to return to her room for a few hours of sleep.”
Temperatures in the engine room could reach up to 100 F (about 37 C), according to the lawsuit.
During renovations onboard the Freewinds, Laura was also exposed to blue asbestos and concrete dust without protective equipment, she claims.
Later, Laura and Gawain decided to marry while still onboard the Freewinds. The couple purposefully became pregnant in an attempt to flee the ship, despite a Sea Org ban on having children and reported coercion to terminate pregnancies.
To this day, Gawain “continues to suffer from the physical injuries he incurred while on the ship,” according to the lawsuit.
Paris claims she was the victim of repeated verbal, physical and sexual abuse onboard Freewinds.
In every instance where she reported sexual assault, Paris claims, she was allegedly interrogated, punished and forced to believe she was the cause of the assault.
When Paris began to date another crew member, she says was interrogated, punished and forced to prepare “a legible, handwritten confession providing graphic detail of sexual acts she had performed” with her then-boyfriend.
“A summary of the confession extracted from Valeska was then posted on the ship’s notice board for the entire crew to read, humiliating Valeska and causing her to be subjected to shame and scorn from the crew,” the lawsuit reads.
Upon her breakup with this crew member, he allegedly “poured a gallon of bleach on the floor of the room where Valeska was sleeping, filling the room with noxious fumes.”
“When she reported him, she was verbally abused for causing it, forced to clean it up, audited, and assigned to additional lower conditions.
“It did not even occur to Valeska to report (her abuser) to the police not only because she did not understand that this was criminal sexual abuse, but also because it was a high crime to report another Sea Org member to law enforcement.”
Paris was also allegedly confined to the engine room for punishment, once for 48 hours.
“Valeska suffered a panic attack, went numb, and was unable to move or call for help. When an engineer discovered her an hour later, he carried her to the control room where she was deprived of medical treatment,” the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit alleged she was later “berated” for being overdramatic and sent back to the engine room.
“Two weeks later, when she was again confined (to the engine room) as punishment and fell unconscious, she did not seek medical care from the ship’s medical officer for fear of being verbally abused and punished again,” the lawsuit reads.
During the Freewinds renovation, Paris was also exposed to blue asbestos, “causing her to have a persistent cough for many years,” the lawsuit claims.
It is unclear if and when the complaint lodged against the Church of Scientology will proceed to trial.