Myles Andrew’s story of Child Sexual Abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia
| ‘I was multipley raped by this man, anally. To the point where I’m scarred … I remember bleeding for a good 10 days after an episode, where I had to hide it from my parents … That’s a very difficult thing to talk about, what he did to me. And that’s defined me to this day, sadly.’
Myles grew up in New South Wales, and was raised in the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church. His family was befriended by Keith Henderson, a member of their congregation. Myles often assisted him with projects that he was working on, and the family trusted him.
In the late 1980s, when Myles was 14, he was ‘a bright young man, enjoying school, participating in school activities, and revelling in my young teenage years … Sexuality in particular was as foreign to me as one might expect of a child brought up in a deeply religious family … Something that should have been a normal, natural development, something a boy discovers by himself, was suddenly forced upon me in a way that is hard to imagine’.
When Myles and Keith were out driving one day, Keith began talking ‘about penises and sex in general. Fascinated by the facts of life, I was eager for more knowledge, as this was new to me and quite interesting’.
After pulling the car to the side of the road, Keith forced Myles to perform oral sex on him. ‘His thrusting was so severe that I was gagging … [He] made me pull my pants down … and was successful in giving me my first ever sexual experience … This was only the beginning of a series of sexual assaults burdened upon me.’ The abuse continued for two years, and included several vicious anal rapes.
‘Why did I not say anything … Why did I go along with this? Well, this is how a paedophile operates. Cleverly, he whispered in my ear and told me not to say anything … and that this is how a boy becomes a man … Naively, I believed him as he was a man of the Church, a man of authority … I had no knowledge of such things with my religious upbringing, and was easily influenced.’
Myles only saw Keith a few times after the rapes, and he eventually began to reject the man’s advances. The abuse stopped after that.
‘I threw myself into my schoolwork. I became a loner. My schoolwork became my escape. It protected me from the horrors tormenting my mind.’ Myles told the Commissioner, ‘I guess the only way to describe [being raped] … is that part of me had passed away. My essence was taken. My upcoming manhood was taken. My reason to exist had been taken’.
The sexual abuse Myles experienced has had a huge impact on his adult life. ‘Fear of intimacy, lack of sleep, nightmares, and emotional outbursts at the slightest thing. Anxiety, depression … the list goes on. How could this not affect my life?’
Myles believes that he was able to survive his childhood trauma because ‘I wanted to succeed in life. I wanted a career and that’s what I forged. I didn’t turn to drugs or alcohol and I managed to get a job and I’ve been employed ever since, whereas some people have gone off the rails’.
Even though he has managed to maintain a successful career, Myles has ‘struggled for two decades now with my anxiety, depression, on anti-anxiety medication to this day … I’ve tried to wean myself off a few times, but … it’s like a fire in there and you just … can’t handle it’.
When Myles was 19 he was on holiday and he had a complete breakdown. He phoned his father and told him about the sexual abuse. His parents were in turmoil, but spoke to the Church elders. Myles felt discouraged from reporting to police at this time as he thought that the matter would be dealt with internally. At some stage he was told by one of the elders to go home and pray more, rather than go to the police.
Keith was disfellowshipped from the Church, but was reinstated seven or eight months later. When he discovered this, Myles left the Church and hasn’t returned.
‘[The elders] believe that they answer to a higher power and that they’re not accountable to anyone else. So they’re under the impression that no matter what happens, they’re fine because they don’t answer to worldly men or institutions. They answer to God.’
One reason that Myles came forward to the Royal Commission was ‘not because of the perpetrator. It’s because the Church … had knowledge of this particular person and did nothing about it’. After some investigation, Myles discovered that the elders knew about Keith at the time that he began abusing him, so if they had taken action then, his abuse would not have continued for two years.
Myles discovered that some other young men reported Keith to the police and that he pleaded guilty, and had served a short prison sentence. In the mid-2000s, Myles decided to report his own abuse to the police.
‘Through the process, we identified up to 40 men that had been abused by this particular individual … [but] there was only myself … and [four] other individuals that ever decided to pursue this through the courts.’ Once again, Keith pleaded guilty, and this time he received a longer sentence.
Myles received the maximum allowable payment of $50,000 victims compensation, but ‘whatever compensation … will be nothing compared to the agony and torment that I have been left with. Unfortunately, I have to live with this, but my positive energy, courage and perseverance will never leave me. This event in my life has shaped me beyond words and has defined my soul forever’.
Myles told the Commissioner, ‘I have never played the victim … I’ve used what’s happened to me to strengthen me in many ways, so I don’t like being called a victim, even though I am. I try and rise above that I guess … [I’m] a survivor, rather than a victim’.