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General advice and suggestions

A policy for renting rooms

For a number of years Info-Cult has been receiving requests from educational institutions and community organizations asking for information about groups or individuals associated with organizations which are unfamiliar to them with the underlying question being whether or not they should rent them space.

It can happen that situations arise where individuals and groups may seek to benefit from having a lecture, conference or other event at an educational institution or community organization, leading students and the public to assume the ideas presented are either endorsed by or associated with that institution.

We are contacting you to bring to your attention a way to protect your institution against credibility and liability problems that may occur when you rent space to people or groups from outside your institution.

If the same individual or group were to rent a space in a hotel, the public perception and implication would be quite different. Hotels are in the business of renting meeting or conference rooms

We suggest you consider a general policy that would avoid any misunderstanding about your institution's or organization's involvement with an individual or group requesting rental space in your facility.

You might consider the following, which is an example of a policy used by the University of Geneva. In renting or allocating space, add the following text to a contract:

In order to avoid confusion with (institution's name) activities, I/we, the undersigned agree that no mention of the (institution's name) will appear in the title of the event or in any promotional materials, including posters, announcements, prospectus or any other text. The (institution's name) may, however, be mentioned when indicating the location of the event, the name of the building and the room number, but this information must be in lettering that is considerably smaller in relation to the rest of the text.
In addition, your institution may request those renting your facilities to include the following in their promotional materials:
The (institution's name) is not connected to the organization of this event and has only rented the space for the use of this individual or group.
Please don't hesitate to contact us if we can be of help.

General Inquiries*

The cult phenomenon is a difficult area to understand. Popular press analyses tend to offer limited insights. Cultic groups often deliberately obscure their actual goals and practices. Few groups have been studied scientifically. Affected persons are often reluctant to talk about their experiences, frequently because doing so involves much pain. There is no simple, easily understood explanation for why people join and remain in seemingly destructive groups, and public misconceptions about cults and cult joining tend to invite misinterpretations of the available information.

The central public misconception about the cult phenomenon is that only "sick" people from troubled families would join "weird" groups. Tragedies, such as the Heavens' Gate or Jonestown murder- suicides, are brushed off as deviant events that may make for interesting news but don't affect average people. Few persons realize that the psychological dynamics of control found in extreme groups, such as Jim Jones's Peoples Temple, are very similar to what is found in cultic groups that, though less destructive that the extreme examples, nonetheless may cause considerable harm to many of their members. Many people do not realize that cults, when conceptualized as highly manipulative and exploitative groups, may be political, psychotherapeutic, and even commercial, as well as religious. And few people realize that research studies indicate that several million Americans have had at least a transient involvement with a cultic group, although many, buying into common misconceptions, may not recognize the cultic nature of the involvement.

Most people who contact Info-Cult are interested in a specific group. Often, we can provide them with useful information (Services: In House Research). But there are so many thousands of groups which people have inquired about over the years that sometimes we do not have information on the group in question (Services: Investigative Research). Nevertheless, because the psychological dynamics of control is the key factor in evaluating the "cultishness" and potential harmfulness of a group, we can often help even these inquirers by directing them to resources that explain these dynamics. Moreover, even when information on specific groups is available, this information usually needs to be supplemented by explanations of how cultic groups gain power over their members.

* Adapted from "General Inquirers", in the AFF's Cults and Psychological Abuse: A Resource Guide, with the permission of the American Family Foundation (AFF).

Suggestions For Families**

First, don't jump to conclusions and don't succumb to the allure of simple answers. Do not rely upon popular accounts of "cults", although these can sometimes provide useful background information. If you want to be informed, you must read a lot more than a handful of newspaper or magazine articles. You should talk to a variety of people with relevant knowledge. And you must think things through carefully.

Second, when you talk to other families who have had a cult involvement, learn from them, but do not overlook the uniqueness of your own situation and don't let their fervour cause you to overgeneralize from their cases to yours.

Third, ask yourself this central question: Let's assume that your loved one was not in a cult; what if any behaviours would trouble you?" If nothing troubles you, then you might consider reexamining your assumption that the group is or might be a cultic group and take a closer look at your own motivation (maybe you merely disapprove of your loved one's leaving the family's religion). If you do identify troubling behaviours, then try to determine if these behaviours are at least in part a function of what goes on in the group. This approach enables you to focus on destructive psychological influences without getting bogged down in a debate about whether the group is or is not cult. Groups are very different; most large groups exhibit differences among their various local organizations; and people respond differently to similar environments. Tagging a label on the group is secondary to determining whether or not psychologically abusive practices are harming your loved one.

Fourth, keep in mind that a cult member's behaviour is a function of his/her unique personality and identity and what goes on in the group. Do not make the mistake of assuming that your loved one is a helpless pawn. Cultic environments are powerful, but they are not all-powerful.

Fifth, we advise that you not let other people talk you into believing that cultic groups are so powerful that your loved one will only leave if he/she is deprogrammed, with "deprogramming" referring to a process involving physical restraint or coercion (distinguished from "exit counselling" in which the cult member is always free to leave). Twenty years ago, when information in this field was very limited, deprogramming may have seemed to be a reasonable option to many families. Indeed, the New York State legislature passed a conservatorship bill (twice vetoed by the governor) that essentially would have legalized deprogramming. Today, deprogramming is fortunately quite rare, in part because of the legal risks it entails, but mainly because helping resources are much better informed and able to help families investigate other options. Moreover, the evidence suggests that deprogramming, even disregarding the compelling ethical and legal arguments against the process, is less effective than exit counselling. Exit counselling, however, demands much more preparation on the part of the family. So some families today may be tempted to try to find a "deprogrammer" because they mistakenly think it is the easy way out. We advise against this course of action. You may find yourself alienated from your loved one and involved in a costly lawsuit.

Sixth, because the majority of cult members eventually leave their groups, a concerned family's primary role is often to facilitate a departure that may eventually happen anyway. In many cases families seeking expert consultation may be able to help their loved one a great deal without attempting a formal exit counselling. Since there is no way of reliably predicting who will leave a destructive group and who won't, we always respect a family's fear that their loved one either may never come out or may be gravely damaged if the family does nothing.

Lastly, even though there may be times when families may feel justifiably helpless, their situation is rarely hopeless. So many factors influence a cult member's relationship to a group that even those of us who have worked in this field for many years regularly encounter pleasant surprises. So don't give up hope. Beneficial changes in your loved one may occur because of events that have nothing to do with your actions (e.g. a growing disillusionment with the group; an accumulation of small grievances against leaders; dissension within the group). Some group members achieve enough independence from their group to maintain or reestablish a respectful and loving relationship with their family, even though they may remain group members. Remember, people are different and will respond in different ways to the same group environment.

Our advice to families with a loved one in a group applies as well to those whose loved one is now out of the group. However, for families of former group members we offer one other important piece of advice: Do not assume that because your loved one has left an abusive group everything will quickly return to normal. In some cases, readjustment may indeed be easy. But research suggests that most former members of abusive groups have a difficult time adjusting. Frequently one to three years may pass before they return to a prior level of functioning and are "on track". Their families, if they are informed and supportive, can often lighten the ex-member's burden considerably.

** Adapted from "Families With a Group-Involved Loved One", in the AFF's Cults and Psychological Abuse: A Resource Guide, with the permission of the American Family Foundation (AFF).

Give, but give wisely

These days there are numerous appeals for money from people representing all kinds of seemingly worthy causes. You may be approached for a donation at home or on the street, by phone, mail or email. Whether or not the organization seems familiar to you, we encourage you to take the time to ensure that the cause you are contributing to exists and is carrying out the activities they are publicizing.

Also, if you are a member of a religious, social or other community organization, you may be asked by the leaders to donate or invest your money. As a member, it is very likely that you have faith in your organization and its leadership, otherwise you wouldn't be involved. However, groups are like people - they can change over time so don't be afraid about asking questions.

If you feel uncertain about a decision you have to make, put it off until you have enough information and time to think about it. Don't hesitate to call your local authorities or well known groups to make sure the people asking you for money are authorized to do so by the group they claim to be representing.

You'll feel better knowing that your commitment and generosity is directed to those who deserve it.

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