A new offence criminalising controlling behaviour could help the police prevent abuse cases, a charity leader, who helped to free three brainwashed women held captive in a Maoist cult, has claimed.
Aneeta Prem, who founded Freedom charity, rescued the vulnerable women, including Aravindan Balakrishnan’s daughter who was subjected to physical and mental violence and held prisoner for decades.
Balakrishnan, 75, known as Comrade Bala, was found guilty of rape and a string of sexual assaults on Friday (4), as well as child cruelty and imprisoning his daughter in his communist collective.
His daughter, who cannot be named for legal reasons but uses the pseudonym Fran, tried to escape his clutches in 2005 but was sent back to her abuser by a worker at a police station.
Prem told Eastern Eye that coercive control, which is set to become a criminal offence later this month, could help the police identify potential cases of abuse in the future.
“It’s a really important offence that has come out because it recognises that people do go through this and the devastating effect it has on them,” she said.
“If there’s a criminal offence which stops someone doing something, it’s easier to prevent. It will be easier for prosecutors and the police to identify this and try and prevent it.”
Balakrishnan’s daughter never saw a doctor, was seriously ill with diabetes and unable to walk more than 400 metres when she escaped in 2013 aged 30.
The pensioner used sexual degradation and physical and mental violence to keep the women under his control, turning his commune – based on Communist teachings – into his own personal cult with members who believed him to be a god.
Fran couldn’t even carry out ordinary day-to-day tasks, such as withdrawing money from a cash machine or even cross a road on her own.
She said there was “always a fear of being bullied, a fear of violence and a fear of being powerless and degraded” inside the commune.
Fran was born to one of the women in the collective. She was barely allowed to leave her home and forbidden from going to school or having friends, London’s Southwark crown court was told.
Her relentless ordeal was documented in detail in her diary and she described being a “caged bird.”
The 32-year-old was not told who her parents were, only learning the identity of her mother after her death when Fran was 14. Her maternal family did not even know she existed.
Bala, who was arrested in 2013, cast a spell on the vulnerable women who were enraptured by him, the court heard during his trial.
One of the victims claimed his toxic control over her meant she lost any independent ability to deny him.
He gradually eroded their freedom by brainwashing them to believe that he was going to rule the world and that if you worshipped him, they would gain immortality.
“There are no words to express the pain Bala and the collective has caused me. I was bullied, tormented, humiliated, isolated and degraded,” his daughter, who is still recovering from her ordeal, said in a statement given to the court. “I lived in constant fear and was deprived of a normal life. I was a non-person – no one knew I existed.”
She was so lonely as a child, she started to talk to the toilet and taps, prosecutors said.
The small, bespectacled, grey- haired pensioner, who is likely to die in prison, denied all charges but was convicted of cruelty to a child and false imprisonment, as well as raping, indecently assaulting and causing actual bodily harm to two other women from the collective, now both aged 64.
He was the head of a communist group in south London in the 1970s called the Workers’ Institute, a charismatic and energetic speaker who attracted followers with his plan for revolution and to overthrow what he saw as Britain’s fascist state.
The collective’s members were only allowed to recognise his authority and that of Chairman Mao Zedong, the founder of modern China.
Over time, however, the group’s numbers waned, the men were forced to leave and the dwindling group of women were so dominated and brainwashed they believed he was all-powerful.
Bizarrely, he threatened them with what he called a supernatural mind-control machine, which he named “Jackie” – an acronym of Jehovah, Allah, Christ, Krishna and Immortal Easwaran.
The women were allowed no friends or social life and the house was locked all the time, which Balakrishnan said was to keep out fascist agents.
“There is often a level of control and when you think logically, you wonder why people stay. But when you’ve got an element of brainwashing and being told one thing and everyone believing that one thing, it’s very difficult to have an opposing view, that has a very strong hold on people,” Prem said.
“Many victims who come out, come out with nothing and they have to start rebuilding their lives. You have to be incredibly brave to start again,” she added.
Fran later underwent intensive medical treatment for diabetes and post-traumatic stress disorder after her release from the commune and is now currenctly living in semi-independent accommodation.
Balakrishnan is due to be sentenced on January 29.
For more information about Freedom, go to http://www.freedom charity.org.uk