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Bexy Cameron, 39, is a film and documentary-maker, who grew up in the infamous Children of God cult. She lives in London with her fiancé Paz. Here, she shares her powerful story with Yahoo UK.
One of my first ever childhood memories is riding a bike with my big sister. Around us were fields of golden crops, I can recall the sound of my own laughter and the sight of my chubby little feet hanging off the bike.
It’s a lovely, pure memory and one that comes from a time long before I was told that I had to be ready for the end of the world – that one day, I would become a ‘soldier in the Armageddon’ and that by the age of 14 I would die. It is a memory from before I learned I was living in a cult.
A report by the New York attorney general’s office back in 1974 referred to the Children of God as a “cult”. It was founded by David Berg in the late 1960s. It had between 10,000 and 25,000 members spread across the globe in over 100 countries and my parents and their 12 children – including me – were part of it from 1972 onwards.
The FBI and Interpol started to investigate both Berg himself and the group’s practices. Anonymous informants spoke of rape, incarceration, kidnapping and incest taking place within the cult, but the investigations ended in 1994 when Berg died.
Shut off from the world
I was born in the UK but we moved constantly across the globe at the whim of our leader. We lived in places such as India, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mauritius and eventually England, although we never settled anywhere for very long.
Looking back with adult eyes, Berg was sexually motivated, narcissistic and corrupt. But as a child, all I knew him as was an all-powerful man whose unstable mind could change our lives in an instant. He could wake from a dream and have a vision that would alter the course of our lives. We had no idea where we would end up.
Read more: The truth about 'invisible abuse'
As children, we had no formal schooling but were made to read Berg’s words every day. We were taught to memorise the Bible and write it down but anything educational beyond that was not considered useful. Instead, we were taught practical skills that would benefit the cult. By the age of 10, I was running a kitchen, feeding 100 people twice a day.
Watch: 'My childhood growing up in a cult'
We had no idea what life was like outside the cult. We weren't allowed to watch movies, read books or listen to music. Once, when I was around eight years old I discovered a copy of Oliver Twist in the house and it was one of the best experiences of my life.
It was like an escape hatch opening up to me. I kept it hidden and would read it in secret, immersing myself in the world of Dickens and hoping that – like Oliver – I had an uncle somewhere who was searching for me. Even at that young age I knew innately that life inside the cult was wrong.
Living in fear of violence
Although I felt loved by my family, I was always acutely aware of the strict control my life was under. Punishments were often cruel and had a lasting effect on me as a person.
Beatings were regular. On one particular occasion, when I was nine, I was caught lying. My punishment was to be ‘exorcised’ of evil demons. As I lay on the floor with my entire community’s hands all over me, calling me ‘Rebecca The Deceiver’, it was terrifying and truly made me believe that I was a bad person.
‘Silence Restriction’ was another punishment meted out frequently to youngsters who began to rebel. It happened to me when I was around 10 and it’s the closest I’ve come to losing my mind. Sentenced to silence for a year, I was made to wear a sign saying: ‘Please don’t speak to me’ and only allowed to talk to certain people. After months of this treatment, I was absolutely broken.
But halfway through my punishment I met another girl being ‘Silence Restricted’. Her name was Marie. On the first night we met, we were told to share a bed and she whispered the word: ‘Hey’ to me. For the first time in months, I didn’t feel invisible anymore. We continued to speak together in secret and I’m convinced she’s the person who saved me. She’s my best friend even today.
Fleeing the cult
I knew I was going to escape the cult. By the time I reached my teens I had watched other girls do it and fail, falling into the sex industry because they had no other way to earn money.
Instead I had to plan. I found a job and worked in secret, saving up money for the day when I planned my exit. But inevitably, I was discovered and one night the cult – including my parents – voted to excommunicate me from their number. Within two hours I had to pack and I was thrown out. I was only 15.
It was terrifying but I went into survival mode. My older brother had also been thrown out and we found a flat together just outside Leicester. Although we were scared, and so very poor, we were also excited to be experiencing things like music for the first time. Even a walk down the street, seeing new people and hearing new sounds was something we’d never experienced before. It was as if the volume had been turned up on the world.
Within months I could pass as ‘normal’. I put myself through education and had a variety of admin and secretarial jobs. My goal was to be safe, well, warm and fed but as I got older, I realised I could aim higher and have other goals. I’m now in a job I love and very happy with my partner.
Berg died in 1994 and now my whole family is free from the cult. In 2009, the cult started to disintegrate. Although my parents are no longer in our lives, I’m close to my 11 siblings and we see each other all the time. We have a ridiculously strong bond, no doubt as a result of what we all went through.
People ask me if I would change my life if I could go back in time. I can honestly say, as terrible as it was sometimes, that if it meant being without one of my brothers or sisters, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m very grateful for all that we have.
If you've been affected by any form of domestic abuse, visit Women's Aid for help and support.