Introduction, Aline Terpstra, 23 March 2020
Anyone who has read Esther's previous testimonies has already gotten an impression of how extreme the consequences are when you make minute mistakes in the eyes of the cult. In the years that I have been treating Esther now, one of the extreme feelings that sometimes brought her to the brink of returning to the cult is a tremendous sense of guilt. Especially guilt for talking. Time after time, the emotions about this are very intense and made some parts 'long' for the pain and punishment that the cult had put on this before. Because after the pain and the 'punishment' (= torture, in many different forms) came the feeling of extreme relief, that the slate was clean again for a while. The overwhelming desire of some parts to be able to feel that relief, was time and again a reason to process the underlying memories. Memories that were often consciously triggered by the cult by sending photos, films or saying trigger words that reminded them. The power of lifelong habitual processing also plays a major role. Through processing, the intensity of these feelings rapidly diminished.
In the first excerpt below, you'll read how 6-year-old Esther feels tremendously guilty for not immediately refreshing herself after a gang rape. She describes her struggle with the feeling of guilt, the felt rightness of the 'punishment', the self-condemnation and the enormous pain this torture causes to the exhausted child. In the second fragment, Esther describes how daily life was also interwoven with cult and the same principles were applied. Maximum performance at school was required. Anything less led to rape, or even to having to trap another child.
Esther's own story, by Esther
Attic/Punishment Grandpa 6 years
Attic/ punishment grandpa 4 men. I have to sit and lie in positions and satisfy them with my mouth. Grandpa said I should learn not to spit. That's how you learn. Practice very often and then your throat gets used to it and it's nice. In my room with grandpa and grandma. Men stand around me and come on my belly. Before this they raped me. One by one while the other watches or pushes his thing in my mouth until I gag. If I don't gag they do it harder. It was an order from grandpa. If she gags you can push harder, but don't let her die. They would have laughed1 . I assumed. Feeling numb and waiting for it to be done and everything to seem like a dream. That's how tired I was when they were done. I was so tired. They give me a kiss and walk out of the room. I am still lying there when Grandpa comes in. He's angry that I haven't washed myself and pulls me up by my hair. The attic. I think I am about 6 years old, maybe younger. I'd taken time to recover. Wrong. I'm ashamed. I'm filthy. I feel dirty. I did wrong again and wasn't strong enough to get myself together and decent for,...no idea who for. Just because I have to. I'm tired and can expect anything. For me. I just feel stupid, so stupid and I almost want to scream that I deserve to be punished. But I already know I'll get it so don't. Dark, wooden beams and ceiling, lots of boxes and stuff. In the back left corner, necklaces hang from the top bar with leather bracelets on them and below it is a rocking horse with some kind of bat on it. Rocking horse is the punishment spot. Sometimes it's in my room without the bat. But in the attic, it's always ready with the bat. I have to sit on it naked. Grandpa puts something on it, on the bat and then I have to sit on it. I have apparently already learned how and make sure with my hands that it fits so that nothing gets stuck. And I hope he hangs me soon. My feeling of wanting to be punished is gone, I am only afraid of the pain. My arms up and then I pull something up, then I don't have to carry myself, but that hurts too at some point. I hang in the air with my arms on the bracelets. They hang my arms up, so that my feet are slightly off the ground and so that the bat doesn't have to go all the way inside me. My arms, my wrists and especially my shoulders. The thing between my legs is also painful but doable, but if I hang there for a few hours (I think), it hurts and if I move everything is on fire. After a while I can't take it anymore and I ask for forgiveness. I shout that I am sorry and want punishment and will never do it again. I don't know what I will never do again but that is what grandpa wants to hear. At that moment nothing matters anymore what I will never do again, this pain has to go away. My hands are torn from my wrists, I need air. Grandpa comes back up laughing and calls me his sweet little girl who finally realizes that she needs punishment to get clean again. I look at myself and I am indeed dirty. I know that the punishment is that I have to sit on that horse for hours until the next day and then I can take a cold shower and that's it. Those hours are terrible and after a while I regret that I had regrets but I deserve it I hear myself say and that soothes me. One after the other I say to myself, you deserve it it's your own fault. Bitch! Stupid bitch. I hear the voices of others in my head and I repeat them as if I am them talking to me. It feels comforting. The chains loosen a little and for hours I sit there cold, in pain and sometimes almost fall asleep but moving hurts so much, so does falling asleep. After hours I am fully aware of how bad I am and I sort of settle down in my fate. This is what I do and this is it. I sort of consciously choose to feel and feel so bad, then I can handle anything.
WC, about 10 years
Anytime you don't walk completely within the lines, you have to ask for forgiveness. You can't walk outside the lines. It's forbidden. If you do, it's not them bringing you inside the lines, it's your thoughts and your feelings convincing you that you are so bad and need forgiveness. Asking for and receiving forgiveness is not saying sorry. Forgiveness is giving something back in exchange for your bad thoughts or actions, so that it is equalized again. That one is worse than the other is a fact. For bad deeds, like betrayal. Telling someone what the cult is doing is actually punishable by death. But letting someone else carry your punishment is okay, but you'd have to sacrifice someone in the cult. If someone wants out, you don't have a choice. Sacrificing, killing someone for your sins, is really not what you want anymore. You don't want to hurt others, and you start to realize that you will when you pay your penalty. But the guilt is so great. You just have to redeem yourself. You have to do penance. The weight that is placed on it is immense. I could give my life, willingly, to get rid of this enormous debt. It's such an intense, heavy feeling.
It's such a habit to think like that. To think that you always deserve punishment when you don't do something like they, the cult, want you to do. If you accidentally say you're going to grandpa's when you should have said you're going to the dentist's, it completely eats away at you inside. You made a mistake. You have to pay for this. Make amends. The degree of this depends on your age and the magnitude of the sin, but in your mind, you are constantly thinking about how you can make up for your sins and start over, so you can grow toward the higher goal that the cult has set for you.
I went looking for why I struggle with this so intensely. Why is it so difficult to stop thinking in terms of punishment and control? Why can't I just experience that I am human and make mistakes? Why is someone else always better than me and do I want to 'make up for' everything and am I at times, intense, almost convinced that I have to go back to cult, because I am bad. I have sinned and need forgiveness. My soul yearns over and over again to want to right my wrongs as I learned them in the group. While wrestling with this I thought about school:
I almost never got bad grades, but if I did in elementary school, I felt like crap. I thought everyone would look at me and think I was the worst person on earth. I was nothing. Worth nothing, I couldn't do anything and I wasn't important. The fact that I usually got high grades was an afterthought. It didn't matter what I came home with. No one listened to how my day went and I didn't even have to show them my report card. That was never a stress point, but when I heard a bad grade at school, the ground fell from under my feet. I didn't know I was being punished for that. Now that Amy(1) is allowed and dares to talk, it comes out, but my life was also just such that punishment was part of it. For everything there is something that deserves punishment, a bad grade, dirty shoes, bed not made properly, whatever, would be enough reason. My life consisted of preventing and carrying punishment.
I see the school principal standing there. She never called herself by her first name, everyone had to call her Mrs X, but only told me her real name. Because we looked so much alike and we are both called Esther. How nice that is. She laughed when she said that and looked very sincere. She thought I was such a cheerful, sweet girl that she was so glad I was at her school too. If I liked it sometimes to get coffee for her or to copy. Of course I liked that. I found the lessons boring, was always quickly finished with my work and was often bored to death. I did want to move around a bit, because my legs wanted more than to stay under that table. I was always nervous and wary, but if I could move I was distracted. If I could not move, I would stare. Then I stayed quiet and could get my head out, but then I sometimes missed the questions and had no answer, and I looked stupid.
But the headmistress had noticed that I could use some exercise and sometimes took me out of the classroom. She would stand at the side window next to the door. She looked at me and at the teacher and then we both knew that I could leave the classroom. A little extra work. She took me to the toilet room where there were 4 toilets next to each other. It always stank a bit and I preferred to go home. I kept it up, I could do that for a long time, so I avoided those dirty smelly toilets. But if the school director says you have to go to the toilet, then you go. So I walk into the toilet cubicles and she closes the door.
When I want to open a toilet door to do what is asked of me, a man suddenly stands in front of me. Hey, pretty lady, can you come to my place?". I look at the door for help from the school principal, but she's not there and the door is closed. 'You don't need help, I'll help you' says the man. He takes off my shoes, helps me with my pants and unbuttons his fly and button. 'Just come over to daddy's and I'll be out of here in a minute' . I was already quiet and cooperating fully, but upon realizing the fly and my pants were off, I went off. I had to work for a while. I voluntarily lay down on the floor and he had sex with me. He grabbed a toilet roll and handed it to me. Clean yourself lady, he said. I wiped off as much as I could and he walked out of the bathroom. Until next time, he called me after ...
I stood up and the school principal came into the room. Have you gone to the bathroom yet, she asked. I nodded no and went to the toilet. That way I could drain as much as possible and feel less dirty. I was glad I did. I flushed, dressed myself and she asked me to walk with her to her office. She had a small office with a window to the outside and I had to sit on a round wooden stool next to her desk. You know Esther, she said. You are very special, because we are both called Esther. And you're just as brave as I am. But if you want to be as smart as me, you have to work harder. You can't get low grades, "A" grades aren't enough. If you try a little harder, you'll have to pay the price, and you can do it easily by walking me to the bathroom. So from now on you come to me when I'm there and you pay for your bad work and then you can start again. Do you agree? I nod yes. I'll do my best, because that's what school requires and the headmistress will be proud of me. Fortunately, I have now paid my debt and can start again.
She's at the window again. I startle, I don't want to, but I go anyway. The teacher nods to the headmistress and looks at me sternly, which makes me know I have to hurry up a bit. I walk with her and think we're going to the toilet room, but I have to go with her to the square door. Over there, she says as she points to a car. I walk to the car and the man in it throws open the door and tells me to get in. Not going along with strangers has not been instilled in me. I've heard it many times at school and other times, but these people are not strangers, because they know me. Because the school director says I have to get in and they open the door for me and know my name. I don't know them, but they know me. I get in and we start driving. He starts telling me to do something very important and because I'm a girl and a kid I can do this.
He tells me to go inside somewhere later and then bring a girl with me. I find her in the toilet cubicles in the building and he shows me a picture of the inside and where the toilets are. You wait there and if you meet a girl you tell her you need her help and she has to walk with you. But because it's a surprise for her teacher, nobody can know. I nod. It does sound exciting. If she wants to help with the surprise, she has to come to the outside door and you wait for her there. If she is there, point to my car and say we have to go there for a while, then she gets her surprise. I'm super nervous, but I just do it. I can always say I'm lost if someone sees me. But no one can see me and I have to play very shy.
We do drive a bit, I don't know exactly what school or town I'm in. He shows me the picture again, we look to see if anyone is coming through the door, so it's really open, and I have to get out. As I walk into the square, he drives off. It scares me, but I only have 1 plan, so only 1 choice and I decide to follow it. In the corridor I meet someone and he asks me what I am doing here. I have to go to the toilet I say, as if I am a student of this school. She looks doubtful, but continues walking. My heart is high in my throat. At the toilets I try to recover and I wait. I'm super nervous, but I also realize that I can wait here forever. Nobody misses me, except for that man, so I am in no hurry. That relaxes me.
Suddenly the door opens, a girl is going to the bathroom. I wait for her to finish and then walk over to her. Hey I'm .... I say. What is your name? She tells me her name. I ask her who she is in class with and she says she has a master. I say that I am here to surprise her master and if she wants to help. She nods enthusiastically yes. I tell her the plan and say it's super secret, so no one can see it, but it can be done very quickly. Again she nods yes. I first walk to the outside door and meet no one, I see her already coming after me. I see the grey big car again and put my hand up. He gets out and we go to his car. You have to get in he says, as soon as I am close to the car and I do so immediately. He says to the girl, just get in, then I'll tell you what the intention is. She does and he gets in next to her. In the car he tells her that he is going to take her with him and as long as she stays quiet nothing will happen. He tells me to put the tape around her hands, so she won't run away and to tie them to the chair. That way she can't reach the door. I can feel the ground beneath my feet slipping away. It's not like he said. They're taking her and she won't go. She looks scared to death. I'll do it anyway. I won't say anything to her, I'll just do it. My feelings are off and my robot's on. She looks so scared, but I look at him and he looks pleased.
I'm being dropped off at school. Well done girl, go back to your class. I get out and leave her, with her frightened eyes.