Sat | Jan 23, 2021

‘It’s easier to follow than lead’ - Mental health specialist points to reasons persons join cults

Published:Sunday | November 10, 2019 | 12:39 AMJanet Silvera - Senior Gleaner Writer
Members of the security forces carrying out an operation at the Qahal Yaweh Church in Norwood, St James, last Tuesday.
Members of the security forces carrying out an operation at the Qahal Yaweh Church in Norwood, St James, last Tuesday.


At least one clinical psychologist is urging the society to do a better job of protecting the country’s most vulnerable – its children.

Clinical psychologist Georgia Rose, one of the organisers behind the annual Mental Health Week of activities in western Jamaica, said 16-year-olds are classified as children, cannot vote or be held responsible in a meaningful way, yet an adult can be protected in having sex with them.

According to her, the law is a contradiction in this regard.

She was responding to questions posed by The Sunday Gleaner around accusations of child marriages, sexual assaults, and abuse at the Qahal Yahweh compound at Norwood Avenue, Paradise in Montego Bay, St James.


Rose said that accusations that the Qahal group is promoting marriage and sex with girls at the age of 16 years suggest that they sought to protect themselves by ensuring that the girls were at the age of consent.

“However, from a social position, what are our children doing at 16 years? They are in school and, therefore, are arguably not ready for sex.”

Asked to comment on the influence that the Qahal Yahweh leaders have had over their flock, who appeared to behave in a cult-like fashion when the police went to remove three children from their compound last Tuesday, Rose said that there was no universal reason why people were attracted to cults.

People join cults for many reasons, she said, noting that some common threads among people who join include the need to belong.

She said that individuals who feel rejected or unfit for their environments are more likely to feel a sense of dissatisfaction and seek out alternatives that provide answers.

“There is a euphoria that accompanies cult experiences. A feeling of finally belonging and knowing the secret to long-held questions. For some people, there is also a freedom that comes with giving over the power of making decisions. It is easier to follow than it is to lead.”

However, she argued that, sadly, some individuals are more susceptible to ‘group think’. In group think, there is no individual identity or thought. The group decides on one’s behalf, she explained.

No backing down

Lauding the families who have been trying to remove their members from the grasp of the faith, she said that one good thing was their tenacity in not backing down.

Rose in explaining the difference between freedom of religion versus the threat of a cult, said that this included evidence of the inability to have personal choice; acts of deindividuation; removal of identity and rejection of the right to challenge or question the prevailing thoughts.

According to her, it is OK to have beliefs separate from the norm and it’s OK to have ideas that don’t fit in with what others think, “but we should never feel like a slave to those beliefs or feel victimised for changing our minds or challenging authority”.

She cautioned that the country’s women and men must also be mindful of any religion or movement that claims ownership of people and seeks to dictate who they engage with on an intimate level.

“A common thread of all cults is sexual exploitation of women and young children,” she summarised.