A FORMER cult leader has offered to act as an adviser to parents who fear theirchildren are being brainwashed by Islamic extremists.
Steven Hassan, who escaped the clutches of radical religious sect the Moonies, has spent 40 years helping other cult members leave extremist groups across the globe.
The 62-year-old, of Boston, US, is offering his counselling skills to Scottish families who are worried about their kids being recruited by extremists.
Steven, who is leading a workshop at The British Society of Medical & Dental Hypnosis (Scotland) in Stirling this weekend, said: “I was just 19 when I joined the Unification Church and became a Moonie.
“My parents tried everything they could to stop me joining but they couldn’t. The mind control techniques being used by the organisation were too strong.
“No one knowingly joins a cult but thousands do. It’s hard for families to understand why their nearest and dearest choose to join extremist groups but, drawing on my own experiences, I am able to explain how this can happen.”
Steven knows the draw of groups such as IS can present a huge problem for the families of vulnerable young people such as Aqsa Mahmood from Glasgow, who is believed to have fled to Syria to marry a fighter for the extremist group.
The mental health counsellor, who founded the Freedom of Mind Resource Centre in 1999, has pinpointed warning signs which can signal that loved ones are falling victim to brainwashing.
He said: “I have been talking vigorously about the threats posed by groups like these since 9/11.
“Governments, educators and law enforcement officers worldwide need training in how to spot the mind-controlling techniques used by these organisations so they can intervene before it is too late.
“Preventative education is where it is at and that’s the basis for my lectures and workshops.
“The first thing to watch out for is a radical change in personality – if someone who wasn’t religious becomes hyper-religious or if an honest person starts to lie.
“Sometimes a change of appearance can be a sign or if someone changes the way they are speaking and uses different words in conversation that are obviously not their own.
“If asked, a person under the influence of mind control will reveal nothing as they have been told to keep everything a secret from their family.
“The best advice is for parents to maintain an open relationship with their children.
“They should encourage them to talk about difficult subjects, which means it is more likely they will ask advice about a group they are in contact with.
“The worst thing a parent or loved one can do is start shouting and demand they stop all contact as this will have them running towards the protectiveness of the cult.
“Instead, encourage them to talk about their experiences and suggest investigating the group together to see if they hold up to scrutiny.
“Parents are limited in what they can do so finding expert help is a must. That’s why I’ve put all my workshops and seminars on the internet as reference points.”
Steven was a Moonies’ leader for two years and only escaped from the religious sect – founded by Sun Myung Moon – when he was involved in a road accident.
He said: “I was taken to hospital and my family came to see me.
“They hired ex-members of the Moonies who came to my sister's house and worked with me for several days until I had been deprogrammed.
“This May marked the 40th anniversary of me leaving the Moonies and I am glad to say I am still helping people who, like myself, were brainwashed by a cult. It’s happening everywhere, even in Scotland.”
Dr Kathleen Long, secretary of BSMDH (Scotland), added: “Steven is passionate in his desire to make us all aware of the issues surrounding mind control and how to deal with it when we are presented with it.”