Quick Exit

Experiences Shared

Sara

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Sara grew up in a divided family. Her mother was a Jehovah’s Witness but her father never joined the faith. He began to have affairs, left the family home and passed away when Sara was 11.

Relying on the support it provided, her mother became increasingly involved with her religion.

Sara describes how as a female in the faith she had less status than the males and was expected to be subservient to the wishes and desires of the men around her. She wasn’t allowed to mix with ‘non-believers’ and although she attended school she didn’t have normal friendships or take part in school trips and social gatherings.

She remembers being hit with a horse crop by her mother as punishment for not living up to the standards expected by the faith.  

Sara was sexually abused when she was about five or six years old by a ‘brother’ in the faith. The abuser was a friend of the family and an ‘elder with status’ in the community. She recalls at least five more occasions when she was sexually assaulted by ‘brothers’ in the community.  

When she was in her mid teens, Sara left home and went to stay with friends to escape the religion. She was sexually assaulted by a taxi driver who she believes spotted her vulnerability and inexperience of the outside world. She reported the taxi driver to the police years later but couldn’t give them sufficient detail and no action was taken.  

After Sara left home she says she was ‘shunned’ by the faith and everyone she had ever known. Her mother and brother are still devotees and did not talk to her for many years. She remarks that she doesn’t feel able to speak out publicly while her mother is alive as it would ‘break her heart’.

Sara describes how she has had to ‘recreate’ herself into the person she is now and learn to live in a very different world. Sara has experienced acute anxiety, flashbacks and PTSD but has completed training in therapy and built a career helping others.  

She is aware that there are many survivors who have experienced a similar upbringing to her own and this is now becoming public knowledge.

She explains how difficult it is to report child sexual abuse within her former religious community. The faith requires two ‘witnesses’ before an allegation can be considered and a panel of four men, including the accused, usually sits in judgement of the person bringing the complaint.

Findings are reported to the heads of faith, not to the police or social services. Sara believes the headquarters of the faith has a list of people that amounts to a ‘paedophiles’ register’.

Sara articulates several priorities that she would like to see put in place to protect children brought up in closed faiths. She believes the need to educate and protect children must be balanced against the desires of parents to raise children in strict religious environments.

She would like to see monitoring of extended schools and after-school clubs, especially ones that are faith related, and of home education.

Sara also believes that schools should make it clear that pupils will receive lessons on subjects such as sex education and sexual health, and not allow parents to opt out of allowing their children to attend sex education, vaccinations and so on.

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