Mariana arrived in Australia in the early 1970s, when she was seven years of age. Both her parents began studying to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses shortly afterwards. Her father had been sexually abusing her for a few years by this stage, and continued to do so after the family settled in the western suburbs of Sydney.
Her grandparents were already long-standing members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and her grandfather was in charge of the music in the local congregation. As soon as Mariana came to the country, her grandfather started to sexually abuse her too. When she attended group Bible Study at her grandparents’ home, he molested her in front of the other participants. Some years later, ‘this girl got in touch with me, and she said, she was wondering how I was doing, what had happened to me. Because she remembered me sitting on my grandfather’s lap, and him putting his hand up my skirt’.
He also abused her with his walking stick, and ‘anything he could use on me he would. His tools, anything’. When she was around nine she came out of the shower to find him naked on a chair, masturbating. She screamed, and a neighbour ran into the room. This was how her parents found out what he was doing to her, and it caused ‘a bit of a falling out’ within the family.
Mariana knows her grandfather had sexually abused another young girl too. He would also take in people who were having troubles in their lives, letting them stay in his house, and try and get them to join the Church. Two of these men molested Mariana, on separate occasions.
Mariana doesn’t know who informed the Church about her grandfather abusing her, just that they somehow found out. When she eight years old she was called into a meeting with two Church elders, which her grandfather also attended. A second meeting was held, this time with an additional elder.
Alone in a room with three men, and the person who had abused her, ‘I felt this small. And I felt like I was doing wrong, I was such a naughty kid, you know. It did, it made me self-doubt everything. Until I had to go back to my grandparents’ house, and my grandfather started on me again’.
After these meetings her grandfather was stood down from his Church duties for a period of time, but was never disfellowshipped. However, he was no longer allowed to conduct Bible Studies in his home. Sometime later Mariana’s parents started leaving her in her grandparents’ care again, and the sexual abuse continued.
Both Mariana’s father and grandfather stopped abusing her when she was around 12 years old, but she does not know why. When she was 13 she told her mother that her father had abused her, but no action was taken. She then disclosed to her teacher, and was sent to the school counsellor, who wanted her to stop living with her family.
‘She was going to take me out of my home, and I begged her [not to], because I was scared my father would kill me for saying anything. He always said to me, “You speak up, they’re not going to believe you, and I’ll kill you. It’ll be worse for you if you ever say anything”’. As her father often subjected her to severe beltings, she did not doubt his threats. She told the Royal Commission that the impacts of the abuse in her childhood are still very present.
‘In some ways, at times, I wish they had just killed me. Maybe it would have been easier than to deal with everything, and the pain.’
Mariana never joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses, quitting her studies before she could be baptised. She married early, in order to escape the violence in her family, but her first husband physically abused her. Counselling has helped Mariana deal with her experiences of abuse. She engaged in therapy periodically since her school days, but has not seen anyone for some years now. Her current husband is very supportive, and accompanied her when she met with the Commission.
Mariana feels resentful towards her mother for not taking any action to prevent or address the abuse by her father and grandfather – ‘I don’t understand why, as a mum, she didn’t do more ... She hasn’t been a mum to me’. Her grandfather is now deceased, and her parents have separated, but her father still has people ‘who are friends with him, knowing what he’s done’.
She is also angry at the Church elders for not adequately responding to stop her grandfather abusing her. ‘They should have reported it. They should have done more. I don’t understand why they don’t report it, and hide behind religion. I mean, if you’re a decent human being, you report it.’