Sylvester’s story of Child Sexual Abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia
| ‘I’ve tried to get close to people and I’m finding a unanimous reaction, that people are just too scared of sexual abuse … They don’t know how to handle it. Even friends who say they love you, they just don’t know how to react to it.’
Sylvester’s family moved around a lot when he was growing up in the early 1980s.
‘I was a very transient kid. Our family was very transient … Constantly moving. Constantly pulled in and out of schools.’
His parents joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church and became devout members of the faith. Sylvester’s father was very violent and would physically abuse his mother, sister and Sylvester himself. His father also sexually abused Sylvester and his sister.
‘My parents broke up several times … but the Jehovah’s Witnesses put us back together … The Jehovah’s Witnesses … is “man-run” and “man controls your woman” … my mother used to always speak up and so [she] was always frowned upon by the men in the church.’
When Sylvester was 10 years old he spoke to one of the senior elders at their church about the sexual abuse he was experiencing.
‘My mother and father … went in [to a meeting] and discussed things … I did at that time assume that [the elder] was helping me. That [he] was really looking out for me … instead … [I had] to go back to them. And I felt that there was no one else I could tell.’
Sylvester did also tell his primary school principal but again, nothing was done.
‘I was very separated from all normality of school. I wasn’t allowed to participate in school camps, I wasn’t allowed to go to swimming competitions, I wasn’t allowed to go to sporting days, I wasn’t allowed to get changed … with other people … not saluting the flag.’
‘It was always blamed back on the JWs, you know … I don’t know why the then principal did not involve themselves with police but I guess there was a very well-known cloud that followed JW … I don’t think that’s really fair on the children that have no idea what society’s like to begin with, to not give them a chance … They were scared of JWs.’
Sylvester left the church when he was 22 years old. He had a long term drug addiction but has now been free of drugs for over a year.
‘The Jehovah’s Witnesses … tell you not to have a career, not to grow yourself, to really just devote all your time to the spreading of God’s word … I had no idea who I was … the abuse in my life and the lack of support [meant] … I didn’t even plan for 21 [years old] … I didn’t believe I would have a life after 20.’
‘I’ve never been able to hold down a great job because my head space is a mess … I’ve got so many handicaps that are so debilitating and so crippling that I don’t know if today’s going to be a good day. I don’t know if tomorrow’s going to be a good day. And the flashbacks … there’s no peace sleeping for me.’
Sylvester is also worried about taking medication for his anxiety, insomnia and depression because of the risk of developing a dependency on them. He finds regular psychiatric support helpful but expensive, although he now receives a disability pension which has made his life a little easier.
Sylvester’s sister took her own life a few years ago and he feels her loss every day.
‘Very close … she had a massive rock bottom that was so severe that … was all to do with her relationships failing.’
He knows her relationships were affected by their father’s abuse, as his have been.
‘I’ve lost my partners [too] … you can’t explain yourself. You can’t win it [impact of abuse] over.’
Sylvester is completely estranged from his parents. He is pursuing his father through the police and wants him to be held accountable for the abuse.
‘The sexual abuse was severe and it was horrible. But you can understand also that there was the manipulation that went along with it. And the fact that we didn’t communicate with any of our extended family … I really only felt that my parents were the only people left … to ask for help … and these were the very people who were damaging me.’
‘Doesn’t mean that I’m not still connected to my mother and doesn’t mean that I’m not still debilitated by the thought of her dying without getting answers. It’s crippled me.’
Sylvester also wants to pursue the Jehovah’s Witnesses for not involving the police when he reported he was being sexually abused. The police have interviewed the elder from the Jehovah’s Witnesses that Sylvester spoke to back when he was 10 years old. The man has denied the conversation took place.
‘He totally denied that I ever told him … This man knows us. He knows we had major problems.’
Once there is some resolution of his cases, Sylvester is hoping to begin his life again.
‘I’m a long way off from getting my life back to order … [and] crystal meth is such a crippling drug … I want to live again. It’s the main thing. I just want to try again … I lost my identity, I lost my path.’