Trial told of 'bizarre sexual manipulation' tweet
By Sam McKeith
A BLOGGER has told the NSW Supreme Court she stands by a social media post claiming "bizarre sexual manipulation” at Lismore-based Universal Medicine.
Esther Rockett, a blogger and acupuncturist, on Friday defended the tweet at a defamation action under way in Sydney against her by Universal Medicine founder Serge Benhayon.
Spiritual healer Mr Benhayon, 54, claims Ms Rockett defamed him in a blog and in a series of tweets, including allegedly painting him as a cult leader and sexual predator.
Ms Rockett, a one-time client of Mr Benhayon, is defending the claims at the four-person jury trial on the basis of truth and honest opinion.
On Friday, Ms Rockett said screenshots from the group's manuals, including a "deeper femaleness” image, supported her use of the phrase "bizarre sexual manipulation”.
In re-examination by her barrister Tom Molomby, QC, Ms Rockett described "deeper femaleness” as a "hands on” healing technique for rape.
"To me that's pretty bizarre and perverse,” Ms Rockett said.
She was asked to explain why she mentioned convicted sex offender Rolf Harris on her blog.
Ms Rockett said, as in the case of Harris, it could "take decades” for victims of Universal Medicine to come forward.
"This was a story that was very prominent in the media at the time,” she added.
Regarding her claim that "hypnotic techniques” were used by the group, Ms Rockett said people had told her Universal Medicine followers appeared "spaced out”, "uncommunicative”, or in a "strange state”.
In his evidence, former Universal Medicine client Lance Martin told the court he believed the group was a "relationship killer”.
Mr Martin, a defence witness, said "alarm bells” rang after his partner, whom he separated from in April 2012, enrolled in an "esoteric acupuncture” course and became increasingly "obsessed” with the group.
It was like "someone else was occupying” his partner after she "massively increased” her involvement with Universal Medicine, including attending a workshop in Vietnam, Mr Martin said.
He said he noticed her diet "changed drastically”, Universal Medicine music "on loop” at home and Leonardo da Vinci prints "all over the walls”.
"I remember thinking ... 'What a load of rubbish'.”
Also on Friday, John Dwyer, a medical expert, gave evidence that a month after being approached by Ms Rockett he published an article critical of Universal Medicine on The Conversation website in May 2018.
In cross-examination, Professor Dwyer, of the Friends of Science In Medicine group, agreed that he was concerned about dangers posed by "pseudo-scientific” complementary therapies like Universal Medicine.
"It's a fraction of the problem,” he told the plaintiff's barrister Kieran Smark, SC.
The trial continues before Justice Julia Lonergan.