'Stateless' Episode 1: GOPA cult that exploits Sofie is inspired by Kenja sect infamous for sexual assault
Spoilers for 'Stateless' Episode 1
If one takes a look at the official website of Kenja, they have specifically answered the frequently asked question about the organization's alleged cult status with a stern "no", adding that "the concept of spirituality discussed at Kenja is not aligned to any religion. Nor does it conflict with religions." Yet, what Cornelia Rau among others suffered at the hands of the Australian self-help practice is nothing short of a cult level manipulation in the name of "therapy" transcending people into "whoever they want to be." Kenja's alleged notoriety is once again being highlighted in the fictionalized retelling of Rau's ordeal in Cate Blanchett's 'Stateless'. Yvonne Strahovski's Sofie Werner plays the Rau-inspired character, and on the show Kenja is GOPA. But that's apparently the only thing fictionalized about the sect's operations.
In this Netflix drama that explores the harrowing realities of Australia's faulty immigration policies, we see Sofie as a free-spirited flight attendant who joins GOPA, a spiritual healing program named after is founders, married couple Gordon (Dominic West) and Pat (Cate Blanchett). Sofie excels with her dancing skills and soon bags the solo in the annual eisteddfods. But things fall apart when Gordon, during a one on one 'energy conversion' session, first tries coercing her and then rapes her, leaving her completely shattered. When she breaks down in the middle of her performance, Gordon berates her for not working on herself enough and asks her to leave GOPA. Having torched her life and career right before this mishap, Sofie's spiral lands her first in a psychiatric facility, and once she escapes from there, she is brought into the Barton Detention Center under the suspicions of being an illegal foreign spy.
And this is exactly what had happened to Cornelia Rau after she was kicked out of Kenja. Named after co-founders World War II veteran, Ken Dyers, and a failed actress, Jan Hamilton, Kenja calls itself a spiritual healing group. Established in 1982, Kenja propagated the journey of embracing one's innermost self through spontaneous participation and therapy sessions called Energy Conversion. All of this came at a hefty price of presently $130 a session which would have two-way meditations with Dyers, or a “meditation consultant” who would look into the eyes of the client “holding a person still” and encourage them to spill their innermost insecurities and deepest, darkest secrets.
Expensive workshops for about $50 and eisteddfods, sporting events, singing, dancing, and even something called 'Klowning' were common practices within Kenja's community. Following Rau's breakdown that led to her being unlawfully detained at the Baxter Detention Center, those in her close circuit learned how the investigation into Kenja's alleged sexual assault claims was already in progress. Soon it was revealed that nothing said within Kenja was communication, and information was constantly controlled. Dyers' outbursts of rage and manic controlling nature were common too. According to him and Jan, those who left were condemnable failures. And given Dyers' rage, nobody dared question about the revenue Kenja was profiting. As of today, the Kenja website proclaims functioning centers in Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra that are owned and operated by center Directors.
In November 1992, New South Wales parliamentarian Stephen Mutch shed light on Kenja's alleged "cult" status calling it “a sinister organization designed to fill the pockets and stroke the egos” of Dyers and Hamilton. Kenja's promise was “unique insights into the meaning of life” with Dyers claiming “God-like knowledge” according to Mutch, who insisted this God-man was in reality a “seedy conman” and “a liar, a cheat and a bully." Soon testimonies from past followers came to Mutch and in his April 1993 re-address of the topic, he claimed that “recruits are required to confess and write down their darkest secrets” which were later “used to blackmail them if they attempt to leave the group." Dyers was labeled a man who “promotes himself as [an] … expert in the use of violence” and the "sect" preyed upon vulnerable educated middle-class people, often deliberately encouraging them to sever all links and ties with their families while pouring their finances into the organization.
This led several former followers to be diagnosed with mental illnesses as grave as schizophrenia, the way we see in Rau's case. People allegedly killed themselves, as women ex-followers called out Dyers' sexual predations. From fondling of breasts during collective workshops to exploring "sexual hang-ups" and suggesting Energy Conversion lying down, which would escalate to sex, allegations against Dyers were pretty dire. Shortly after Mutch's presentation in the parliament, Dyers was charged with sexual offenses against four minors -- all girls between the ages of 8 and 15. In 2005, Dyers had been charged with 22 counts including two underage girls, but his trial was deferred as he was deemed mentally unfit. When a third girl came forward in 2007, Dyers was informed by the police of the development. The very next day, his body was found in his home. He had committed suicide by gunshot at the age of 84. Hamilton then proceeded to file a lawsuit against the state of New South Wales, claiming the police had called Dyers the “pedophile leader of a cult” before he killed himself. Hamilton claimed it caused him psychological harm, but in June 2020, the NSW Supreme Court rejected her claim that the letter was sent with an intention to harm the couple.
'Stateless' is now available for streaming on Netflix.