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Scientology Held Woman Aboard the Freewinds for 12 Years Against Her Will: Aussie TV

NEW: See our lengthy interview with Valeska Paris, with much more information about her background, her time aboard the Freewinds, and her memories of Tom Cruise's infamous 2004 birthday aboard the ship.

Australian journalist Steve Cannane of the ABC program Lateline e-mailed us early this morning with this stunning new report which aired only a few hours ago in that country.

Valeska Paris tells Cannane that she joined Scientology's hardcore Sea Organization -- signing its standard billion-year contract -- at only 14 years of age. Three years later, after her stepfather committed suicide and her mother denounced Scientology on French television, Paris was ordered to "disconnect" from her family. She says that church leader David Miscavige then enforced that disconnection by having her put on the cruise ship, the Freewinds, that sails the Caribbean and caters to high-level church members.

Paris was told she'd be on the ship for two weeks. Instead, she says she was held there against her will for 12 years.

For the first six years, she tells Cannane, she couldn't leave the ship without an escort. When he asks her if she tried to leave, she answers, "I'd been in Scientology my whole life. It's not like I knew how to escape."

Another former Sea Org member, Ramana Dienes-Browning, backed up Paris's claims, but ABC got denials from Scientology, which says that each of them is lying.

Paris says she spent some of her time aboard the ship working at hard labor in the engine room. At one point, the work was so arduous, she passed out for more than 4 hours. At Marty Rathbun's blog in 2010, Paris described her life on ship as a prisoner:

I was put in this small room by myself with a camera monitoring my movements. A security guard escorted me anywhere I went, I had to eat in the engine room and was not allowed to eat in the control room because it was air conditioned. I was not allowed to work with anyone so I was alone at all times...I was in the engine room for almost 3 months full time. I hated it and just wanted to get off the Ship, I was of course not allowed to call my family at all or talk to anyone.

Paris finally left the ship in 2007 when she was sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force in Sydney as punishment. The church tells the public that the RPF is a spa-like retreat that church members attend voluntarily, but ex-members always describe it more as a prison detail that is more re-education camp than Club Med.

While at the RPF, Paris met her husband, former rugby star Chris Guider, who was the subject of a previous report by Cannane. In that report, Guider talked about personally witnessing Miscavige getting violent with his employees.

It is very interesting that Paris is speaking out even though she had signed a confidentiality agreement when she left the church. Such agreements keep many people from speaking publicly, even though courts have found that such contracts can be unenforceable. Paris says she signed her agreement under duress. It will be fascinating to see if the church tries to punish her legally for breaking the agreement -- I can think of several other people who would like to tell their own experiences publicly, but are held back by concerns about their own gag orders.

Once again, meanwhile, Australian television delivers hard-hitting reporting on Scientology. Our hats are off to the journalists Down Under.


UPDATE: Here's a postscript for this story that just occurred to me. While you consider what Valeska Paris went through, cut off from her own family, unable to leave a ship she detested, keep in mind what was going on up on the fancier part of the vessel while she was being held there in 2004...


The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology #1: L. Ron Hubbard #2: David Miscavige #3: Marty Rathbun #4: Tom Cruise #5: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin #6: Anonymous #7: Mark Bunker #8: Mike Rinder #9: Jason Beghe #10: Lisa McPherson #11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants) #12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives) #13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists) #14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists) #15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics) #16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church's HQ #17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano #18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive #19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church's other thugs and goons) #20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures) #21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church #22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members) #23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church) #24: David Touretzky (and other academics) #25: Xenu, galactic overlord


Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.

tortega@villagevoice.com | @VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega

Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared


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[Scientology dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested] [All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots] [Aussie former rugby pro Chris Guider calls David Miscavige "toxic" and "violent"] [Stephen Cox, UK church newbie, pledges 20K pounds] | [Biggi Reichert: A German Lisa McPherson?] | [The Birmingham trove: 7,000 internal e-mails] [Australian farmer blamed for giving Tom Cruise a bad shrimp, loses her friends, family]

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THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE

[A scientologist's letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth] [Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family] [Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle]


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