Ashleigh Freckleton said she had just turned 25 and was living in London in 2018 when a "charismatic" friend encouraged her to join a yoga school in Romania

Ashleigh Freckleton
Credit: Ashleigh Freckleton/instagram

Three years prior to joining the current season of The Bachelor Australia, Ashleigh Freckleton says she escaped a cult.

Freckleton had just turned 25 and was living in London in 2018 when she considered relocating to India to study yoga, she told Australian news outlet Mamamia. Instead, a "charismatic" friend recommended a European-based yoga school.

"Eventually, he said, 'Look, rather than going to India, come to Romania and live for a month amongst all the yogis. It's one of the only true schools that teaches real yoga with a real guide,' " the 28-year-old recalled.

A few months later, Freckleton was off to Romania. When she arrived, she said she was forced to vow that she wouldn't speak of what happened in the program before undressing and confessing her devotion to the leader of the school (who is referred to only as Him).

Freckleton told Mamamia that her body was "screaming" the situation felt wrong, but she couldn't bring herself to leave.

"Even though my body's telling me this is wrong, I'm shaming myself thinking, 'It's your ego. You need to spiritually evolve. You've got to push through, keep going,' " she said.

Over the course of the next few months, Freckleton said that, along with spirituality training, she was subjected to lessons around Freemasonry propaganda, conspiracy theories, and anti-vaccine rhetoric.

The group was often expected to perform sexual acts with each other and view pornography, she added.

At the end of the program, Frecklton was flown to Paris, where she was expected to engage in sexual activity with the program leader, she told Mamamia. She refused.

"They promised the whole world at your feet, if you go through with the initiation," she said. "And they say that if a woman gets the opportunity and she says no, then she is stubborn, stupid, superficial."

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Frecklton added, "I felt like I was losing touch with reality. It felt like [the leader's] claws were grabbing my brain and like pulling it out from underneath me. I had to write letters to myself in my diary and tell myself to stay lucid, because I was so afraid."

Once she refused to participate in the final "ritual," Freckleton said she spent days negotiating her way out of the program.

"It took months after coming home to Australia to really understand what had happened," she explained.

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Since then, Freckleton said she's managed to open up about her experience to her family as well, and she has been diagnosed with PTSD.

She's chosen to speak publicly now, because she wants to raise awareness about cult groups and the tactics they use to encourage people to join, she told Mamamia.

"The people that join [a cult], they have very positive and good intentions, and they're exploited," Freckleton said.

She added that she's grateful for her family for acting as a strong support system as she navigates her life since she's escaped. "People that don't have that in their lives, they end up in there and they don't ever leave," she said.

Freckleton was sent home last week by the current Australian Bachelor, Jimmy Nicholson. The season is airing on Network 10.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 connected to a certified crisis counselor.