Barcelona May 2002


By Ian Haworth, Cult Information Centre, London, United Kingdom *

The author wishes to emphasise that despite an assumption by the majority in society that cults only recruit teenagers into cults, they do not. This is one of the many misconceptions about the growing problem of cults in our world.

Cults are in fact recruiting people of all ages. Many cult recruits are top professionals from every area of the workforce, from the corporate world to the caring professions. However, since this conference is focusing on issues relating to cults and children, this paper will deal with educational issues that relate purely to young people.

Why is Education Necessary

Education of young people on the problem of cults is necessary because both the number and the membership of cults are growing at an alarming rate. In the United Kingdom alone there are well over 500 different cults in operation. Without an adequate warning of how these groups operate, our youth will remain easy targets for the cults.

When we consider that the main criterion that defines a cult is the use of techniques of psychological coercion (mind control) by a cult to recruit and indoctrinate unsuspecting people, we quickly realise that the problem posed by cults is invisible to the naked eye. It is therefore unlike most other societal concerns such as drug addiction, because there is no physical substance to see, ingest or use in some other way. Education is therefore critical to make the invisible techniques of cults visible. When a cult is recognised for what it is, it can be avoided.

Cults and their destructive methods are also not illegal in the UK, which means that their recruitment can take place in full view of society, which in turn gives them an unwarranted credibility. Education is necessary to show the harm associated with cult involvement.

In addition, most people (young and old) seem to be in denial when it comes to considering the possibility of recruitment into a cult. People usually want to believe that cult members are vulnerable in some special way. They imagine that cult members must be people of low intelligence or little faith or poor education or from deprived and dysfunctional families or a combination of all of the above. As a consequence, the more that these and other misconceptions about cults are exploded in front of young audiences, through educational programmes, the safer young people will be.

For 23 years I have worked full-time specialising in education on the dangers of cults, first in Canada and then the UK. I know that education on this topic works. By warning our youth they will be less likely to be recruited into cults both as young people and in later life as mature adults. The right information at an early age will safeguard their futures.

What are the Best Age Groups to Address and Why?

Students Younger than 15yrs

In my opinion, this age group is not the priority group for a talk warning of the methods and dangers of the cults. Students of this age will occasionally be recruited into cults but the probability of that occurring is far less than with older students. Most students recruited at this age are more likely to be recruited by their parents who are cult members. Some will have been born into and brought up in a cult.

Because of the legal rights of parents in the UK, most cults are not very interested in recruiting young people under the age of 15. However, despite the under 15yr olds being less likely targets, it would certainly do that age group no harm to be warned about cults. This would especially be the case if older students in the same schools were already being well catered for with good educational information on the topic.

Students at College or University

This is a more important group to warn, because cults are very active in most university towns in the UK. However, as discussed earlier, most people seem to be in denial, when it comes to considering the possibility of recruitment into a cult. Students at college and university are no different from the rest of society in this regard and easily subscribe to the notion that they are safe because they are intelligent and well educated.

It is therefore difficult to interest students enough to attend a lecture on cults, when they could instead be engaged in various pursuits down at the local tavern with their peers. However, we can immediately see the vital importance of speaking to college and university students before the cults do, because the likely cult recruit is someone who has above average intelligence, is well educated and usually from an economically advantaged background. In other words, a typical student has all the characteristics of a typical cult recruit.

If a lecture on cults is not linked with meetings of a special club, society or other interest group with which they are already associated and in regular attendance or part of their course work, students are not likely to attend in great numbers. It is with this in mind that the writer always encourages talks at university to be arranged as a lecture for student organisations such as the Jewish Students Union, Christian Union and the Anglican Society. Alternatively, it can be arranged as part of a course in subjects such as Psychology, Sociology and Media Studies. When this is done the attendance is usually excellent.

16-18yr old High School Students

(Known as Sixth Form Students in the UK)

While I do give talks in some high schools to 15yr old pupils and they are quite receptive to the issues covered, I prefer to speak to students in the 16 to 18yr age range. In the British system they are in what is known as the ‘Sixth Form’. Their studies are aimed at helping them to pass examinations, called ‘Advanced Level’, that allow them to enter college or university.

Advanced Level students are taught to enquire, debate and question to a far higher degree than is the case during earlier life at school. Consequently, at that age, they are much happier to enter into dialogue and comprehend the issues related to cults at a greater depth than when younger.

In my opinion, they represent the key target group of young people for lecturers on cultism to address. By speaking to students at this age, one is preparing them for the many cult approaches they will encounter when they leave the relatively protected environment of the high school. For Sixth Form students a talk about the dangers of cults is crucial, whether they leave school to go to work or to continue their studies in further education at college or university.

When speaking to high school students of this age, I also have a ‘captive audience’. They have to be there. This removes the need to advertise to try to persuade them to attend a lecture and they usually find it to be fascinating when compared with other topics they encounter. In addition, because students of this age are encouraged to debate issues with visiting speakers, I always allow as much time as possible for a healthy discussion after a talk. This enables the students to raise issues that may apply to cults in their specific geographic region of the country and to clarify or debate other cult related matters, that are of interest to them.

The lecture on cults at high school level is often part of their General Studies course. It is sometimes introduced as part of Religious Studies, but can be organised by individual schools through a variety of channels. One school I have visited even has a course called ‘Survival’ to teach students how to survive in the outside world. It includes a talk on cults as one of the many subjects covered.


Key Issues to Address

In a talk to young people, it is important to define terms used and to show how cults recruit. By doing this, it automatically helps to explode the misconceptions that most students have prior to the lecture.

With that in mind, I have always found it useful to include in a lecture the following headings:

When addressing a young audience about the dangers of cults and covering the topics listed above, it always helps to punctuate the talk with a personal story, to give life to the theories and definitions. Students usually respond well to this section and listen intently. If a speaker does not have a personal story to tell, there are thousands of other stories available from the media and specialists in cultism, that can be shared in brief with an audience.

The response to educational talks described above is very encouraging. After the talk students often say they never realised how insidious the threat of cults was and often express an interest in reading more on the topic.

An appropriate talk changes their prejudiced views of people likely to be recruited into cults. This significant and positive change in a group of students, in the way they view victims of cults after hearing a typical Cult Information Centre lecture, was recently measured by a British researcher, Bernadette Sheridan. She interviewed the high school students before and after the lecture in order to produce her results. Ms Sheridan’s educational study is soon to be published in the UK at www.farmington.ac.uk.

Reaching a Wider Audience

It is all very well to consider the points raised thus far in trying to give effective talks and lectures to young people about cults, however, speakers have their limitations. There are only a limited number of schools that one speaker can reach in one year. In addition, because schools need to pay a speaker’s fee for visiting a school, there are also financial considerations.

In my experience of lecturing about cults for the last 23yrs, the maximum number of talks I gave in one year was 200. To sustain that level of demand meant that one would risk ‘burn out’ and therefore become less effective. Over the past decade I have found that giving between 70 and 100 talks per year, is a much more manageable number. However, this obviously means that the majority of students are not being warned about the increasing problem of cults.

Furthermore, in the British high school system, most State schools do not have the budget to afford to pay for visiting speakers. Consequently, most of my lectures are to students in private schools, where funds are not a problem.

In order to rectify this inequality and to try to disseminate information far and wide, the Cult Information Centre has recently published a new booklet called ‘Cults: A Practical Guide’. It is designed to give teachers the information they need to teach the topic themselves. Because it is concise and full of definitions and tables, it is very easy for an educator to confidently teach about the dangers of cults and with the minimum of preparation.

The booklet performs a similar role at colleges and universities where it is also a useful tool for lecturers, counsellors, chaplains and student union staff. The booklet has been very well received by educators as its reviews suggest. They find it a very easy teaching tool to use. Elliot Cohen, part-time lecturer in Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University has said about the booklet, "Cults: A Practical Guide is a clearly written and accessible book; I hope every university campus and student’s union is armed with a copy."

In addition, for many years the Cult Information Centre has published a leaflet called ‘Cults On Campus’. It is a short leaflet that gives the reader an immediate warning about cult ploys and the potential harm to those recruited. It has been so successful, it has been used in the USA and Canada as well as Great Britain. I understand that it has also been translated into French and Russian. It is particularly useful for including in an information pack for students either before they leave high school or when they arrive at college and university.

Because of the above described publications, it means that no matter what type of high school or university a student attends in the UK, his or her educational institution can now teach the topic of cults and/or give a basic warning about cult groups, if there is a perceived need to do so.

Persuading all schools to recognise the importance of teaching students about cults is another matter. It can be achieved with the help of ex-cult members, parents, teachers, the media and of course the government. However, in the United Kingdom this is not an easy task, because the British government’s understanding of cults has been confused by pro cult propaganda and inaccurate information distributed by cult apologists. Hopefully, in the coming years, Britain will be able to catch up with other European governments like France, Germany, Spain and Austria where there seems to be a clearer understanding of cult related matters at a governmental level.

Educating our young people about the dangers of cults is vital. By protecting our youth, we will protect not only their futures but ours as well, because the youth of today are the decision makers of tomorrow.



* Ian Haworth has been a fulltime worker as a specialist in cultism since 1979. He was a co-founder of the ‘Council on Mind Abuse (COMA)’ charity in Toronto Canada, ‘Former Cultists Support Network’ in the USA and is the founder of the Cult Information Centre in the United Kingdom.

He can be contacted at the following address:

Ian Haworth, General Secretary, Cult Information Centre, BCM CULTS, London, WC1N 3XX, United Kingdom.