The Globe and Mail (Canada), Sep. 10, 2002
A former Jehovah’s Witness who says her church forced her to cover up years of sexual abuse by her father told Ontario Superior Court yesterday that church elders use the fear of Armageddon to silence her and other abuse victims.
Victoria Boer, 31, testifying at the trial of her $700,000 lawsuit against the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Canada, said she was driven to the brink of suicide when society elders told her to pray, to preach and to forgive her father for the abuse — but not to report it to the Children’s Aid Society or doctors.
“I was told if Armageddon came and my father went down for the abuse I would likely go down with him,” Ms. Boer told the court.
In fact, the entire Jehovah’s Witness community where she lived in Shelburne, Ont., could be exposed to God’s wrath if she handled the matter by “worldly” means, Ms. Boer said she was told.
The defendants — the Watchtower Society and elders Brian Cairns, Steve Brown and John Didur — deny preventing Ms. Boer from going to the authorities and argue they owed her no special duty of care as alleged in the suit.
They accused Ms. Boer of “asking the church to pay for the sins of the father.”
Ms. Boer testified that her father, whom she is not suing and who was never criminally charged, touched her sexually on numerous occasions from the time she was 11 until she was 15.
The abuse stopped after Ms. Boer told her mother, who criticized her for dressing immodestly but agreed to confront the father, Ms. Boer told the court.
She told no one until four years later, she said, when she was plagued by memories of the abuse and suffering symptoms of severe depression and anxiety. “I just kept crying and crying.”
Then 19, she went to local elders Mr. Cairns and Mr. Brown, and they in turn asked for advice from Mr. Didur, an elder with the national Watchtower organization, she said.
The men made her repeat her story over and over, she said, then insisted she not go to authorities but instead confront her father in the presence of Mr. Cairns and Mr. Brown and give him the chance to repent.
“I told them I couldn’t do it,” she wept yesterday. “They said I had to.”
In two confrontations at his home, Ms. Boer’s father accused her of exaggerating, she said.
He did acknowledge some sexual impropriety, apologized to her and agreed to do some extra service for the Watchtower Society, she said.
The elders then declared the matter closed.
“They said they felt my father had shown signs of repentance, that he was a changed man,” she said.
They told her if she went to the CAS the family would be investigated, her father would lose his job and her mother would be left destitute, she said.