Camila’s story of Child Sexual Abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia
| ‘We become Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was about five. My parents were Catholics before that and they came knocking and my mother listened, and what more can I say about that? She was disillusioned with the Catholics I guess … My father was in hospital and needed help and the Catholics turned her away, so when someone says, “We’ll look after you; you can have everlasting life if you come on our side”, pretty well she was swayed.’
Throughout her childhood, Camila was beaten ‘on a daily basis’ by her mother, and when she’d ask why she was being punished, her mother would reply, ‘because you might get naughty’.
‘I was such an obedient little girl. I don’t know how or why I was being beaten because I noted very quickly that if you did all the housework she would leave you alone, where my eldest sisters got beaten more because she dug her heels in [with them] I guess, and I was just a little slave.’
This violence contrasted with the role of Camila’s father who was ‘a pacifier’. Many years later in the early 1990s, Camila was driving when her six-year-old daughter Samantha described being touched on her genitals by her grandfather. When Camila heard this, she ‘nearly went up the lamppost’.
After her daughter’s disclosure, Camila started to recall being abused as a child by her father. She subsequently discovered that at least one of her sisters, as well as a niece, had been sexually abused by him.
Camila reported the abuse to Jehovah’s Witnesses elders as her father was a prominent member of the Church, and all of Camila’s life to that time had been determined by the Church’s rules and structure. She’d never mixed with other children or anyone who wasn’t a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community.
The elders told Camila not to tell anyone else about the abuse and recommended she pretend nothing had happened. Camila rang the police who visited her home and, after talking to Samantha, established that it was highly probable she’d been abused. However, Camila’s husband told police the family wouldn’t be taking the matter any further.
Several years later, Camila told her husband she’d ‘had enough’ and that she intended to report the abuse to police. Her husband informed her they could no longer be married, and when members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community found out, they too ‘shunned’ her. At the police station, Camila saw the same officer she’d met previously and apologised for not coming sooner.
‘I said, “Sorry it’s taken so long but I knew I’d lose my husband, my family, my sisters, my friends. Everything has gone”.’
Police charged Camila’s father and he was found guilty and given a suspended term of imprisonment. In the court room, he was supported by members of the congregation, including Camila’s siblings and husband.
‘They put me through the wringer’, Camila said. ‘And they kept saying, “All you want is for him to get disfellowshipped”. I said, “No, I don’t. I want to protect whoever’s in the congregation”.’
Camila was told by her sister that if she came back to the Church, they’d ‘open our arms’ to her. ‘But what to, you know?’
‘They believe everyone’s going to be destroyed and only them are going to survive. But it’s so – because you’ve only got their kind, you don’t have anyone else. You’re not allowed to have birthdays, you’re not allowed Christmas, you’re not allowed to have any other functions and you’re in this little bubble, and you think it’s correct and then you look over the fence … but you’ve got to be on this side of the fence to see it.’
Camila’s daughter received a payment through victims compensation, something Camila thought was wrong because ‘the government had to pay for what someone else has done’.
‘Why can’t the Jehovah’s Witnesses pay? Because I want them punished for leading astray, not the government. The government’s got a lot to deal with, but I think that religion should be taken to task.’
Camila had heard about the Royal Commission’s public hearing into child sexual abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, but doubted anything would change within the Church as a result. ‘It’s so difficult because there’s very few, especially women, who will actually say something. [The Church] will say, “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full” to you and then do it again. And that’s how it’s going to be until they actually get hauled over the coals, called out, that this religion is sinful. Publicly. Then people will open their eyes … I think as an organisation they need someone to get out there and rip it apart, call it for what it is.’