From the age of 12 Piper was sexually abused by her father Donald, a strict Jehovah’s Witness. The abuse was described as ‘frequent and severe’ and continued for years.
‘My sister knew. Because he tried it on her, and she came to me. So I went to him and begged him not to touch her. And I said, “Whatever you want to do with me I don’t care, don’t do it to her”.'
In her mid-teens, Piper tried to end her life. A few months later, her mother found out about the abuse. ‘She said that she wasn’t aware, but I don’t understand how she could not be aware.
‘My bedroom was right next to theirs. He would leave her bed to come to mine.’
Piper’s mother spoke to the elders at their congregation, who then questioned Donald. Piper was told that her father admitted doing ‘some wrong’.
‘They said that he was repentant for what he’d done. And he would lose his privileges and that we weren’t to go to the police because they would deal with it. That’s how the Witnesses deal with it, in house. It would “bring reproach upon Jehovah’s name”.’
After her father moved out of the family home, the elders came to see Piper.
‘They took me into a room by myself. And then they started asking me … questioning me, doubting me. Trying to see if I was telling them the truth. Even though he’d admitted, they asked sexual questions which I couldn’t answer.
‘How does a child sit there and tell three men what she’s been through, what he’s done?’
A week later, Donald moved back in. Piper said, ‘I went to my room and I grabbed what I could and I left.’
She was taken in by a couple from the congregation, but Donald wouldn’t leave her alone. ‘I’d finish school and he’d be sitting there. I’d go sleep at my friend’s place and he would ring me up and tell me to get home. He was waiting for me.
‘You have to understand this man used to tell people I was his wife. And he would follow me, stalk me, for many, many years.’
In her twenties, Piper contacted the headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in America. ‘I wanted them to be aware of what was going on. I wanted to expose what the elders had done, thinking that maybe they would do something about it … ’
For a year she tried to get the organisation to act. ‘I rang them lots. Lots. And they wouldn’t listen to me, didn’t want to know.’
The final straw for Piper was when Donald tried to abuse her daughter.
‘I couldn’t take it anymore. I just thought he’s not … he’s going to do it to someone else and he’s probably been doing it to others. I need to be strong now and I need to take him to court.’
Piper said she was treated with ‘great care’ by the police, even though she couldn’t tell them the full extent of the sexual abuse. ‘I told enough for him to be charged because my shame … was so much. And my mum was now on the scene, and I didn’t want her to know everything that he did to me. I just wanted them to know enough to charge him.’
When he was committed to stand trial, the elders had to sign an affidavit admitting that they knew about the abuse. But other Jehovah’s Witnesses were still harassing Piper, telling her that Donald was repentant and she had ‘destroyed his life’.
Before the case got to court, her father killed himself. ‘He left a suicide note and in that he blamed … he called my mother a Judas for standing by me. And he said that it was all me, that he only did what he did because of me coming on to him. That it was my fault.
‘He wasn’t repentant, even in death.’
Piper has been trying to cope with the impact of the abuse for more than 30 years. ‘I’ve gone through my whole life, even in my marriage, in fear that someone’s going to hurt me.
‘I still can’t sleep without a light on, and I’m a grown woman. I have to see what comes at me at night. I’ve got to be able to see what’s coming.’
She’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe anxiety and has suffered breakdowns. ‘Since the abuse I’ve spent a lot of time in hospital,’ Piper said. ‘Not only have I suffered but my husband has suffered. My children have suffered.’
And even though she’s been disfellowshipped from the Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to harass her. ‘They come and knock on my door … and they’re like, “Oh well, you need to come back now because if you don’t your children are going to die”.
‘They don’t care that I was abused. They don’t care that the elders didn’t go to the police. They just want to preach their crap.’
Piper said she spent years trying to take the Church to court, but was never able to find a lawyer willing to handle the case. When she saw a media story about the Royal Commission she thought, ‘Now is my time’.
‘The primary reason I rang was because I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve gone through. And if someone’s been abused, I want them to go to the police, report it and to get that child the help before it’s too late. Because not getting help destroys you and it eats away at you, and there’s all sorts of guilt and all sorts of feelings, “What should I have done?” and “What did I do?”, and there is no one there to talk to you, to help you.
‘I don’t want this organisation … to have the power to sweep it under the carpet anymore.
‘I just want to expose them, I want it to stop. Because I know it’s still happening. To stop it from happening to others I’d do anything.’