Brianne and Jayne grew up in regional Queensland during the 1980s. Their mother Margaret joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so did Brianne and Jayne and their other siblings, but their father wasn’t a member.
When Brianne was about eight and Jayne was nine, Brianne was doing Bible study at the home of an elderly female member of the congregation who lived near them. Her husband Thomas was often home and both sisters thought of him as ‘a nice old guy’.
Brianne, Jayne and Margaret came together to the Royal Commission to tell their story.
Brianne: ‘We rode down to the corner store. It wasn’t very far from our place and he lived across the road from a park. And we went over and spoke to him just in general, “Hi, how are you going?” And he was just talking to us, and then for some reason he just started talking about did we want to be his girlfriend and he was going to pay us $100.’
Brianne said nothing like that had ever happened when she’d been in his home.
‘He offered us the money, we said “No”, and then he wanted to show us something in his garage. And he kind of lured us in there and we just went with him. We had no idea what he was going to do. At that age you’re not aware of that sort of stuff so we followed him and then he exposed himself … He wanted us to touch him and we said “No”.’
Jayne: ‘That’s when he grabbed you to hug you and rubbed himself up on you a bit. Then he came to me and I tried to get us out. He got more assertive, more forceful then. We didn’t know whether he was going to get angry.’
The girls managed to get away and get back on their bikes.
Jayne: ‘It took us a while to come home. We rode home the long way. We thought “How are we going to tell?”’
Brianne said that it felt vulgar and dirty to talk about it so that afternoon they wrote a letter explaining what happened and gave it to their mum.
Margaret: ‘I went up to the elder that lived up the road who I knew quite well and told him, and he said “Leave it with me, I’ll speak to the other elders, we’ll take care of it”. Then I was told that everything would be all right, that they’d told him and his wife to get out of town, moving him off. And that they would just handle it, he’d be disfellowshipped. And then I said, “Well, what about, like the children in the congregation are okay, but what about other kids?” So I ended up ringing the police.’
The police came to the house and interviewed the girls. They then interviewed the elders.
Margaret: ‘And then [the elders] came and saw me later, really angry that I had given their names. So there was no support whatsoever from them.’
The elders refused to give evidence in court, but Thomas eventually pleaded guilty to two of the four charges against him, meaning the girls didn’t have to take the stand. He received a good behaviour bond and the elders forced him to move out of the area, and the whole thing was hushed up.
Brianne: ‘No one knew. We were told to keep it quiet. It went to court but no one in the organisation knew what happened to us. We never spoke about it with our friends. So he was disfellowshipped and moved on, and all our friends had no idea why … So other children aren’t warned.’
Margaret said when a member is disfellowshipped, there is no explanation given to the rest of the congregation, and no notification given to any new congregation they might join. She was told by someone that Thomas had been disfellowshipped and reinstated three or four times over a 20 year period for similar actions, before the incident with her girls.
Brianne: ‘So our incident could have been prevented. Definitely, 100 per cent.’
Soon after the incident Jayne started getting a lot of headaches, so Margaret took her to see a counsellor, thinking it may have been related to the abuse.
However, Jayne said, ‘I only went twice because I was going in on my own and you just felt a bit ashamed or embarrassed about it’.
Brianne: ‘It didn’t really affect us until we got later on in life and started having partners and stuff … It’s not flashbacks. It’s just to do with the whole sexual thing. I mean having a partner, and living day to day life’s fine, but the intimacy drowns out a bit and you just don’t want to go back there even though it’s an everyday thing … I think the older we get, we realise the severity of it. Someone taking advantage of us.’
The sisters went on to train in different fields and have careers. Both are now married and one has a young son. They acknowledge how unusual it was for such young girls to be able to disclose straight away.
Jayne: ‘We had a good relationship with Mum so we trusted her and we had a good upbringing. Also, being in the Witnesses did teach us to not lie, so if we did have any secrets or anything we had to come forward with it, so it did teach us good things as well.’
Despite this, all three say their trust in religions has been destroyed and they have all left the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Margaret summed it up: ‘I never felt the same about the elders that were involved. I still had a lot of nice friends in there, but I don’t think I spoke to a lot of them about it either. Maybe for the girls’ sake, because Jayne was so embarrassed that her friends at school might find out.’
‘That trust slowly deteriorated and I ended up leaving. It did leave a bad taste in my mouth that there was no support. Because the police were saying to me, “Whose side are these men on? They’re not on yours”.’