When Candice watched the live feed of the Royal Commission’s public hearing into sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, her own abuse in the Church ‘came flooding back. I just remember walking around the flat, saying “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, I can’t believe this”’. Candice’s mother had joined the Church in the mid-1960s, when her family moved to Australia.
A couple of years later, when Candice was 15 years old, they met Jacob Plummer and his wife. Newly married, the couple were expecting a child, and Candice ‘adored both of them’. Plummer was a young ministerial servant at the congregation Candice attended with her family, in suburban Perth.
Soon, Plummer started picking Candice up in his car, taking her out ‘witnessing’ (calling on people in the community), and her parents left her in the couple’s care when they went on holiday. ‘He started touching me. And he started undoing my blouse – I’ve always been well-blessed ... And he used to just fondle me’.
It is still hard for Candice to remember everything that happened during this period. ‘I’ve really struggled with memories. But I don’t want to go too far back ... I don’t want to dig too far, you know what I mean, because I don’t know what I’ll find. So, it’s a bit difficult all these years on.’
Candice recalls finding Plummer’s behaviour confusing at the time. ‘You know when you kind of know it’s wrong, but the person that’s doing it is like a “proper person” ... I never, ever thought it was wrong, I couldn’t. I thought he loved me, as I loved him and his wife and the baby. I just thought it was all part of this loving sort of family that we were all in.
‘And I don’t know how long it went on for. I’ve got the feeling that it would have been quite a few months before he had a touch of the guilts – I don’t know what happened – but he confessed to his wife.’
As a result of Plummer’s confession, the congregation’s elders conducted their own judicial committee into the matter. During the Church process, Candice was ‘hauled in front of these three men [elders] ... I remember going there, and still not understanding what was wrong, what is happening’.
One particular line of questioning further confused Candice. Despite having already been told the ‘facts of life’, she did not believe them (‘it all seemed so gross, no, it can’t be that’), and so remained quite naive about sexual matters. When the elders asked her ‘did he touch you below the waist?’ she wondered, ‘well why would he do that? He was hugging and kissing me, why would he do that?’
Candice did not have her parents or any other support people present, and there were no other women in the room. The committee found that Candice was at fault. Afterwards, her mother forbade her going out with her friends for a period of time as punishment. ‘My mother is still of the opinion that girls make it [abuse] up. She would always favour the person who is doing the abusing, rather than the person who’s being abused.’
Plummer’s wife was also portrayed as being partially to blame. ‘I do remember somebody saying “Oh, you know, they’ve had a talk to his wife, and she was paying too much attention to the baby and not to him – and that’s why he did it”.’
As far as Candice is aware, Plummer was not subject to any reprimand or other consequences for abusing her – ‘they didn’t want to lose him, he was a ministerial servant’. Because of his position, she was still expected to show him respect.
The abuse was not reported to police by the Church, and Candice did not do so herself. ‘There was no expectation then, that you could do anything else about it. Everything was handled within the congregation. It is so closed.’
Candice didn’t speak about the abuse again until she contacted the Commission. She said that generally, the congregation’s attitude towards sexual abuse was often to accuse the victim of being mistaken – ‘you must have misinterpreted that, you must have heard wrong, you must have seen wrong, that can’t have been. Brother so-and-so wouldn’t have done that’.
Candice finally left the Jehovah’s Witnesses more than 20 years ago and moved back to her home country soon after. At the age of 40 she had a nervous breakdown. Now a member of a support group for former Jehovah’s Witnesses, she draws strength from her relationships within this group. She is aware that many of these people were also sexually abused in the Church when they were young but are still unable to speak about it.
‘I think some people are still too scared, and too ashamed, because it’s that thing that it’s your fault. And that is the worst thing ... There must have must have been something you did, that led him on to do that. No, no. You’re a child.’