Rose McGowan: I Escaped a Cult

The actress says she was raised in a polygamist cult that mistreated women; she fled with her father and siblings when she was 9

Rose McGowan may be living a charmed life now, but her childhood was anything but lucky.

The actress, who starred in the TV series Charmed from 2001-2006, says she was raised by her parents in a Children of God sect that promoted polygamy and sex at an early age, according to this week's People (via Yahoo!).

She calls the group, which also banned newspapers and televisions to keep members in the dark about world events, a cult from which she escaped. "You were kept in the dark so you would obey," she says.

McGowan, 37, was born in Florence, Italy, and raised in the commune, where members focused on the second coming of Jesus Christ. The group is currently known by the name the Family International, and now prohibits sexual contact between adults and children.

McGowan describes her time with the group as pretty terrifying. "You weren't allowed to have imperfections," she explains, recalling one particularly harrowing incident. "I had a little wart on my thumb, and I remember walking down this hallway -- a door opened and some adult grabbed me and just cut it off with a razor blade and stuck me back out in the hallway with it still bleeding."

And, according to Rose, that incident is indicative of the way the male cult members treated the females. "At a very early age I decided I did not want to be like those women," McGowan recalls. "They were basically there to serve the men sexually -- you were allowed to have more than one wife."

When McGowan was 9, her father took Rose and her siblings and fled the cult, fearing his children might be sexually abused. According to McGowan, they escaping by running through a cornfield during a thunder and lightning storm, and even hid for a while in a stone house -- while a pursuer tried to break in with a hammer. (Sounds like something out of a horror movie!)

After escaping the cult, McGowan's father relocated his family to the United States. At age 13, McGowan ran away from home and was taken in by drag queens in Portland, Ore. But she has since mended fences with her family. McGowan says she grew close with her father, who died in 2008, after he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. And she's tight with her siblings, who she describes as "the most together, offbeat, funny, regular-ish people."

Justifiably proud of surviving what sounds like a harrowing upbringing, McGowan has moved on to become a successful actress, starring in films such as Scream, Grindhouse and this summer's Conan the Barbarian. While McGowan's future looks a lot brighter than her past, she knows things could have gone the other way.

"As strong as I like to think I've always been, I'm sure I could have been broken," she says. "I know I got out by the skin of my teeth."

As for the Family International, they've released a statement to, questioning the veracity of McGowan's statements. "Rose McGowan's stories are suspect at best and at times absurd, seemingly based on wild speculations and imperfect childhood memories, crafted for the sake of sensational publicity," the statement reads. "The usage of the label 'cult' in reference to the Family International (TFI) by the media is pejorative and discriminatory."

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