by Janay T.
Viewers of the first season of Scientology and the Aftermath are familiar with the format and content of the show. Actress and former Scientologist Leah Remini is on a personal mission to bring to light the beliefs and practices of the Church. In each episode, Leah and Mike Rinder, (also a former member), discuss the controversial practices and beliefs of the organization.
Stories of heartbreak and injustices at the hands of the church are compelling. Within each episode, former church members share personal experiences and discuss how their time in the church has impacted lives, families, relationships, and general wellness.
Season 2, episode 1 focuses on children. Joining the church as a child herself, Leah’s passion for the topic can be seen in the first few minutes, as she discusses the church’s’ beliefs about children and their roles within the organization. Leah describes that within the church, children are seen as “old spirits” that have already lived and will live again. She expresses that this belief is dangerous because there is no ownership, and interpersonal relationships within families are not valued.
We are introduced to Saina and Mirriam, best friends that grew up in the church together. The girls reached out to Leah to share their stories.
Mirriam’s mother relocated from Australia to Los Angeles when Mirriam was 4 years old, to work for the church. During that time, her father began to sexually abuse her. Trapped in that environment for 2 years, Mirriam was relieved when her family was called to the US to live with their mother. However, the abuse continued. Mirriam never told anyone what was happening to her as a child. Though as a teen, her father admitted some abuse and asked her for forgiveness. Mirriam forgave him but says that confession was only the result of her father wanting to move higher in the Sea Organization. To do so, he had to make amends.
When she was older, Mirriam tried to speak up about what happened but was told that there was no way her father could have abused her. At this point, Leah asserts that there is no way the church will let any of it members be attacked.
Mirriam was given permission to leave the church, but was asked to sign an affidavit saying that her father never abused her, and she would never sue the church for what happened. Mirriam chose to sign the paper, and leave.
Saina was born in Sweden and moved to the California at age 7 when her mom joined the Sea Organization. She met Mirriam at the Apollo Training Academy, where they attended school. Saina was bullied and teased because she didn’t speak English well. Isolated, Saina received attention from one her teachers that made her feel safe. The kindness of the teacher slowly evolved into sexual abuse.
Saina describes how terrified she became of being around him, and told her mom she wanted to leave, but to no avail. She also told another teacher about the abuse, but the teacher told her that she was “nattering”, or criticizing the abuser because of her own transgressions. Saina says that at the time, she felt ashamed and at fault for what happened.
Both girls expressed that there was no one they could go to. There was nothing they could do. Saina had to be put on suicide watch multiple times. Desperate for things to get better, she decided to leave the church at age 17.
In addition to facing sexual abuse, the girls had to navigate their way through the rigorous schooling within the church. The Apollo Training Academy was military-like, as students would run and do push-ups as punishment for disobedience, and complete “missions” for the church. In addition to studying in Scientology, the children had to work. They would build pathways, clear grounds building projects, and renovate/ demolish buildings. As preteens, they signed billion year contracts to make their eternal commitment to the church of Scientology. Admitting they didn’t know what they were signing, the girls felt the obligation.
When first greeting Leah and Mike, Mirriam says that this was something that she had wanted to do for years, but had not come across the right platform. I then realized that this show was about more than exposing Scientology. It is giving people the opportunity to share their stories, recognize the trauma, and find healing for themselves and others.
Through tears, facial expressions, and body language, the audience could only fathom how difficult it was for Mirriam and Saina articulate their experiences. The bravery shown in standing up to the church and facing their abusers is refreshing and inspiring. Numerous doubts can be had: “Who will listen?” “Will I have an impact?” “Is this important enough to share?”
To do stand up against something so boldly can require reassurance. Sometimes all people need is a platform and Leah Remini is providing one.
Scientology and the Aftermath airs Tuesday nights at 9 pm ET on A&E
Janay is a writer, social worker, and MBA student living in VA. She enjoys listening to podcasts and binge watching her favorite show, 30 Rock on Netflix. Janay is an aspiring author that produces content to intrigue, inspire, and affirm young black women. Follow her on Twitter @jay_sherell
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