In the late 1980s, seven-year-old Calinda was watching a telemovie with her mother and her mother’s friend when the onscreen story took a dark turn, showing a graphic rape scene. Calinda’s mum was about to step in and turn the TV off when the friend said, ‘No, no, she needs to see this’.
Calinda watched the rest of the movie and found it ‘incredibly traumatising’. However, by the end, she said, ‘I kind of got it through my head “This isn’t okay”. And afterwards Mum asked me, “Has anyone ever – ” And I just went, “Yes”’.
Calinda revealed to her mum that from the age of four she had been repeatedly molested by two teenage boys who were friends with her brothers. Calinda’s mother’s first reaction was to report the incident to the elders of her Jehovah’s Witnesses Church.
The elders, Calinda said, were sympathetic to her and appalled by what had happened. One of them was so disturbed he ‘looked like he was going to throw up’. Calinda believes that it wasn’t just the abuse that troubled them, but also the elder’s understanding of how they, as good Witnesses, were obliged to respond to it.
‘In their defence, they were crying when they said to me you’re not allowed to go to the police. It was quite obvious on their faces I don’t think either of them were comfortable with that Jehovah’s Witness’ policy.’
Calinda returned to her regular life. As it turned out, she was never abused by the two boys again – not because of any intervention by the elders but because her brothers caught up with the boys and bashed them.
For the next few years Calinda was free from sexual abuse, though she often suffered physical abuse at the hands of her violent brothers. Then, at age 10 she went off one night to stay with her mother’s friend, Alice. Also at Alice’s house was her partner, an older man named Ned.
Ahead of Calinda’s stay, Ned passed on the message that he’d ‘love some cuddles from Calinda because I don’t get to see my grandchildren’. Calinda’s instincts told her that this was wrong but the elders insisted that she do what Ned asked. ‘Unfortunately,’ Calinda said, ‘cuddles were not what he wanted and again I was molested that night’.
The story came out and soon Calinda and her mum were back with the elders, hearing the same whitewash and warning again. ‘We were point blank told, “You cannot go to the police and if you do that you’ll bring reproach upon Jehovah’s name and you’ll be excommunicated”.’
Calinda’s troubles didn’t stop there. About a year later she developed breasts and found herself immediately targeted by her brother-in-law, Max, who fondled her every chance he could get. Again, she complained to the elders. They told her to keep praying, adding that ‘Through good, Christian conduct you may convert him’.
But as the attacks increased, Calinda found that she couldn’t just sit still and pray for Max’s conversion. Instead, she hit back, punching him in the face and sometimes elbowing him in the groin. For that, she was nearly excommunicated.
‘There’s an obscure scripture that makes it abundantly clear that a man’s genitals are sacrosanct and you cannot in any way disrespect them.’
In the end Calinda ‘learned to lie’ about her counter-attacks and escaped excommunication. Meanwhile, Max became more brazen and took to slipping his hands into Calinda’s shirt and down the front of her pants. He would do this in front of his wife (Calinda’s sister), whose only response was embarrassment.
Convinced that Max would not stop until he’d raped her, Calinda took her sister aside one day and said that if Max didn’t back off she’d contact his employer and get him fired. The threat worked and the abused ended. But this didn’t mean that Calinda was safe within the community. Led on by Calinda’s sister, the community turned against her and bullied her for years until she moved away to another city.
By this time Calinda was in her early twenties and still a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, though in a new church with new people. Early one morning she was walking to work when a man tried to drag her down an alley. She escaped, but the attack sparked a crippling onset of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Calinda sought help from her church. It took them a month to get back to her, and even then all they did was tell her to pray, and to finish some overdue paperwork. ‘That was enough for me to say that there was not a chance in hell that God would condone this religion, and I left.’
From that moment, Calinda was ostracised from her family. Since then she’s relied on psychiatric care and some close, loving friends to help her cope with the daily burden of her PTSD.
Though she appreciated her friends, Calinda often yearned for the security that only family could provide. She was pleased when, for a brief period, her mother relaxed some of her dogmatic views and rekindled their relationship. Sadly, the phase passed and Calinda’s mother returned to her old ways with renewed vigour and viciousness. Over the phone one time, Calinda confronted her mother about her unpleasant behaviour.
‘She launched into this tirade about me being the Antichrist and how I was just using everything as an excuse to not serve Jehovah, because I was just a whore and a slut and she wished she never had me.’
After this confrontation Calinda discovered that her mother wasn’t alone in her views, the whole family were saying horrible things about her behind her back. She decided to write them a letter to set the record straight.
‘I said … you can have my forgiveness whenever the heck you like it but until then I’m taking back my power and I’m taking back my self-respect, because good, healthy people don’t do to people what you’ve done to me. Whatever this is, it’s your guilt and your shame but it’s not mine.’
She’s heard nothing from them since. Meanwhile, Calinda has reported Max to police. The officer said that a conviction would be unlikely because the offence was so long ago and because ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses have a habit of rallying around each other and giving each other alibis’. Calinda chose not to pursue charges.
‘But at least something has been said, and if ever the situation comes up where there’s somebody else involved, then I’ll be the first person to scream from the rooftops.’