Three women who say they were abused as children in the Jehovah's Witnesses tell their awful stories

"My mother... she's sacrificing me to gain eternal life"

Wales Online, UK/August 8, 2020

By Laura Clements

When 16-year-old Sian sat down and told her mum she had been sexually assaulted, she said she was subjected to a barrage of questions like what was she wearing, did she enjoy it and did she definitely say no?

Her mother, a zealous Jehovah's Witness told her teenage daughter if she had been more immersed in the faith, maybe even prayed more, it would never have happened.

Now aged 35 and with three of her own children, Sian has virtually no contact with her mum despite the fact they live immediately next door.

In a pitiful effort to maintain some sort of normality, occasionally Sian comes across small bags of sweets left on her garden wall for her children. Sometimes, envelopes stuffed with money are posted through the letterbox and once a package containing an X-Box was dropped off at the house.

Sian grew up as a Jehovah's Witness in south Wales with her mum and step-father - her parents divorced when she was very young- but said the religion "never sat right" with her.

Sian is not her real name. As she speaks candidly about life as a young Jehovah's Witness, it is clear she is protecting not just her children but also her own sense of worth in an effort for self-preservation.

"A boy forced himself on me when I was younger," she says, almost apologetically. "I told my mother and she said I needed to tell the elders. So I went to them and explained what had happened. I was 16 and I was reproved even though it wasn't my fault.

"The questions about what I was wearing and whether I enjoyed it were so violating and so degrading. My mother said if I'd been more immersed in the Jehovah's Witnesses then it would never had happened."

Even then, Sian says child sex abuse within the ranks was "prevalent".

"I've seen it happen in our hall and all the cover ups that have gone on," she continues. "I just don't understand. I was 16, the police should have been called but it wasn't even mentioned and I never even thought about it. I just did what I was told."

At 17, Sian told her mum she didn't want anything more to do with the religion. "That was the crunch point and she turned on me pretty quickly," said Sian with hardly a flicker of emotion. "Now, I don't speak to my mother or my biological sister."

She left the family home, briefly returned after going through a "horrendously abusive" relationship and then met the man who she would eventually marry. It was while living with him that she was disfellowshipped- a public naming and shaming which effectively ostracises people from the community.

"It was because we were living together but we weren't married," Sian explained. "But at the time, I didn't care. I wanted out. My husband made me feel safe. We went to Cardiff."

Now she has children of her own, Sian can see how "unnatural" it is to disown your own. "When you have children, you think I could never ever do that to my children," she says. While they were still young, she moved back to the house next door to her mum to where she grew up and where her mother still lived. At that time, mum and daughter were managing to maintain some sort of relationship, albeit strained and very much for the benefit of Sian's children.

"It was that murky line between putting your foot down and saying no you can't see your grandchildren and trying to maintain some sort of contact," said Sian. But when her children came home with tales that nan was saying their mum was going to die, she put her foot down.

"That was it," says Sian with a sense of finality. "They were only bothering with them so they could recruit them. It's a horrible word, but in our community it all comes down to maintaining numbers and recruitment."

There is next to no contact with her mum now and her children hardly know their grandparents. Sian adds: "I don't care. I will go outside and if she's outside too, she'll scuttle back in. I think it's just ridiculous. I pity them. I don't feel sad, just pity.

"They don't see their grandchildren or their daughter and it's all down to a set of rules that have been passed down by a group of men. It destroys families. It destroys one of the most natural, maternal feelings and all those family bonds.

"It's not normal and it's not natural. We are happy now. I don't miss my mother - I miss the idea of having a mum - but I don't miss my mum. It's too damaging."

Sian's story is one of hundreds that have come to light in recent years, prompting concerns of prevalent sex abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses. Stories of abuse within religious groups are not limited to the Jehovah's Witnesses however, an issue which has led to The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) being formed.

Chaired by Professor Alexis Jay OBE, the inquiry was set up because of serious concerns that some organisations had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children. Also attended by the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church, the opening statements in the inquiry were read out on March 16 right before Covid-19 struck.

Representatives of other religions apologised for shortfalls within their organisations. Shane Brady, counsel for the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, did not. He stuck closely to his well-prepared outline, failing to express any collective regret. Not even at that moment did he acknowledge that child sexual abuse had happened among Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Lockdown delayed subsequent, more extensive evidence-giving until this month and on August 10 the inquiry resumes. On Monday morning, former Jehovah's Witness Sarah Davies will present evidence to the inquiry about the mishandling of child sex abuse cases within the Jehovah's Witnesses organisation. Originally from Cardiff, Sarah will present evidence that has been collectively submitted by the group Ex-JW Advocates Opposing Crimes Against Children.

Speaking from Essex, where she now lives, she said: "It's a bit of an insult to the harm already caused by their inadequate child protection policies and practices, that despite numerous complaints of mishandling that they haven't found it within themselves to say sorry to any of the survivors of abuse but they won't because they believe they are directed by the only true god and are the one true religion. They failed me, as they have failed many survivors."

Between the ages of four and 11 Sarah, who was brought up as a Jehovah's Witness, said she  suffered repeated serious sex abuse. Still in primary school, Sarah had no idea that what was happening wasn't normal.

"At the time I didn't know it was wrong," she said. "When I was nine I recall a couple of policemen coming in to the class and speaking about inappropriate touching and how I should report it if it ever happened to me and that was the first time I realised it was wrong.

"But at the same time you've got this conflict because Jehovah's Witnesses teach that everyone on the outside is wrong and ruled by Satan. On the one hand I had the police saying I should tell somebody then the indoctrination of the JW practices on the other.

"I didn't report it and growing up I believed I was the only one. Perhaps part of me thought I'd done something wrong or I wasn't spiritual enough or I didn't pray enough.

"It's only when I came out of it and I met other ex-JWs and heard their stories about how they had experienced the same thing as me that I started to deal with it all."

It has taken years of therapy and counselling for Sarah to find some kind of peace, but the damage done to her relationship with her family is irreparable.

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