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November 18th is recognized as International Cult Awareness Day, sponsored by Cult Recovery 101, People Leave Cults, Cult Mediation, Cult Intervention101, Cult Education Events, and CultNEWS101.
*Prior to scrolling, please be aware of the following content warnings:
CW: suicide, abuse, cults
Please take care, and if you are in need of support click here for emergency resources.
About International Cult Awareness Day:
On November 18th, 44 years ago, over 900 individuals were victims of a mass-murder suicide who were members of the Peoples Temple cult. This event is most commonly known as the “Jonestown Massacre” which has been described as, “one of the largest mass deaths in American history”.
We want to be sensitive so as not to exploit those affected by this tragedy. Cult Awareness Day brings awareness to harms* that some have experienced in cultic systems. This year's International Cult Awareness Day is a time to reflect on the 48th Anniversary of Jonestown for the following goals:
1) remember the victims of tragedies that have occurred in cults, with a specific focus this year on remembering the victims of Jonestown,
*Additional tragedies have occurred in the following other groups: Chinese Dragon Buddha, Movement for The Restoration of The Ten Commandments of God, MOVE, Synanon, The Children of God, Alusi Okija, Aum Shinrikyo, Beasts of Satan, Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith, Falun Gong, Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Remnant Fellowship Church/Weigh Down Workshop, Heaven's Gate, Word of Faith Fellowship, Solar Temple, Béchard Lane Eckankar, WACO and many more.
2) spread awareness of those harmed by cults, and
3) provide resources for those who have been harmed while in these settings.
1. This year, we will remember the victims of the Jonestown tragedy…
We want to honor the lives that have been taken.
Jonestown survivor, John Cobb, has created a memorial site, and with assistance from the San Francisco Historical Society, provided photographs that show the faces of massacre victims. The victims ranged from children to seniors and the vast majority of them were African Americans.
As stated on the memorial site, family members and friends of victims will be gathered at the annual Jonestown Memorial Gathering which will be held at the Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California at 2:00 pm on Friday, November 18th, 2022.
The memorial will also be live-streamed on the Jonestown Memorial Facebook site.
2. Spreading Awareness of Those Harmed by Cults…
Cults became front-page news after the catastrophe of Johnstown in 1978, which was the launchpad for discussions and debates in which academics, family members, activists, and others yielded different perspectives on how to approach those in cultic environments as well as concepts that existed in those settings such as "brainwashing" (Langone, 2015).
The term ‘cult’ historically has definitional ambiguity amongst professionals in the field.
Due to this challenge, an alternative approach has been to identify the effects of destructive group settings, which can lie on a continuum, which can encapsulate many different types of destructive groups, from extreme exploitative groups to those who lie in the "gray zone" (Aronoff, Lynn, & Malinoski, 2000, p. 94). It is important to note that the Jonestown massacre was on the extreme end of the continuum of harm that can occur in cults, and such extremes are in the minority.
Because cults can encompass a broad range of psychologically abusive environments, they can also be referred to as totalist systems, destructive group settings, abusive group settings and defined as:
“A group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g., isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it…), designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community”
-(West & Langone, 1986, pp. 119–120).
How many are involved in cults? The numbers vary.
In 1982, Margaret Singer, a professor of psychology, suggested that "300,000 to three million" individuals nationally were cult-involved.
More recent reports from Researchers Saldaña, Rodríguez-Carballeira, Almendros, and Escartín (2017) suggest that there are approximately 2,500,000 people involved in cults and over 5,000 destructive groups throughout North America.
Please also see the following article on Prevalence.
Awareness of Harms
Survivors of these groups who encounter cult recovery professionals are typically those who have been harmed in a destructive group environment and are seeking resources. However, it is important to recognize that an individual's experience in groups is unique, and can range from benign to extremely harmful.
Unfortunately, those who have experienced destructive group settings are often stigmatized for their associations due to a lack of understanding of undue influence and coercive control.
It is essential to be aware of why individuals join cults:
“When ex-members had been polled (at ICSA Recovery Workshops) they consistently gave these reasons for joining their groups: Idealism, Friendship, Love, Freedom, Community, Mission, Sincerity, Salvation, Enlightenment, Spiritual high.
People don’t join cults. They get involved in groups they are led to believe represent these high ideals.”
— Rosanne Henry, MA, LPC
Quote retrieved from: Cult Recovery 101
3. Resources for those who have been harmed in cults…
As we look ahead into the new year, in conjunction with International Cult Awareness Day, we wanted to mark May 18th, 2023 as International Cult Recovery Day.
Join our movement, use #cultawarenessday, and #cultrecoveryday if you would like a chance to be featured on our social media channels.
If you are interested in submitting your story to be featured, please contact us at CultAwarenessDay@gmail.com
Recovery resources for former members and families:
Education, intervention, and support for victims of coercion and their support network. People Leave Cults offers cult intervention and mediation services for current and former cult members, their family members, and loved ones.
2 / Cult Mediation
Resources designed to help thoughtful families and friends understand and respond to the complexity of a loved one’s cult involvement, controlling relationships and environments.
Our associates are consultants, psychotherapists, and counselors, many of whom themselves are former cultists or have been exposed to destructive cults or other coercive influence techniques. They have specialized training and/or experience working with people who may have been harmed by individuals and groups. Cult Recovery assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice.
Since 1984, we have helped people with destructive cults, mind control, brainwashing, parental alienation, estrangement, abusive relationships, gurus, multi-level marketing, violent extremism and other forms of undue influence. Our approach is based upon our philosophy designed to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement.
5 / CultNEWS101
News, links and resources about cults, cultic groups, abusive relationships, movements, religions, political organizations, medical and related topics.
6 / IndoctriNation Podcast (Rachel Bernstein)
Welcome to IndoctriNation: A weekly podcast covering cults, manipulators, and protecting yourself from systems of control.
Media and Press Inquires can be directed to any of the following individuals:
If you are a cult survivor in need of emergency resources:
The National Human Trafficking Hotline connects victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking with services and supports to get help and stay safe.
Call 1-888-373-7888 ( TTY: 711) or Text 233733
RAINN is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country.
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.
The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and mental health organization for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning) young people.
Call (866) 488-7386
Everyone deserves relationships free from domestic violence. When you're ready, we're here to listen with confidential support 24/7/365.
To report criminal activity, contact your local police or sheriff's department first. They can determine if a report of criminal activity needs attention. If this is an emergency, call 911.