‘I knew it was absolutely wrong. No one ever told me it was a crime.’
Kimmie was born into a large family which regularly moved around Queensland in the 1960s. Her mother stayed at home and her father worked on farms. Family life was difficult – Kimmie’s father was emotionally and physically abusive to his wife and children, who were isolated on various properties and discouraged from having friends.
When Kimmie was nine, her mother joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses church in a rural town. Kimmie and her siblings were brought up within the religion but lived away from the congregation. Her father was not a Jehovah’s Witness but did attend Bible study occasionally with the family.
Growing up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses was difficult. Kimmie was discouraged from socialising and was never allowed to play sport. Nor were she or her siblings allowed to have friends over or associate themselves with non-Jehovah’s Witnesses.
‘Everyone else was bad, they were good.’
Kimmie’s father continued to abuse his family members for several years. She recalls her father holding a gun to her head on several occasions but her mother didn’t do anything about his behaviour. When Kimmie turned 12, her father began sexually abusing her.
The abuse continued for several years but Kimmie kept quiet, being scared of her father and not knowing who to tell. However, when she discovered her father had done the same to her little sister, she told her mother.
Kimmie said her mother believed her, and took the children to stay with their aunt in another town. ‘But then she went back and took us back.’
Her mother told the Jehovah’s Witnesses elders about the abuse. The elders told her mother that ‘it was wrong to leave her husband’ and that Kimmie and her sister were ‘minors’ and, as it didn’t involve penetration, the abuse ‘wasn’t considered to be adultery’.
The girls were taken back to the family home for a short time, before Kimmie decided to move away with her sister.
Shortly after leaving the family home, her father admitted his crime to the Jehovah’s Witnesses elders. She recalls him re-taking Bible studies classes and attending church every Sunday. Her father was ‘forgiven’ in the eyes of the elders and the family was encouraged to reunite as a unit. Her mother moved back to her father and encouraged Kimmie and her sister to do the same.
In hindsight, Kimmie believes the elders ‘condoned’ her father’s actions. She also believes her mother blamed her and her sister for their father’s actions. It became apparent that the other Jehovah’s Witnesses knew about the abuse and blamed her for what happened, which she said was humiliating.
In the late 1980s Kimmie’s mother caught her father sexually abusing their youngest child – a toddler. The family moved out for a short while before her mother returned to live with her father. Kimmie believes Church elders ‘asserted their control’ and forced her to return.
When she was 14, Kimmie and her siblings left home. She and her 13-year-old sister left school and got jobs to support themselves. Kimmie returned to school at 16, but struggled to fit back in and she was hospitalized with mental breakdown.
When she was 17 she met her husband and moved interstate, and since then she has been estranged from her family and has had little involvement with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Unfortunately, the marriage turned out to be emotionally abusive.
Kimmie’s son is aware of what happened in her childhood and has developed serious mental health issues. In the early 2000s he participated in criminal activities against the Church. A Church elder told Kimmie that her son’s predicament had nothing to do with the Church and that her mother was ‘responsible for letting the child sexual abuse happen’. She said the clear message she received from the Church as a child was that it was ‘okay’ to be abused and she remains shocked by their response.
‘The elders put themselves up as a higher authority, like a policeman … They’re controlling the situation and yet they turn their back and don’t accept responsibility for it.’
In recent years, Kimmie tried to report her father to the police but her son’s health took precedence. Kimmie would like to seek compensation from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and will pursue civil action in the near future.