Kimberly’s story of Child Sexual Abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia
| Kimberly was born in the mid-1970s and raised as a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church. At 15 years old she left the family home and moved interstate to be with her sister, Lisa. Lisa was in her 30s at the time and living with her husband, Craig, who was also a Jehovah’s Witness. Kimberly told the Commissioner, ‘Just a few months after I got there, Craig started touching and stuff like that’.
The abuse occurred mostly in the home, but sometimes when the family went on day trips Craig would subject Kimberly to ‘slapping on the butt, pinching the breast and comments’. Looking back, Kimberly suspects that her sister knew that something was going on, though she never said anything. Nor did Kimberly at first. Then, after a few months, she wrote to her boyfriend back in her old home state and told him a little of what Craig was doing to her.
A short while later Kimberly’s parents came across to join the rest of the family. They took up residence in the home while Lisa and Craig moved out to a caravan. This brought the abuse to an end.
Life rolled on and Kimberly kept the abuse to herself. Then, not long after she turned 16, her boyfriend came to visit. They talked about Craig’s behaviour and ‘that’s when it all came out’. Kimberly told her mum what Craig had done and her mum contacted the church elders. Two of them came to the house to interview Kimberly.
‘They believed me. Or they said they did. They just said that they were sorry that it happened and God would take care of it, and to leave it in God’s hands … They didn’t seem to care that much that it happened to me. I felt like I was shunned, that I was encouraged not to talk about it. I had no support from them, and no responsibility and no indication that anyone was going to report it to police.’
As far as Kimberly knows, no action was taken against Craig. Even worse, he somehow managed to twist things around and paint her as the villain. When he heard that she was talking to the elders he quickly spoke to Lisa, admitting certain things. Kimberly doesn’t know what he said but it was enough to turn her sister against her. ‘She asked me what he did to me and I told her and she told me I didn’t know what I was talking about.’
Kimberly’s relationship with her sister and parents turned sour after that and a few months later she moved out of home. From there, things really went off the rails. ‘I went crazy and was a mad teenager and stuffed up my life, basically. I couldn’t hold down jobs, I couldn’t do that. I was really scared of people, I would have memories, I would have flashbacks and it was just horrible. And it still is.’
At 18 she met her present husband, James. Three years later, after a surprise encounter with Craig at a family gathering, she told James about the abuse. He was immediately supportive and, respecting her wishes, managed to suppress the urge to deal with Craig himself. Kimberly and James went on to raise two happy, healthy kids, though they almost lost their daughter because of the impact of the abuse. As Kimberly put it, ‘I didn’t like doctors, I wouldn’t let people touch me … I wouldn’t let the doctor do his job and put his hand where my daughter was and she nearly died because of it’.
More than 20 years after the abuse, Kimberly decided to report Craig to police. The catalyst came after she received a phone call from her mum. They discussed Craig and Lisa’s break-up and then ‘She told me he had a new girlfriend who had two teenage daughters, and I just said, “Right, I’ve got to do something about this because he’s not touching them”’.
Kimberly later found out that the two ‘teenage daughters’ were in fact in their twenties, but she continued with the police process anyway. So far it’s been a huge disappointment. ‘They have bungled a lot of things and made me feel like I shouldn’t have bothered.’ Still, Kimberly and her husband are pressing on with the case and plan to look into other legal options in the future.