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Scientology's Shocking Treatment of Children Held in a Suburban Labor Camp

Shocking news this morning from journalist Bryan Seymour in Australia. In a story for the program TodayTonight that took him more than a year to put together, Seymour blows the lid off a re-education camp operated by Scientology in a suburb of Sydney, where children as young as eight years old have worked long hours for no pay. One of those kids, Shane Kelsey, now 21, finally left the camp last year, and Seymour was there to film Shane's reunion with his father, who now feels horrible guilt for leaving the boy in the camp to begin with. At only 8 years old, Shane signed a billion-year contract with Scientology's Sea Organization and was working 35 hours a week -- by the time he was 15, he was working 100 hours, for about $35 a week.

In a statement, Scientology made its standard claim that its "Rehabilitation Project Force" (which Shane experienced at 16) is a voluntary program, and is intended for Sea Org members who "commit serious breaches of ecclesiastical rules."

Let that sink in a minute. A prison-like camp for members who break ecclesiastical rules -- while only 16 years old.

Seymour let us know his story was coming. We're printing here the script to his incredible expose of Scientology's shameful child prison camp. We're also printing in full the response sent by the church, and we have some words from Seymour himself about how he put together this project, which took 14 full months to come together.

First, the script to this blockbuster story...

Scientology Labour Camps

Reporter Bryan Seymour Broadcast February 14, 2012

It is Australia's secret compound where men, women and children are kept virtual prisoners.

It's right in the middle of a quiet suburb.

It's also a place where children are separated from their parents, forced to work full time for no pay and live in squalid conditions.

Those who've survived this place say they were brainwashed into believing they could not leave and that they deserved the shocking treatment dished out.

Tonight you'll meet a young man who escaped this place with the help of his father.

"I lived in that garage for about a year and a half, maybe two years," said Shane Kelsey, a former Scientologist.

"Shane's story is one of shocking abuse, child abuse, it's one of a child being enslaved," said Senator Nick Xenophon.

"I was there for 10 years all up in the Church of Scientology as a staff member, and how could I inflict that on my children which I'll forever feel like I have to make up," said another former Scientologist, Peta O'Brien.

Shane Kelsey is now 21 years old. Until just over a year ago he had never used the Internet, watched television or followed the media.

"You're not allowed to read any books other than Scientology books, you can't read newspapers, no radio, no movies, nothing," Shane said.

Shane says he was held captive and groomed to see all of us on the outside as pathetic, useless and stupid.

"So I lived in a garage until that got flooded by a storm and my mum got really pissed off and said 'what the hell' and so I got moved into a closet. It is a closet under the stairs... maybe two meters long and a meter wide," Shane said.

This is the true Australian headquarters of the Church of Scientology. In the Sydney suburb of Dundas lays the RPF base -- it stands for Rehabilitation Project Force. It's where Scientologists are sent for punishment and training... For crimes that most of us would regard as trivial.

Reporter Bryan Seymour at the Base: "Scientology promised us someone would come and talk to us, that hasn't happened. I couldn't get through on the phone. More than 50 requests for interviews on camera have been flatly refused. The bottom line is they don't want people to know what's going on inside there, those who've lived in there like Shane, say it's like a gulag, a prison and yet it's in the middle of a suburb, it could be any suburb in Australia. People here would he horrified to know what has been going on in there for so many years and continues to this day."

Shane Kelsey's mother and father were dedicated Scientologists in Sydney, so they put their son Shane into its highest corps at the age of six -- little Shane moved into a tiny room with 11 other children.

By the age of seven...

Shane: "We'd go down the streets and there'd be eight of us, ten of us, young as and we'd go down and pledge people up to drug free lives."

Seymour: "How old were you when you first started doing that?"

Shane: "I first started doing that when I was seven."

At the age of eight...

Shane: "I signed my contract when I was eight years old."

Seymour: "And what was the contract for?

Shane: "It was a billion year contract."

Seymour: "Billion year contract?"

Shane: "Hmm, hmm." (nods)

Seymour: "And what does that mean?"

Shane: "It means you're volunteering or servicing the Church for the next billion years....We used to do marching, close order drilling, things like that."

Seymour: "What for, were you preparing for battle?"

Shane: "No, just because it was a form of discipline."

Seymour: "How often were you able to see your parents?"

Shane: "I saw them once a week."

Shane's mother and father would soon separate and his dad Adrian moved overseas then left Scientology.

Meanwhile, the work schedule for children was full time, hard and without reward.

Seymour: "You were working 35 hours a week when you were eight years old. How many hours a week did that grow by the time you were, say, 14?"

Shane: "Ahh, by the time I was 14 I was working in the kitchen."

A military muster every morning required marching and saluting to the cause of saving mankind from the intergalactic ravages described by its science fiction founder L. Ron Hubbard.

They wore all black uniforms and were required to run always, never walk.

So-called home schooling was provided in fits and starts, taking a back seat to hard labor and brainwashing.

Shane: "As soon as you turn 15, anyone, you're straight out of school. It doesn't matter what grade you're in, what level of maths, what level of anything, you're straight out."

The mess hall served food priced at 30 cents per meal, mostly beans and rice. The adults ate first.

Shane: "Yeah, that's right... they would all come in and eat whatever they wanted and then we went after them to take what's there... sometimes there wouldn't be much so you'd get little bits of food and it wasn't really sufficient."

Those who dared question the brutality of this place were dealt with swiftly and severely.

Shane: "They used to live under our squash courts...it's a mud, dirt floor...We put people in there and they live in there, when they're on the RPF's RPF they'd sleep down there and they'd study down there."

Seymour: "Why would you put people in a dank, mouldy, sinking foundation underneath a squash court?"

Shane: "Because you're a bad person, you have to be segregated from everyone," Shane said.

By the age of 15 Shane was living a nightmare even he now struggles to believe.

Shane: "As soon as i turned 15 I was seven days a week, 14 hour days."

Seymour: "That's 100 hours a week?"

Shane: "Yeah."

In a commercial kitchen, Shane and other children slaved away -- cooking meals all day every day... studying and snatching what little sleep they could.

Shane: "We'd get anywhere between $4 pay to $35 ($35 a day?) $35 a week."

"That's completely unacceptable, but there's not a law in New South Wales that makes it illegal to work a child for those hours... that's extraordinary, but that's the case," said lawyer Grainne O'Donovan.

Among those who needed to be fed was billionaire James Packer. For several years beginning in 2002, Mr Packer came to the Church of Scientology in the early mornings to receive auditing and instruction.

Seymour: "How much did you get paid for cooking meals for James Packer?"

Shane: "I didn't get paid anything, there was no bonus or anything, it was just the meal you cooked."

There is no suggestion Mr Packer had any idea who was preparing his meals or their work conditions.

Seymour: "What did you cook for him, do you remember?"

Shane: "Oh, just steak and chips or a nice salad or omelets those kinds of things, it had to be nice, like it wouldn't just be sloppy, it had to be nice."

Mr Packer left Scientology around 2008. It would be more than two years until Shane made his break for freedom.

In late 2010, Adrian Kelsey decided to rescue his son.

He invited us to document his attempt. He informed police of his plans to go to the compound and demand his son's release. He had protest signs ready if they refuse to let him come out. Then Shane came out to meet his father... the first they'd seen each other in four years.

Shane and Adrian were followed by Scientology "enforcers," so Shane reluctantly returned to the compound to avoid trouble. One week later he was sent to work near the compound's boundary and he made a break for it.

"Scientology have no right to mess with family," said Adrian Kelsey.

It took Shane 14 months to shake off Scientology, discover the truth, learn about the real world and tell his story.

"One thing that would be good is if they actually just stood up and said 'Sorry, it wasn't right, we're going to change it' -- but that is just not going to happen," Adrian said.

"Shocking! There were also children at the house," said Peta Obrien, who lived at the RPF base between 1997 and 2000. She confirms Shane's account of the appalling conditions.

"You do two hours of work, then you go and study for two and a half hours in the RPF it was five hours and then you go to work again, hard labor, picking with a rock pick, chipping away at rocks till they erode," O'Brien said.

Now a successful architectural designer, Peta believes Scientology has nothing of value to offer the community.

"Close it down, doors shut and all the staff members going back to their families and living their lives," O'Brien said.

"This is degrading and inhumane treatment,' said lawyer Grainne O'Donovan. Based in Perth, O'Donovan has devoted her time and expertise to helping survivors of the cult seeking justice. O'Donovan has also campaigned with the Internet-based activist group Anonymous that has raised awareness about Scientology.

"At some level they (Scientology) have become convinced, I suppose, that it's appropriate and that the group is more important than the individual," O'Donovan said.

RPF bases like the Sydney compound exist in other countries. Those who've escaped from them tell similar stories - Having fingers broken on the orders of the leader of Scientology, screamed at and slapped for 20 hours straight whilst having cold water poured over their head and much more... much worse.

"The authorities need to investigate this urgently. This is something that requires police investigation," said Independent Federal Senator Nick Xenophon, who has championed a campaign to shed light on the darkness at the heart of this group.

"What makes this worse is that this organization is being subsidized by Australian taxpayers because it doesn't pay any tax," Senator Xenophon said.

Shane has his father back, yet his mother Lesley remains inside Scientology.

"I hope she hears word of this and sums up the courage to actually find it and watch it," Shane said.

"She will, she will have to escape... yeah, they won't let her go... leaving's not an option, she will have to escape," Shane said.

The Church of Scientology refused to be interviewed for this story. In a written response Scientology denied any mistreatment of its members.

The response also declared:

"Anyone on the program is there because they want to be there..."

"They are completely free to withdraw at any time during induction or later."

"When Shane left the church in late 2010, he simply got his bag and walked out the door..."

"It is very sad that Shane has changed his story..."

The celebrities used to advertise Scientology likely have little idea that people like Shane Kelsey even exist.

Now they do.

Adrian and Shane hope they do something about it for the sake of other families.

"I regained a son."

"I got my dad."

And here's what Seymour sent us when we asked how he managed to put this story together...

Adrian Kelsey made contact with me about 18 months ago. He'd seen many of the stories I had done and wanted to tell me about his son Shane.

Shane was a member of the Sea Org who signed his billion year contract at the age of eight. He had spent the last few years in the RPF base at Dundas.

Over four years, Adrian had not been able to see his son. Instead they made do with a few letters and phone calls that were monitored by Sea Org staff. Still, Adrian got the sense that his son wanted to leave and he decided to help him.

I went with Adrian, at his request, on a rainy day in November 2010 as he tried to rescue his son. First, Adrian stopped at the Parramatta Police Station to inform them of his intentions to go and demand his son's release and, if he did not come out, to start protesting at the compound with signs he'd prepared and put in the boot of his car.

Adrian went to the Dundas RPF and disappeared down the long driveway and inside. I waited in a non-descript car with my camera crew and I quickly noticed several Scientologists checking us out. I realised they knew I was there and that they recognised I was with the media. My only concern then was that this might hinder any chance of Adrian and Shane's long-overdue reunion. It had the opposite effect, of course, and Shane soon appeared with his father.

I followed Adrian and Shane to a shopping centre and left them to catch up at an eatery in the mall. After about an hour I wandered up and introduced myself. Shane was reticent to talk and appeared nervous. It wasn't until much later I discovered that three Scientology "minders" or goons had followed us and were observing Shane, his father and me. I left Adrian and Shane alone and thought at the time that I hoped Shane would one day be able to tell his story...

...skip forward 14 months. Shane "blew" or escaped the RPF base just one week after that meeting with his father Adrian. He then had to learn about the real world... the Internet he had never used... common law... television... the media... history... the truth about L Ron Hubbard and Scientology. It must have been an awful lot to take in and I was surprised that Shane was ready to speak with me after only 14 months.

This story is about the abuse of people's basic human rights. It is also about a family; one of many ripped apart in the service of Scientology.

Importantly, Shane's mother Lesley Warren remains inside Scientology. Shane has expressed his hope that she too leaves the cult and that he is not completely cut off from contact with her.

As for me -- I hope this story raises awareness and prompts an appropriate response in the public interest... and that no more families, children or people endure the abuse, neglect and manipulation detailed in this and other reports.

And now, here's the church's response to Seymour's story...

Response to Today Tonight from the Church of Scientology:

SHANE KELSEY

Shane was always treated with care and respect during his time with the Church. When Shane came to live with his mother, sent here by his father Adrian who had full custody, it was apparent that whilst under his father's guardianship, Shane's education suffered a setback when he was living in Mexico and he was at least two years behind in his education.

This is detailed in a letter that Adrian Kelsey wrote to Shane's mother in 1996, a copy of which was just provided to the Church. When Shane came to his mother, his reading and writing were substandard and he had other personal problems. Shane was then home schooled and his literacy improved drastically and he undertook several programs to improve his study.

When Shane did decide to leave the RPF, he simply walked out, with absolutely no barriers and caught a plane. There are no gates and the Church facilities are on a wide open property, highly visible from the street and anyone can leave and enter the property at any time. The Church has toured members of the Australian media through our premises as well as other officials (including the police). Shane simply left (as a grown adult) and other than his mother being in contact with him who was understandably concerned for his welfare and whereabouts, no Church staff member originated any communication to Shane after he left.

He was not followed, visited, or called. He sent several emails to the Church a few months later and was assisted with his personal requests.

Whilst Shane was on the RPF, he agreed that he would do the program and this included not watching TV or movies or reading novels. This was only for the set time of the program and this is not unlike other religious programs. Prior to his joining the RPF program, Shane read any novel, watched any movie, or whatever he chose. Shane had a short holiday with family mid the program and went to the movies and fishing as well as other activities.

Proper meals are provided to all Church staff on the premises at numerous times in the day. There is ample food and a varied and nutritious menu.

Other children who were brought up in the Sea Org have gone on to earn degrees with high literacy and competence exhibited.

THE REHABILITATION PROJECT FORCE (RPF)

The Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) is a voluntary religious program of spiritual rehabilitation to provide a "second chance" to those who have failed to fulfill their ecclesiastical responsibilities as members of the Sea Organization, the religious order of the Church of Scientology. It represents a free religious commitment by the individual to a spiritual discipline. The word "force" in this context means a group of people acting together.

The RPF is based upon one of oldest and most fundamental concepts in religion--a religious retreat in the form of a cloister focusing on intensive spiritual introspection and study and balanced by some form of physical labour. This practice is common to the religious orders of many other world religions in addition to Scientology including Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and the monastic orders of the Roman Catholic Church.

The RPF was created during the 1970s at the request of Sea Organization members in order to be given a second chance. As with any religious program requiring high spiritual and ethical standards as well as dedicated service, some Sea Org members stumble in their effort to maintain such high standards and a few members commit serious breaches of ecclesiastical rules governing their conduct as a member of this order.

In such a situation, the individual is given the choice of either leaving the Sea Organization or participating in a religious program designed to provide the individual with an opportunity to progress spiritually and remedy past shortcomings -- the Rehabilitation Project Force religious program.

The program is done voluntarily for purposes of penance and amends. It consists of 5 hours scripture study and counselling per day and extroverting physical actions. The program is devoid of luxuries, to motivate the individual to improve himself and get through the program to once again be a capable and contributing member of the group. It is conducted in the Church facilities which contain grounds, gardens and the property is open to the street with free access to and from the property.

Every Sea Organization member who does the RPF is only permitted to do so after reading all relevant Church policies, so they can give fully informed consent for their participation. It is a voluntary religious program of spiritual rehabilitation. This is expressed in the expertises of J. Gordon Melton, Professor of Religion at the University of California; Frank K. Flinn, Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri; Juha Pentikäinen, Chair of the Department of the Study of Religions, University of Helsinki, et al., who have studied the RPF and provide the true and scholarly information on this subject.

There are many accounts from those who have undertaken the program, expressing the countless benefits they have experienced from doing so, and also expressing their gratitude that they were given the opportunity. People do leave the program without completing it and leave the religious order.

Before participating in the RPF, any applicant for the program signs an "Acknowledgement of RPF Assignment and Election to Proceed" which states the following:

"LASTLY, I FURTHER ACKNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTAND that I need not sign this Acknowledgement and Election to Proceed and I need not proceed to the introductory and preparatory stages of the RPF, as this entire religious atonement process is designed and intended to be totally voluntary, and I MAY NOW OR AT ANY TIME DURING MY PARTICIPATION IN THE RPF CHOOSE TO DECLINE TO PARTICIPATE AND TERMINATE MY MEMBERSHIP IN THE SEA ORGANIZATION."

Once again, Scientology claims that its horrific programs of control, nearly unpaid hard labor, and years long deprivation are somehow a kind of uplifting spiritual self-help program.

But Seymour's story about what Senator Xenophon characterizes as child abuse comes just days after one of Scientology's most respected longtime officials, Debbie Cook, testified in a San Antonio courtroom that church leader David Miscavige subjected about a hundred of the church's highest executives to years of sadistic, almost unbelievable abuse by locking them in trailers at Scientology's international base in the desert of Southern California.

Executives held in a kind of bizarre workplace prison. Children worked long hours for little or no pay at only eight years old. Clearly, Scientology's treatment of its own people is becoming a bigger story than its odd space opera beliefs. And we'll have more on that Wednesday morning.


Update: Bryan Seymour appeared on an Australian morning show to discuss the story...


Debbie Cook Coverage in the Village Voice...

January 1: Scientology rocked by allegations of greed in e-mail to 12,000 church members January 3: Is Scientology imploding? Watching the panic after a former executive dares to question church management January 4: Scientology in crisis: Debbie Cook's transformation from enforcer to whistleblower January 6: Scientology in turmoil: Debbie Cook's e-mail, annotated January 31: Scientology sues Debbie Cook over her New Year's Eve e-mail February 2: Debbie Cook files to dissolve Scientology's temporary restraining order: We talk to her attorney, Ray Jeffrey February 3: Debbie Cook's motion denied: Scientology's restraining order remains in place until Thursday hearing February 4: Scientology wants it both ways: The church's opposite legal strategies in Florida and Texas February 9: The Voice live-blogs Debbie Cook's testimony in a San Antonio courtroom February 10: Debbie Cook's hearing, day two -- Scientology surrenders at the Alamo February 11: The Debbie Cook interview

Also, please see our primer, "What is Scientology?"


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


SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE

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FEATURED INVESTIGATIONS

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