A young woman has written a book about the abuse she suffered at the hands of a man who recruited her for a doomsday cult online.
After being forced to give birth to thee cult leader’s child in the middle of a Peruvian jungle, Patricia Aguilar, from Spain, is now warning others about the pitfalls of social media and alluring offers of personal growth.
In the book titled “Hagase tu Voluntad”, or “Thy will be done”, the 21-year-old describes about how the pair first came into contact when she was just 16-years-old and reeling from the death of her uncle.
In a moment of weakness and mourning, she encountered Felix Steven Manrique, better known as Principe Gurdjeff, on social media.
She said he seemed to have all the right answers and understood her better than anyone else.
The religious cult leader, who was already in the Peruvian jungle with a small following, was always on the lookout for more disciples. He seemed to always have time for Ms Aguilar, and the ongoing conversation gradually shifted from friendship to an online romance.
The guru presented himself as a friend she could lean on and rely on. Over time he made her fall in love with him, Vanesa Lozano, who helped Ms Aguilar author the book, said.
“It was a long process. He was always online and had time to talk to her, but gradually he started isolating her from everyone.
“She started to feel smaller and smaller and thereby also more and more dependent on him,” Ms Lozano said.
Mr Manrique turned Ms Aguilar against her family, friends and Spanish society as a whole.
He talked her into stealing money from her relatives and had her send him naked pictures and videos of herself.
‘He was a textbook abuser’
When she turned 18 and was no longer a minor, she stole almost AUD$10,000 from her parents and bought a plane ticket to Peru to join Mr Manrique and his followers.
By then she had completely lost all sense of reality, as all that she knew and had relied on in life had been demonised by Mr Manrique, her cousin Noelia Bru said.
“You are pure, you are special, he told her. And she believed him. He was a textbook abuser,” Ms Bru said.
Ms Aguilar expected to arrive in a paradise of sorts, where Mr Manrique and his followers were working to create an alternative and more true way of life that would qualify them to found a new civilisation after the expected apocalypse.
Instead, she found herself living under horrible conditions without electricity, running water or proper sanitary installations in the middle of the Peruvian jungle.
Here, the female cult members were treated to a daily diet of hard manual labour, beatings and sexual abuse at the hands of Mr Manrique.
‘I had to do something’
Back in Spain, Ms Aguilar's parents, Rosa and Alberto Aguilar, took up the search for their daughter, aided by Ms Bru, 39, who had had a special relationship with Ms Aguilar before her disappearance.
They requested the help of the police, but legally speaking there was nothing that could be done, since Ms Aguilar was of age and had left her home voluntarily.
“The family was close to falling apart. I felt I had to do something,” Ms Bru said.
She made contact with Mr Manrique online, pretending to be interested in joining his cult.
After having questioned her, he guessed that she wasn't who she said she was. He believed she was a former member, who had left the cult on bad terms.
He then made the mistake of providing Ms Bru with the ex-member's name before blocking her.
Ms Bru subsequently contacted the ex-member who explained where Mr Manrique's small jungle community was located. Eventually, in 2018, Ms Aguilar's father decided to fly to Peru to attempt to bring Ms Aguilar back.
He took his case to the Peruvian authorities and after a good deal of searching, two officers finally managed to locate Ms Aguilar in the jungle.
They found her alone in a dirty shack caring for five small children, one of which was her own newborn daughter. The other four had been fostered by Mr Manrique with two other of his female followers.
According to Ms Lozano, the female followers had all been heavily drugged by Mr Manrique, allegedly to help them achieve divined visions, but in reality to make them willing slaves, both in terms of work and sexual services.
“The women were all working for the guru while he was supposedly busy meditating. But he was clearly a lazy guy, who was really sleeping most of the time,” Ms Bru said.
It was the intervention of the Aguilar family and Ms Bru that eventually led to his arrest. He is now serving a 20-year jail sentence for abduction and sexual abuse.
Mr Manrique still controls a small group of dedicated followers from behind bars.
“This guy has no regrets. He still has followers inside and outside of jail, but we are not scared. We know that we are safe,” Ms Bru said.
‘We knew it wouldn’t be easy’
Ms Aguilar did not initially leave the jungle and her cult leader of her own free will.
“We always knew it wasn't going to be easy. Patricia had acquired a Peruvian accent that she had been told to use to not draw attention to herself and the fact that she was a foreigner,” Ms Bru said.
At first she refused to even see her father, something that often occurs when people are rescued from religious cults and the spell has not yet been broken.
“She was also very scared because she had been told that she would be locked up in a mental institution if she ever tried to break with the cult. But she finally realised that she was surrounded by people who loved her and cared for her and slowly started coming around,” Ms Bru said.
After the first meeting with her father, it still took several weeks for Ms Aguilar to agree to leave Peru and return to Spain with her family.
After their return, Ms Aguilar was set up with a psychologist with extensive expertise in exit-counselling.
With their help, the truth finally dawned on her: She had been manipulated, raped, abused and mistreated.
Today, her feelings towards Mr Manrique, according to Ms Lozano, are “feelings of terror and fear of the thought that he will one day be released from prison and my try to find her and his daughter.”
The young woman is still tending to her mental scars and trying to rebuild her life in the Spanish province of Alicante with her two-year-old daughter.
It's been two years since she was rescued, but Ms Aguilar still feels too fragile to talk about the horrifying events. The author of the book agreed to talk on her behalf.
Ms Aguilar “is fine, all things considered. She has come back from hell, as she always says,” Ms Lozano, said.
The mum wishes to study in a field that will allow her to get a career helping others, Ms Bru said, for whom the experience has also led her to volunteering in a Spanish NGO specialised in supporting ex-cult members.
“There are new cases every day, all of them follow the same pattern,” Ms Bru said.
Since the recruitment efforts by religious cults have moved online, they are usually practically impossible to detect and stop before it is too late.
“With the internet there are no borders and no limits to who they can reach,” Ms Bru said.
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