‘That anger. I was really angry for so long. So much hatred. I would dream about planting bombs in his house … or killing him, violently killing him. And I was like, eight. So yeah, that just can’t be great for anyone’s mental health.’
Allison grew up in a Jehovah’s Witnesses family in Queensland. ‘It’s very black and white. You’re either in there, or if you’re not with them, you are, by default, supportive of [Satan]. So a lot of outside interaction is very discouraged.’
Allison told the Commissioner, ‘It’s like having a great big fairy tale, and you can just go, “Well, I made a bad choice, but actually, that was Satan”, so it can be a world where there isn’t a lot of accountability, and we’re seeing that now’.
In the late 1980s, ‘my mother was working … so she couldn’t watch me, and that’s when it happened. That family was part of the … organisation … They were trusted … She would act like the congregation babysitter, and that was how he accessed them’. ‘He’ was Carl Rivers, a trusted member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation.
Allison was five when Rivers sexually abused her for the first time. She recalled trying to call out to his wife, and then his hand over her mouth so her cries wouldn’t be heard. The abuse occurred on multiple occasions over several years.
‘[I] got the courage to approach [my mother] and I said that he was touching me all the time, and she dismissed me and said, “Oh, no, he’s just playing with you, just tickling”.’ At the time, Allison’s family were in the process of moving house, and Carl and his family moved in with them for a while, ‘so then he was able to access me every day’.
Allison told the Commissioner, ‘[My mother] didn’t believe me … I’m a mother now. I would never ignore my child. That’s what she did. She just dismissed it as nothing, and that’s when it got worse’.
A short time after reporting the abuse to her mother, another member of the congregation found a vibrator that Carl had been using on Allison and asked if she’d been abused. Allison said, ‘Yes’.
The congregation held a judicial committee meeting. ‘He was sitting across from me. They were asking me questions about the level of abuse that he was doing to me … All of these questions, and he’s sitting there across from me, giving me a death stare’. Carl had also been intimidating the family prior to the meeting.
‘All these little things he had been doing to make sure that, well, to hopefully try and get us to be quiet … I was feeling threatened. So then you have to face the person, so I just told a lie. I just dismissed it as two things. He only touched me two times, just with his hands, but the [reality] was so different.’
When she was 19 and at university, struggling ‘with the real world, because you don’t get any training in how to be a person, just a follower’, Allison told her mother that she was leaving the Church. When her mother asked why Allison told her, ‘because Carl raped me. It was worse than what I’d explained to you’.
Allison’s mother accused her of encouraging Carl, because she always wanted to go and play at his house. Because Allison wasn’t allowed to play with her school friends, the children being minded at Carl’s house were the only ones she could play with. ‘I didn’t have anyone else, so I just couldn’t fathom that that’s what she had actually said to me.’
Allison described ‘a false safety within the organisation … People are always automatically presumed to be safe and trustworthy … There could be a paedophile in any congregation and a family would never know. He could be sitting right next to them’.
During her late teens, Allison was ‘a risk-taker. Take drugs, alcohol. There was never any balance. So I would excessively consume … and I would fight. I would fight with people, like physically fight people, because I was just so angry all the time … Really reckless decision-making. Never thinking about any long-term consequences’.
Allison also had problems with relationships. ‘You don’t see amazingly good things, you know … I always liken sexual abuse to if you have a window and it’s been shattered, and so the perception of everything you see is changed by all of the glass shards … It definitely warps who you are as a person.’
Following the revelation of Allison’s abuse, Carl was disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, a couple of years before she left the organisation, she saw him at one of their big conventions, and he was wearing a name badge. ‘If you have a name badge on, you’re part of the flock … That meant that he was re-instated within the congregation.’
Even though he had been disfellowshipped several times, ‘as a re-offender, apparently’, he continued to be re-instated. She was worried about the family she saw him sitting with, and wanted to warn them, but ‘if I did … I would be up for slander … You’re not allowed to speak about such things’.
At the time she first wanted to leave, Allison was persuaded to remain with the congregation, but she has now left, and is planning for a brighter future with her husband and children.
Allison told the Commissioner, ‘You can’t celebrate birthdays. You can’t celebrate Christmas. You can’t do any of that stuff, so you have a really shitty childhood in the first place … It would have been nice to just have lived a childhood without [the sexual abuse] … Sometimes I’m surprised I came out normal’.