Based in Byron Bay, Australia, Esther was a health practitioner for almost 20 years. She has a Bachelor degree in Religious Studies from the University of Queensland with special interests in Eastern religions, New Religious Movements and cults.
Esther campaigns to improve protections for patients and clients of health services. She is passionate about helping patients protect themselves from exploitation, privacy invasion and treatment room abuses, including sexual abuse.
Activism against Universal Medicine
Esther became concerned about the Universal Medicine organization after disturbing experiences in the treatment room of Universal Medicine leader, Serge Benhayon as well as at an Esoteric Healing workshop. At the time of those experiences in 2004-5, unregistered health practitioners in NSW were unregulated and there were no avenues for complaints.
She is chief writer and administrator at the Universal Medicine Accountability and the Universal Medicine Exposed blogs and her investigation is based on the published works of Benhayon and UM, material on the organization’s business and recruitment activities, and contact with families adversely affected by the group.
Benhayon v Rockett defamation proceeding
November 2015, Benhayon filed a defamation claim against Esther which went to a six week trial from 3 September 2018.Esther won, successfully defending all publications complained of and proving the majority of the defamatory imputations substantially true.The trial and its aftermath was widely reported in the media.
Two of Benhayon’s followers, Caroline Raphael and Ray Karam also filed a defamation claim at the District Court of Queensland, Brisbane in December 2016. The proceeding was dismissed by order of the court in November 2018.
Esther has made submissions to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into False and Misleading Health Related Information and the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council consultation on a draft national Code of Conduct for unregistered health practitioners.
Some of the recommendations from her submissions:
- Improved definitions of sexual misconduct for health practitioners
- Higher penalties for misconduct
- Criminalization of inappropriate touching in healthcare settings
- Prohibition of touching of erogenous areas as a psycho-therapeutic or any other healing technique
- Restricting practitioners providing therapy for sexual abuse recovery to those with special accreditation, who are accountable to AHPRA or a recognized professional body
- Better protections for patients who are subjected to financial, psychological, sexual or spiritual exploitation by health service providers
- Improved protections for complainants and whistleblowers and higher penalties for those who attempt to harass or intimidate complainants
- A more accessible complaints system
Esther believes patients have a right to safety in healthcare settings and that patients need to be better aware of their rights. Patients also have a right to clear information about a practitioner’s competence and the efficacy of the modalities they practice.
Healers who harm
While most health practitioners do the right thing by patients, the power imbalance between practitioner and patient is easily exploited. With increased commercialization and competition in the industry, operational overheads have risen and practitioners increasingly misrepresent their competence and over-service patients.
Health consumers must ask whether they are receiving value for money, particularly when seeking complementary therapies. Could their money be better spent on more effective healthcare?
Unconscionable health practitioners mislead consumers with bogus therapeutic claims, spread misinformation, instil a treatment dependency, and exploit or abuse the vulnerable. The worst are those that attempt to intimidate or silence those trying to protect patients.
Cults, harmful groups and healthcare
Health services are a common recruitment gateway into cults or harmful groups. They lure the vulnerable with deceptive claims and use insidious forms of indoctrination to make clients dependent on their therapies. Such services often make grand claims of sure-fire or ‘miracle’ cures, or they instil fear, dissuading clients from seeking legitimate healthcare and telling them they must consume ever more products or services in order to be well.
Recruiters are often practitioners who place benefit to the cult above the benefit of patients. Cults will bully and intimidate dissenters and detractors, so those adversely affected are reluctant to alert authorities. Harmful groups often exist within a regulatory vacuum because victims don’t come forward.
In her submissions to state and federal parliament, Esther has asked that regulatory bodies recognize the characteristics of cults and their far reaching harms.
Cults often engage in misconduct and operate in a clandestine fashion outside of the law. Esther supports other anti-cult activists and Senator Nick Xenophon in calling for the establishment of a regulatory body overseeing harmful groups. Cults should not gain tax free charity status. Many harmful groups operate charities – with the public effectively subsidising secretive cultures of abuse.
Universal Medicine – a case study for the need for improved regulation
Universal Medicine is a multi million dollar international enterprise based in Lismore, NSW. It’s headed by self-styled healer, Serge Benhayon, who has claimed to be the reincarnation of Leonardo Da Vinci. He is regarded as a messiah by followers. Anyone who questions his ‘One Unified Truth’, is vilified and harassed. UM markets Esoteric healing products and services and profits from followers’ repeat attendances at workshops and courses as well as donations and bequests. The group has received media coverage from more than ten media organizations over a number of controversies, including Esoteric Breast Massage and the bullying of complainants and journalists.
UniMed’s publicity says it is an organization promoting ‘healthy self-loving choices’. Its publicity does not disclose what this entails. Esoteric healing aims to clear supernatural entities and evil ‘pranic’ life energy from the body. Entities and prana can be left in the body from millions of lifetimes, or from listening to music or eating dairy products or grains. UM clients pay to undergo endless healings but no one has ever been declared ‘clear’ of these ‘evil’ energies.
According to Benhayon, ’emotions are the cause of all disease,’ love has no emotion in it and women develop reproductive disease from ‘male energy’. These and other antisocial teachings have contributed to the destruction of many relationships and families.
His teachings also glorify death, with claims that illness and misfortune is ‘cleansing’ of karma from one’s past or past lives, and that ‘death is a healing‘. Those who fail to adhere to the Esoteric lifestyle are told they will be raped by supernatural entities and so will their children.
Esoteric Women’s Health services are the main gateway for recruitment to UM. Esoteric healing practices include inappropriate touching of sexual abuse victims. Followers take their children to UM events where Benhayon lectures explicitly on sex and sexual violence, and where exorcistic practices take place. They send their juvenile daughters to stay in Benhayon’s home. Benhayon’s current wife first moved into his home at age 13.
The group operates two charities; the College of Universal Medicine in Australia, and the Sound Foundation Charitable Trust in the UK. Both are tax exempt fundraising fronts for UM’s commercial premises.
Esther had first hand experience of UM in 2004 and 2005 and identified them then as a harmful group. She has been investigating UM and blogging since 2012 has made a number of official complaints that have had successful regulatory outcomes including actions against the charities in Australia and the UK. A list of the main issues of concern and regulatory outcomes can be found on the Universal Medicine Accountability mission page.
More outcomes may have been possible if those adversely affected by UM felt they could come forward without experiencing vicious retaliation.
Response from Universal Medicine
Apart from incoherent email responses to journalist, Jane Hansen, Serge Benhayon and his representatives refuse to speak with the media. The group has more than 30 propaganda websites which do not allow questions or critical comments. The vilification of complainants and journalists on their ‘facts’ website validate public concerns.
Benhayon’s protectors have attempted to censor Esther Rockett’s blogs using false legal complaints to Google and the WordPress blog platform. They have succeeded in shutting down her Facebook pages with untested legal complaints. Facebook offers no avenue for redress. 150 Esoteric healing practitioners lodged complaints about her with the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, submitting 4,500 pages of materials. All were dismissed at the initial assessment.
Universal Medicine’s associated health professionals submitted complaints of professional misconduct to AHPRA, claiming Esther is a cyber-bully and suffers from mental conditions which deem her unfit to practice. No evidence was provided. All complaints against Esther have been dismissed as lacking in substance. The group has also established defamatory websites designed to destroy the livelihoods of complainants, and made over a large number of police complaints of harassment regarding Esther’s blogging. When none of this deterred Esther from exposing UM’s activities, Benhayon sued for defamation and lost.
Esther is calling for improved accountability for healthcare providers, and for federal regulatory oversight of cults and harmful groups.