Kaley’s story of Child Sexual Abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia
| ‘When you get controlling men, number one, and controlling men that are used to being invested with the godly right of dealing with their families how they see fit, you take away those two types of power from them they’re not happy. Not happy at all.’
Kaley and her siblings were raised in Western Australia as Jehovah’s Witnesses, with a controlling and physically abusive father. When their parents’ marriage finally broke down, Kaley remembered her mother being shunned.
‘The Jehovah’s Witnesses is a very secluded community, and very isolated within the broader community. They very much keep to themselves … but within that context my mum was a real outcast, even though she hadn’t done anything wrong …
‘There was comments of, “We tolerate you in this congregation”, and it was just like, you know, she left an abusive husband.’
After the separation the children maintained some contact with their father but, in the early 90s, Kaley started feeling uneasy.
‘When you’re a kid, particularly as a girl or a woman, you get that feeling of ickiness … women just have that sense. And you know when someone is perving on you and you don’t want to be around it. And when you’re a young girl, particularly starting to go through puberty … like gross, man, you don’t want your dad perving on you.’
But while the older children stopped visiting, Kaley’s seven-year-old brother Tom was still taken to see his father.
‘I don’t remember exactly him telling me or anything, just becoming aware of this awful situation. He would come home from visits with like hickey marks on his neck, yeah. And would talk about Dad hopping into bed with him. I don’t know whether he said too much about anything specific that happened because it didn’t go much further than that, or whether he just couldn’t talk about it. He became very withdrawn, and got very sick. He stopped eating at one point and he was like a little stick.’
Kaley’s mother immediately went to the elders. ‘Meetings. Meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings. Lots of talk, but never once did anyone ever say, “You should go to the police”. Never was mentioned, to my knowledge.’
Kaley’s father joined another congregation and nothing was ever done about the sexual abuse of his son.
About three years later, Kaley was told that the way she sometimes dressed was causing one of the elders to have ‘impure thoughts’.
‘And so my mum was like, “Are you kidding me?” Like, this is not her fault … she’s got this green dress, she likes to wear it. And it was, “No. You must protect this innocent elder’s eyes from corruption” or some shit like that.’
Kaley had always found this particular elder, Ken Mintoff, ‘creepy’, but she still had to go witnessing with him. On one occasion, when they were in a car together, Mintoff tried to massage her feet. This, combined with his constant innuendos, made Kaley go to the elders.
‘I was about 16, I think, and my mum was away from home … And the elders were talking to me about all of this stuff, but they hadn’t spoken to my mum, they hadn’t called her and said, “This is happening”, you know, “You probably need to be aware of this”. So Mum only found out about it when I told her … and she just was so angry … “Why are you talking to her without me there? What are you even thinking?”’
There was an investigation and Mintoff was disfellowshipped. After that, Kaley said ‘dozens’ of other girls started coming forward. But not only was he soon accepted back into the Church, within a few years he resumed his position as an elder.
‘It’s not in any way a rehabilitative process … It’s not about punishment, or a person coming to any sort of understanding of their behaviour being wrong, or making amends, or anything like that. It’s purely about, “We’ve got a clean house. And we’ve got to be seen to be cleaning house. And then once we’ve cleaned house, you know, then we can move on”.
‘They are so utterly convinced that they are the mouthpiece of God, you couldn’t convince them with a sledgehammer that they’re not.
‘It’s all self-delusion. How do you delude the masses if you’re not deluded yourself?’
Kaley left the Church for good in her early 20s. She no longer has any contact with her family.
In 2015, she sat in on the Royal Commission’s public hearing about the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Then, after speaking with some other former members, she decided to contact the Royal Commission.
‘I thought, well, I might as well keep the journey going, to add whatever I can to the knowledge that’s being gathered because, you know, more voices are always better …
‘I’d like to see mandatory reporting across every state in Australia. I think that would be the ultimate kick in the balls to people that think … “Oh, we just heard about a thing and decided we’d cover it up”. No, now you’re liable. If you heard about it, you gotta report it. For every institution, absolutely.’
Kaley also wants children who report abuse to be properly supported by adults. ‘“I’m going to help you with this, not cast you out or make you the bad guy because you’ve brought disgrace on this institution by shaming us with all these awful details of what’s happened to you …”
‘If they’re responded to appropriately, that starts to heal the trauma they’ve experienced instead of exacerbating it.’
Finally, Kaley had a message for the Royal Commission. ‘It’s the first time many of us have had anything like this happen, where somebody has come from the outside and said, this is really fucked up, and shone a spotlight on it. The Catholic Church has dominated the headlines for so long, there’s been thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses and ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses saying, “When’s it our turn to get heard?” … And so I would like to have that on the record, that I would like to say thank you on behalf of those people, because I know there are many, many people that would like me to do that.’