On Thursday, news broke that another of the missing Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist extremist cult Boko Haram two years ago has been found. The second in just as many days, she is being hailed officially by the authorities of Nigeria as a success story and paraded in front of the media as proof the new government’s ability to defeat the cult. However, there have also been reports circulating that paint a much less celebratory picture.
It seems that some of the locals in the villages are afraid of accepting anyone who has been involved with Boko Haram. In some areas, the fear is so strong that other women who have returned from the group’s forced captivity are considered to be “unclean” and “untrustworthy” – including innocent babies fathered by acts of rape. Though it is true that sometimes women taken by the militant cult have been used as suicide bombers, even those who present no physical danger are being cast away and even shunned. This same situation is occurring with those fleeing ISIS and other cults across the globe.
This distrusting mentality is a dangerous one, but understandable due to lack of public education about undue influence. It reminds me of Patty Hearst and Elizabeth Smart, both kidnapped, raped, and indoctrinated by their captors. Patty went to jail because she was programmed and directed to rob a bank by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Elizabeth was kidnapped at knifepoint and programmed to be the second wife of a self-proclaimed Mormon prophet. Fortunately, Elizabeth’s family and community welcomed her back and wished to aid in her recovery. Patty (who was kidnapped in 1974 in the same month I was recruited into the Moonies) was treated as a criminal.
These two Boko Haram escapees are lucky but there are more than 198 other schoolgirls taken that day who are either dead or still missing. What’s worse, Boko Haram represents only one of many fringe militant groups who engage in this type of crime. There is still hope that many more girls will be found and returned to their villages. Once there though, they will need help recovering from their ordeals.
Boko Haram and groups like it are cults. They use a totalistic, warped ideology to indoctrinate soldiers and enact unspeakable crimes against those who are viewed to be “infidels.” Many women and young girls have been taken against their will and forcibly “married” to cult members who use them as sexual slaves.
What a shame it is that those lucky enough to escape or be rescued are met with such hostility and prejudice. They are made to suffer further trauma, instead of getting the support and counseling they will undoubtedly need. Their life of victimhood thereby continues under a stigma they did nothing to deserve.
As of this writing one country, Denmark, has a system in place to help the recovery of those returning to society after being under the influence of militant cults like Boko Haram. This is not enough. If countries the world over want to be truly loving societies, it’s important that we welcome back anyone who returns from cult influence–whether they were physically forced into the situation or not. Community support will not only make the victim feel safe, it also helps encourage free thought and a return to normality.
Due to the nature of these situations, I encourage every government to employ mental health professionals who are trained to specifically address recovery from undue influence and cult-induced trauma. They not only should be taught to counsel the victims themselves, but also their family members and communities. A strong support system is crucial to the well-being of those being rescued from the clutches of cults like Boko Haram and ISIS. The stigmas they face can be debilitating and total recovery is threatened without proper guidance and support.
Here is a must see TEDxVilnius talk by Robert Örell of Sweden entitled: A Way Out From Violent Extremism. I met Robert years ago and did a short video interview with him. He is a former White Power extremist who has been helping people out for over 15 years.