Former Scientology workers say they were trafficked as children
TAMPA, Fla. — Gawain Baxter was 6 years old when he signed a contract agreeing to work for the Church of Scientology for 1 billion years.
He said he spent his childhood doing manual labor at Scientology’s Flag Land Base in Clearwater, and getting no education beyond basic reading, writing and math.
At 15, Baxter attempted to leave by writing a letter to a superior about constant abuse and intolerable living conditions. Instead, he said, church officials sent him to Scientology’s Freewinds ship in the Caribbean, where he worked for little or no wages for 14 years.
Through its highly regimented Sea Org workforce, Scientology officials systematically trafficked Baxter, 39, and others by indoctrinating them as children and making it financially, physically and psychologically impossible for them to leave as adults, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in Tampa federal court against Scientology leader David Miscavige and five church entities.
The 90-page complaint was filed on behalf of Baxter, his wife, Laura Baxter, and Valeska Paris, who all were raised in Scientology and worked on the Freewinds, where they said the church confiscated their passports and identification documents. They allege six counts of forced labor and peonage in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
Church of Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
Since the IRS reinstated Scientology as a tax exempt religion in 1993, the organization has faced persistent allegations of abuse but rarely met legal consequences.
In November, a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that sent a California couple’s fraud lawsuit against Scientology into the church’s religious arbitration because they had signed various contracts while members. But in a separate case in January, a California appeals court ruled that plaintiffs who sued Scientology and actor and parishioner Danny Masterson for stalking and harassment should not be bound to religious arbitration contracts they signed years earlier.
The three plaintiffs in the Tampa human trafficking complaint are being represented by a team of law firms with extensive records in human rights and anti terrorism litigation.