Julia Maree’s story of Child Sexual Abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia
| From the age of five Julia was sexually abused by her father and prostituted out to other members of their Jehovah’s Witnesses Church. She was subjected to oral, vaginal and anal penetration by male and female abusers.
One man, Julia recalled, drew him to her and said, ‘If you do not pleasure my wife completely, a hundred per cent, I will go home and do this to my daughters, what I’m doing to you now’. Julia was about six at the time. ‘From that moment on’, she said, ‘I believed that I was responsible for the wellbeing of every child on the Earth.’
Other children were sometimes brought into the paedophile ring, usually to be used in pornographic films. Julia hated what was being done to them – and to her – but she couldn’t speak out because at the same time she felt beholden to the laws of the Church.
‘This is the heart, the nucleus, of how they manipulate people: under the phrase “You must make Jehovah happy. If you do not make Jehovah happy, you will die in Armageddon and so will your children”.’
Specifically, Julia said, children are told that one of the primary ways to ‘make Jehovah happy’ is to obey your parents (particularly your father) and the elders of the Church (who are all men). So for the first few years of the abuse, Julia kept silent, feeling as though ‘there was a lock and key on my mouth’.
Later, when she moved to a new congregation, she found the courage to tell some of the women what was going on, but every time she spoke up she was ignored or chastised for speaking ill of her parents.
Julia was too scared to report the abuse to anyone outside the congregation. Still, she said, there were plenty of signs that her teachers should have picked up on. Because of chronic bladder infections she wet herself regularly in class and carried several spare sets of underwear in her bag every day. No one asked her about it.
Julia’s doctor knew about the infections, but he was a member of the congregation. He’d never abused her but she’d seen him in the room during some of the incidents. So there was no chance of getting help from him.
The abuse stopped after Julia got her period at about age 12. She moved on to high school and performed poorly. Right through to Grade 11 her school reports all said the same: ‘could do better, can’t concentrate’. Julia believed that it was her fault that she couldn’t concentrate, just as she believed that it was her fault she’d been abused.
As soon as she left school Julia decided to move interstate to ‘pioneer’ for the Church.
‘And I pretended to be happy. I used to wake up crying every morning, go to bed crying every night. And – I’m okay with it now – but I became a habitual masturbator. But every time I masturbated, because it was against Jehovah, I used to cut myself with crosses.’
She married and had children. Psychologically she began to fall apart, her post-traumatic stress disorder exacerbated by an abusive husband. Julia sought help from the Church and they told her there was nothing they could do. Therapists were equally useless.
‘I was also shunned by most of them too, by saying “I don’t believe your story” or the condescending, re-traumatisation of “Oh well, if you believe it, then it’s true”.’
With no one to rely on but herself, Julia still managed to break some of the psychological bonds that held her. Ignoring the Church’s law of silence she began telling ‘all and sundry’ about the abuse. She wrote to the Church Elders and told them what her father had done. Her father retaliated by telling the elders that Julia had made up the story as revenge on him for cutting her out of his will.
The Church sided with Julia’s father and dropped the matter. They said that because of Julia’s dad’s age and ill health they didn’t want to ‘upset him anymore’. In that same year, Julia’s mother (who had believed and quietly supported Julia over the years) tried to speak out against her husband. She told him that she was going to report him to the elders.
‘And he just said, just this common thing, “Well, I’ll just tell them you’re fucked up in the head and they won’t believe a word you say. Or I’ll put you out on the street and then you won’t have a place to live”. And so fear into silence is the cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses for women and children.’
Eventually Julia asked the Church to annul her baptism. They branded her an apostate and ostracised her.
Julia’s father died without facing justice. None of the other abusers have ever been charged. Julia is now looking into her options for taking legal action against the Church. She feels for the other children who were abused and wants to step forward on their behalf.
‘I couldn’t save the children when I was younger but I want to be a part of the light into that dark cult of how to protect children and no longer have a breeding ground for paedophiles and protection of paedophiles within Jehovah’s Witness organisation. Because I’m not only a victim, I’m a survivor and I also thrive in my life today.’
See also: Alita’s story and Neroli’s story