By Stephanie Hammond
If you found out that a man you trusted had molested your child, how would you feel? What would you do?
For most parents their natural reactions would include anger, devastation, pain, and anguish. Many parents say they would need an “act of God” to prevent them from physically castrating the violator. Others would immediately call the police and try to have the man put away in prison for the rest of his natural life. All of these reactions make sense, considering the disgusting, cruel acts often committed against children — children who depend on their parents to protect them and come to their aid in situations too abysmal to comprehend.
On the other hand, what if you were told it was more acceptable not to call the police? Instead, what if you were instructed that you must tell a member of your church clergy first and let him handle it? And what if you actually followed this instruction, and then find out that nothing was done to punish the perpetrator? What if the clergy members told you that there had to be “two witnesses who personally saw the man touch your child” in order for them to act? Would you let the matter go? Could you?
That second scenario might seem outrageous to most people. No one could actually follow through with that ridiculous mandate – could they? Does this really happen? What are the facts?
You might be surprised to learn that every day over 7 million Jehovah’s Witnesses follow that exact commandment. In spite of the fact that there have been thousands of cases of child molestation within the Watchtower organization, there are still no effective policies established to protect these innocent children. The reality is that organization’s current policies actually protect sexual offenders.
Consider a portion of my own story:
The phone in my office rang. I looked at the caller ID and did not recognize the area code. I thought to myself, “I don’t know anyone in that area,” but after hesitating briefly decided to answer the phone anyway. I regretted my decision immediately.
The man spoke. “Hi Stephanie,” he said.
I froze. “I know that voice,” I thought.
“This is Norman.”
Yes, I definitely knew that voice. I felt my stomach tighten. “How did you get this number?” I challenged.
He took a breath and then said, “I ran into your mother at the last district convention [an annual 3-day meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses] and she gave it to me. I had a long conversation with her and told her how sorry I was for everything…,” he cleared his throat nervously, “that happened.”
“Everything that happened?” I thought. Everything? Like taking advantage of me when I was an innocent, completely untouched teenager?
I could feel the anger rising in my chest and my pulse quicken. I could feel beads of sweat forming on my forehead and heat filling my cheeks.
“So why are you calling me? I don’t get it,” I said rigidly. My body was stiff and indignant.
“Well, I wanted to apologize to you too.” He paused as if waiting for an answer. When I did not respond he continued, “I didn’t realize the pain I caused you. And, you know, I have children of my own…” he trailed off, again nervously clearing his throat. “Well, I guess I just would never want anyone to do what I did, you know, to my kids.”
My mind was reeling as I tried to digest what he was saying. My mother ran into him? She was well aware what this man had done to me, and yet she gave him my phone number? She had to know that he intended to contact me, and yet didn’t even bother to tell me?
After all of these years – after all of the pain, guilt and sadness I’d been carrying around — he dared to invade my existence now? I was furious.
I took a deep breath, and willed my composure to return.
“Norman, if you’re calling me in hopes of my absolving you of the guilt you feel over taking the innocence of a fourteen-year-old girl, then I am sorry to disappoint you.”
“I just…,” he paused, “Your mom…she told me that you’re not really doing well in the truth* and I thought, you know…somehow that was related to what I did.”
For a moment I considered his words. So he felt guilty? But I didn’t care. He is guilty. I felt absolutely no sympathy for him.
I felt the heat of my anger rise into my face at the very thought of my mother discussing my lackluster involvement in her religion with this defiler of children.
I pressed my lips together as if to trap the rage that was pooling in my mouth, primed to spew out at any moment with a flow of expletives. I sat in silence for a moment, and allowed my breathing to temporarily sedate my indignation.
“Whether I’m in the organization or not is really none of your concern,” I finally replied, “And furthermore, what you did affected my entire life. Not just my stance on ‘the truth,’ as you put it.”
He seemed unaffected by his quiet response, “Well, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. What you do with that is up to you.”
I refused to allow him to see how troubled I was by his bold intrusion in my life.
“Again, I have nothing else to say to you,” I responded. Then I simply said goodbye and hung up the phone.
I stared at the receiver while my thoughts clouded my vision. In that instant, I felt like I was 14 again —violated, helpless, and numb.
I picked up the phone again. Quickly and furiously I pressed the numeric combination that would eventually reach my mother.
Each ring felt like an eternity. I was livid. How could she have even spoken to this man, let alone given him a way to reach me? What could she possibly have been thinking?
She picked up the receiver.
“Mom,” I said, and without waiting for her reply, continued, “please tell me why I got a phone call from Norman. Tell me why you thought it would be appropriate to give him my contact information!”
I was so incensed I was shaking. Whose side was she on here? I would soon get my answer.
“Stephanie. Calm down.” She said passively, “I saw him at the last district convention, and he approached me. He told me how sorry he was for what he did to you all those years ago.”
I felt a pang in my stomach. He apologized to her? She wasn’t even there. And when I told her about what he did to me, she essentially did nothing. She told the elders in the congregation and reported back to me that we should “just leave it in Jehovah’s hands. He will correct it.”
She went on, “The man I saw before me that day was broken. He was plagued with guilt over what he had done. I felt moved to embrace him and tell him that I forgive him, and I think you should too.” She was so matter-of-fact about it. Her response infuriated me.
“You what?!” I cried back with a rising voice. Tears were welling in my eyes and I felt bile rising as my throat tightened. “You hugged him? You saw he was broken?” I was dizzy with rage and confusion. My voice cracked as I responded, “What about your daughter? I was broken fifteen years ago when he molested me and you did nothing!”
“I went to the elders, Stephanie. It was your word against his. And you know just as well as I do, without two witnesses…”
“Who cares about the elders?” I interrupted. “Why didn’t you go to the police?” Tears had finally made their escape from my eyes and were journeying down my cheeks.
She sighed, and then seemingly annoyed replied, “Look Stephanie, we did it Jehovah’s way. The elders handled it. They didn’t let him attain to any higher privileges [rankings] in the congregation for a while. Jehovah dispenses discipline in his own time.”
After hanging up the phone I felt disgusted and hurt. That very day I resolved to have nothing further to do with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Although I did not realize it then, I would eventually be disowned and shunned by my mother and nearly my entire family because of my decision that day.
I was raised in the high-control cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses and always knew about their policy that said, “There must be two or three eyewitnesses… no action can be taken if there is only one witness.” (Shepherd the Flock of God, pp. 72) My mother reminded me of this rule after I had told her about what had happened to me. Although my gut reaction told me this wasn’t normal, I didn’t question it. I accepted that my mother knew what was best for me. It wasn’t until I was an adult and started really doing my research that I realized not only how wrong it was, but how common child abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual) was within this cult.
There are no champions for children inside the organization. These are not people who are genuinely looking out for the safety of your progeny. This a group that is so preoccupied with not bringing “public reproach” on itself and its leaders, that members essentially cover up the horrific acts being committed against innocents, even their own children. And because this group is so controlled, its members truly do not believe there is anything wrong or out of the ordinary going on. That belief, perhaps, is the most alarming part.
This is why I was so excited when I found out about the work the group of Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses (AAWA) is doing. This group is really taking action to expose the harmful policies the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society is disseminating through Jehovah’s Witnesses. These policies are destroying childhoods, lives, and families. Those policies must be stopped.
For more information on AAWA, visit their website at AAWA.co.
A Silver Lining
I am a relatively new ex-Jehovah’s Witness and find myself still struggling with the events that eventually led to my disassociation. I constantly remind myself that if those things had never occurred I would have never met and married the love of my life, nor have the beautiful family we’ve created with our three exquisite children. I would have never found my “voice” through writing. Nor would I have gathered the courage to speak out about the things that are clearly amiss and even perverse within the organization. I might still be living inside the organization, still accepting their illusions and relinquishing total control over my life to a group of old men.
I’ve made the choice not to see myself as “a victim of the Watch Tower.” Each step I’ve taken toward getting my power back has been a small but delicious victory. I realize that there is a whole new life waiting outside the cult. I am truly grateful for being able to grasp my freedom!
* Jehovah’s Witnesses use the term “The Truth” to identify their organization. This term is only used between members and promotes the belief that they alone have the “only true religion.”
Note: “Norman” is a substituted name.