I haven’t updated the site in awhile. A lot of important stories popped up while I’ve been working on my documentary, Knowledge Report. It’s time I catch up with some of the amazing coverage, starting with this Lateline report from Australia about Valeska Paris Guider who says she was held against her will on the Scientology cruise ship Freewinds for 6 years and made to do hard labour.
Tony Ortega followed up with a lengthy interview with Valeska.
Valeska alleges that church leader David Miscavige, in order to keep her away from her mother, had Valeska kept in isolation away from her mother at Flag Land Base, in Clearwater, Florida while she was only 17 years old. The next year, in September 1996, after she had turned 18, she was then moved to the Freewinds, the cruise ship that sails the Caribbean and caters to wealthy Scientologists paying for the highest level of spiritual training, Operating Thetan level eight, or “OT VIII.” Valeska joined the Sea Org that works on the ship. She says she was told her stay would only be two weeks. Instead, she spent the next twelve years there, unable to leave. For several months, she alleges, she was punished with an assignment in the ship’s engine room, where at one point she passed out from the noise and heat.
For the first six years of her imprisonment, she had an escort assigned to her whenever she left the ship. But even after that, she says, she was conditioned to believe there was no escaping the Freewinds.
“When I first went there, I hated being there, and I wanted to leave,” she says. “I knew that wasn’t going to happen, so I began to accept that that was the way it was going to be,” she says.
She compares it to the experience of Jaycee Lee Dugard, the girl who was held for 18 years in a California backyard and despite the ability to escape, felt completely resigned to being held captive.
“You’re so resigned to it,” she says. “I had grown up in Sea Org. I never had a bank account. You get 50 dollars a week. You don’t have a passport. If you want to leave the ship, you have to go down the gangway, and there’s a security guard there 24 hours a day.” (Valeska’s passport had been taken from her when she boarded the ship; the church says that was just maritime procedure.)
“You were taught that Scientology was the only answer. You think you’re doing the right thing,” she says, adding that Sea Org members are constantly made to feel that they haven’t done enough to “clear the planet” for Scientology’s advancement. “They make you feel that you could always do more. I never really took any days off. That’s your whole life, basically.”
Valeska was put aboard the Freewinds in 1996. For her first six years, she worked as a waitress in one of the ship’s restaurants. In 2002, she spent a short time as a “word clearer,” a technical position that had her helping Scientologists understand the arcane terms of L. Ron Hubbard’s “technology.” She then supervised cases, and then became an auditor and an instructor of courses.
I had to ask her: some people might not find that so bad, working in a restaurant and then giving classes while sailing around the Caribbean.
“Well, the schedule in the Sea Org is very different than in the real world. You’d get up at 6 and go to work, and you’d work until midnight. In 1997 and 1998, after our regular jobs we were up every night until 4 am cleaning up asbestos,” she says. “There was rubble on the deck. We’d have to go behind the guys doing renovations, vacuuming up dirt until 4 in the morning.”
Read Tony’s full interview with Valeska. which lead to legal threats against her from Scientology. Tony also conducted a corroborating interview with Ramana Dienes-Browning. All are well worth reading. After this followup story from A Current Affair, you’ll find Scientology’s feeble response.
Statement from the Church of Scientology