By “A Survivor”
Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by a former Jehovah’s Witness who is now a married mother in her late thirties. Many of the stories she has shared with me about her years growing up in a Jehovah’s Witness family are quite graphic and very upsetting. They are stories of verbal, physical and even extreme sexual abuse by her father, an active Jehovah’s Witness and elder for much of his life. For obvious reasons, her name and those of her family members are disguised along with the two boys mentioned in her story. I think her story has value to Jehovah’s Witnesses – and ex-JWs as well – as she uncovers some of the stress placed upon children who are forced to live different lifestyles and under very restrictive rules in some Jehovah’s Witness families.
I think being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness is a different experience than for someone who “studied” and became a JW later in their life. You are taught from a young age to look at the world and other people from a distance. You are also taught that you are superior to them because you know “The Truth.” Pretty soon they won’t be here. They won’t make it through “Armageddon” because they are all “sinners” and “worldly.”
I remember a time when I was a young child when I actually believed what I was being taught. Now that I think about it, I realize that it was really the stories of the Biblical and historical figures that fascinated me. As I got older, more and more of the doctrines, principles and rules made less and less sense to me.
I think if there had been more Witnesses my age, school would have been a lot different for me. There were very few kids in the local congregation, and they were either quite a bit younger or older and went to different schools than I did. I remember being the only Witness at my school for many years.
In elementary school I was set apart. First because of my “accent” (my first grade teacher told me that it was not “I went to the store”, but rather it was “I went to thee store”). I wouldn’t salute the flag each morning and I would also have to leave my class and sit out in the hall during all the birthday and holiday parties (talk about embarrassing!)
Later when I attended middle and high school I was not able to have any social contact with anyone outside of school. When you add in my love of reading, always raising my hand with the answer, and my agility impairment – all together they equalled my being considered as one giant oddball.
For one reason or another my family did not have a television until I was about thirteen. For many years I was completely clueless whenever the other kids talked about different actors and shows. When we finally did get a TV it seemed like all the good shows were on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I was at meetings. So I was still clueless. (I am glad there are such things as “re-runs” or I would still be in the dark about the TV shows of that time. I think I was the only one on the planet who still had a crush on Scott Baio.)
By the time I entered high school I was sick of being the “weird chick.” I was sick of being a good girl, a good Witness, and following all the rules.
There was a boy I liked at school named Bryan. I think he was a junior. He was dark and mysterious – a “bad boy.” His best friend Cameron was in one of my elective classes and I would pump him for information about Bryan. We eventually became good friends and I felt really comfortable around him. Cameron thought I was funny and he saw “me.” Later he would play a big role in helping me get away from my father.
Several months into the school year Bryan broke up with his girlfriend and Cameron tried to get us together. I started skipping school with both of them. At first it would be just the last class of the day; we would hang out behind the building or sit in Bryan’s car. Then Cameron talked me into skipping the whole day and we would hang out at his house or drive around town.
My mom would drop me off at the front door of the school and I would walk straight out the back – where Cameron and Bryan would be waiting for me. I was a nervous wreck – but what an adrenaline rush!
I started losing weight and I still remember the day I was able to fit into a size-6 pair of pants. I started gaining confidence and an attitude – and Bryan finally started to notice me.
Bryan hardly ever said a word to anybody. Cameron was the only person he really talked to, and then half the time it would just be looks passed between them. One day Bryan asked me if I wanted to hang out at his house – without Cameron. I thought I had died and gone to heaven!
In his room (he didn’t say anything then either) he put on an Enigma CD and walked up to me. This wasn’t my first kiss, but this was the first time I actually “made out” with a boy, and it was heady stuff. Everything about it was against the rules set by my parents and my religion.
The music alone would have been taboo and would have been considered “demonic,” but I loved it. Not because I thought it was demonic, but because it was so mysterious. . . and primal.
I was totally into the moment and let him lead me to the bed. One thing led to another – as those things tend to do. Then all of a sudden I freaked out at the last minute and told him to stop. I was terrified that my father would walk in any minute! In fact, I was convinced of it.
I made him get off me and when I started to get dressed Bryan became really angry. The ride back to school was uncomfortable – to say the least.
The three of us continued to hang out, but Bryan only tolerated my presence because I was Cameron’s friend. Later I started confiding in Cameron – not about of the sexual abuse I had suffered at home (because that was still repressed at the time) – but about the verbal and physical abuse that I was forced to endure.
The master bedroom that my father had built was attached to the back of the house. The acoustics in the house allowed my parents to hear my sister and I whenever we were talking to each other from our rooms that were kitty-cornered from each other.
One night my mom called for us to settle down, to stop talking, and go to sleep. My sister kept talking to me and asking me questions; my father yelled for us to be quiet. When I refused to answer her anymore, she started calling my name again and again. My father wanted to know who it was that kept talking. My sister answered him, saying that I was the one.
My father called me into my parents’ bedroom and refused to believe me when I told him that my sister had lied. Even though I was fifteen and already a fully-developed young woman, he ordered me to get his belt from the closet and then walk back to his bed where he was laying down. He sat up and made me lift up my nightgown and pull my panties down and lean over his lap. Then he spanked me ten times with the belt. I remember being so embarrassed and angry – angrier than I had ever been before – at him, my sister, and the fact that this was my life.
I was sick of it! All of it!
I went back to my room and cried. They were angry tears – tears of frustration. I waited until I was sure everyone was asleep and then I wrote a note (I can’t even begin to remember what it said), put it on my pillow, got dressed, and walked out the front door.
I walked the two miles into town, and then another five miles across town to Cameron’s house. A few blocks from the street that Cameron lived on I saw a police officer sitting in his car in the shadows. I thought for sure that was going to be it for me, but he didn’t get out as I walked by him.
I threw rocks at Cameron’s window. When he came out of his house we sat on the swings in his back yard. I told him what had happened and we tried to figure out what to do. As we were talking, the police officer came walking through the back yard, shining his flashlight. He wanted to know what was going on, why I was there, what my name was, etc.
Cameron tried to tell him how serious the situation was for me and that it would be really bad when my father found out. The police officer just thought we were being dramatic. I was taken to the police station where my parents were called to come and pick me up.
Armageddon finally broke out when we got home.