A woman who says she was called a witch as a child and accused of giving her mother cancer fears the religious leader behind those claims is still operating in the UK today.
Phoenix Faith told Sky News she was starved, beaten and subjected to an exorcism where her head was shaved after attending a church group in London.
The former model, who moved to the UK from West Africa as a child, believes other victims of this type of abuse go undetected – and urged them to come forward .
Met Police investigated the Phoenix child cruelty allegations but said there was “insufficient evidence” to bring charges.
It comes after Sky News revealed beliefs in witchcraft had been linked to reports of rape, assault, forcible confinement and death threats in the UK since 2018.
“I was brainwashed and tortured”
Phoenix said she started attending the church group as a child after her mother received treatment for lung cancer.
She said that within weeks a religious leader in the church claimed she was a witch who had caused her mother’s illness.
Phoenix told Sky News she was then ‘brainwashed’ and ‘tortured’ into admitting she had given her mother cancer.
She added, “(The religious leader) was beating me to breaking point when I was shouting, ‘Yes (I’m a witch)!’ »
Phoenix said that for several months in the religious group, she was forced to endure extreme fasting, beatings with a broom and reciting psalms every hour.
In an alleged incident, she said her head was shaved in an exorcism ceremony that took place near the sea.
Fighting back tears, Phoenix told Sky News: “It was pitch dark and (the religious leader) shaved my hair off and threw it in the ocean.
“I literally had no hair.
“When I went to school…I had this bandana…and I put it on my head.
“I would ask people to rip it out, run away, and be like, ‘Where did all your hair go? Where did all your hair go?’ »
“The accusation of witchcraft is something that ruins your life”
Phoenix said her mother was initially convinced by the religious leader’s claims that she was a witch and pleaded with her daughter, “Please release me. »
“I said, ‘Mum, if I had the powers I would set you free – I don’t have the powers,'” Phoenix told Sky News.
“Of course, it made me feel awful. »
Phoenix said she later discovered that her “confession”, where she was forced to admit she was a witch, was taped.
She believes this recording was used to convince others that she was involved in witchcraft.
Phoenix said it was a “huge relief” when her mother finally stopped believing the religious leader’s claims, but the alleged abuse had a lasting impact and “cut short” her modeling career as an adult.
“The witchcraft accusation is something that ruins your life for a long, long time,” Phoenix said.
“I would say it was something that ruined my life, stopped me from having friendships. I isolated myself for a very, very long time. »
Man accused of witchcraft as a child warns UK victims missing during pandemic
Phoenix said she was “extremely concerned” that the religious leader could still lead religious groups and she reported her allegations to Met Police in 2020.
However, detectives told him in December 2021 that there was “insufficient evidence” to press charges and the case was dropped.
Phoenix has now urged anyone who has experienced abuse related to beliefs in witchcraft to contact the police.
In a direct message to victims, she said: “I implore you if you are out there, any of you, if you have ever experienced this kind of stigma and this kind of witchcraft abuse, I implores you to please come forward and go to the police and report it, or if you know someone who confided in you.
“Because this thing is a virus – it’s a hidden virus that you don’t hear about. »
Victims of witchcraft abuse ‘beaten, burned and cut’
Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Center at Barnardo, expressed sympathy for Phoenix, saying her alleged ordeal would have been “a terrible thing for her to go through”.
He said he was aware of exorcisms in other cases where victims were beaten, burned and cut due to the belief that it would “create an opening” for an “evil spirit” to leave a body.
He also revealed that some victims had been subjected to “half-strangulation” where they were brought to the “point of near death”.
Mr Bartholomew told Sky News: “The idea is that you trick this evil spirit inside this child into telling him that he is going to die for the spirit to leave this body.
“The list can go on and on. »
Children killed in UK linked to beliefs in witchcraft
In November, it was announced that the Met Police would receive new training to spot signs of child abuse linked to beliefs in witchcraft, as they are often “missed or misdiagnosed”.
Such beliefs have previously been linked to the torture and murder of children in the UK, including eight-year-old Victoria Climbie in 2000 and 15-year-old Kristy Bamu in 2010.
Children’s charity Barnardo’s has raised concerns about a potential rise in cases during the coronavirus pandemic, warning that people contracting the virus could be branded witches by those with such beliefs.
The charity also said cases could have been missed when children were out of school during COVID shutdowns.
Who believes in witchcraft and who is targeted?
- Met Police say abuse linked to beliefs in witchcraft or spirit possession may involve ‘ritual or satanic abuse’
- The force warns that ‘significant harm’ can occur, including murder, due to efforts to ‘exorcise’ or ‘deliver’ harm from a vulnerable child or adult
- Examples have been recorded in various religions including Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.
- The latest figures show around 1,950 alleged child victims were identified by English counsel in 2018/19, a 34% increase on the previous year.
- The number of known cases suggests that only a small minority of people who believe in witchcraft or spirit possession continue to abuse children and adults, according to the Met Police
What did the Met Police say about the Phoenix case?
In response to the Phoenix case, a spokeswoman for the Met Police told Sky News: “In October 2020 we received a report of non-recent child cruelty that allegedly took place.
“Following a thorough investigation and based on all the evidence available to the officers, the decision was made that the case did not pass the evidentiary test and no further action was taken.
“The complainant has been fully uncovered. »