Scientology workers say they were trafficked as children on cruise ships.

Freewinds, The Freewinds is a religious retreat that marks for Scientologists

Three Florida residents claim that they were trafficked as children into the Church of Scientology and that the church still monitors them today.

Gawain Baxter signed a contract to work for the Church of Scientology for 1 billion years when he was only 6-years-old. The church put him to work at Scientology’s Flag Land Base in Clearwater doing manual labor. He did not get to go to school like other children, but he did learn to read and write. At the age of 15, “he wrote a letter to a superior about constant abuse and intolerable living conditions,” reports Tracey McManus at the Tampa Bay Times. The Church of Scientology then sent Baxter to the Freewinds ship in the Caribbean. At age 39, Gawain Bater filed a lawsuit against Scientology officials claiming that he and others were trafficked and indoctrinated as children and that the church made it impossible for them to leave.

Three plaintiffs, Gawain Baxter, his wife, Laura Baxter, and Valeska Paris said the church confiscated their passports and identification documents. They allege six counts of forced labor and peonage in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act in a 90-page complaint that was filed on their behalf. Kohn Swift and Graf P.C., who are part of a team representing the three alleged trafficking victims are also representing 80 plaintiffs in a civil case against the founder of the Nxivm cult, who was sentenced to 120 years in prison for sex trafficking and other crimes in 2020. Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC is also part of the team representing the alleged victims and also represent Indonesian villagers in litigation against ExxonMobil for human rights abuses and the families of Colombian banana workers and political organizers killed by a terrorist group funded by Chiquita Brands International.

“The culture of the church is defined by Miscavige. The best thing I could really hope for is to try and create awareness and try to hold him accountable for, in my opinion, the inhumane and barbaric treatment that people go through, that we’ve gone through,” Gawain Baxter said.

“Through the Cadet Org, the version of the Sea Org for children, Scientology separates minors from parents to further indoctrinate and manipulate its members,” according to the lawsuit.

Valeska Paris, who also signed a 1 billion year contract with the Church of Scientology at the age of 6-years-old says that she lived in a dormitory for children in England near Scientology’s United Kingdom base. She says she, “did five hours of unpaid work a day, like landscaping, washing dishes and providing childcare for newborns”, according to the lawsuit. At the age of 14, Paris was sent to the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, where “she worked 12 to 18 hours per day for $15 per week”.

Paris says that the counseling that she received from the church was from an adult male who interrogated her about sexual abuse she experienced at Sea Org. In the lawsuit that was filed, Paris says that she “would be required to work out how she had caused the abuse and accept responsibility for causing it”.

Valeska Paris says that her mother fled the Sea Org without authorization when she was 17-years-old. Paris was then “sent to Freewinds, where she worked 16- to 18-hour days. She also was subjected to intensive auditing, constantly forced to confess to alleged crimes. For one punishment, Paris was confined for 48 hours in the engine room, where the temperature was over 100 degrees”, according to the lawsuit. “After 11 years on the ship, she was sent to a work camp in Australia called the Rehabilitation Project Force. There, following multiple requests to exit the Sea Org, she was permitted to leave by going through four months of intensive interrogation called security checks”.

“She had no money, no official identification and no ability to even open a bank account because she was not legally in the country in which (Scientology) had sent her for punishment,” according to the lawsuit. The church launched a website attacking Paris after the Australian government contacted her in 2011 about inadequate compensation at Scientology’s work camp, according to the lawsuit. The website remains active today.

Laura Baxter is from the Church of Scientology in Germany and joined the Sea Org at the age of 16 when she was sent to work on Freewinds. Laura Baxter says in the lawsuit that she was “subjected to 12-hour long interrogations where she was asked about sex, past criminal behavior and any affiliations with law enforcement”. During a birthday celebration on the ship for a celebrity in 2004, the lawsuit states, a superior falsely accused Laura Baxter of trying to monopolize the unnamed actor’s attention. As punishment, the lawsuit states, she was confined to the 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,” Tracey reports, “She was also assigned to what Scientology calls a lower condition, where she was subjected to forced confessions and not paid for her manual labor”.

Gawain Baxter and Laura Baxter got married and later, when the Church had a ban on Sea Org members having children, they developed a plan to escape the church by making Laura pregnant. It was possible that the church would force Laura to have an abortion but at the time, the church was under attack and receiving negative attention about forced abortions. Laura refused to have an abortion but, “They were trapped on the ship, and the only way off was to submit to the demands of (Scientology) and sign the documents,” the lawsuit states. Today, they say that they are still harassed and monitored by the church.

The original story was reported in the Tampa Bay Times and distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Minding Hearts is building advocacy and peer support groups in each state.  The groups are created to raise awareness, educate, and advocate for those that might not otherwise be heard. We are here for encouragement, education, and support. We cannot give legal advice, but we can try and direct you in the right direction with your case. Links to legal services are listed with their states. Please share and let’s grow our groups. We are here to support families and develop resources that maintain family integrity. We look forward to your support. If you would rather become active by donating, then visit the donation page.

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