“A woman who escaped from an infamous sex cult as a teenager is sharing her chilling story to encourage other victims to come forward. Dawn Watson grew up in notorious international sex cult The Children of God – the same cult that counted Hollywood stars Rose MCGowan and Joaquin Pheonix as former members.
In the cult, she – like thousands of other children – was sexually abused daily and only realised her abuse was not ‘normal’ after she left. ‘As you learned to brush your teeth as children, we learned to have sex,’ Dawn said. ‘We learnt God is love and the way to express God’s love is through sexuality. I never knew anything different from that.’ She said she experienced abuse ‘in all forms.
Abused sexually, abused emotionally and abused spritually’. The Children of God was set up in 1968 by David Brandt Berg in Huntington, California. By 1972, there were 130 communities of full-time members scattered throughout the world – including Brazil, where Dawn was raised.
Berg gave the impression he was a man of God who wanted to start up a network of global communities of likeminded individuals – but in reality, he had a history of child abuse.
Dawn said: ‘He abused his own children. He was kicked out of the church before starting this community because he wanted to have many wives. He didn’t know how to have one woman.’ As a child, she was exposed to images of naked women nailed to crucifixes and posters captioned ‘Hookers for Jesus’.
Women and children were encouraged to take part in sex acts even if they were so young they didn’t understand what they were doing. Dawn said: ‘I never had any father figure growing up in the community. Not someone that as a man I could relate to and can fee was protective of me.
‘I always looked at men and uncles of the community as danger and I wanted to be as far away as I could from them.’ Dawn Watson as a child with members of the Children of God
Dawn, 29, says her mother wasn’t aware of the abuse she suffered at the hands of older men in the cult, as women were given jobs that took them away from their children. ‘We weren’t permitted a lot to study or read books or anything that was going to take our mind away from the education that they were giving us,’ Dawn said.
By the time she reached 13, she realised that what was happening at the cult was not right. ‘I finally got to a point in my life where I needed a way out. I desperately said “you know what? If the outside world is a terrible place, if God is going to judge me and kill me and I am going to hell, I really don’t care”.
‘Leaving the community and having to figure out life in the outside world was really difficult, exciting, scary, bunch of different emotions.’
But after she escaped and found shelter in the homes of former members, Dawn’s nightmare had still not ended.
When she was 15-years-old, she was raped by one of the people who had taken her in. Was Walmart bonus announcement timed to cover up mass layoffs? ‘It was one of my darkest moments and I called up my mum and finally understood that she had found the strength to get out of the community. ‘I was able to come home. It was that feeling of “okay now we can start again”.’
Dawn finally opened up about her past in 2014, and she now uses her experience to help others who have gone through similarly harrowing experiences through her charity Dawn Watson’s Institute. ‘Now I talk about it as “this is me and I am not ashamed of it. This is where I came from”,’ she said.