Esther Rockett is an investigator and writer who is passionate about protecting the public from cults and health scams
Based in Sydney, Australia, Esther was a health practitioner for almost 20 years. She has a major 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 believes authorities are not doing enough to protect the vulnerable 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 one of his Esoteric Healing workshops. At the time of those experiences in 2004-5, unregistered health practitioners in NSW were unregulated and there were no avenues for complaints.
Her battle to expose UM has featured in dozens of news reports. She blogs at Universal Medicine Accountability and the Universal Medicine Cult Exposed websites. Her videos on UniMed and on defamation law are available on her YouTube channel.
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 press.
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 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
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.
Unconscionable health practitioners mislead consumers with bogus therapeutic claims, spread misinformation, instil a treatment dependency, and exploit or abuse the vulnerable. Some attempt to intimidate or silence people like Esther who try to protect members of the public.
Cults, harmful groups and healthcare
A number of harmful groups offer health services as a recruitment gateway. 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. They sometimes instil fear, dissuading clients from seeking legitimate healthcare and telling them their victims that they will suffer terrible consequences unless they keep consuming whatever the cult is offering.
Cults often exist within a regulatory vacuum because victims justifiably fear retaliation if they 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.
Universal Medicine – a case study for the need for improved regulation
Universal Medicine is a multimillion 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 and is regarded as a messiah by his followers. It engages in misleading advertising of its harmful occult healing services. The group has received media coverage from more than ten media organizations over a number of controversies, including Esoteric Breast Massage and the harassment of complainants and journalists.
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, and have been subject to regulatory actions as a result of Esther’s complaints to authorities.
Esther had first hand experience of UM in 2004 and 2005 and identified it 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. In retaliation UM management and associates harassed Esther in various ways including attempting to have her prosecuted with baseless police and other complaints before bringing their unsucessful legal actions. Esther was bankrupted by the legal proceedings.
Esther is calling for improved accountability for healthcare providers. She would like to see the establishment of a federal regulatory body to monitor harmful groups, and she believes cults and other harmful organisations should be stripped of the tax free charity status that sees taxpayers subsidising secretive cultures of abuse.