Leonora’s story of Child Sexual Abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia
| ‘I said, Daddy, what are you doing? That’s not what God said about Adam and Eve.’
Leonora’s parents were devout members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her mother had ‘strict rules about cleanliness’, so despite being ‘a clean little girl anyway’, Leonora would have frequent showers. In the mid-1960s, when Leonora was around 11 years old, her mother had an extended stay in hospital.
During this time Leonora’s father began watching her bathe. She had been taught to be modest and not show her body. ‘Imagine my horror or confusion, when I looked up and saw Father, not even trying to pretend he’s not watching me.’ When she questioned him, he claimed to simply be making sure she was cleaning herself as her mother instructed.
‘I realised I’d been washing between my legs, and I didn’t know what he’d seen … That felt wrong. He continued to watch me. He had no shame. And that’s when he really started to change towards me.’
Leonora avoided bathing but ‘that made it worse, because then I stank’. Sometimes she’d wash under the hose with her swimming costume on, or try to jam the bathroom door to prevent him coming in. He ‘managed to start showing me his genitals. I didn’t want to see them, they looked revolting’.
Leonora began ‘self-destructing’, scratching her face and pulling her hair out, and ‘I wanted to stink [to deter him]. That made it worse’. Her father repeatedly told her she was crazy, uncontrollable, and rebellious. Leonora’s school grades deteriorated. She began drawing grotesque, violent, sexualised images, featuring animals with enlarged genitalia.
Her teachers were concerned about this content, and ‘asked me about where I got this idea from, which was the genitals. That was all I had [the drawings] because I didn’t have words’. They did not question her further, or notify community services, but spoke with her father. He told them he she was ‘rebellious’, and no further action was taken.
Leonora was also sexually abused by Jim Carter, a well-respected member of the congregation. Carter drove her to his home for Bible study, asking her inappropriate questions, and ‘put his hands on my thigh’. He also demonstrated, with his wife, ‘the correct way’ for married people to kiss. This study went on for a few months. Eventually, Carter ‘achieved touching me, because I was exhausted or crazy (I don’t know, it was bad at home). He achieved it’.
Carter became known for being ‘creepy’, and abusing a number of girls. Leonora decided to report him to the congregation’s overseer – ‘I was always the one going forward.’ She told the overseer Carter was ‘doing wrong things … I don’t want to be near this man. And my dad’. It was six months before anything came of her reporting.
During this time her ‘Father came and straddled me’ during the night, ‘I don’t know whether I was too small, too young’. This happened ‘many nights in a row, to the point where I became a hysterical bitch’. He also bashed her still-sick mother for not giving him ‘his rights’ (i.e. sex), and her mother then left him for a while.
Leonora was called a ‘traitor’ by Church people because she did not want her father in their family. Pressure was put on her mother about ‘sex, from what I can gather, and her inability after being so ill’.
Leonora ‘was brought before my father’ in a meeting with the overseer and another man, and questioned about her accusations against her dad. ‘I said he’s rude to me, and he’s been touching me, and showing me his winkle. And smelling my underwear, and his fingers.’ The overseer replied, ‘are you sure? We all know you have an active imagination’.
She was questioned about Carter too, and explained what he had done to her and other girls. All the while, her dad sat there ‘thunderously’, and called her a liar. He told the men she was rebellious and uncontrollable, and so ‘I got to read some Scriptures’. Her father was not reprimanded. Carter continued to abuse girls for many years, until finally being ‘reproved’ by the Church.
When Leonora was 14, her dad pulled her out of school, and she started work. One day, he ‘stabbed me with his fingers’, causing her to bleed, ‘telling me off because he thinks I’m being immoral … I hadn’t even kissed anyone’. Her mother saw the blood on her underwear, and took Leonora to two doctors for ‘virginity’ tests (which concluded she was still ‘intact’). ‘She wondered if there was something wrong with me. She knew I hated Father.’
After being beaten severely by her father at a family dinner, Leonora ran away. She had stolen some pills from her mother, and took an overdose at work. Ending up in hospital, she didn’t want to leave, as ‘I felt really safe’. Although begging not to be sent home, she was discharged into her father’s care.
He took her to his caravan, where he beat and sexually abused her for three days before she escaped. ‘I was not a virgin then.’
She told her mother what he had done to her. ‘I think she believed me, but didn’t want to.’
She soon realised she was pregnant, and was married to another man before the birth. Her son was born when she was 16, but lived for less than a day.
Leonora has difficulties socialising because of her upbringing, and suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She has made numerous suicide attempts, and struggles with binge drinking. She still hasn’t told police about the abuse she went through. Although her father is deceased, she is considering making a statement about Carter.