‘Cult,’ Ellie replied when the Commissioner asked how she would describe the Jehovah’s Witnesses. ‘You don’t have any life outside at all.’
Ellie grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness in Sydney in the 1970s and 1980s. She used to go to meetings with her grandmother and when she died, Ellie’s mother became a full Jehovah’s Witness.
Her dad was not a ‘fully fledged’ Witness but he went to all the meetings. When Ellie was five or six, he began to sexually abuse her. She believes her mum knew about it, but her mother’s first loyalty was to her Church and to the teachings of the elders. ‘She lived by those principles to her dying breath. Even on her deathbed everything was the Church.’
Ellie began playing up. She went to her Auntie Doreen’s place regularly to get away from home. Doreen was not a Jehovah’s Witness, and later told Ellie that she’d suspected there was something wrong.
When Ellie was 14 she told Doreen and her uncle about her father and they took her to the police to make a statement. By that stage her father’s abuse of her was mainly physical.
When her mother found out Ellie had made a statement, she and Ellie’s great-aunt confronted her. They told her to drop the charges or they’d put Ellie in a girls’ home.
‘Looking back now, she was so caught up in that religion it completely warped her way of thinking … She was so immersed in that religion that she took it literally.’
Ellie dropped the charges. She was bundled onto a bus heading north to live with relatives, also Jehovah’s Witnesses, so that it ‘wasn’t out there in Sydney, in the congregation, what had happened’.
Her relatives up north did not believe what she said about her father. ‘Said I just did it to cause trouble … All my relatives except for my one auntie and uncle … even after he admitted it, they still said I was lying.’
Eventually she came back to Sydney and moved in with another relative. ‘Nothing was done about it. It was just swept under the carpet.’
Ellie’s mother’s unwavering loyalty to her faith didn’t repay her when she reported to the Church her husband’s sexual assault. ‘He raped her on her deathbed, had his way with her. That was her words ... And they said it was his right as a husband and her duty as a Christian wife to be in subjection to her husband. And that was never reported either.’
Ellie moved on from this part of her life. She left the Church and got married. Ironically, her husband became a Jehovah’s Witness. ‘He got back in and then got me back in.’
But things changed when Ellie discovered that her child’s female scripture teacher had been replaced by a single man in his mid-40s. Ellie took her child out of religious class.
A friend questioned her actions but Ellie stood firm. Her Church group then cut Ellie and her husband off completely. It was the end of Ellie’s association with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. ‘That was it. That was the final straw.’
She sees it as a blessing in disguise when she looks back now. ‘Best decision I ever made.’
Ellie is not so positive when she contemplates the behaviour of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church now and in the future.
‘I know that this is still going on and I know for a fact that they will not go to the authorities. They have blatantly said that they will not report anything. There’s got to be a witness, two or three witnesses, if anybody comes to them with an abuse case. That’s never going to happen because there’s no witnesses when someone’s getting abused … It’s got to be forced on them. They will not, off their own bat, just change … They will protect their own name at all costs.’
Watching the public hearing into the Jehovah’s Witnesses prompted Ellie to contact the Commission. ‘I never knew there were so many people with the same stories.’ Her mother’s friends suffered the same things when they were growing up ‘and they were told not to go to the authorities ... And this is 40, 50 years ago’.
Ellie feels like her life has moved on. She has a supportive husband and good friends to talk to. However, the thought of the children who are still at risk upsets her.
‘The kids that are there now. It’s horrible. It’s not even just that they’re being abused. The whole thing is bad ... It’s just so bad … It’s the worst thing you could have your children in … People can’t leave. They want to leave but they can’t.’
Ellie believes the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church sees the Commission’s investigations as ‘theocratic warfare’ and that elders are telling congregations ‘they’re turning on us’, instead of trying to change things for the better.
‘They have a scripture in the Bible even the governing body go by … It’s along the lines of they can lie to protect Jehovah’s name to authorities … When I see them in interviews actually saying that, that scares the heck out of me.’