Like so many people, I am a victim of child abuse. I’ve been abused both physically and mentally by various caregivers. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been in the news for a number of years now with sordid reports of sexual abuse of minors by members of their own organization. While I have been spared this type of abuse, several of my sisters have not. How did this happen?
I believe part of the answer lies in the fact that some Jehovah Witness parents cannot fathom on any level that another Jehovah Witness would ever commit such a horrible act. They reason that perhaps their children misunderstood the actions of the adults in question. They may have known the accused for a number of years, and quite often the individual has been a long-time, close family friend. In the cases I am aware of, their apparent devotion to “Jehovah” was without question. The outward appearance in no way, shape or form bears any resemblance to the monstrous acts they are accused of.
When a child tells an adult, especially a parent, of the abuse, and they are not immediately believed, it can have a long-lasting and harrowing impact on the individual for the rest of their lives. I have a sister struggling with additions to drugs, alcohol and love, as I myself once did. The little girl inside of her is still screaming for validation. Now that she is disfellowshipped, no one in her family that is an active JW will speak with her at all, despite the serious crisis she is dealing with. No one protected her as a child, and no one is coming to her aid now. I’m certain this is not what a loving God would condone.
My sister and I recently enjoyed a long discussion where we realized that we shared many of the same experiences of parental neglect and abuse. We did not feel protected as children, left to face the coldest aspects of this world without a shield. We are not sure that our parents have any realization about what they did, or what they failed to do. In any event, one thing is for sure, they have never apologized for their failure to be good parents. My sister recalls trying to bring up the topic to her mother (who is actually my stepmother) as an adult. The response she was met with was disturbing. My sister was asked why she “can’t get over what happened,” why she “can’t let it go.” Why indeed? Because she has never been able to receive closure.
Inadequate or abusive parents cannot of course take back what they have done, but they can start by acknowledging their failures, and more importantly, apologizing to their children for what they did or did not do. My own mother, upon learning that I had completed a memoir about my own life and realizing that it would have of course described her own shortcomings as a parent, seemed very concerned that I would forgive her for her actions. I know she is remorseful. Of course I have forgiven her. I have forgiven all who mistreated or abused me on the path to my current self, for I know that forgiving others is a gift I give to myself. From my perspective, carrying hate and anger and blame within ourselves is actually more poisonous and dangerous than the original neglect and abuse.
So if you have been abused or neglected, I would advise you to forgive those who are responsible. If you are the responsible party, resign yourself today to looking in the mirror and confessing to yourself. Then, go to the child or the adult that was victimized and tell them you realize what you did, and most importantly, let them know you are sorry. It won’t heal all old wounds, but it is a start.