By Angela Cousins, Scotland
I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. Like so many others, when I reported to my church leaders that I was abused, I was failed by people within my church.
When the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) began its inquiry into Child protection in religious organisations and settings, I supplied my evidence to the inquiry for England and Wales. However, they could not use it as that inquiry didn’t pertain to Scotland. Although there is a Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, it is focused on investigating the abuse of children in care.
First of all, England and Scotland have separate laws, separate charity commissions, separate education systems, separate health systems. After speaking with the (MSP) Minister of the Scottish Parliament and the (MP) Minister for the Westminster Parliament, initially, I found out that nothing could be done until IICSA had concluded its report. English Law cannot supersede Scottish Law and vice versa.
IICSA released its report on September 2021 and now I was free to make a petition to my own government for a similar inquiry. I did a petition to Parliament (see screenshot below) which gathered 140 signatures. My petition was considered in October 2021 and on March 23, 2022, I was invited to appear before the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee to advocate for a Scottish Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in religious organisations and settings. Here is the link to the Committee Hearing.
I was born the summer of 1980. I was a Jehovah’s Witness (JW, JWs) since the age of 6 months to almost 19 years of age. My parents were indoctrinated as JWs at the doorstep in 1980/1981. I had just had my first Christmas and then I would never see it again in my whole childhood. They did not even celebrate my first birthday. My sister came along in 1983.
Throughout my life, as every former Jehovah’s Witness can testify, was filled with psychological abuse from Watchtower. My father would lay his abusive blows on us girls from a very young age, coupled with of course, the emotional abuse, neglect (withholding food as a punishment as an example). I think you can truly say it was a life of fear, fear of putting one foot out of line in my father’s eyes – a very devout JW who was a Ministerial Servant from around 1988/89 on until 1996 when I would report him to the elders.
Abused by my Father and Harold ‘Charlie’ Holt
From the age of 11 – 15 years old my father sexually abused me. In 1996 when I was 16 years old, I told my congregation elders, 3 of them of course, what had happened. They called my father in, gave him a reproof after he confessed to what he had done and sent us girls, 16 years of age and 13, home with my parents. Furthermore, one of those elders Harold ‘Charlie’ Holt on the Judicial Committee, saw us as an easy target. When I was 17 and my sister 14, he went on to abuse us as well. It would be unbeknownst to us at the time that Uncle Charlie as us young ones called him, was an Elder in a previous congregation, was demoted in that previous congregation because of child sexual abuse in the 1970’s.
He fled (or was sent to) to our congregation in Stevenston, Ayrshire (Air-shir for pronunciation) in the 1990’s, the congregation we would not have been part of until 1995 as we had been in Glasgow, (Glaz-GO for pronunciation) Scotland, previously. After Charlie abused me and the elders were again consulted, he was sent to Edinburgh (Edd-IN-bra for pronunciation) where his granddaughters lived. At no time during my sexual abuse, did my mother nor the congregation elders make a police report.
Leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses
I left the JW’s in 1998 at first, to move in with a “worldly” girl and got reproved for that. I had faded at the time. Missing home comforts, despite a sex abuser being there, I moved back home in early 1999, with leaving finally and being made homeless by my parents in June 1999. Those few short months were so suffocating when I had previously had a taste of freedom.
My father dictated my disassociation letter to the elders, which was written by my hand, but were not my words. My father is a controlling narcissistic abusive person. I surfed couches for a while, spiraled into a deep depression, taking drugs and drinking until completely out of it, until I met my partner in the year 2000. It was him who would help me get clean and tell me after I told him what happened to me, to call the police. I went to the police to report my father for what he had done to me in the year 2000. I also sought more therapy at the time.
The Witnesses as everyone knows, crossed the street, didn’t speak to me as I had previously disassociated. So you can imagine my surprise in 2001, when a sister and brother approached me in the street, rank and file Witnesses of course, not anyone in a position of supposed power. When I bumped into an elder some weeks later, he verified that my disassociation had been revoked after finding out from someone else, that my father had dictated the letter.
Expelled for Appearing on BBC Panorama “Suffer the Little Children”
A year later in 2002, I appeared anonymously on BBC Panorama “Suffer the Little Children” which aired in the UK, a few months after the USA Dateline NBC “Witness for the Prosecution”. I did not know it then, but this would be the beginning of my journey. The reason for anonymity? The witnesses were speaking to me again. I didn’t want anything to jeopardise that. However, because the chief of police for our area mentioned “Alison and her sister” they knew it was me.
After many unsuccessful attempts to find me, the elders disfellowshipped/expelled me on the grounds of apostasy – done in absentia as well; and so was also American JWs Barbara Anderson and Bill Bowen (now National Director of Silentlambs) for appearing in Dateline NBC. People talk in my area, even in the world and I would find out through a friend who had mentioned watching Panorama to one of the JW pairs who called at her doorstep. The pair began to criticize the program, saying that I was a liar and ‘of course they reported abuse to police’. Well my friend went right through them both, telling them that ‘the young anonymous woman in the program was her best friend and how dare they call her a liar’.
Justice came 15 years later
Many years later in 2015, two police women showed up at my door, asking if I knew of a Harold Holt. I said I knew of a Charlie Holt, but not a Harold. They asked to come in to speak with me and not to worry, I was not in trouble. When they sat down I would find out that Charlie was a middle name of Harold Holt. I had locked away what he had done to me. The police unlocked Pandora’s box and everything came flooding out. During that meeting, I had heard there were 7 other victims, including his grand-daughters! Years later, I would see him sentenced, and I took Watchtower in front of my lawyers. My father received a 5 year jail sentence in 2002 for indecent acts against me, my sister and another girl.
- Church elder who sexually abused vulnerable children was invited to speak at first victim’s wedding
- Scottish girl abused by Jehovah’s Witness dad asked church for help – but was molested by trusted elder too