Before suing the Church of Scientology last month for allegedly trafficking her as a child, Valeska Paris, 44, tried to file a complaint.
She filed a 32-page affidavit in September 2019 with the Clearwater Police Department alleging forced labor and sexual abuse as a child in England, a teenager in Clearwater, and a young adult on the church’s Freewinds ship in the Caribbean.
And she told the police where they could find evidence to prove it.
Scientology maintains complete documentation of its parishioners through a detailed system established by Founder L. Ron Hubbard. Individual church counseling or “hearing” sessions are transcribed and stored indefinitely. Ethics files keep track of transgressions committed by church staff and parishioners. And members are encouraged to write reports of wrongdoings and information from fellow Scientologists that could pose a threat to the church.
The longer a person stays in Scientology, the more the treasury of records grows as they sit down for advice and interact with others. Paris was a member for 32 years.
The Pinellas-Pasco prosecutor’s office denied the department’s subpoena request in the Paris case in June 2020 because the justification did not meet the criteria to compel the records, according to the police report. But when the police Det. Eliad Glenn asked the church to provide the Paris records without a subpoena, Scientology legal director Sarah Heller replied that “notwithstanding any religious or privacy concerns” she found no records.
Since 2018, the state’s attorney’s office has issued subpoenas in two other cases to Clearwater police to obtain the records of former parishioners as they investigate allegations of abuse, records obtained show. by the Tampa Bay Times. In both cases, Scientology’s chief legal officer responded with the same language as in the Paris case. They had no records related to the allegations.
However, church policies require accurate storage of parishioner records and require their retention even after death so that they can be retrieved in future lives.
The difficulty of obtaining information from Scientology, even with a subpoena, is one of many hurdles that investigators and plaintiffs’ attorneys have faced over the years as the tried and tested organization overcame a challenge after challenge in court.
When asked how it was possible the church did not have files on former parishioners relevant to police investigations, Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw told The Times that “responses of the Church to the Clearwater Police Department were complete and accurate”.
“We have fully cooperated with law enforcement and there is nothing more to say about it,” Shaw said.
Glenn said her investigation could only focus on allegations Paris made about her time in Clearwater from 1992 to 1996, when she was 14 to 18. Police closed their case in August 2020, saying the statute of limitations had expired.
The report notes a lack of corroborating evidence and witnesses for the allegations of child abuse and assault, and it does not indicate that police questioned anyone else. For the child abuse allegation, it says Paris “has not named any specific suspects responsible for forcing her to do hard labor and forcing her to live in disgusting conditions.”
Although Paris said the evidence was in his church records, Chief Daniel Slaughter said police had little recourse after Scientology officials said they had no documents “despite any religious or privacy concerns.”
Securing the documents would have been a difficult undertaking, Slaughter said, citing what he described as a “well-conceived response” from the church. He did not confirm the existence of the records and suggested that religious and confidentiality issues would be an additional obstacle.
And in the Paris case, he said, it wouldn’t have been possible to get a subpoena or higher-level judicial intervention because the attorney general’s office said the statute of limitations had expired.
“Because we didn’t have a case that could be prosecuted, we didn’t have the backing to take the investigation any further,” Slaughter said. “Once I don’t have an enforceable record or a case that can be sued, no one will give me a search warrant.”
He said that after closing the Paris case and the two others who had obtained subpoenas, he turned over all the documents to the FBI.
“They don’t necessarily give a formal answer, but it’s been shared with them for anything outside of our jurisdiction,” he said of the federal agency.
Paris joined husband and wife Gawain Baxter and Laura Baxter in the federal lawsuit against Scientology filed in Tampa on April 28, all alleging they were trafficked as children. As members of Scientology’s military-style workforce – the Sea Org – the three said they were heavily indoctrinated and trapped, financially, physically and psychologically unable to leave as adults.
“The allegations are both libelous and ridiculous and the lawsuit is both a sham and a scam,” said Shaw, the Scientology spokesperson.
Paris was born in Geneva and lived at the Scientology base in England from age 6 to 14, where she was separated from her parents, who were in the Sea Org. Full-time religious order workers sign billion-year contracts and manage every aspect of Scientology operations, from landscaping to surveillance.
As a child, she was put to work cleaning the dormitory and caring for newborn babies, according to her police report and trial.
At age 14, she was sent to join the Sea Org at the church’s Flag Land Base in Clearwater, known as “Flag”, where she studied Hubbard’s written policies and received no formal education. , according to his report. She spent her days cleaning rooms at the Fort Harrison Hotel, where parishioners stay when they visit Flag for classes and counseling.
While in the Commodore’s Messenger Organization, a special unit of the Sea Org, she worked 8 a.m. to midnight every day for $50 a week, cleaning executives’ offices, doing their laundry, and preparing meal.
“This included David Miscavige who I was afraid of because he constantly yelled at other executives and repeatedly at me when I was a kid,” Paris wrote in his statement, referring to the Scientology leader.
In that unit, Paris said another Sea Org member repeatedly sexually assaulted her for three months by picking her up from behind and rubbing her genitals against hers.
She eventually reported him, according to her affidavit, and she was punished.
“We are taught early on that if you say what is happening to you, you will be put on the clock and questioned for your crimes,” she said in the affidavit, referring to the E-meter, a device used in Scientology during the audition. . “We are taught that if you say you were raped, you will be in trouble.”
Scientology teaches that people are entirely responsible for what happens to them and that they attract negative experiences when they do something wrong in their lives.
If a person wrote a report about someone who assaulted them, for example, the victim would be questioned and punished by Scientology’s ethics system, Paris explained in the affidavit.
After the Sea Org member assaulted her another time, Paris wrote that she didn’t report it again because she felt it would be unnecessary.
When she was 17, her mother fled the Sea Org and planned to sue Scientology to expose the abuse, according to her affidavit. Paris was ordered to write her a letter stating that she was essentially disowning her, according to the report.
Shortly after, Paris was told she would be transferred to work on the ship Freewinds in the Caribbean, a ship the church operates to broadcast its high-level courses to parishioners. Paris worked for 11 years on the ship, where, she said, she was forced to do excruciating labor for little or no pay and suffered mental, physical and sexual abuse. Ship personnel hand over their passports and other identification when reporting for duty, according to accounts from former Sea Org members over the years.
“No phone, no bank account, no passport and nowhere to go,” Paris wrote. In her affidavit, she revealed several anecdotes about other Sea Org members who died from lack of medical attention or by suicide.
In 2007, she was sent to Australia to work on the Rehabilitation Project Force, “a punitive rehabilitation and re-education program that resembles a prison camp,” she said.
“You do hard (labor) all day, then five hours of basically brainwashing with interrogations to counter everything you did wrong,” she wrote in her affidavit.
Following multiple exit requests from the Sea Org, Paris was allowed to leave in 2009 going through four months of intensive interrogation, according to her lawsuit.
There is precedent for acquiring information that exists in parishioner files.
In 2009, former Sea Org member Laura DeCrescenzo sued Scientology in Los Angeles, alleging that she had been forced to work grueling hours as a child and that church officials forced her to have an abortion at 17 to ensure she continued to work.
During the litigation, the court ordered Scientology to turn over 18,000 pages of documents related to DeCrescenzo, including his audit records. Scientology officials unsuccessfully appealed to the California State Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court to challenge the order.
Transcripts of her audit sessions published in court documents show that DeCrescenzo told her auditor that she did not want her abortion, according to court records published by Tony Ortega, who runs a blog critical of Scientology.
The files also included DeCrescenzo’s handwritten letters from his time at the Sea Org, which corroborated his desperation and mental state. Scientology settled the lawsuit with DeCrescenzo in 2018, weeks before the case went to trial.
As for Paris, she said in her affidavit that it took her 10 years to report to the police due to Scientology indoctrination, noting that sexual, physical and mental abuse were the norm.
“It shaped who I became and why I did nothing effective about the sexual abuse I suffered in the church in Florida as well as other child abuse and human trafficking” , Paris wrote. “Why haven’t you heard of it?” Because most of us didn’t even know that sexually touching a child was illegal.
She added, “It’s also in the teachings of the church to cover this up thinking it will be fixed with Scientology.”