Cult Expert Talks to Students on UK’s First Controlling Behaviour Course

A cult expert, who spent years helping people who had left Scientology and other organisations, spoke to students on the UK’s first course dedicated to controlling and coercive behaviour.

Jon Atack, who spent nearly a decade as a Scientologist before going on to work with fellow former members of that group, came to the University of Salford to talk to students on the MSc Psychology of Coercive Control programme – which deals with methods used by organisations and individuals to manipulate people.

Jon, who now directs the Open Minds Foundation, spoke to students about his own experience helping former members of this and other groups to recover, as well as the importance of teaching young people to develop healthy scepticism and avoid exploitation whether by individuals or organisations.

He said, ‘We want to show young people how they can resist being drawn into a coercive relationship, whether that be with an individual or with a group.

‘Coercive control exists throughout society, whether it’s in intimate relationships, in organisations that are sometimes called cults, in radicalisation, in the white supremacist groups which are now on the rise and even in business and multilevel marketing – you find the same dynamics and the same techniques being used.’

The course, which took on its first cohort of students last September, deals with the use of coercive control in a wide range of situations – from domestic abuse to human trafficking and from criminal gangs to political and religious organisations. 

Tutors work closely with charities and police forces involved in tackling these issues to give students an in-depth understanding of how perpetrators control their victims, and what the authorities can do to help people recover from those experiences.

Jon said, ‘I think what the University of Salford is doing here is truly pioneering. This is something that should be taught from primary schools through to universities.

‘Our society has become absolutely riddled with coercive behaviour, because it’s become acceptable to bully people, and there are individuals and groups everywhere who prey on the vulnerability of others. Bringing this to public attention by training people at master’s level who can go out into society to explain these issues to the world is immensely significant.’

Dr Linda Dubrow-Marshall, Co-Programme Leader at the University of Salford, said, ‘Jon Atack is somebody who has a unique experience of working with the survivors of a coercive organisation and he brings vital perspectives to bear which have been shown to be very effective in helping people leave and recover from the effects of coercion.’

Dr Rod Dubrow-Marshall, Co-Programme Leader at the University of Salford added, ‘This master’s programme – the first of its kind in the UK – aims to provide students with an in-depth understanding of the psychology involved in coercive control, and so the insights that Jon Atack was able to provide were absolutely invaluable.’

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