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Who is watching The Watchtower?

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This is not the first time The Watchtower has printed a dangerous message for DV victims.

When I wrote about the dangerous message being given to domestic violence (DV) victims by the Jehovah’s Witnesses a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea the response I would get, and just how bad the problem was.

I had written my article in response to a piece in an edition of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Awake! magazine, which I had unwittingly received through the letterbox.

The overriding message in Awake! was that perpetrators of domestic violence can be rehabilitated with the help of the bible, other Jehovah’s Witnesses and prayer.

My original article explained why I think this is such a dangerous message, and why I think it is irresponsible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to propagate this message, with no reference to any domestic violence helplines or organisations that can help victims.

Since my article was published on the Women’s Views on News website it has received 29 separate comments.

Comments left mainly by women who are ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses and themselves victims of domestic violence.

The horror unveiled in the comments these women have left is shocking. It seems that what I saw in an evangelist magazine is but the small tip of an enormous iceberg.

And it seems that this is not the first time The Watchtower has printed a dangerous message for DV victims.

Two commentators directed us towards a piece from The Watchtower study guide from 2012 entitled “Happiness Is Possible in a Divided Household”.

In this article Selma told her story. It included the following:

‘Selma recalls a lesson she learned from the Witness who studied with her. “On one particular day,” says Selma, “I didn’t want to have a Bible study. The night before, Steve had hit me as I had tried to prove a point, and I was feeling sad and sorry for myself. After I told the sister what had happened and how I felt, she asked me to read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As I did, I began to reason, ‘Steve never does any of these loving things for me.’ But the sister made me think differently by asking, ‘How many of those acts of love do you show toward your husband?’ My answer was, ‘None, for he is so difficult to live with.’ The sister softly said, ‘Selma, who is trying to be a Christian here? You or Steve?’ Realizing that I needed to adjust my thinking, I prayed to Jehovah to help me be more loving toward Steve. Slowly, things started to change. After 17 years, Steve accepted the truth.’

Here, the responsibility for her husband’s violent behaviour is placed squarely on Selma’s shoulders, and again the potentially dangerous message to ‘pray and stay’ is given.

Many of the comments sent in after my article  include accounts from women who have been victims of domestic violence.

Practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses at the time, they described the way that domestic violence is dealt with by ‘The Elders’.

One commenter explained that church members are discouraged from reporting anything to secular authorities, instead they must go to the church elders for their council and instruction.

Another wrote: “My husband was a Witness too, and still is. I spoke to elders several times about his violent behavior. Their excuse was that I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t a good wife. I didn’t pray enough.”

And another: “I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness and I can tell you from personal experience that Witness women are taught that if they have an issue (violence or otherwise) they are to approach the Body of Elders and it will be handled internally. Is it handled internally? I guess that depends on what you consider handled; in my case I was read a variety of scriptures on how to be a better Christian wife and told if I fulfilled my responsibilities as Jehovah had outlined, all would be okay.”

Or “Reprehensible. Support from the congregation Elders consists of: ‘You’re a spiritually weak wife. If you were stronger, spiritually, he wouldn’t have to beat you.’, ‘You’re too headstrong and don’t respect your husband’s authority.’, ‘That’s what you get for marrying into a Spiritually Weak(tm) family!’ And my favorite — ‘You probably deserved it.’ Gratefully, I left the husband and the religion in 1982.”

Yet another: “Fourteen years ago I was a young (19 years old) Jehovah’s Witness that unfortunately married a man that physically and emotionally abused me. He was also a Jehovah’s Witness.It went on for about a year and the elders (the congregations clergymen) were aware that it was happening. They met with him privately and decided that he was repentant, so they publicly reprimanded him at a congregation meeting and had him promise not to do it again. They told him the next time he felt like abusing me, he should pray to God instead. You can guess how well that advice worked.”

The women who have bravely shared their stories on our comments thread also described the practice of shunning, where family and congregation members cut off ex-members, including women who have attempted to leave because of domestic violence.

One woman described how, after she was finally able to leave her abusive husband, her children were kidnapped by her ex-partner and hidden in the homes of her ex-congregation.

As I pointed out in my initial article, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were keen to point out that they believe the only justification for divorce is adultery, and not domestic violence.

This was reiterated by the comments.

One woman wrote: “Despite how seriously the authorities took the situation, the Jehovah’s Witness elders tried to force me to go back to that man. I spent almost two years separated from him and the elders would purposely try to put us in situations together. Finally, I chose to move on and got a divorce. But the Watchtower does not recognize spousal abuse or threats as valid grounds for divorce. So, I was kicked out of the congregation and I have been shunned by the entire JW community.”

Another: “Within the first week of separation the elders sought me out to tell me that while they sympathized with my situation, they needed to remind me that I was still a married woman and would eventually have to go back to my abusive husband.”

The JWfacts website, which seeks to illuminate the dangerous advice given by The Watchtower society, has quotes from Watchtower publications showing their advice pertaining to a range of areas.

You can see what they have to say about divorce here.

They are quite clear that although a victim of domestic violence may separate from a violent spouse, they should not divorce, and they tell believers that, “Through prayer and by displaying the fruitage of Jehovah’s spirit, the believer may be able to prevent such outbursts and make the situation endurable.”

They also tell them that “After thoughtful and prayerful consideration of the circumstances, the Christian may feel that there is no recourse but to separate from the abusive mate.

“On the other hand, the Christian may find that there are things she can do to avoid outbursts of anger on the part of her mate, thus making the situation endurable.”

It gets worse.

One woman, who was raped, explained her ordeal.

“I was a victim of rape and I had to have what is called a “judicial committee” where 3 of the congregation elders (only men are allowed to be elders) are to determine your heart condition. In reality it is 3 untrained men asking you if you screamed, what exactly happened and judging you if, in their opinion, you were complicit in any manner whatsoever. If you are found complicit then you are disfellowshipped or publicly reproved for immorality.”

The way The Watchtower treats reported cases of rape deserves a whole article in itself, and perhaps I will write one next time.

However, if you wish to read a collection of quotes from Watchtower publications about what constitutes rape you can find some on the JWfacts website.

Read with caution, it will make you upset and angry.

The stories shared in this article are but a few of many.

The Battered Lambs Project was set up to provide a place where women can share their stories.

It should be viewed with a trigger warning; the website contains pages of similar stories of physical and emotional abuse, facilitated by male elders who tell the victims they should stay with their abusive partners, that they are not allowed a divorce, that it is their responsibility for not being a good enough wife, and so on.

Many of the stories shared on the Battered Lambs Project website begin with a tangible sigh of relief; relief that these women have found somewhere they can share their story, and relief at the knowledge that they are not alone.

Another – recently established – group is Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses (AAWA), an organisation representing an international group campaigning against the Watch Tower Society.

Most of its associates are either current or former Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The group launched earlier this year with a video created by members around the world, who speak out about the dangers of The Watchtower.

The group cites 5 key areas that they challenge The Watchtower Society on, which include ‘The mishandling of cases of domestic abuse’.

It is encouraging to see that there are groups out there waving a red flag to alert those within the organisation to the dangers they may be facing.

But it is frightening to imagine how many more women in the world are being put in danger by these dangerous edicts and such advice.

I decided to write this follow up piece to give a voice to some of the victims who have been brave enough to share their stories.

The need to raise awareness is imperative, as is pointed out in several of the comments left by ex-victims.

One says: “Thank you for bringing light to this issue – the more ‘outsiders’ who are able to dissect this organization for its dangerous faults and practices.”

A second says: “Thank you for your attention to this irresponsible doctrine. The more media attention that can come to spotlight the crimes and doctrines enforced by the leaders the sooner those stuck inside can find the help and happiness they deserve.”

If you are affected by domestic violence, there are lots of people who can help you.

The freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, for example, is run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge.

The number is 0808 2000 247.

  1. I had to go before the “elders” when I separated from my abusive JW husband. He sat and cried through the whole meeting. I was so disgusted I wanted to throw up. They read all the approved scriptures, non of which I heard. I was too mad. In the end, I heard the immortal words, “you have to go back to your husband, or be guilty of adultery”. I looked every one of them in the eye and told them, “I will NOT go back to him. He is abusive, and I have had enough of him and you!” I never looked back. It really felt good to stand up to those old bags of wind.

  2. Thank you for writing this article. I spent 25 years in the JW organization and everything you printed is true. Women are not respected and to think that prayer will help the abuser is ludicrous. A separate article(s) could be written on their tolerance for child abusers (physical & sexual). My family is still in the faith and since they refuse to see me, it is my hope that through efforts such as yours, they will someday see the truth about “The Truth.”

  3. paradiselost says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS ARTICLE. I really appreciate it because everyone sees JWs as an innocent organisation because they don’t really know what’s on the inside. I hope you cover more of this misogynistic destructive cult and help bring light to it’s horrible practices and views!

    • ParadiseLost says it well. Most people think the JW organization is benign and that their members don’t celebrate the holidays. To those of us who were raised in the cult, the holidays were no big deal. What was big was seeing friends die because of the religion’s belief on blood transfusions. What was big was being offered a scholarship and refusing it so that we could spend our time more profitably by going door to door (which by the way we all hated doing). What was big was seeing friends get married at age 15 & 16 to boys who thought women should cook and clean for them. What was big was doing what all good JWs do – get baptized at a young age and then, if you happen to change your mind – all relatives and friends shun you – with the child having no place or no one to turn to. Thank you again for writing this piece. It is the hope of all of us who have gotten out of the cult that will be revealed for their true teachings.

    • naomi wilcox says:

      Thank you, and you’re welcome x

  4. Isabella Botticelli says:

    Bravo to you Naomi Wilcox for responding to the stories of domestic abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses! Through people like you, and the hard word of AAWA, letting the public know what goes inside this cult of a religion will not only help abused members to reach out for real help, but will prevent many from joining this religion. A big thanks to you!

  5. Cheryl says:

    Bravo. You do a masterful job of telling what goes on behind closed doors from the viewpoint of someone who was not a jehovahs witness. Thank you!

  6. Kim G says:

    When I left my abusive husband, Jehovah would hold me responsible if HE commited adultery which he did.

  7. Micaela S says:

    Thank you for writing this. By giving our stories a voice you have empowered those who have suffered from these harmful practices. Exposing the way victims of domestic violence are treated in the Jehovah’s Witness religion will help to effectuate change. Although I am no longer religious, I do feel that religion should be a place of solace for people instead of willful oppression.

  8. naomi wilcox says:

    Thank you for your kind comments everyone. I’m really glad that I have been able to help bring some of this to light. As many of you have indicated, there is so much more going on beneath the surface.
    I applaud the efforts of those charities, organisations & individuals who are trying to help both those within the JWs, and those who have left.

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