After my divorce, sixteen years ago now, I was completely devastated. I no longer knew who I was. My fellow believers in the congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses were deeply moved and were not sure how to assist me at the time. The elders decided to send someone who could give me Bible instruction so that I could recover. At one of the meetings, an elder approached me and suggested that I give a home study. He was my age and I think he was very open to sensitive things. I got along well with him. Appointments were made and the biblical teaching was neatly given every week. Soon after the study, people chatted on the sofa. When you are one of Jehovah's Witnesses, you have few, if any, friends outside of the community - that is seen as 'bad associations.' But with him I could safely tell my story.
After a few weeks the chatter began to become more and more physical; frolic, tickle and wrestle. I felt very bad about it as an adult man of 28 years, but I did not have the emotional and physical strength to hold him back. The next time he came over there was not studied but immediately transferred to the sofa with a violent assault as a result. I was immediately aware of what had happened, but what could I do to an elder who in turn was carried by the municipality?
'My story was not believed'
I left a balloon with my peers and with the other elders in the congregation; this came as a bomb. They all denied knowing anything about similar behavior with this elder and had no understanding for my story. Immediately they proceeded to defend and completely protected him. I did not know where to go. Even my parents did not believe me; an elder is appointed by the spirit of God, and you can not possibly doubt that person. I would have misunderstood it. If I "did not quickly purify my thoughts, the Blessing of God would not stay with me for long."
In the next study it was the same scenario again. After the following meeting, I asked the elders to continue my studies with another elder. They were outraged, but gave in to my question.
The atmosphere became grimmer - a second victim
After a while, the atmosphere in the municipality became grimmer, I had made a very famous elder 'black'. I regularly heard reproaches and was accused of being vindictive or blaming my divorce. Finally came the devastating news: another boy appeared to have been the same. He was being assaulted by the same elder.
After a meeting, I was suddenly summoned by the elders. A 'judicial committee' appeared to have been formed. The elder as a defendant, I as a prosecutor. The other boy was sitting on a chair in the hallway. I had never really been able to speak to him, but his eyes spoke volumes. We both knew what time it was. Once inside the room, three elders sat at a large table, together with the circuit overseer (an elder in higher rank). I was shocked by the authoritarian atmosphere and the ceremony of the event. Very personal questions were asked, while the perpetrator simply took part in the conversation. I had to tell my very sensitive story to elders who I barely knew personally, and to the perpetrator himself. All the emotions that came with it made this very intense. It was suggested that I might have provoked it myself and that I had disrupted the peace in the congregation because of my allegations. This did not testify to a Christian attitude in their eyes. This ended the conversation. The other boy came in, I had to leave.
'The elder was excluded, but the abuse was not recognized'
I was off the map; the tears rolled down my face and I felt completely alone in the world. It would have been my own fault, I thought. Afterwards I learned that the other boy had done exactly the same story, and the elders could not do otherwise than proceed to exclusion. For me this was a relief! I finally expected the recognition of the abuse that I had hoped for. Nothing was less true. The congregation personally blamed me for his exclusion: according to them, I had invented everything. I could not go to anyone for advice or help. I would have liked only a hearing ear, but every attempt to address the subject was immediately broken down: if God wants clarity to come, it will come, but only in God's own time. I experienced personally that there was no recognition for abuse. There is no help for victims.
Five years later I met the same elder again at a congress. He had meanwhile been 'restored' and re-positioned as an elder, in a foreign-speaking congregation. He was once again carried on, while I had to deal with all this suffering on my own. Because of all the allegations I got a very bad picture of myself: I did not do enough for God, I had to study more, read more, read more along the doors. Together with my (new) wife I started pioneering, which means that I went around the doors for about eighty hours a month. I became a servant in the ministry and later an elder myself. We have moved to Ireland and signed up for every possible training. My wife even put aside a big wish for children for this purpose.
Pedosexuals have free play
Of the municipalities that I assisted as elder, there were three municipalities where pedophile practices took place. In none of these cases has a declaration been made. Incidentally, not from my own abuse. The policy that has been drawn up has as a consequence that pedophiles are protected under the guise of 'sin is human' and 'everyone can make a mistake'. If an elder has sexually abused a child, but his reputation has not been violated (for example, because the news did not come out), then that is seen as a message from God: he has clearly not lost the blessing of God, and may continue serve. During an elder meeting, it was even suggested that a pedosexual who committed crimes ten years ago should be reinstated as a servant. This pedosexual got free play.
From this moment on I stopped attending the meetings. I have taken my life back into my own hands, and with expert guidance a person with his own identity. I have noticed that this organization does not support the victim or the child, but rather the perpetrator.
My call to everyone is therefore: make a declaration! With your declaration you can protect and help others.
- Stefaan de Grave