What is a cult / high-demand group?
The term "cult" evokes images of crazy people drinking Kool-Aid. However, most cults/ high-demand groups these days are highly sophisticated, with covers like yoga studios, non-profit
organizations, or life skill coaching. They blend in, and the larger ones often have lawyers to fight anybody who threatens to expose them.
Many members live at home, since communities tend to draw attention, but there are still old fashioned cults, where members give up everything and move to a secluded area. Those are easier to spot, but not any easier to leave.
People that get recruited by cults are often very intelligent and highly idealistic. Nobody "joins" a cult, since nobody is told beforehand that they will be exploited. Members are typically
pressured, manipulated, terrorized, and often sexually exploited - usually under the pretense of personal growth.
The biggest difference between a religious group or an exercise class, for example and a cult, is the degree to which the outward goal (get your butt into shape) actually corresponds with what is realistically happening (getting fit while paying someone money for teaching you
how to get fit). In contrast, a cult experience may start as meeting a group to jump around for an hour. There may be pressure to keep coming back and cruel tactics to make one feel guilty or special. Then the experience transforms into handing over a bank account and moving to Brazil.
Cult (totalist type):
A group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g. isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc.), designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community. (West & Langone, 1986, pp. 119-120)