branding

In 2,500 words on abusive psycho-spiritual group, New York Times buries crucial four-letter word

In 2,500 words on abusive psycho-spiritual group, New York Times buries crucial four-letter word

Anyone who has followed the history of new religious movements in the United States and elsewhere knows that, since the 1970s, the word "cult" is one four-letter word newspapers have often been loath to apply to controversial groups.

That wasn't the case before and after the 1978 Jonestown massacre, when newspapers saw cults under almost every rock.

But now, there's a great reticence at using this particular four-letter word in many news organizations. What, however, can a newspaper do when a group really and truly has the markings of a, well, cult, at the level of sociology and human behavior? Do you use the word or bury it?

For an answer, consider this front-page story from The New York Times, which reports on what can easily be considered a psycho-spiritual group, called NXIVM (pronounced neks-ee-um). In some cases, this organization literally leaves its mark on adherents, according to the story, headlined "Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded."

Read this longish excerpt to understand the scene being set:

ALBANY -- Last March, five women gathered in a home near here to enter a secret sisterhood they were told was created to empower women.
To gain admission, they were required to give their recruiter -- or “master,” as she was called -- naked photographs or other compromising material and were warned that such “collateral” might be publicly released if the group’s existence were disclosed.
The women, in their 30s and 40s, belonged to a self-help organization called Nxivm, which is based in Albany and has chapters across the country, Canada and Mexico.
Sarah Edmondson, one of the participants, said she had been told she would get a small tattoo as part of the initiation. But she was not prepared for what came next.
Each woman was told to undress and lie on a massage table, while three others restrained her legs and shoulders. According to one of them, their “master,” a top Nxivm official named Lauren Salzman, instructed them to say: “Master, please brand me, it would be an honor.”

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Weird case of godless former sex slave: Hey Reuters, are you really that afraid of religion!?

Weird case of godless former sex slave: Hey Reuters, are you really that afraid of religion!?

It's impossible to tell Jennifer Kempton's story without mentioning God.

But give Reuters, um, credit for trying.

This week's otherwise riveting profile of Kempton — with the headline "Former sex slave helps women reclaim their branded bodies with new tattoos" — suffers from an obvious, God-sized hole.

This is one of those holy ghosts (click here if you're not familiar with that oft-used GetReligion term) that must be intentional. There's simply no other explanation (more on that in a moment).

But first, the lede from Reuters:

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After escaping years of sexual slavery, Jennifer Kempton could not look in the mirror without being taken back to her dark, traumatic past.
On her neck was tattooed the name of one of her traffickers along with his gang's crown insignia. Above her groin were the words "Property of Salem" - the name of the former boyfriend who forced her into prostitution nine years ago.
"Slaves have been branded for centuries and it's just evolved into being tattooed. It's happening all over the world," said Kempton who suffered horrific brutality during six years working on the streets of Columbus, Ohio.
Today the tattoo on her neck has been transformed into a large flower "blooming out of the darkness". Three other brandings have been masked with decorative, symbolic motifs.
Two years ago Kempton, now 34, set up a charity called Survivor's Ink to help others who have escaped enslavement get their brandings covered up or removed.
"It was very empowering for me so I wanted to pay forward that liberation to other girls in my area who had been branded like cattle, just like I was," Kempton told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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In post-denominational age, what's in a name?

Joe Carter, our newest GetReligionista, referenced Southern Baptist name-change discussions in a post earlier this week. It’s a topic that GetReligion has tackled a time or two before — or more.

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