On May 9, 2012, the Justice Commission of the Senate of Italy held one of its hearings on the proposed Bill 569
, which would define the crime of mental manipulation
. Bill 569 was introduced in 2008 and has been under Senate review
since 2010. Among the witnesses on May 9, 2012 were Maria Pia Gardini (by video conference) and Stefano Pitrelli, co-author of Occulto Italia
. No video is available, but a summary was posted on the website of the Senate of Italy. Here is an unofficial translation:
Source: senato.it - Legislatura 16ª - 2ª Commissione permanente - Resoconto sommario n. 315 del 09-05-2012
Senator Filippo BERSELLI
Piergiorgio Giacovazzo, Maria Nicoletta Gaida, Sara Sabucci, Gabriella Monaco, Maria Pia Gardini, Stefano Pitrelli, and Gianni Del Vecchio.
Start of session, 2:10 P.M.
<4 paragraphs omitted here>
Continuation of the hearings regarding the phenomenon of mental manipulation of vulnerable individuals, with particular reference to the phenomenon of so-called "cults": testimony of subject matter experts and of individuals involved in experiences of mental manipulation.
Resumption of the hearings suspended at the November 8, 2011 session.
began by recalling the issues these hearings are about. He then introduced the first witness, Ms. Gardini, who addressed the Commission via video conference.
Ms. GARDINI spoke about her long experience inside Scientology. She said that she became involved with this this cult at the instigation of her daughter, who was drawn into Scientology after a stay at the Narconon drug rehabilitation therapy center. This rehabilitation center, as well as other companies and associations that are active in other social sectors, is a satellite of the Scientology movement. She then discussed her experience inside the cult, which she served with dedication, reaching a level that placed her in contact with upper management. For course fees and donations, the cult demanded payments that, over the years, totaled approximately $1,840,000. Scientology is currently suing her for defamation and is seeking approximately 2,000,000 euros in damages. She then described the cult's inner divisions, which distinguish the staff, meaning the persons who dedicate themselves to Scientology, from the public, meaning the persons who purchase services or take courses. She explained that, after the death of her daughter, she tried to leave the cult and requested a refund of the money she had paid. She said that she has written two books detailing her experience and similar situations in which other former members found themselves. In conclusion, she expressed her support for Bill 569 which introduces the crime of mental manipulation. It would be difficult to understand how it is possible to distinguish between simple troublesome disturbances and conduct that constitutes the crime of stalking, while the same could not be done regarding phenomena such as those of which she was victim.
Ms. Gardini then answered questions from Chairman BERSELLI
and Senators BRUNO
, LI GOTTI
, Maria Alessandra GALLONE
, and CHIURAZZI
Ms. GARDINI provided clarification about the work she performed inside the Scientology cult and about the meagre compensation she received. She reiterated that her entry into the cult resulted from the fact that her daughter had first joined the cult and was also married to a cult member. Joining the cult had, in fact, become the only way for her to continue maintaining relations with her daughter. All of her attempts to convince her daughter to leave the cult in which her daughter had complete faith were in vain. She explained that, while she was in Scientology, she tried to leave three times but ended up going back, always because of emotional blackmail.
She also spoke of having constantly experienced difficulty being heard by the authorities: in Italy, the stumbling block has long been the existence of a sort of legal vacuum, while in the U.S., despite years of FBI investigations into Scientology that have even led to prosecutions, there is no doubt that this organization - which obtained status as a religion for tax purposes and possesses prominent followers, especially in the star system - enjoys an extremely privileged position.
She also said that followers with a high social profile do not in fact play a leading role and that this is restricted to those at the very narrow top of this absolutely pyramidal organization.
Ms. MONACO talked about her experience with the Arkeon community, which she defines as a "mind control cult." Her husband first came into contact with it and then she herself in late 2003.
She recounted how her husband, after being subjected first to techniques to win him over and later to pure mental manipulation, soon became totally dependent upon the organization, to such an extent that, after a few weeks, he left his job, moved to another city, and abandoned her when she refused to continue being part of the group following an extremely traumatic experience that culminated in a group sexual assault conducted publicly under the pretext of cathartically reviving supposed incidents of childhood sexual molestation that her assigned master claimed to have detected in her unconscious, applying a frequent mental manipulation technique adopted by the group.
Ms. Monaco explained that, after three years of facing a substantial lack of cooperation from the authorities, she learned in 2006 that the public prosecutor in Bari, the city where the mind control cult is headquartered, initiated an investigation that resulted in a trial
for which a decision is expected in a few weeks on charges of being a criminal organization, fraud, criminal coercion, and improper exercise of a profession. However, for all of these offenses except the first, the statute of limitations is bound to run out. In addition, she had to undergo two defamation suits by Arkeon, both of which ended in dismissal.
Ms. Monaco then showed the Commission some films that were made by former Arkeon "masters" and that the prosecution produced as evidence during the trial, showing the traumatic mental manipulation techniques used by the community.
Responding to questions from senators SERRA
, LI GOTTI
, and BRUNO
, Ms. Monaco said that people who turn to a group like Arkeon are usually going through a difficult phase in their lives and they feel they need help, although in many cases a person joins simply to follow a family member or because of pressure exerted by other people, for example an employer who is a cult member, but she believes that anyone can potentially be conditioned and that she herself would have had more difficulty exercising her critical sense if the cult's approach toward her had been, as is usually the case, more gradual.
She emphasized that she had been repeatedly discouraged by police from launching a legal battle alone against such a powerful organization. She stated that, in the case of Arkeon, the subjects who are approached are mainly persons with a good cultural background and financial situation from whom Arkeon derives significant profits. She also pointed out that mental manipulation is facilitated by the use of psychotropic substances that are burned during collective ceremonies, not to mention that she does not exclude the possibility they might be added to foods and beverages, as well as by the imposition of a highly unbalanced diet.
Ms. SABUCCI described the dramatic experience that she and her family went through from 1998 to 2001, when she was still a minor, inside a small pseudo-religious community in the Treviso region. She recalled the reasons that led to joining the group and spoke about the manipulative techniques used by the "holy woman" who guided the group and the violence perpetrated against herself, for example the administration of Valium, the reduction of hours of sleep, subjection to a regulated diet, control of telephone calls, and the constant effort to denigrate and take away paternal affection. She said these practices led her to the limits of anorexia that necessitated periods of hospitalization. After recalling the events that contributed to her departure from the cult, she discussed the implications of criminal and prosecutorial aspects of her experience. As the witness said, this dramatic story ended with the conviction of the cult leader and an award of damages in the witness's favor; a criminal conviction did not prove possible because, at the time the verdict was reached, the statute of limitations had run out for the alleged offenses.
Responding to questions from Senators SERRA
, and BRUNO
, she stated that her family has over the years paid the cult the sum of twelve million euros, but officially only as a loan. She then talked about the work activities performed by cult members and the manipulative techniques that were used, for example distancing people from their circle of affection and psycho-physical fatigue.
Mr. PITRELLI began by emphasizing that the book Occulto Italia
, which he wrote with his colleague Gianni Del Vecchio, is the result of a secular approach to the phenomenon and does not stem from any kind of past or present, direct or indirect involvement with the realities of cults. He spoke at length about the 2001 French law that introduced the crime of subjugation. The sanctions and dispositions in this legislation entail an obligation to provide considerable training for investigating authorities, so the government provides courses to inform them about the dangers of cults. This has already had an impact by permitting the laying of criminal charges in cases related to cult experiences. Mr. Pitrelli then discussed the ongoing lobbying activity of certain cults, including at the national parliamentary level. As an example, he cited the bill regarding intentional communities that was submitted in November 2010 to the Chamber of Deputies, legislation that was likely to favor a specific cult that is active in Northern Italy. He concluded by raising considerations about the types of work activities carried out by cult members and the different types of involvement which are not necessarily based on the payments of money that are demanded from members. Responding to a question by Senator MUGNAI
, he remarked on how the ability of cults to attract people arises from exploiting situations of personal weakness.
noted that the Senate Assembly was about to begin and proposed that the remainder of the hearing be continued until a later session, in order also to allow Mr. Giacovazzo to present the report about the phenomenon of cults. He announced that all written contributions
provided by witnesses will be available for public consultation.
End of session, 4:25 P.M.