HEARING a woman walk through the door, 11-year-old Verity Carter prayed she would finally be saved from the ‘uncle’ who was raping her.
But her ‘rescuer’ turned and quietly walked away, leaving her in tears.
Glasgow-born Verity was one of thousands brought up in the Children of God cult – where sexual abuse of kids was encouraged, beatings were dished out to toddlers as young as three and girls were put on a sex rota for adult men at the age of 10.
The horrific sect – founded in 1968 by David Brandt Berg in California – grew to 130 communities around the world, housing 13,000 members, with numerous communes in the UK.
Berg convinced them that the end of the world was coming and taught them that sex was the way to find God and that “death was the ultimate orgasm.”
He bombarded members with images of naked women and children, explicit literature and X-rated videos and drew up a “sharing schedule”, where women and girls had to make themselves available to any man who wanted to have sex with them.
One book endorsed by Berg even detailed the horrific sexual abuse of his own infant son – and encouraged his followers to do the same.
Verity, now 41, joins fellow Brit survivors Hope Bastine and Celeste Jones, to tell their story in the new Discovery series, Children of the Cult, available from today.
The five part series, which includes disturbing footage from inside the communes, reveals the horror of life in the cult and the survivors’ long fight for justices.
The first UK convictions of the cult’s abusers were only secured in 2018 and 2020.
“Often people think of the Children of God as a sex cult where everyone was having sex freely with whoever they wanted but it wasn’t,” says Celeste. “It was a method of control.
“David Berg said we needed to share sexually with other members in the commune. You were told who you had to have sex with.”
‘I was beaten for spilling juice at 3’
After expanding his cult to the UK, in the 1970s, Berg used an army of young followers to ‘lovebomb’ potential recruits into joining, convincing waifs and strays that they would feel cherished and loved in his communities.
Verity’s mum, a teenager from a broken home who was feeling “lost and vulnerable”, was an enthusiastic follower.
“Children of God offered her something she needed and she felt she was part of something for the first time in her life,” says Verity. “She threw herself feet first into the cult.”
Verity’s earliest memory is being severely beaten for spilling blackcurrant juice on the curtain at the commune in Renfrewshire, Scotland. She was three years old.
At four, she was being sexually abused by her father, Alexander Watt.
“I remember my dad was kissing me with hickey-like kisses, and I was crying and asking him to stop,” she says.
“I was so upset that he hadn’t noticed I was crying – because my daddy loved me and he wouldn’t deliberately make me cry.
“It was my earliest memory of sexual abuse but unfortunately it wasn’t my worst.”
Infant son abused by nanny as sexual experiment
With no education, and kept from outside influences, the kids were bombarded with sexual images, depicting naked women and children.
The cult’s leader, using his adopted name Moses David as he believed he was a prophet, circulated ‘Mo Letters’ around the globe.
Many were in the forms of erotic cartoons, designed to get the sexual message to the youngest audience.
Ricky Rodriguez – the son of Berg’s wife and eventual successor Karen Zerby – was to become a “guinea pig” of sexual experimentation and, from birth, Berg surrounded him with a team of nannies who were instructed to “introduce him to sex”.
In 1982, when he was seven, his sick upbringing was documented in an illustrated book called The Story of Davidito, which included pictures of his sexual abuse and was distributed to communes around the world.
From an early age Verity was regularly raped by her ‘uncle’ – a term for any adult male in the commune – and was told it was her duty.
“The cult letters and books advised me that there was no such thing as rape as I should give myself willingly, no matter what or who and be happy for the opportunity,” she says.
There was no such thing as rape as I should give myself willingly, no matter what or who and be happy for the opportunity.
“I thought there must be something wrong with me that I was upset when it happened to me.”
Tragically, she remembers the moment she gave up hope that anyone inside the commune would help her, at the age of 11.
“Another family member, my worst abuser, was raping me, and a woman walked in,” she says.
“There was this moment where I thought I’m about to be rescued; it’s going to be over. But she walked back out again and at that moment I knew no matter what I did, no one was ever going to rescue me.”
Men ‘took it in turns’ to beat eight-year-old
As a toddler, Hope Bastine remembers an idyllic life in the French Pyrenees, living in a shepherd’s hut with her mum and dad.
But when she was two, they began to visit a nearby commune and her mum was “shared” with the commune leader Derek Lincoln, becoming pregnant by him.
After a power struggle in the camp, Hope’s father was kicked out.
“I was overwhelmed with a sense of abandonment, and I ran away,” sasy Hope.
“I ran into the field as a little girl, hopelessly trying to look for my father. It’s not until the night that my mother finds me, sleeping under a bed of corn sheaves and my life is never the same again.”
At three, Lincoln began to sexually abuse Hope “at the most extreme level” and, as her mum gave birth to another seven children by him, she was forced to look after her younger siblings.
Taught erotic dances at 8
“When I was eight, my sister was five and another little girl was three, we got taught for an afternoon activity how to do an erotic dance,” she says. “It was filmed and sent to Berg.”
Psychologist Hope, 42, also suffered horrendous physical abuse, with frequent and extreme ‘punishments’ for disobedience – leaving her suicidal at the age of eight.
“There was an incident which resulted in me trying to speak out but I got severely punished for it and locked in a room for several days while the adult men took it in turns to give me corporal punishment,” she says.
Weekly orgies and sex schedule at 10
Celeste’s mum was recruited at her Kent school, after Children of God followers were invited to a Christian Union meeting.
She joined a Kent commune on her 16th birthday, to the horror of her loving parents and sister, and met Celeste’s dad on the doorstep.
“They believed they were meant to be together,” she says. “They truly believed they were on a mission to save the world.”
They moved to India when Celeste was 10 months old and her sister Kristina was born there, but everything was about to change.
“Berg got a revelation called ‘One Wife’ where there were to be no nuclear families, she says. “Everybody’s wife was everyone’s, everybody’s children were everyone’s, there was one unit and that one unit was the Children of God.
Berg became known as Grandpa and his partner, Karen Zerby, was called Mamma.
But Celeste’s mum, unhappy when her partner got another woman pregnant, was labeled a ‘murmurer’, or complainer, and was sent back to England, leaving Celeste and her dad behind.
Like the other girls, she was schooled in sex from a young age by sick commune leaders.
“Every aspect of our lives, every video we watched, every piece of literature we read was riddled with this concept,” she says. “It was rife in our lives.”
At 10, she was put on the Sharing Schedule – the weekly rota which dictated which adult men she would have to sleep with.
“We were groomed. There were weekly orgies we were exposed to,” she says.
“Sex wasn’t supposed to be hidden. Adults would say, ‘Come join us, come look’.
“I was 10 when all of that grooming came into effect. As of now you need to have sex with your peers and be on the sharing schedule with adults.
“At that point I was like, ‘Gross, I don’t want to’, and I was punished for it. I was physically forced by some adult men to do things I didn’t want to do and had no one to turn to so there was no way out.”
Murder-suicide of Berg’s haunted son
With little education and no knowledge of the outside world, many of the children who escaped the cult struggled on the outside, turning to prositution or drugs.
Ricky Rodriquez, left the cult in 1994 after Berg’s death and his mum’s accession to leader but he was haunted by the abuse he suffered as a child.
In January 2005, he lured Angela Smith – one of the nannies who had abused him – to his Arizona flat and stabbed her to death.
He then shot himself in his car, leaving behind a video in which he says he is a vigilante, avenging children like him and his sisters.
Fighting for justice
For Verity, Hope and Celeste the long road to justice began when they finally escaped the cult.
Hope, who left the cult at 18, finally went to the police at 25, after escaping an abusive relationship.
Derek Lincoln, who had also abused Verity, was jailed for 12 years, in 2020.
“It was a long hard slog and the forensic interviewing was excruciating,” she says.
“I was a teacher helping challenged teenagers but in the evening, I’d be reliving my trauma. Victims need to hear loudly the transformative process of justice. We need to encourage more to pursue it.”
Verity ran away at 15, after a male member of the cult tried to ‘discipline’ her with a belt and she overcame him, but it was 16 years before she could tell her story to the police.
“It was an amazing feeling having someone else acknowledge that the abuse had happened and that it was that bad,” she says.
“It was a journey but that was the point I started to recover.”
Verity’s father, Alexander Watt, was convicted of sexual abuse offences against her and another child, but walked free from jail.
But she still hopes to find and capture the others who abused her.
“What’s frustrating is my worst abusers are still walking free. I’ll feel I’ve got justice when my worst abuser has been caught.”
Today the cult still exists, under the name The Family International, and is run by Karen Zerby.
Now Hope, Verity and Celeste hope more people will come forward to expose former members who abused children ‘by order of God’.
“This stuff does still happen and if somebody tells you an outrageous story, it might actually be true,” says Verity.
“I’m hoping to reach out to other survivors, not just from our cult, but anyone who’s been abused, to let them know there’s a point in talking and justice is possible if you report it – if you never talk then how will anyone ever know?
“There are people that will believe you and even if you don’t get justice, if nothing else, just telling your story will empower you and give you some level of closure.”
Children of the Cult is available on Discover from Saturday