By the time Felicity Bourke found herself locked in a metal cage wearing a stainless-steel slave collar, she felt she had no way to escape the control of James Davis, the man she had been trained to call “master”.
Warning: This story contains descriptions of extreme violence and sexual abuse that may disturb some readers.
It came after months of psychological manipulation, coercive control and repeated physical and sexual violence perpetrated by Davis, a 40-year-old former Australian Army soldier.
Last week, Davis was arrested by Australian Federal Police officers and charged with slavery and servitude offences.
James Davis has been accused of being a cult leader.(Supplied
It can now be revealed that the AFP moved in on Davis after Four Corners and ABC Investigations provided information gathered during a five-month-long investigation.
Hundreds of photographs, videos and documents, along with information from more than two dozen women, paint a disturbing and dark picture of his violent behaviour.
Davis has a history of physically and sexually abusing women, particularly young, vulnerable teenagers who he has targeted through social media.
Until his arrest, Davis had been living with six women he calls his “slaves” on an isolated rural property in regional New South Wales. The women have previously said they chose to be with him of their own free will.
His former partner Felicity told those around her the same thing, even while she suffered years of extreme physical violence and sexual abuse at his hands.
“I’ve hidden it and been ashamed of it for so long,” she told Four Corners.
“He’s taken away all my rights as a person and my ability to live on my own. I was afraid he was going to kill me.”
She believes sharing her story could encourage others to come forward.
“I always have thought about how those other girls feel and when you’re in that position, all your power is taken away from you. It’s really hard to get out,” Felicity said.
“There is no other description, I think, that you could come up with that describes what he’s got now [other than] as a cult.”
James Davis with the six women he calls his slaves.(Supplied
Davis regularly told his followers on social media he was simply living an alternative lifestyle with multiple partners.
The women who have escaped his orbit tell a very different story.
Many described a cult-like environment controlled by Davis and a group of followers, who held drug and alcohol-fuelled sex parties around New South Wales where young women were pressured into sexual activity and subjected to physical violence.
Felicity explained it took her years to realise she was a victim because of the extent of the psychological manipulation she was subjected to.
Despite multiple complaints about Davis to state and federal authorities, he continued to act with impunity for years, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.
Felicity now wants him to face justice.
“I know what he truly is. And he’s a dangerous, dangerous man.”
A template for abuse
Felicity Bourke was 21 when she moved from regional New South Wales to Sydney in 2012.
She was studying to become a police officer when she met Davis.
A decade older than Felicity, Davis was tall, heavily tattooed and physically intimidating. Her parents remember he was openly controlling, misogynistic and fixated on men’s rights.
“When I actually met him I found him to be incredibly condescending, he was rude, he was attention-seeking,” Felicity’s mother Dianne Bourke recalled.
She said Davis wasn’t hiding that he was controlling and in charge of Felicity.
“I remember saying to my husband, ‘We’re in really big trouble here. This guy is really dangerous.'”
Felicity’s mother Dianne Bourke saw red flags when she met James Davis.(Four Corners
Davis quickly moved to sever ties between Felicity and her family. He also began physically assaulting her.
“We were probably together about four months when I remember him punching me in the face in a street,” Felicity said.
“And he was like, ‘If I can do this here, where everyone can see, imagine what I can do to you at home.’
“It used to escalate quite quickly when I had an opinion.”
The physical violence was also accompanied by psychological manipulation.
Davis presented her with a contract to sign which pledged “submission and servitude” to him.
The abuse was explained to her by Davis as being part of a BDSM master/slave relationship.
BDSM is sexual activity that involves bondage, discipline or domination, sadism or submission.
She was told her beatings were “punishment” for “dropping out of slave headspace” or failing to follow his increasing list of demands which included cooking, cleaning and sex.
“My whole life with him was about controlling. it was about completely having a power over me,” Felicity said.
“His whole goal, I think, was to have me as a slave.
Felicity said she lived in a violent relationship with James Davis for three years.(Supplied
Six months into the relationship, Davis began forcing Felicity to keep detailed daily journal entries for him.
The hundreds of pages handwritten between 2012 and 2015 outline the shocking extent of his abuse and coercive control.
“He could get into my head, he’d know everything about me,” Felicity explained.
Diary entries show Felicity was repeatedly caned until she passed out from pain, was hit in the head multiple times, slapped and choked.
Felicity Bourke kept detailed journals during her relationship with James Davis.(Four Corners: Jack Fisher
She was also physically restrained on several occasions.
“I’ve been chained to the dining room table, around my ankle. And he used to have a cage which used to be used as punishment.”
Felicity said she thought the longest she was kept in the cage was three days.
Tattooed with a slave number
As well as abusing Felicity in private, Davis wanted visible symbols of his control and ownership of her for others to see.
She was told to wear a stainless-steel collar, and Davis arranged for her to get a tattoo of a “slave number” that had been assigned to her.
“He booked it in and took me in and chose the spot and got it on big, dark, thick, black letters down my inner thigh, kind of on my undie line.”
“Very hard to cover up, very thick, very black, very noticeable, and it’s eight or nine numbers.”
Years later, Felicity decided to have her slave tattoo altered.(Supplied
She has since had it tattooed over.
Davis sought to control every aspect of Felicity’s life. He told her what to wear, when she could eat and when she could use the bathroom. He monitored who she spoke to and controlled all the finances in the house.
He also instructed her to become a sex worker.
“I remember just being dressed up and walking in with him and him dropping me off. And then I was a sex worker. That was it. He just took me in and told me where I’d be working.”
James Davis was a decade older than Felicity.
She said she gave Davis the money she earned.
Felicity’s parents had no idea of the extent of the abuse she was enduring, but became so worried at one point that they discussed kidnapping her.
“I was begging for help,” her mother Dianne said.
“It was very difficult because she was an adult, and she wasn’t asking for help either.”
After several attempts to leave the relationship, Felicity left Davis in 2015 after she found sexual photos of women and girls she believed to be 15 or 16 years old on his iPad.
“When I confronted him he beat the living hell out of me. He locked me in a room for about 12 hours,” Felicity said.
She was homeless for eight months after that.
“I felt like he was around every corner. I knew that in his eyes, at that point, I felt like his little prized possession, that he’d put so much and invested so much into me, that he was going to kill me,” she said.
A trail of destruction
Before Felicity managed to escape his control, Davis had already been actively seeking out multiple new partners.
He built a following online, promoting himself as a BDSM “master” and a fetish photographer. He offered to help young women with modelling careers. He was also attending BDSM parties in Sydney.
Sexual assault support services:
Women in the BDSM scene warned newcomers to stay away from him. He was ultimately banned from events after multiple women complained he randomly physically assaulted them in front of other people.
One of the women told Four Corners Davis targeted teenagers.
“He would lure them in straight away at these gatherings,” she said, but explained, “the problem is we never found out what happened. A lot of the time they just disappeared”.
In 2015, Davis met a year 10 student from Sydney through a fetish website.
In a video posted online, she said their relationship started after Davis offered to take naked photos of her when she was 16.
Before her 17th birthday, she was also assigned a “slave number” like Felicity had been. She too started wearing a collar as a sign of his ownership over her.
Davis later boasted of attending the girl’s high school speech night, and posted photos of her going to her school formal.
The teenager (right) standing with another woman Davis also called his slave. Both are shown wearing steel collars as a sign of his ownership of them.(Four Corners
By that time, she was being advertised as a sex worker, available to be booked with other “slaves” who lived with Davis. Her escort profile highlighted she was a “teenage girl” still studying her HSC.
Davis was a prolific online writer, publishing dozens of lengthy posts on fetish websites describing his philosophy on “psychologically conditioning” his slaves “to be 100% dependant [sic]”.
He wrote about finding women willing to be “subjected to the abuses and traumas of the Stockholm syndrome like [sic] effects of enslavement” and described a “death protocol” which involved passing the “ownership” of his slaves to other men if he should die.
Rick Ross has spent decades assisting survivors of brainwashing, as a cult expert and deprogrammer, and believes Davis is running an authoritarian, destructive cult.
One of the ‘slaves’ posted about the “renewal” of her slave contract by James Davis.(Supplied
“I think for him to say that this is just some kind of mutually consensual arrangement is negating the facts,” he said.
Mr Ross told Four Corners destructive cults had three main characteristics.
“One is an all-powerful leader who becomes an object of worship, who is a virtual dictator over the members of the group,” he said.
“The second characteristic is that there is an indoctrination process that is used to gain undue influence over the members of the group.
“And then, finally, the third characteristic is that the leader uses undue influence to exploit and do harm to the members of the group or even to society at large.”
He said it was rare for people in a cult to understand the level of control they were under.
“It’s a terrible thing, but for the women that are caught up in that bubble that he controls, it’s very hard for them to determine what the kind of reality is that they’re living in,” he said.
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Davis sets up ‘slave’ house
By 2018, Davis had four women living with him whom he treated like slaves. He moved them from Sydney to a suburban house in the regional New South Wales city of Armidale.
Hundreds of kilometres from family and friends, he demanded control over almost every aspect of the women’s lives.
James Davis pictured outside the Armidale house with the women he calls his slaves.(indiegogo
Davis revealed on social media that the women were required to submit to him by calling him master, make journal entries daily, and ask for permission to eat and go to the bathroom.
“Cult leaders use such tactics as social isolation, control of communication, cutting people off from their family, their old friends, controlling their time, hour by hour, day by day. In a way they create a bubble,” Mr Ross explained.
Each of the women participated in a number of elaborate ceremonies that were professionally photographed and shared online by Davis and his followers.
The women signed contracts of enslavement and had steel collars locked to their necks.
Most became engaged to Davis and were “married” to him in fake wedding ceremonies.
James Davis held fake wedding ceremonies with his ‘slaves’.(Supplied
“What Davis is doing through all of these rituals and these events is constantly instilling in his targeted women the feeling that they must subordinate everything to him, to his system,” Mr Ross said.
In late 2018, Davis recruited another teenage girl to join the so-called family.
She was a 17-year-old high school student from Sydney with a history of mental illness.
On the day after she got out of hospital, Davis moved her straight to Armidale against the wishes of her family, according to a former cult member who spoke to Four Corners.
Davis spoke about the young woman moving in with him on social media in 2019, describing it as a “try before you buy” situation.
By the time she turned 18, the teenager was also being advertised as a sex worker along with other women living with Davis. They travelled to Sydney and interstate on sex-work tours.
She later appeared in incest-themed sexual videos sold online by Davis.
A teenager living with James Davis.(Supplied
Professor Felicity Gerry QC, a criminal barrister who specialises in sexual abuse and human trafficking, said modern slavery was not well understood and encompassed many forms of exploitation, including servitude.
“Where you might have women who enter into a relationship within a house that is subject to a contract that then very quickly go on to carry out some form of sex work, there may be a pattern of behaviour that is sufficient to support an accusation of slavery, servitude, trafficking, all types of coercion,” she said.
“It’s not a defence to consent to modern slavery or human trafficking. You can’t agree to be a slave. You can’t agree to be trafficked.
“Human trafficking, modern slavery can be very complex. You can have people who have no concept that they’re being trafficked, they’ve been deceived into being trafficked. And they live in those circumstances for a very long time.”
Davis used social media to promote his profile on a subscription pornography site where he posted videos of degrading sex acts and extreme violence involving the women who lived with him and others.
Sex worker advocate Lucy Price was shown some of the videos, as well as even more graphic content that wasn’t shared publicly.
“I have been in the industry for a long time. I’ve seen a lot. I have never seen actually anything like this. It was actually so horrific that I still to this day, if I get a flashback of that, it’s horrific,” she said with a shudder.
“I’ve never even seen a grown man, even in a movie, punch someone with that severity, yet alone a young girl that he was having sex with. It was actually that extreme.”
Ms Price was so worried she messaged one of the women living at the Armidale house.
She explained she had seen a disturbing video of Davis repeatedly punching a woman in the face.
One of the women living with Davis responded that everything he did was consensual.
“We ensure that each person has autonomous, enthusiastic and informed consent,” she replied.
Ms Price was shocked at the response.
“Absolutely there’s no way, no-one would consent to being smashed in the head that violently, to the point where your head is like jolted. I don’t even know if she was even completely responsive,” she said.
Davis was ‘franchising’ his abuse system to other men
Four Corners can also reveal Davis had a group of like-minded men who he was training to subjugate women.
The group used social media to recruit more female followers.
Cult expert Mr Ross said Davis appeared to be trying to “franchise” his sex cult.
“It seems to me that what Davis is doing is he’s trying to organise and structure a group that you could see as a kind of pyramid scheme of authority, with him at the top,” he said.
“So these men, I suspect, that he would train, would see him as a mentor and a leader. And it could be seen as a kind of franchising of his way of manipulating women, with him as the key leader at the top.”
Davis’s closest confidant and right-hand man was Joshua Clinch. He posted on social media about Davis’s mentorship and boasted of his plans to set up his own slave house.
Joshua Clinch has been described as James Davis’s right-hand man.(Supplied
“Jimmy informed me the last time I saw him that my mentorship is coming to an end, which I take with a great deal of pride that he thinks I’m ready to branch out on my own, that he believes his mentorship with me is finished,” he said.
“We’re looking at expanding to a new house within Sydney, definitely not the inner west or anywhere like that. It’s going to be somewhere a little bit cheaper.”
Four Corners spoke to one woman Clinch tried to recruit to join a “chateau of submissive women in western Sydney” in late 2019.
Another young woman, 18-year-old Tiffany* from Sydney, was contacted by Clinch on social media.
Like many of those that Davis and his followers targeted, Tiffany was extremely vulnerable, struggling with a history of trauma and mental health issues.
“They followed me on Instagram, so I followed them back and I’m watching their posts. And they said they were in Sydney, so I said I’d go and meet up with them. I went to a bar… I kind of got sucked in.”
Tiffany was quickly indoctrinated into the group’s murky world of BDSM sex parties, drugs, alcohol and violence. She signed a contract to become Joshua Clinch’s “submissive”.
“The contract states that you don’t get a say in anything,” she said.
“You’re not allowed to do anything without asking permission first, even if you’re at work, you have to ask, ‘Oh, can I go to the bathroom?’
“I was just stuck and there was nothing I could do because I thought that, you know, if I left, there’d be consequences and they knew my family, so they could blackmail me.”
She said she felt pressured into withstanding increasing levels of sexual violence.
Tiffany described being injured at one sex party held at Davis’s Armidale house.
“There were some girls that, it was their first time as well. James [Davis] would force them to have oral sex with him. They were hitting people,” she said.
“Everyone was really, really drunk. I got hit really hard, right where my kidneys are. So it caused me to pee blood for a couple of days.
“You couldn’t really say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ because the men were just adamant that, “No, no, we’re OK.’ Even as they do that.”
Another woman told Four Corners at a different sex party that Davis repeatedly hit her so hard in the face during during oral sex that she thought she was going to lose consciousness and had a black eye for over a week.
Tiffany worked as “staff” at other sex parties. At one, she was chained by the neck to one of Davis’s slaves and was required to help blindfolded women who she said were shocked and distressed.
James Davis appears to have been trying to franchise his cult and train other men to subjugate women.(Supplied
At the event, women were numbered with a thick black marker, blindfolded and led out to a room full of men.
“They would get a bunch of women like 10 women then they’d get about 20 guys that were all James’s friends,” Tiffany said.
“The women, were called by numbers. They didn’t have names.
“They obviously didn’t know who anyone was, they didn’t know if protection was being used they were told to just take it.”
Like many of the women in the group, Tiffany was told to quit her job and become a sex worker.
Tiffany said Clinch would keep the money she earned from sex work in a safe, and she would have to ask to access it.
Cult moved to more isolated rural location
Earlier this year, Davis moved with his six partners to a more isolated rural location outside of Armidale.
He has spoken openly about his plans to have children with all of the women.
In recent weeks, he shared photos of the women on a property with farm animals and a photo of the youngest woman aiming a rifle.
A teenager who lives with James Davis, aiming a rifle.(Supplied.
“When a leader begins to lean towards gathering weapons and stockpiling weapons, there is this sense of ‘well, what is he planning?’ Is he planning to weaponise his followers to do whatever he wants to retaliate against whoever he targets? That’s the concern,” said Mr Ross.
“The trajectory of a situation like this is ominous. I mean, he has the power virtually of life and death over these women. He has broken them down to where they have no will of their own, and where they’ve subordinated everything to him. And so whatever madness consumes him will ultimately affect them.”
Davis appeared confident he had nothing to fear from the law.
In a video posted to social media, he said: “We don’t break the law. A lot of people may not like things that we do. People might think that things we do are wrong or immoral towards their own moral code. But we don’t break the law. We try and stay on the right side of the law. Therefore, go to the police, what do you want?”
Davis’s slaves are now living on a remote property.(Supplied
Mr Ross said in many cases it took a survivor to go public before cults could be stopped.
“By going public, you may bring the authorities into the picture where they say, ‘Look, he has committed some crimes that we could investigate and we will investigate because this has become a public concern,'” he said.
Some of the women stayed in cabins on the rural property.(Supplied: Australian Federal Police
Four Corners prompted AFP investigation into Davis
Four Corners has learned numerous reports about Davis have been made to state and federal authorities over several years.
When the program approached NSW Police and the AFP last month, both said they were not investigating Davis.
The AFP’s human trafficking unit has since launched an investigation based on information provided to it by Four Corners.
Multiple cabins were found on the rural property.(Supplied: Australian Federal Police
AFP Detective Superintendent Paula Hudson said one of the key challenges for police when investigating and prosecuting human trafficking and slavery offences was that often the victims did not recognise at the time that they were under those conditions.
“Without having the victim, we are unable to most often than not have a prosecution take place,” she said.
“We are appealing for members of the Australian community to come forward. Potential victims, witnesses, anybody that is impacted by human trafficking and slavery, and in particular with this matter, please come forward to the AFP.
“We are here to help. There is a way out of these terrible situations. The AFP has dedicated investigators in this unit, who are specialised, they are compassionate, and they will deal with your matter with your wellbeing first and foremost.”
James Davis does professional photoshoots with his slaves.(Supplied
Felicity is still struggling from the years of violent abuse she suffered at Davis’s hands.
She wants to see him brought to justice.
“He is not the ultimate, he’s not a god, he cannot walk through this life doing as he pleases to women and getting away with it,” she said.
“I think having the opportunity to be able to talk about my experiences could potentially help other girls in that situation to be able to escape.”
Police arrested Davis last week after he left his rural property to go to a hardware store with the youngest woman who lived with him.
The AFP raided the property where James Davis lived with the women.(Supplied: Australian Federal Police
Davis has been charged with slavery and servitude offences that police allege occurred between 2013 and 2015.
He did not apply for bail.
Superintendent Hudson has issued a plea to the broader public.
“Look a little deeper, look in your communities, your neighbourhoods, your backyards, for the signs of human trafficking, and slavery. It is very much an unseen crime, or hidden in plain sight.”
If you are a victim of trafficking or know someone who is contact the AFP on 131AFP (131237) or email NOSSC-Client-Liaison@afp.gov.au
You can also contact the Red Cross Support for Trafficked People Program on 03 9345 1800
Watch the full investigation on Four Corners tonight at 8:30pm on ABC TV or livestream on ABC iview.
*Name changed for privacy
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By the time Felicity Bourke found herself locked in a metal cage wearing a stainless-steel slave collar, she felt she had no way to escape the control of James Davis, the man she had been trained to call “master”.