Marta’s story of Child Sexual Abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia
| Marta came from a large family in Queensland. Her parents were active Jehovah’s Witnesses, and when Marta was 13 her father was made a ministerial servant – a position of some responsibility within the church. There were strict rules around what the children were and weren’t allowed to do, such as watching kissing on TV or talking to members of the opposite sex.
But Marta remembered her father acting in a way that she said was like grooming. She told the Commissioner, ‘He’d call me sexy and say that I had “it” and my sister didn’t have “it” … He used to try and make us kiss him goodnight. He would try and kiss us on the lips and I didn’t like doing that’.
When Marta was about 16, her mother and siblings went away on a trip. She stayed home with her father as she was working and saving up for a car. Marta’s father assaulted her during the two weeks the family was away.
‘He’d come in naked into my bedroom while I was asleep, wake me up and start assaulting me there. Then he would act very normal at times, very righteous … and then other times he’d be totally the opposite of that.’
After the family returned, he tried to go into the bathroom when Marta was showering but she locked the door. Her father became aggressive but Marta threatened to tell on him and the abuse stopped.
‘I said, “I know what you did was wrong, I know what you did to me and that’s not right”. And he’d keep saying that I was mental, he’d get all the family to call me that. I was pretty unstable around that time.’
Marta became suicidal, she cut herself, didn’t socialise and couldn’t speak to men when the family had to go out preaching. Her father controlled who she spent time with in the congregation, flogging her if she spoke to the wrong person. Marta said this was a way to stop her getting close to anybody in case she told them.
A few months later, her father left home to live with another married woman.
Marta said, ‘Because he had gone I thought God would punish me because I didn’t say anything about it, because you’re supposed to report wrongdoings’. But she told a young man who was living with the family at the time (and who she later married) and he persuaded her to tell the elders.
The elders questioned her in committees and individually and she felt like she was being interrogated and attacked for speaking out, rather than her father being investigated. At times her father was also in the room. She was told not to go to the police.
‘Unless he admitted it in front of people they wouldn’t believe me, because you have to have two or more witnesses. That’s their rule. Especially if I’m a child and they’re a man, and they’re, you know, a ministerial servant or an elder.’
Her father was disfellowshipped from the church but the elders made it clear that it was only because of him going off with the other woman, not because of the abuse he had committed. Her mother wanted him back and he continued to come to the house and act aggressively towards Marta, so she was forced to leave home.
Not long after, he was reinstated into the Church.
Marta also found out around this time that her father had sexually assaulted two of her sisters.
She wrote to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, almost the highest level in the Church, but they defended their actions. They told her if she went to the police it would be ‘bringing reproach on Jehovah’s name and that I would be disfellowshipped’.
Marta and her husband moved away to another town and had children, but the marriage broke up, partly because her husband was looking at a lot of very explicit pornographic material, which she found hypocritical for a religious person.
‘So I stopped going to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and then the first thing I did was call the police.’
Her father was charged and had to stand three trials. The first trial was a hung jury, the second was a mistrial, and in the third he was convicted and given a jail sentence. The elders had to be subpoenaed as witnesses and Marta had no support from her family.
Even after he was convicted, the church elders never apologised. Marta said she now knows of many people who have been assaulted or raped within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, from stories friends have told her, and other cases that have come to court.
Marta said she appears confident but she’s still fragile.
‘I find being a little bit more assertive is good for me, because then people stay away from me … I think, going through things I have had to, either you crumble or you rise to the occasion. I thought it would be better to do the latter, for the children.’
Despite the stress of pursuing her case through the courts for six years, Marta said, ‘I’d do it again’.
‘I looked to these people – I looked to my parents for protection. I looked to – because they claim to be higher than the law of the land. They have got higher standards. That’s what they claim. But I found that the law of the land was the only place that protected me.’