Translation of a French article posted on Nov. 29, 2011 on the website of the Swiss daily newspaper
The Genevan woman who was a slave aboard the Scientology ship
by Renaud Malik
November 29, 2011For 12 years, Valeska was held against her will on the "Freewinds", Scientology's floating headquarters. She talked to Le Matin about her long ordeal.Photo caption: Behind its impressive conference rooms, some say, the ship holds Scientology's secret documents.
What exactly is hidden inside the "Freewinds", the luxurious yacht that cruises the Caribbean, flying the colours of Scientology? For some, it is a place of retreat and study. For others, it is a "floating Vatican" said to house the organisation's secret documents. The reality may be far more disturbing, if one believes the story that Valeska Guider told a few days ago on the American [sic] ABC network. This woman, who is originally from Geneva, explained that she was detained for twelve years on the "Freewinds".
When contacted by Le Matin
, the 34-year-old former Scientologist forcefully stated that she was taken to the ship against her will in 1996, and that she led the life of a "slave" until she was transferred in 2007. It was this long ordeal that decided her to finally leave the organisation in which she was immersed from a very early age.
Valeska was born into Scientology. "My parents, Ariane and Jean-François, were both members of the church. I have fond memories of my first years in Geneva. My life was turned upside down when I was 6 years old, in 1983." Her parents divorced, her father obtained custody of the children, and he decided to send them to England, to a Scientology centre that had a boarding school. For Valeska, it was the beginning of a life of chores: "We were worked to exhaustion, my sister and I. It was unbearable." Her respite was the vacations in Meyrin (Canton of Geneva) with her mother and her new husband, Albert Jacquier, a wealthy Genevan Scientologist. "We enjoyed spending time in that house where we could eat well and sleep in heated rooms!"
Little by little, Valeska became accustomed to a life dedicated to the cause of Scientology. In 1992, at the age of 14, she decided to join the Sea Org, Scientology's elite corps. She signed the famous "billion-year contract" that is imposed on all its members. "I had always heard that dedication to the Sea Org was a way to help humanity. I believed it." She then went to Clearwater, the Sea Org's land base in Florida. There, once again, her mission consisted of housekeeping chores - mostly laundry and ironing - for senior executives. A convict's life? Perhaps. But, at that time, Valeska was still consenting.Maternal influence
Everything changed in 1996 when Valeska's mother publicly broke with the organisation, going so far as to tell the TF1 television channel about how Scientology had stolen her children. She was then declared "suppressive" (antisocial). The mother still tried to remain in contact with Valeska. The Sea Org's decision was irrevocable: the young woman had to embark on the "Freewinds" to escape her mother's influence. "I was told it would only be for two weeks," recalls Valeska.
Soon after her arrival on the ship, she could not help showing resistance. She paid for this by being assigned exhausting work and by being constantly monitored. "I was put to work on ship maintenance, and then as a waitress in the restaurant. I worked every single day for 50 dollars a week. I couldn't walk off the ship unless I was accompanied, and I had to ask for permission to have a day off." Sometimes, she says, she tried to rebel. But escaping was totally impossible: "My passport was confiscated, I had no bank account. I was in the middle of nowhere, and a guard was watching the ship. I didn't know where my parents were. I wouldn't have known where to go."
Her salvation came from her repeated disobedience. In December 2007, she was sent to Australia for a period of "rehabilitation". There she met her present husband, Chris. "We got married in secret in March 2009. A month later, we left Scientology." Today, she still lives in Australia with her husband and their little boy. She is more determined than ever to alert the public to her past as a "slave". She is also aware that her testimony might have an impact on trials against Scientology in Australia or in France.
The leaders of the organisation, however, are seeking to minimise her story. "It's an isolated case," the spokeswoman for Scientology in western Switzerland, Francine Bielawski says dismissively. An isolated case, really? The president of the Switzerland's Inter-Cantonal Centre for Information on Beliefs (CIC - Centre intercantonal d’information sur les croyances
), Brigitte Knobel, emphasizes that other cases of forced labor in Scientology "have been brought to the attention of judicial authorities". Valeska is convinced that others have experienced the same fate as she did. "And I will do everything I can to make it known."