TOXIC PARADISE

2017 – 2022

By Kim J Vermeulen

These images are an intimate glimpse of my biological father-in-law’s abandoned home, where he lived in a cult for 20 years. I explore the complexity of explaining and substantiating psychological abuse.

Until that morning we had avoided this area. The sun rise was exceptionally beautiful, my youngest daughter and I were moving across vantage points, I had planned to take a picture. She turned deciding to come this way, she knew what lay here, resisting the temptation to correct her away I followed. She stood defiantly, looking to the rising sun and I took the first picture of this series.

It was in late summer that my husband, our two young daughters and I moved to The Netherlands to live and work with my biological father-in-law; he ran a group accommodation and retreat centre. My husband having an accomplished CV in hospitality looked forward to the position and was keen to form a relationship with his estranged father. The centre is in an affluent area within a national park rich in forests and heathlands. We often dreamed of living in such a beautiful setting.

We came to realise my father-in-law was actually the self-proclaimed prophet and protector of a cult. This cult existed under the guise of a foundation called Truth, Simplicity and Love. The cult was intertwined with the business, workers, and volunteers.

There was an expectation of prescribed behaviours that gradually became more extreme and nonsensical. In my failure to conform, my father-in-law constructed and implemented fear as a weapon. My fear is the safety of my family, and that moment of anxious tension in the shadows of a thriller. He literally stood in those shadows; he threatened and terrorised us.

Fanatical followers of the cult played active roles in abuse, although I feel sure that in some cases they were indoctrinated and unaware of the severity of their contribution. Others, however, remain dedicated in their belief and pursuit to impose the principles; we received thousands of pages of correspondence threatening us, faced aggressive confrontations and harassment. 

In seeking answers and understanding, we exposed an extensive history of the mistreatment of other individuals, many of whom are still left suffering from the mental health effects of the abuse they endured.

We persistently resisted, eventually, in a reprisal of my husband’s childhood, my biological father-in-law fled. His home stood, untouched, forsaken, for over a year, until I made these pictures.

We do not carry his family name.

© 2018 Kim J. Vermeulen

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