In late 2012, Whitney Heichel, a young woman who worked at Starbucks and who had just gotten married less than two years before, was kidnapped, forcibly sodomized and made to perform oral sex on her captor, and then shot several times. Her body was found a short time later; her neighbor was arrested and later pleaded guilty to the crime.
The entire situation is nothing short of horrific and tragic for her entire family and I hope they have found some peace and some closure in this time. However, as awful and vulgar as the entire crime was, I must ask if Whitney, an active Jehovah’s Witness at the time of her death (as was her neighbor and murderer), would have been disfellowshipped [excommunicated] and subsequently shunned by her entire family after her ordeal, had she not been killed.
The reason for this question is because of the standards set out by Jehovah’s Witnesses in their literature when it comes to rape, specifically, this information from the January 15, 1964, Watchtower:
“According to God’s law an Israelite girl was under obligation to scream … But suppose the man had a weapon and threatened to kill the girl if she failed to lie down with him? These scriptures do not weaken the argument or alter the situation by citing any circumstance that would justify her in not screaming … Such Scriptural precedents are applicable to Christians, who are under command, “Flee from fornication.” (1 Cor. 6:18) Thus if a Christian woman does not cry out and does not put forth every effort to flee, she would be viewed as consenting to the violation.”
This information was repeated in the June 1, 1968, Watchtower:
“Would it be different if the man had a weapon and threatened to kill you if you did not submit? No, the Scriptures plainly state that Christians are under obligation to “flee from fornication.” (1 Cor. 6:18) It is true that you face the possibility of death in this case. But you have no guarantee that if you meekly submit, your assailant will not kill you anyhow to avoid identification.”
The February 22, 1984, Awake repeated the instructions to fight and flee, and even made the bold claim that “the rapist is asking a person to break God’s law by committing fornication.” Yes, the writers of the Awake magazine actually believe that a rapist asks a woman to “commit fornication” with him, and then also apparently waits for her answer.
Shunned for Fornication
These words, calling rape the same as fornication and demanding a woman act or respond a particular way during such a terrifying and overwhelming ordeal, are an obscenity in of themselves. To make matters worse, they carry with them the very real threat of disfellowshipping and subsequent shunning by everyone in a woman’s congregation and family, if elders in her congregation feel she did not apply these words properly during an attack.
During her ordeal, Whitney was seen in the passenger seat of her car while her abductor used her ATM card. She was not screaming or fighting or trying to flee, and as said above, the fact that he had a weapon does not “weaken the argument” that she was obligated to do so, or else be seen as “consenting to the violation,” according to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
So my question again is, Would Jehovah’s Witnesses have disfellowshipped and shunned this woman after her ordeal, if she had lived? According to their own words and their own standards, that’s exactly what they would have done. Not only would elders from her congregation go through with this step of disfellowshipping and with calling her a fornicator, but then her entire family and all her friends would be obligated to ignore her and shut her out of their lives completely, just when she needed them the most.
Yes, It Is Insensitive
Using the graphic, brutal, horrifying rape and murder of this young woman as a means of making a point is insensitive, but not on my part. I’m not the one who thinks it’s okay to demand a woman try to fight and resist and flee during a horrific, overwhelming attack, and I never said that a gun pointed to your head is no excuse for failure in this regard. I’m not the one running an organization that has three men sit alone with a rape victim and have her describe the ordeal in minute detail, so as to determine if she was really raped or not and if she followed through with their demands to fight and resist appropriately. I’m not the one who threatens rape victims with shunning if they don’t do what I feel they should have done, and I’m not the one who has equated rape with fornication and implied that a woman who doesn’t suddenly become a kung fu master or Sarah Connor from the “Terminator” movies has “consented to the violation.” I didn’t do those things, so I’m not the one being obscenely insensitive here.
The fact that this beautiful and happy young woman went through such an ordeal should be used as an opportunity to show the graphic, ludicrous nature of these rules and demands on the part of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s so easy to sit in an office in your religion’s sterile headquarters, far away from the rank and file members, and come up with demands for your adherents, but when the reality of those rules is seen in real life they should be used to slap you in the face if necessary. Whitney was an innocent young woman who was obviously terrorized and brutalized, and went through one of the worst ordeals imaginable, yet if she had lived, she would then have faced even more victimization by the very men who are supposedly there to shepherd her spiritually. This would have been done to her because the leaders of this religion don’t understand the difference between fornication, an act to which you agree, and rape, a crime committed against you, and because they insist on applying a law given by Moses to the nation of Israel, laws that Christians are under no obligation to follow today.
Along with questioning the leaders of this religion, it is good to question her husband and her family, and ask them if they still agree with all the beliefs of their own religion, given what they have said to women who suffered the same fate as Whitney. Again, it’s so easy to dismiss the vulgarity of those words and demands when it’s not your wife or your daughter that has been brutalized, but when this type of horrific crime happens in your own home, it’s time to think about the system you endorse. Her funeral was held in a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the funeral talk was given by an elder in the religion, who followed an outline written by the same men who made these rules about fighting and screaming. Not only does this imply that her husband and family endorse these words, but all Jehovah’s Witnesses go out and try to give this same literature to complete strangers, also endorsing those beliefs.
If those magazines mentioned above had been printed at the same time that Whitney was brutalized and murdered, would they have been proud to hand them out? Would they have been proud to read them to Whitney as they told her of their decision to disfellowship and shun her? Is this really a religion based on love, as Jehovah’s Witnesses so often claim? If Whitney had lived and gone through this type of horrible treatment from all the Witnesses she knew, I wonder what her answer would be to that question.
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