Victim of sexual abuse by “cult” leader James Gino Salerno tells Adelaide court of trauma

Woman sexually assaulted by “cult” leader when she was a girl told court in Adelaide that she felt like “a piece of meat just for her pleasure” and that she had to serve the “god” From the group, or she would be punished.

James Gino Salerno, 76, was found guilty by district court of six counts of illegal sex against a girl almost two decades ago on a property in the Adelaide Hills.

Salerno, often referred to as Taipan, was the “revered leader” of a group called the Ideal Human Environment.

During sentencing submissions, the victim – who cannot be identified – told the court it took her nine years not to be afraid of Salerno or the group to report the case to the police.

She said the group made her feel “brainwashed, belittled and isolated” and that she still feared the repercussions.

“I felt like everyone was too scared of you, Taipan, to do anything to help me,” she told the court.

“Your words kept going through my head ‘no one would believe me’.

“You made me feel worthless, like nobody cared about me, and that I was alone, a piece of meat just for their pleasure.

“I felt worried, anxious, scared and afraid of the possible repercussions of the cult, for I had been subject to – and witnessed – what the members were capable of through physical, mental and emotional abuse… because that I had had their leader, their God, arrested. “

Ahead of the Salerno District Court trial in October, the court agreed to use the term group instead of worship.

During the trial, the court heard that the group was based on a historic property in the Adelaide Hills that was once the home of the Downer family.

The group also spent time between states, most notably at the El Questro Cattle station in northern Western Australia.

The group lived in the historic Arbury Park mansion in Aldgate.(ABC News)

Some of the women in the group should have taken care of Salerno’s personal needs, including doing his laundry, running his bath, giving him massages and painting his nails.

During her victim impact statement, the victim told the court that she was not allowed to have friends outside of the “cult” and that she had to have a chaperone whenever she left the group. .

She said that she needed permission from Salerno to find a job, that she could only work on her terms and that she had to return all the money she had earned to him.

“I had to reduce the shifts and Taipan and other senior members told me over and over again that I am not 100% focused on you and that humans are never put on earth except to serve you, ”she told the court.

She said she was also subjected to corporal punishment, including going days without food, doing extra household chores or being forced to sleep outside in the cold without a mattress or blanket.

The victim said that once she left the group, she had a limited support network and was forced to have a secret relationship with her mother because she was not allowed to communicate in under the rules of the group.

“It made me feel horrible and I feared that if my mother got caught communicating with me she would be physically punished,” she told the court.

Salerno was first arrested in November 2015 and spent more than a year in detention after his conviction in 2019, but was later released on appeal.

He was returned to detention after being found guilty after his retrial.

The victim told the court that she was harassed and sent threatening letters from current members of the group, who even showed up at her workplace.

“I was very afraid that they would send some of the big people of the cult…

“I felt so violated and damaged, my dignity and innocence had been stolen from me.”

Salerno “deserves a lenient sentence”

Salerno lawyer Michael Edwardson QC told the court his client was highly regarded in his community and should not be condemned for the way “he lived his life”.

“The reality is that the extended family… has dedicated their or their life to a better way of life and, in many cases, to helping other people with alcohol or drug addiction and supporting Indigenous communities to across the country, ”Edwardson QC told the researcher.

He said Salerno deserved a lenient sentence given his age – meaning “he could die in custody” – and the media coverage of his offense, which would make his time in prison more difficult.

James Gino Salerno sitting on a chair
The court heard that James Gino Salerno was the “revered leader” of a group called the Ideal Human Environment.(ABC News)

“The way it’s been written from day one is that this is some sort of cult that has somehow involved or complicit in sexual misconduct,” said Mr. Edwardson QC in court.

“It makes him even more vulnerable because the world at large – including the prison population – sees him as some sort of sex cult figure and that is just not true.”

But prosecutor Patrick Hill said it was all speculation and his preparation of the victim was “calculated” and constituted a significant breach of trust.

“As the revered leader of this group that lives so closely together, we believe he effectively replaced his parents as the person who was ultimately in charge and responsible for her,” he said. .

“He cultivated a position where he had unlimited access to her.”

Salerno will be sentenced next month.

He is also appealing his conviction.

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