“The Program: cults, lies and kidnappings”, on Netflix: story of a lucrative teenage crushing machine


The close-ups are reminiscent of the urbex, that leisure activity consisting of visiting disused buildings: a group of young people armed with flashlights walk through hastily abandoned places, where furniture and documents are still scattered. But they do not discover Ivy Ridge, on the contrary: all of them were forcibly placed in this establishment in upstate New York, by their parents, when they were teenagers. And they all lived a nightmare that lasted several months, even years.

Through their testimonies and hundreds of documents discovered on site, director Katherine Kubler, herself literally kidnapped – with the consent of her parents – and forcibly sent to the scene, analyzes the perverse methods and brutality of those responsible for this establishment who are supposed to return. -educate disruptive adolescents by “modifying their behavior”: total isolation, rules as drastic as they are absurd, deprivation of food, sleep, physical and verbal violence… And use of psychological techniques related to brainwashing, similar to those used for “Conversion therapy” inflicted on homosexual teenagers.

Regularly, the almost five hundred residents of Ivy Ridge are subjected to “seminars” that they must complete in order to escape from this prison. Placed in sensory isolation, unable to sleep or eat, they must, for example, repeat the same phrases and gestures for an entire day, hit themselves on the floor with a rolled towel while screaming for hours, write “confessions” about their “bad things.” behavior”, participating in humiliating dances in front of others, incited to stigmatize the victim of the day.

Speech with sectarian overtones

In addition to these methods, several stories mention sexual violence by establishment officials. The testimonies of the survivors, all lastingly traumatized, supported by images taken by video surveillance cameras, are as effective as they are chilling.

Over the course of three episodes, according to a familiar breakdown of the docu-series. true crime From Netflix, the focal length is expanded. In addition to Ivy Ridge, there is an entire lucrative network of similar establishments run by the World Association of Specialized Schools and Programs (WWASP) in the United States, Mexico, and as far away as Jamaica and the Czech Republic.

Read the story (2006): The Lost Boys of the Bay of Tranquility

Nearly 25,000 adolescents were subjected to the same abuse over a decade, with the consent of families deceived by a discourse with sectarian overtones. The “genius” of WWASP founder Robert Lichfield, a Republican activist from a Mormon family in Utah, consists of using the parents themselves as recruiters: families get reductions in the cost of the stay if they convince other parents to send your child to Ivy Ridge or another WWASP branch.

It took a teen riot in 2005, put down by local police, to lift some of the veil surrounding Ivy Ridge. The facility will eventually close in 2009. But, despite various legal actions, WWASP still exists, as do many other “programs” of the same type.

The Program: sects, lies and kidnappings, yesDocumentary series in 3 episodes by Katherine Kubler, with Janja Lalich, Maia Szalavitz (EU, 2024, 3 × 62 min).

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