I’ve brought out in many other posts on this site that women in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses are strongly encouraged if not outright told to stay “submissive” to their husbands, even in the face of abuse (see the Women and Domestic Violence categories). In this post you can read about two examples of women who faced physical abuse at the hands of their spouses; “Selma” was chastised for feeling sorry for herself, and “Valerie” was commended for staying with a man even after he threatened her while holding a knife to the throat of their son.
During the recent 2015 Royal Commission Inquiry Into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse being conducted in Australia, notes from a judicial committee (the internal justice system of Jehovah’s Witnesses) were submitted for evidence. This judicial committee was formed to hear about the father of “BCG,” who was cheating on his wife at the time. BCG had already tried to talk to the elders about the horrific physical violence she had been suffering at this man’s hands, and she was laughed off. She then told the elders of how her father had molested her, which her mother also said had been happening “4-5 times,” including instances with her other sisters.
As I bring out in this post, the elders responded by counseling BCG to respect her father. What is also interesting in the notes from that meeting is that they counseled the wife about her “subjection” and how it may have contributed to the father leaving:
Consider this for a moment. The mother had, by this time, spoke of her husband having molested their daughters, the elders mentioned his “sexual perversion” in their notes, and evidence of his violent physical abuse had been seen. Yet, while the elders did eventually decide to disfellowship (excommunicate) him for adultery, they also saw fit to counsel the mother on her “subjection” and counsel the daughter to “respect” him.
This makes me wonder how it is that Jehovah’s Witness women are supposed to protect their children, and how children are supposed to protect themselves, from sexual abuse when being told to be in subjection and to show respect to such a man. If anything, it creates an atmosphere that might encourage silence during sexual abuse, from both the children and the adults in the home.
First consider the position this counsel puts women in as far as taking steps to protect their children from sexual abuse. It may be easy to scoff and say that of course women can and should report sexual abuse of their children to elders and the police, that it’s an exception to other types of abuse. However, back up that thinking for just a moment and note the experience of Valerie above. Her husband was violently, physically abusive to their child, to the point of threatening to kill him.
This goes beyond verbal abuse or just spanking, and it’s also a crime. Yet, Valerie is commended for simply putting up with this abuse for many, many years. How would sexual abuse of a child be any different? Sexual abuse is abhorrent and vile, but so is threatening to slit the throat of a child. Sexual molestation involves physical abuse, but so does holding a knife to a child’s throat. Both are terrifying, humiliating, violating, and may scar a child for life. They both take away a child’s sense of physical security and make them feel that their bodies are not their own, that they don’t even deserve physical protection in the home. How are they so different, when it comes to the response Jehovah’s Witnesses encourage women to have?
Note too the counsel given in the February 15, 2007, Watchtower to wives:
Listen carefully to the words being used here. The example is of being submissive to “harsh” authorities, Christ “suffered” for us, he “endured,” and submission is in the face of “abuse.”
“Peter indicated that some unbelieving husbands – even those who are abusive – will become Christians after observing the submissive conduct of their wives.”
Nowhere does it say, “Unless the harsh abuse becomes sexual; of course you shouldn’t endure that suffering.” It simply talks about being submissive to husbands who are “abusive,” period.
If Valerie is held up as an example of staying submissive to a man after threatening to kill a child with a knife, why wouldn’t a woman assume it’s perfectly acceptable if not even commendable to let her husband rape or molest their children? Why assume that if women are taught to ignore one form of terrible, violent physical abuse, she will somehow “just know” to properly protect her children from another?
Suppose too that the husband is not committing actual sexual penetration, but his molestation involves fondling, removing the doors of the bedrooms and bathrooms, exposing himself, masturbating in front of children, and so on? If holding a knife to the throat of a child is not reason enough to leave and get a child out of harm’s way, why and how would a woman assume that she should report such behavior and get the children to safety? As I bring out in this post, after a man was caught fondling the breasts of his sleeping stepdaughter, the incident was referred to by Jehovah’s Witnesses as a “minor uncleanness,” with no thought of making a police report or removing him from the home. Wouldn’t women assume that they too should simply endure such “minor” matters as fondling, peeping, and so on?
How Can the Children Get Protection?
If a grownup, adult woman finds herself stuck between wanting to protect her children and the consistent chastising when it comes to “subjection” to her husband even when he’s “abusive,” imagine how much more difficult the situation is for children. While Jehovah’s Witnesses have published an article or two about avoiding sexual abuse, they have also published dozens and dozens of statements about obeying one’s parents:
“…you owe your parents respect and obedience.”
– November 15, 2010, Watchtower
“…the Bible commands you to obey your parents.”
– Young People Ask
“Did you know that Jesus was obedient both to Jehovah and to his parents?— His example can help you to obey your parents even when it’s not easy.”
– Teach Your Children
While this information for children does include a rare exclusion, note how this is worded:
“However, if your parents tell you to do something that God says you should not do, you can explain why you cannot do it. You should not lie, steal, or do any other bad thing that God says is wrong, no matter who tells you to do it.”
– March 1, 2012, Watchtower
This certainly would seem like children should understand that they can tell a parent “no” when it comes to sexual activity, but are we so sure? The quote above says that they shouldn’t do a “bad thing that god says is wrong,” but how can a young child know that what is happening to them, at the hands of a parent, is bad or wrong? Many Jehovah’s Witnesses that I know homeschool their children or will keep them out of sexual education classes, so don’t assume children will learn about this inappropriate form of touching from a teacher.
Consider, too, that parents may disguise sexual abuse as a form of discipline, and Jehovah’s Witnesses allow and use corporal punishment freely. With very young children, parents may call sexual abuse “games” or “special time.” A child may not realize until they’re well into their teens that what is happening to them is molestation and pedophilia, any more than they may realize when spankings have crossed the line into downright abuse. Even if something in their young minds tells them that the sexual activity is wrong or when they get old enough to understand the situation, they have been conditioned repeatedly, over the course of many years and through dozens and dozens of statements from Jehovah’s Witnesses, that they need to be obedient to their parents and never question them, no matter how abhorrent their behavior.
Since physical abuse in other forms is ignored or even laughed off, or children get counseled when they ask elders for help with abuse as was the case of BCG, children may assume that they need to do what the parent tells them. They may feel that they need to “endure” sexual abuse as a way of being obedient to parents, the way wives “endure” physical abuse as a way to be submissive to their husbands.
The Perfect Storm
The religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses has often been called a pedophile’s paradise, and I would argue that this begins with women and children being told time and again to remain in subjection and to have respect even for an abusive parent. I’m sure some will object to this statement, saying that “of course” sexual abuse is different, but never apply your own healthy thinking to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most women would know to leave a home when they or their children are being beaten and to not stay in the hopes of converting their abusive husbands to their religion, and to call the police when a child confides to being sexually abused even by a member of their religion, but not Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Since JW women and children are told to be obedient and submissive, even in “abusive” homes, don’t assume those women will draw the line at sexual abuse or that children will somehow know or be able to speak up about it either. After all, with 1,006 known pedophiles in Australia alone and not one being reported to the police by elders, plus thousands of cases reported elsewhere, something has to be wrong, somewhere, in the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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