Becki’s story of Child Sexual Abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia
| ‘Not once have I ever had a member of Jehovah’s Witness tell me they believe me or try to support me getting help. They outright told my mother not to seek help or go to the police. They openly questioned my honesty and insinuated to my parents I was mentally defective, instead, suggesting I had allowed “the devil” into my heart and recommended I should receive more Bible study to bring me “back to the truth”. I was forced to attend meetings three times a week and told that my abuser was someone to look up to as an authority figure who was infallible … They completely failed me’, Becki wrote in a statement she brought to the Royal Commission.
Becki was born in the early 1980s. Her whole family was active in the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church. An elder in the church, Geoff Norton, and his family ‘pestered’ Becki’s family to let Becki sleep over at their place. They had asked only for Becki, never any of her siblings. Eventually, Becki’s parents agreed. They didn’t normally allow sleepovers. Becki was eight years old.
On the night of the sleepover, Becki was with Geoff’s daughter, Gaylene, who was four years older. Gaylene snuck out to the kitchen and got a snack for the two of them. They ate the snack together in Gaylene’s bedroom and then lay down in bed together at Gaylene’s suggestion. Then Gaylene put her hand down Becki’s pants and started fondling her. Geoff Norton joined them. He abused both girls and attempted to rape Becki. She wet her pants.
Becki’s mother, Ruth, came with her daughter to talk to the Commissioner. She has a vivid memory of Becki returning from the sleepover. ‘She was in a terrible state and I said “What’s happened?” Becki burst into tears and [Gaylene’s mother] went, “Oh, there’s her clothes. She wet the bed. That’s why she’s upset. I washed and dried her clothes”. [Becki] ran off and locked herself in the bathroom, sobbing for an hour and wouldn’t let anyone near.’
From that time on, Becki had nightmares. She could no longer sleep without the TV and light on. Her personality changed.
Becki’s parents tried, but failed, to get Becki to tell them what was wrong. Ruth, a former youth worker, knew something had happened at the sleepover. Her child was not a bed wetter. However, she never suspected Geoff Norton, as he was an elder and beyond reproach. Defying the doctrine of the church, Ruth went to the police who told her that the child, not the parent, needed to report the abuse. Ruth could not pursue it any further.
Months prior to this, Becki had disclosed another incident of abuse she had witnessed Gaylene perpetrate, this time against much younger children. At the time Gaylene had told Becki not to tell anyone or she would kill her. Becki, at the age of eight, was questioned firstly by Geoff Norton and later by a judicial committee of elders. She found it a distressing ordeal. She was even asked if she was in a habit of playing with herself. It was concluded that Becki was lying or had gotten the idea from TV, even though Becki’s family didn’t own a TV.
For the next four years, Gaylene regularly harassed Becki at church hall meetings. It was impossible to avoid the Nortons and this was extremely distressing for Becki. She became very anxious and acted out. From being a high performing student, she became a disruptive one. Her education suffered severely.
It was not until Becki was about 13 that she disclosed the abuse she’d experienced, telling first her brother who then told their parents. However, Becki only spoke about Gaylene and didn’t mention Geoff Norton’s involvement. She was scared of him as he had also threatened her, saying no one would believe her.
When Becki was interviewed by police she denied the abuse. However, her brother made a statement and Becki was awarded $4,000 in victims of crime compensation.
Becki was very angry with Gaylene and at one time she even assaulted her. But now Becki sees Gaylene was a victim. Geoff Norton ‘used his daughter as bait’. She was only a child herself.
Growing up, Becki was constantly triggered by the close proximity of the Nortons. Her behaviour deteriorated and her parents were struggling. Becki volunteered to go into the foster system but her first placement failed and she returned home. On one occasion, her father ‘belted’ her for smoking and she again returned to the foster system. She left the Church behind her.
Becki can see the need for a service that helps people going through what she did as a teen. ‘When you leave a religion, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, your whole world changes … You can’t ring Mum and say, “Hey, I need some help. I don’t know how to do grocery shopping …” or “I need a reference so I can get a rental”. They won’t help you. As soon as you leave you are so alone. And I’ve seen, probably 80 odd per cent of young women who leave, and go out on their own, end up pregnant the first 12 months, accidentally because … they don’t know anything about sex education.’
When Becki was 14, she went to the doctor because she was having trouble sleeping. The doctor wouldn’t prescribe her any pills, accusing her of ‘doctor shopping’. Instead, a friend introduced her to heroin to help her sleep.
It was not until Becki was 26 years old that she disclosed the abuse by Geoff Norton. She was living interstate by then and feels that time, distance and years of therapy allowed her to do so. She reported it to the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church in a written statement, asking for an investigation. She did not receive a response.
She didn’t go to the police because she feels there’s a lack of evidence and would find criminal proceedings very difficult to cope with.
Becki lives with her mother who has also left the Church. Becki has serious mental health issues. She has a history of drug addiction and homelessness, dating from her teens. She has a criminal record and in the past has attempted suicide. But now, drug free for three years, Becki is working hard to improve her life. She pursued an education and has a trade qualification. Becki’s also happy with her GP and psychologist.
Becki is articulate and determined. Despite a difficult life, she refuses to refer to herself as a ‘victim’.