Universal Medicine founder Serge Isaac Benhayon with daughter Natalie at the Supreme Court in Sydney, September 5, 2018. Serge Benhayon unsuccessfully sued Esther Rockett for defamation.
Universal Medicine founder Serge Isaac Benhayon with daughter Natalie at the Supreme Court in Sydney, September 5, 2018. Serge Benhayon unsuccessfully sued Esther Rockett for defamation. AAP

'Lynch mob mentality' forced cancellation of UM-linked event

A NORTHERN Rivers festival that's been criticised for its affiliation with Universal Medicine has been axed.

The Girl to Woman Festival was slated to return to the Lennox Community Centre on January 20.

But on the eve of a Ballina Shire Council meeting which could have banned the event from council venues, organisers announced the event would not go ahead.

Organisers previously confirmed the event - which purports to be empowering for girls and young women - is "primarily run" by Esoteric Women's Health, an organisation which "openly cites Universal Medicine's extensive teachings on health and wellbeing as a foundational inspiration", but said UM was "not the organiser".

Serge Benhayon - who founded the Goonellabah-based "complementary health" business - last month unsuccessfully sued his former client Esther Rockett for defamation, in which the jury found UM was a "socially harmful cult" and that Mr Benhayon "engages in inappropriate conduct towards women", "is guilty of inappropriate behaviour with children" and "is not a fit person to hold a Working with Children Certificate".

The Girl to Woman committee has not responded to a request for comment but on their website, said they were "initiating a new era for Girl to Woman from 2019 onwards".

"This means, for now, a conclusion of our unique festival," they said.

Earlier this month, they claimed "false information" circulating online had incited "a lynch mob mentality" against the event.

"In one instance, a male who saw pictures of a local market stall promoting the G2W festival on social media, threatened to come down to the market and "make a scene"," they said.

"He was encouraged to do so by the owner of the Facebook page.

"On the same day, a man was spotted taking photos of the G2W stall including photographing minors without their consent."

They said of those who volunteered at the festival, many were "also students of Universal Medicine".

"That the festival is being attacked on social media on the basis that its volunteers are Universal Medicine students is akin to a fete or festival being attacked on the basis that volunteers are Catholic or Buddhist," they said.

Ballina Shire councillors will tomorrow consider a motion, put forward by Cr Keith Williams and deputy mayor Nathan Willis, which seeks to allow staff to "suspend access to the hiring of council facilities for Universal Medicine" and amend its Child Protection Policy and Statement of Business Ethics, in response to the recent civil court case.

At the time of printing, more than 1000 people had signed a change.org petition to have the festival turned away from the Lennox Community Centre.

A Northern Rivers woman who took her daughter to the festival in the past told The Northern Star the "whole tone of the day" was "in the same language" as promotional content on UM's website.

"It is, at the very least, heavily influenced by them," she said.

She welcomed the councillors' notice of motion.

"We think it's fantastic that Cr Williams is standing up and saying this," she said.

Despite organisers' insistence UM does not organiser the Girl to Woman Festival, she said patrons had the right to be aware of the connection to UM ideologies.

"If you asked any questions about who was behind it they'd increasingly become aggressive.

"People want to be able to choose whether they go... to know, so you can make the decision.

She said the festival also focused heavily on girls' "outer appearance", with makeup, nail painting and hair grooming involved on the day.

"There's nothing wrong with those things but that's what the big focus seemed to be on," she said.

"I don't think that's empowering for girls, really."

In their statement, festival organisers thanked those who'd been involved with the event.

"For the past five years volunteers from across Australia have collaborated to offer a rich and unique festival that inspires and celebrates girls and women of all ages," they said.

"In a world in which inequality is still rife, the festival brought a different flavour to the table - a festival in which fathers, brothers, mothers and grandparents shared an equal celebration and appreciation for the girls and young women in their lives.

"The festival may no longer be, but The Girl to Woman inspired initiative will remain as strong as ever in the hearts and lives of the people who were involved in all it had to offer."

Serge Benhayon has also been approached for comment.