Verity Carter’s earliest memory, when she was about three, is being beaten for the “crime” of spilling blackcurrant juice on a curtain. âThe physical discipline was extreme and regular,â recalls the 41-year-old.
And that was just one of many horrific parts of life that her parents had chosen for her, raising her in the notorious cult of the Children of God in the 1980s.
For years the global cult has been shrouded in secrecy, although in recent years the UK convictions of two cult members of rape and sexual abuse have brought to light the sinister teachings of its late founder David Berg.
And now, three British women who grew up in the cult, on properties scattered across the UK, have chosen to speak out in a gripping new five-part documentary that is in turn revealing and frightening.
Sara Kelley (pregnant with Serena) and David Berg. Children of the cult. Discovery
Berg was an evangelical preacher who founded the Children of God in California in 1968. He drew a group of runaway teens and hippies with a mantra of free love and family, and the movement swept the world.
In the mid-1970s, he claimed to have 10,000 followers in 130 townships, including the families of Hollywood stars Rose McGowan and Joaquin Phoenix.
Berg advocated sexual promiscuity and insisted that there should be no limits, regardless of age or relationship.
Verity was sexually assaulted at the age of four, including by her own father, while Celeste Jones, 46, also featured in the documentary, remembers being put on her town’s “sharing program” at the age of ten. It meant being on a rotating schedule of sexual partners. âIt wasn’t a choice, it was a duty,â she recalls.
Celeste’s mother joined the Children of God at age 16 after the group was invited to lecture at her school. She met Celeste’s father in a town in Kent, in a large Elizabethan mansion in the village of Hollingbourne, near Maidstone.
âMy parents thought they were on a mission to save the world,â Celeste says.
Yet any rebellion or deviation from Berg’s teachings was brutally quelled, recalls Hope Bastine, 42, the third British woman in the documentary. âI was severely punished for speaking and locked in a room for several days while the men took turns giving me corporal punishment,â she said.
By the 1990s, Berg had caught the attention of Interpol and the FBI, and his prophecy that the world would end in 1993 had not been fulfilled. Hope became convinced that there was a better life outside and, at 18, took the plunge.
“I had gone far enough to buy a bus ticket and arrived in London, at my grandmother’s,” she recalls. But it took several years for her to muster the courage to tell the police about the men who had assaulted her, including Derek Lincoln.
Celeste Jones, 46, who remembers being put on a rotating sex partner schedule, revealed that becoming a mother was the catalyst she needed to leave. Pictured: Celeste as a child, living in the sect
The agonizing case ended last year when Lincoln was sentenced to 11.5 years in prison for rape and sexual abuse.
It also took a while for Verity to speak up. She spent her early years with her family in an apartment in Paisley near Glasgow, but they were cut off from everything.
âWe had no music, no television, no culture. We had no idea how the world worked, âshe said. When she was 11 or 12, she was in one of the cult townships in Scotland, where some properties had up to 50 people under one roof.
At 15, she was deported and survived on paid jobs, but was 31 when she finally went to the police. In 2018, her father, Alexander Watt, was convicted of sexual abuse.
For Celeste, becoming a mother 22 years ago was the catalyst she needed to leave, but it wasn’t easy.
âI had no money, no bank account, my daughter’s passport and mine were with the leaders, and all communication was monitored,â she says.
Today the organization is called The Family International and operates online. Its website boasts of being present in 75 countries.
Hope’s mother remains a member, while Verity is frustrated that many others who abused her are still at large. “I will feel I got justice when my worst abuser is caught,” she said. “I will feel I got justice when my worst abuser is caught,” she said.
Children Of The Cult is available today on discovery +.