Survivors of sexual abuse have every right to be angry. Sometimes, however, they should consider whether they are not used again, this time to support anticult campaigns.
by Holly Folk
I am writing this as an addendum to my three articles on the Jehovah’s Witnesses and sexual abuse. My online presentation at a seminar organized in September 2020 has inspired numerous people to email me, and I anticipate that the articles will prompt more. Several of the emails have raised the same point— “You don’t understand; how can you say this?”
To those who have been victims of sexual abuse, it is not enough to say I feel your pain. Sexual abuse is personal, and each instance leaves its individual traumatic imprint. It would be presumptuous to tell any survivor that I understand their personal situation. But I do understand, from personal experience, the widespread nature of the problem, the frequent ineffectiveness of law enforcement and the courts, and the devastatingly bad, tone-deaf reactions people can have when victims tell their stories.
I feel passionately, as a survivor myself, that sexual assault should not be used as a proxy issue, and especially not for personal financial gain, politics, or religious competition.
High profile cases win symbolic victories, but do little to address the problem of abuse in society. Worse, they draw large amounts of human power away from the multitude of cases that do not benefit from media attention, reducing the actual number of cases prosecuted.
The focus on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group that is misunderstood by the general public, lets society displace and ignore the real abuse that happens. By pretending that there is an association between abuse and controversial religious minorities, people maintain the fiction that abuse is a problem of the “other”—the “far enemy,” when in fact real abuse may be as nearby as the house next door, or the next room in one’s own home.
I believe strongly in civil liberties, which are essential in a free democratic society. The campaign against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, while doing little to stop actual abuse in society, is a harbinger of restrictions on religious exercise.
To me, religious freedom includes the right to be wrong. Although practiced by many religions (including in my own family), disfellowshipping former members is a deeply painful experience for many people. The hurt sustained by “shunning” is real, and people have a right to call for its change. Yet, however mistaken it might be in the eyes of its opponents, it is a decision free people should have the right to make. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the only group that holds it is their right to do so.
To readers who decry their shattered childhoods, and victims/survivors everywhere—I am sorry for everything that happened to you. I hope that the rest of your life is happier than your past. I hope the people who hurt you are brought to justice. And in the sad, but realistic possibility that they are not—that justice does not obtain (as too often it does not)—I hope you find people who can support you. Life does not always come out fairly (in fact, it seldom does), and much grief is left unresolved.
In reviewing our childhoods, it can be hard to forgive our parents for even mundane mistakes, let alone monstrous deeds done intentionally. I hope you can find peace about your parents and the other adults in your life who betrayed you, by their actions and inactions.
I realize for some readers, with this series I have become one of the people who they feel have failed them—transgressed, trespassed. I am sorry for this, but I feel speaking clearly on this issue is necessary for the preservation of free society. All I ask is that you consider, for a moment, that you might be being used again, by people who care little about achieving justice for victims.
I would understand if you did not accept my point of view, but nonetheless, I wish you peace.