true crime

Age 19, Laura McConnell escaped one of Australia's most secretive cults.

Content warning: This post includes mention of child sexual abuse, family violence and suicide that may be distressing to some readers.

As a child, Laura McConnell was raised not to trust outsiders.

She had grown up in a fundamentalist sect with no official name, an ultra conservative cult often known as 'The Truth'.

It's infamous for its secretiveness – with no proper name, no official places of worship, and no doctrinal statements other than the Bible itself. Instead, everything is passed down in person, from generation to generation. There are no priests or ministers. Instead, those in charge are called 'workers'. They encourage members to spend their lives proving their worth to God and Jesus, often through acts of suffering.

"It is a dangerous ideology, an extreme ideology," Laura explains to Mamamia's True Crime Conversations.

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Laura says that throughout her childhood in the '80s and '90s there were around 50,000 members in Australia.

Worship would often take place in lounge rooms of one of the more senior men in the community, or sometimes scout halls and school libraries to encourage outsiders to attend. 


The 'rules' were as follows.

"It's a very conservative, a very extreme fundamentalist interpretation of the King James Bible," says Laura.

"We are led to believe that women should be tightly controlled in terms of their dress and their appearance. We are taught to keep ourselves separate from the world. A lot of that is dictated to us by older men. Things like TVs and radios and pop music when I was growing up were forbidden. It's hard for us to integrate in the mainstream, our hair is so weird, our clothing is weird. We're a little bit creepy and freaky looking, especially the women [given the fundamentalist dress code rules]. Think the mormons of Utah."

For Laura specifically, she grew up in rural NSW, saying that many of the farming families located around their own family's property were involved in The Truth.

To not raise suspicion, children in the cult would still attend regular schooling, told by their parents and superiors to not trust what they were being taught.

"It was horribly isolating. We weren't really allowed to make friends with people at school because they were seen as worldly. I came from a very large family, so I had siblings and cousins to hang out with. My family has been part of it for a very long time, generations back," Laura says.

"In a nutshell, I believe my family were preyed upon because they were poor and rural, and they were love bombed which is something that happens with cultic and high control groups."


Laura when she was in the cult. Image: Supplied.

Laura finds it hard to reconcile what she experienced during childhood.

Parts of it were idyllic, spending hours on the farm, riding horses and playing with the kids around her. But from the age of eight restrictions started being imposed on her – she had to start acting like a 'Truth girl'.

It was an environment that was festering with unspoken crimes that were normalised by those around her – she says this included grooming, sexual abuse, domestic violence, spiritual abuse, and financial abuse. The majority of the victims were the women in the group.


There was pressure to marry young too, though it would be a marriage of violent, coercive and abusive behaviours rather than an equal partnership built upon love and respect.

"I come from a culture of embedded violence. People abused their children physically, and growing up all of us kids would smack our dolls constantly, because that's what we saw happening around us. There was sexual violence and grooming – not just within the marriages but within family groups."

The high-control environment let this sort of abuse flourish – there was no trust for authority in the outside world, if anything, there was fear. 

Sadly, Laura knows this reality firsthand.

"There is a lot of us who were abused by our preachers or workers and also observed abuse. It's very hard because I often feel a lot of survivor guilt. I always thought that I got off pretty lucky because I wasn't raped. But then I would need two hands to count the number of times where I was groomed and where I was sexually assaulted, being touched or having someone rubbing themselves against me. I only had this realisation in the last couple of years, acknowledging I was sexually abused. It was still abuse," she tells True Crime Conversations.

Listen to Laura share her story. Post continues after audio.

"People in our community are just too terrified to speak up, because it comes with extreme consequences. Your own family will disown you or shun you, people in your community will cross the street to avoid you. People will undermine you, you are left with nothing, no money, no home and no family."


In 1999 then aged 19, Laura made the enormous decision to stop believing and move away from her community, escaping the cult. It meant saying goodbye to everyone she'd ever known.

"I didn't want that life. I didn't want to be a preacher or a worker and I certainly didn't want to get married and have children, which is really ultimately what led me out of the group. It took time for me to leave because I thought you died and went to hell if you left. The reality is I was really pushed out, I was ex-communicated, because of my behaviour and appearance in my community. I was going to university and I had dreadlocks."

The first six months were particularly hard, she says. 

That same year, she went to a university library in Melbourne to research deeper into the environment she had grown up in. There was one story she had been told growing up that never sat quite right with her.

Laura grew up being told that two young teenagers from her community Narelle and Steven died in 1992 because they listened to the rock band Nirvana. But the truth was that the duo had died by suicide, because they didn't want to live within the confines of their strict religious upbringing anymore.

"I did try to talk to my family about it, but they would say things like, 'Oh you've been taken by the devil.' I haven't spoken to many family members for years now. I think there is a bit of hope, there's more who have come forward and made contact after leaving the group themselves."


Laura McConnell with her son today. Image: Supplied.

Today, Laura has a really wonderful life. She has a five-year-old son, she runs her own bedding brand, she has great friends and relationships. But that's not to say she isn't impacted by the trauma she has endured.

"On the other hand, I'm also a deeply traumatised person from the things that have happened to me. I have PTSD as a result of the abuse. I'm very loved and I have a wonderful life. But it comes with its damage."


In the eyes of this community, Laura is likely seen as a traitor, someone who had to be shunned for no longer believing. But this hasn't stopped Laura from speaking out and raising awareness.

"I want to get the message out, but I also want to talk about spiritual abuse. I want mainstream family violence providers to realise how violent these groups are and how much support we need when we leave."

For more from Laura McConnell you can see her business GoKindly here, and her Instagram here

If this brings up any issues for you, contact Bravehearts, an organisation dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse, on 1800 272 831.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. 

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a Queensland-based organisation that helps women and families move on after the devastation of domestic violence. If you would like to support their mission to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most, you can donate here.

If you find yourself needing to talk to someone after reading this story, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Feature Image: Supplied/Instagram