The Formula for Condemnation
Academics have studied the “atrocity story”—the testimony related by a former “cult” member (also known as an “apostate”), telling of their experience in their former group typically in the form of an expose—and have discovered they follow an identifiable pattern.
Stuart A. Wright, an American sociologist, author, and Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies and Research at Lamar University, asserts that the apostate narrative follows a predictable pattern, in which the apostate utilizes a “captivity narrative” that emphasizes manipulation, entrapment and being victims of “sinister cult practices”. He also writes that despite the popular literature and lurid media accounts of stories of “rescued or recovering ‘ex-cultists’”, empirical studies of defectors from NRMs “generally indicate favorable, sympathetic or at the very least mixed responses toward their former group.”
Bryan R. Wilson, Reader Emeritus of Sociology of the University of Oxford, says “Sociologists and other investigators into minority religions have thus come to recognize a particular constellation of motives that prompt apostates in the stance they adopt relative to their previous religious commitment and their more recent renunciation of it. The apostate needs to establish his credibility both with respect to his earlier conversion to a religious body and his subsequent relinquishment of that commitment. To vindicate himself in regard to his volte face requires a plausible explanation of both his (usually sudden) adherence to his erstwhile faith and his no less sudden abandonment and condemnation of it. Academics have come to recognize the ‘atrocity story’ as a distinctive genre of the apostate, and have even come to regard it as a recognizable category of phenomena [A.D. Shupe, Jr., and D. G. Bromley, "Apostates and Atrocity Stories", in B. Wilson (ed.), The Social Impact of New Religious Movements, New York, Rose of Sharon Press, 1981, pp. 179-215.]” 
Wilson states “The apostate is generally in need of self-justification. He seeks to reconstruct his own past, to excuse his former affiliations, and to blame those who were formerly his closest associates. Not uncommonly the apostate learns to rehearse an ‘atrocity story’ to explain how, by manipulation, trickery, coercion, or deceit, he was induced to join or to remain within an organization that he now forswears and condemns.”
“The apostate typically represents himself having been introduced to his former allegiance at a time when he was especially vulnerable—depressed, isolated, lacking social or financial support, alienated from his family, or some other such circumstance. His former associates are now depicted as having prevailed upon him by false claims, deceptions, promises of love, support, enhanced prospects, increased well-being, or the like. In fact, the apostate story proceeds, they were false friends, seeking only to exploit his goodwill, and extract from him long hours of work without pay, or whatever money or property he possessed.”
“Thus, the apostate presents himself as ‘a brand plucked from the burning’, as having been not responsible for his actions when he was inducted into his former religion, and as having ‘come to his senses’ when he left. Essentially, his message is that ‘given the situation, it could have happened to anyone’. They are entirely responsible and they act with malice aforethought against unsuspecting, innocent victims. By such a representation of the case, the apostate relocates responsibility for his earlier actions, and seeks to reintegrate with the wider society which he now seeks to influence, and perhaps to mobilize, against the religious group which he has lately abandoned.” Read Wilson’s full discussion from where these extracts have been taken.
The Validity of the Formula
Scholars such as David G. Bromley, Anson Shupe, and Brian R. Wilson challenge the testimonies of apostates, who crying the word “cult” with stories often so compelling and frightening are just accepted as true by society and the media without question. One can almost imagine a similar situation centuries ago when a disgruntled former affiliate could conduce a woman before the establishment by simply accusing her of being a “witch”, and immediately bring upon her a terrible stigma—being able to use a known effective social weapon even for their own personal ends.
Wilson found that hostile ex-members would invariably shade the truth and blow out of proportion minor incidents, turning them into major incidents. Bromley and Shupe discuss “captivity narratives” that depict the time in the group as involuntary and point out that the apostate is likely to present a caricature of his former group. Massimo Introvigne, president of CESNUR, found in his study of the New Acropolis in France, that public negative testimonies and attitudes were only voiced by a minority of the ex-members, who he describes as becoming “professional enemies” of the group they leave.
Wilson states “Neither the objective sociological researcher nor the court of law can readily regard the apostate as a creditable or reliable source of evidence. He must always be seen as one whose personal history predisposes him to bias with respect to both his previous religious commitment and affiliations, the suspicion must arise that he acts from a personal motivation to vindicate himself and to regain his self-esteem, by showing himself to have been first a victim but subsequently to have become a redeemed crusader.” 
“Others may ask, if the group is as transparently evil as he now contends, why did he espouse its cause in the first place? In the process of trying to explain his own seduction and to confirm the worst fears about the group, the apostate is likely to paint a caricature of the group that is shaped more by his current role as apostate than by his actual experience in the group”—David G. Bromley, Anson D. Shupe, Jr. and J.C. Ventimiglia, “The Role of Anecdotal Atrocities in the Social Construction of Evil,” in Bromley and Richardson, Brainwashing Deprogramming Controversy, p. 156
In a 1997 interview with Time Magazine, Gordon Melton (a research specialist with the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California) asserts that anti-cult figures give too much credence to the horror stories of “hostile” former cult members, which he says is “like trying to get a picture of marriage from someone who has gone through a bad divorce.” 
1. Wikipedia’s page on Cults: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult
2. Wilson, Bryan R. (1994). Apostates and New Religious Movements. Oxford, England, UK.
3. Wilson, Bryan R. (1992). The Social Dimensions of Secretarianism: Sects and New Religious Movements in Contemporary Society. USA: Oxford University Press. p.19. ISBN-13: 978-0198278832.
4. Bonfante, Jordan (1997). ‘Apologist’ Versus ‘Alarmist’. Santa Barbara, USA. Time Magazine Vol. 149 No. 4: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/1997/int/970127/religion.apologist.html