‘Living a Christian life, if it’s done right, can be quite an idealistic reality … But it doesn’t allow room for when it goes wrong … And from my point of view and from my experience it’s like this ideal that’s there that I’m supposed to achieve, but it doesn’t fit with my experience.’
Georgina’s faith as a Jehovah’s Witness has been one of her strongest supports as she’s tried to deal with the sexual abuse she experienced as a child. But, as she describes it, it has also created a paradox within her.
‘It’s been so essential in helping me to cope with everything, my faith in God. The religious teaching that we have and the application of scriptural principals have been fundamental in helping me to achieve some peace.
‘But in saying that, the paradox is that continuing to be a Jehovah’s Witness has been the hugest trigger … Trying to stay Jehovah’s Witness has been a living hell on earth … I’ve had to work through an incredible amount of pain and isolation within the congregation and within the organisation.’
Georgina grew up in the 1970s on the east coast with her parents and siblings, all of them Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her father was extremely violent to everyone in the family.
‘We were getting hit from very young ages. I got hit as a baby. The sexual abuse started around two or three years of age and I had no recollection. I remembered the physical abuse but I had no recollection of the sexual abuse until I was 20 and it was due to a medical condition that started bringing it all out and that changed everything.’
After remembering the sexual abuse, she went to see an elder but not the police. Georgina said her twenties were ‘a write-off’.
‘I was so filled with anger and I just wanted to murder [my father]. I rang him up and I wanted him to take responsibility … I said to him “What about the sexual abuse? Who did it to you to make you do it to me?” And he said his mother did. He never denied it.’
In her 30s Georgina was hospitalised in a psychiatric ward. The staff encouraged her to report, but the police didn’t have enough information to investigate and her father wasn’t charged.
Georgina also recalled being abused by a teacher at her primary school in Sydney when she was in Grade 1. She contacted the education department but they refused to release any information, saying the teacher had since died. Nothing further was done about that incident.
The impact on Georgina over the years has been profound and worsened as she got older. She self-harmed, developed post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder, was suicidal for six years, and overdosed on medication. It has left her unable to cope with any kind of sexual relationship as intimacy brings up all the memories, yet she also feels very lonely and isolated living on her own.
Georgina’s father was eventually disfellowshipped for having an affair with a woman who had children, and her parents divorced. But she said the elders never dealt with the way he treated his family, despite having opportunities to intervene.
‘At the time, although no-one knew I was being sexually abused, there were several occasions that the elders knew there was a serious problem and that they could have called the police even with the physical abuse … My father started having sexual intercourse with me from seven years of age. If they had stepped in [earlier] and called the police and maybe it had come out into the open, the sexual abuse wouldn’t have progressed and continued on as much as it had.’
Georgina now has a job she loves, she sees a therapist, takes her medication, and practises her faith.
She decided not to pursue legal action because she’d rather help the Church find ways to improve its response than get revenge. Likewise with compensation, she’d rather any money continues to go to their good work.
‘It would be good if they encouraged people in the congregation that, if something happens to them, that they have the option to call the police. These are influential people within the religion. They have a powerful position and it should be more, if there’s a rape or a child sexual abuse or an assault, alright to talk to the elders, but you also have the option to call the police. This needs to be investigated, this is a criminal act.
‘So I do believe in mandatory reporting and I believe that it should be an option that should be presented to people because you don’t automatically think it straight away. Particularly if it’s against someone who is a Jehovah’s Witness. You don’t like to. You think it’s going to bring reproach on Jehovah or the brothers and it prevents you from seeking legal help …
‘Even though what happened to me was really bad it doesn’t mean that there’s no creator and just because I don’t like the answers that Jehovah gives doesn’t mean that he doesn’t exist or that he’s not right ... But so many do leave and I think it is because they don’t get acknowledged. It’s very isolating … You have so much anger and it filters everything and it makes life miserable. And it’s not what I want. I don’t want to feel this way.
‘My psychotherapist says we don’t just want you to survive, we want you to thrive, so that’s what I’m working towards. Surviving and thriving.’