Elders Did Not Comfort Abuse Victim

Dear Barbara,

I just stumbled upon what you wrote about Jehovah’s Witnesses and how they deal with or have dealt with child molestation and its victims.

I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness and am a recovering victim of child sexual abuse by a family member before my mother became a Witness. However, the treatment I had to endure at the hands of the congregation and its elders was shocking to me.

Because of reading the material on your website, I felt chills throughout my body and shed tears which hasn’t happened to me in years and years. I don’t feel alone anymore. The information was right on and exactly what I went through as a teenager in the congregation. Thank you!!!

I come from a broken home. During my early childhood my parents divorced and they battled for custody of me which resulted in my being separated from my mother for almost two years. It was during this time I went through the pain of abuse. In the end, my mom received custody of me and we were together in New York and then in Pennsylvania. It was at this time that Jehovah’s Witnesses were introduced into our lives.

It was about 1985 when my mom met my former step-father who was raised a Witness. They began talking, which right off the bat was a no, no for him because he was baptized. This was a source of controversy as well as their age difference and the fact that she had two young kids. Well, they did it “right.” She studied, went to meetings and eventually was baptized, yet, his family didn’t like it that he and my mother were interested in each other, but that didn’t stop them from seeing one another.

I was in first grade when I was introduced to a kingdom hall. At that time I was thrilled! We were welcomed with open arms and accepted (by most). The romance grew between my mother and former step-father, but again they were met with opposition from some in the kingdom hall. So they did what a lot of people do, they ran away together taking my brother and me with them. They lived separately, doing what they thought was right, but continued their courtship. My mother was baptized not long after and then they married. It was Reading Pennsylvania, mid-to-late 80’s and we were a family attending all meetings, field service and circuit and district conventions. We gave talks and participated in bible studies. We did well in our congregation, had friends and were invited to picnics and family nights.

Now I will fast forward to about 1993-1994. We moved back to the suburbs in Pennsylvania to go back to our original kingdom hall, but shortly after, we changed kingdom halls to a hall in Clinton, New Jersey. And this is where it ALL began and ended for me.

We arrive in Clinton, and, from the start, it was not good there for me. I was subdued and had a wandering mind. Oh, I believed what I was taught and practiced it, but I was struggling making friends and being accepted. It started with being told my hair was too long, which I had cut. Then, it was the music I listened to, so I eased back on it. When my skateboarding was criticized, I quit. I always conformed to their wishes.

Well, then came the time when the abuse I suffered as a child started to consume me. The MOMENT I mentioned it outside of my family, I was doomed. I found that Jehovah’s people didn’t want to talk about my abuse, nor did they acknowledge it happened. I was in so much emotional pain trying to deal with the horrors of my childhood that I reached out to the brothers, who were leading the sheep, and all I received from them was, “put it behind you,” “you should be able to divert it from your thoughts” and “no need to dwell.”

Basically, I was told to shut up! And my “friends” were banned from being alone with me because I was said to be emotionally unstable. I was hurting and needed love and compassion, but basically told to shut up. My “friends” were banned from being alone with me, because it was said I was emotionally unstable. I was forbidden to attend any social events held by any Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was shunned without it being said. My own brother turned his back on me; his loyalty was with his friends and to their families. To this day our relationship is tainted.

There was a brother from Pennsylvania who had been through similar abuse as I had been. He reached out and tried to help me and was shunned for his outspoken stance of taking the topic of abuse head on. He helped me get to where I am now; he may not know it but he did.

Back to the Clinton congregation: In all my suffering and reaching out I finally had several meetings with three elders weekly. Each and EVERYTIME we met, I was told I was making too big of a deal about my being abused. And I was admonished to keep my experience to myself.

Whenever I spoke of my abuse, all the young people there were coached to retort, “let it go,” “and get over it.” I wasn’t broadcasting it, but those who were my “childhood” friends, people you might think that would be there for me just weren’t.

My life at home was even worse. It all came to a head one night when I was arguing with my parents. I was crying and yelling, just in so much pain. Well, my stepdad, who wasn’t as supportive as we may have hoped for, called the elders and the police. Two of the elders came to the house and gave me a strong tongue lashing. They again ordered me to check myself and my issues because my problems were affecting everyone around me. Um, yeah, they were my family, but they were so programmed to follow the laws of their religion rather than the laws of family.

The next day, another fight, this one ending with me taking a knife to my wrists and arms. I was admitted to the Horsham Clinic in Horsham, PA. where I saw plenty more pain in people there, but the funny thing was – they had visitors, friends and family. I had my mom. No one else came; no one else tried.

When I was released the first place my mom took me to was to get a new skateboard. I think she knew what was coming. lol And she just wanted me to be me and be happy.

The next day I gave the Witnesses a test of tests. I went out door-to-door to preach. A day after being released from the hospital that’s what I chose to do. Why? I wanted to see who would come up and say “are you ok?” Or see those who would say nothing to me and just stare. I knew the latter was the point of no return and I experienced the latter in full effect. It broke me for sure. I started crying and crying because I knew this chapter of my life was going to close and I was both mad at myself and sad. Mad because I allowed these people to almost beat me. Sad cause I loved some of these people for so long.

And I knew nothing would change so I I had to leave. In order to survive, I had to leave. I went to one last meeting with the elders where one of the elders got so frustrated with me he yelled, “I give up,” and slammed his bible down. That was the last meeting I had with them. Relief!!!

I had one more meeting. I won’t say this meeting was appropriate, but I needed it. I went downstairs in our kingdom hall with my “close” friends and we talked. Well one friend got mad at me and called me disgusting and I lost it. I decked him and knocked him down. He got back up and I hit him again. I then walked away sad because I had done that and tried to show that to them. I was publicly reproved, banned, shunned, and marked. I still continued to attend meetings I think for maybe a year after. But that was out of respect for my parents. Soon after, I walked away entirely. Never looked back except with disgust and sadness.

How could they put someone through the fires like they did? I was in so much pain and all they did was throw salt on the wound. I ended up becoming anorexic and bulimic, did drugs and partied hard after I left. I continued to punish myself because they taught me that what I was feeling was my fault but THEY WERE DEAD WRONG. I was in pain – a child reaching out. That’s it, plain and simple!! I left the Witnesses and spun out of control for some time. But I came down and grounded myself. It was hard and it took a lot of time and patience. But I did it!! I focused on getting better and the people in my life who had been there regardless, such as my mom, first and foremost. She is no longer a Witness. Only my former step-dad is and he just went back not too long ago.

Jeff and a friend

Jeff and a friend

I know if Jesus were in front of me and I poured my heart out to him about my life, he would have shown me love, compassion and kindness. Why the Witnesses feel they can pick and choose what they should do in situations like mine is beyond me. Yes, they choose to love thy neighbor, BUT only if he’s a Witness. Although I was sexually abused by a family member prior to becoming a Witness, I often times wonder which it was – the sexual abuse or the mental abuse by the Witnesses that was harder to overcome.

I am okay now. My mind is centered; sometimes it drifts to the left or right but I remember God loves me. Jesus loves me. My family and friends love me. That is what matters, not the people who piled more pain upon my pain as an adolescent. I focus on loving myself which I never did before and what makes me happy while living a righteous life. So I’m okay. I will never forgive, nor forget, what they put me through. But I will carry on and take more steps away from them and their self-righteous behavior.

I shared your website with my mother and she is thrilled to know I have maintained my steadfastness in speaking out for being wronged for so many years. I watched the Dateline special last night on YouTube about all the sexual abuse in the congregations that have been covered up. As I watched, my heart was aching for those who maybe aren’t as strong and determined as I was or was forced to be.

Please feel free to post my story. I know I’m not the best writer. I can speak and get on my soap box well enough lol but sometimes when I write, my anger and disgust can cloud my writing ability. Legally, I just want the “men” who were put in a position to guide and lead the flock to be held accountable for the abusive way they treated so many hurt and innocent people. When someone is in such agony and pain, why, why, why would these men add more fuel to the fire?

I want to show these people that they DID NOT win and I WILL NOT forget. They cannot treat a human being with such malice and hatred, which was done out of fear. When I think back, I have to laugh a bit. There I was a 16- year old kid causing the elders so much confusion and grief. But just think about all the hurt they inflicted on me and others? It was poetic justice!

Thank you for your strong encouragement!!! It has resulted in my pouring out all the years of hidden anguish!

Jeff


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