Translation: Trouw de Verdieping – 21st July 2017

‘Dit is ons geheim. Als je je mond opendoet, zal ik je wat aandoen.’

“This is our secret. If you open your mouth, I’ll do something to you. “

Marinde van der Breggen and Rianne Oosterom – 2:00, July 21, 2017

The way in which Jehovah’s Witnesses deal with abuse cases is traumatic for victims, according to Trouw’s research. Victim Marianne de Voogd was given lessons in the elder’s tongues.

Marianne the Guardian is thirteen years old when the elder, for the first time, massages her two peas, as she calls her novice breasts. He also squeezes in when they are sitting together on the back bench of a Bible study of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Meppel, says Marianne, now 53. She must keep the Bible for it.

She looks at Elder Derk, one of the leaders of the Jehovah’s congregation, startled. He looks back and does not stop. When she holds the Bible over her lap, he strokes her thigh with his fingertips, she says. The man of around fifty slowly goes up and touches her crotch. She holds her breath. Should she say anything?

Marianne only recently came to live in Meppel with her parents and two brothers. The house of ‘Ome Derk’ is the meeting place for young people from the local community. They can watch TV, chat and learn to garden. And Derk can make jam as the best. Because Marianne starts puberty and there is often a fight at home, his house becomes her refuge.

Peeing behind a tree

Marianne does not think much about her contact with Derk after what happened in the pew, she says. “I did not dare to say anything about it either. He was an important man in the municipality. “So Marianne plays in his garden and makes pots of jam. Okay, she finds it strange that he goes upstairs when she has to change clothes. Or that he wants to watch when she goes peeing behind a tree during a forest walk.

On a Sunday afternoon, Marianne and her brother Marcel go with Derk and his wife on ‘field service’ outside the city. They trudge from farm to farm to win souls for Jehovah, Marianne and Marcel remember. Halfway they split up and Marianne and Derk walk together to a farm with a long driveway. After a testimony to the farmer, they walk back past the bushes, says Marianne.

Derk asks if she is already on time, she recalls. “No,” she says. Whether she knows what boys are going to do, he asks, according to her. “No,” she says. Whether she already has a boyfriend or kissed. “No,” she says again. “I still played hide and seek outside. When I was thirteen I had never been alone with a boy I liked, “she says.

Derk pulls her behind the bush and kisses her, says Marianne. “First on the lips. He explained that boys were going to do that with me, that I should like it. Then he put his tongue in my mouth and told me what to do with my tongue. He forced me to have five French kisses with him. I remember hoping somebody would see us. “

Her brother Marcel now remembers the strange atmosphere in the car back to the center of Meppel: Marianne quiet, Derk silent.

When Marianne is at home again at Derk, his wife and daughter go away for a moment. The other young people are already gone. Derk forces Marianne to caress the bulge in his pants, she says. Then she has to put her hand in his pants. She is saved by the bell – a church member comes to do a cup.

‘This is our secret’

Marianne begins to puberty more severely. When there is a fight at home, her parents say: “Otherwise, go to Derk, you can do so well?” But Marianne prefers to avoid the house. On a weekday afternoon, she collects all courage and goes by. To say that it must stop. But Derk is not at home.

After that Marianne does not dare anymore. Derk also threatens her, she says. When he sits down to him, he says, according to Marianne, “This is our secret” and “If you tell this, nobody will believe you: I am an elder and very popular in the church” and “If you open your mouth, I will do something. “

She knows that all that caress is not good. It feels annoying as if something is not right. “But it also released feelings that were kind of tasty,” she says. That is what makes her most embarrassed at that moment: she has to be aware of everything that has to do with sex before marriage, she has learned.

A few months later, when Marianne is once again with Derk, she sees how he makes a jam with her friends in the kitchen. She fills glass jars with her hips against the kitchen counter. He stands behind her and tries to stretch his arms under her arms to feel her breasts. “My mouth fell open, Derk saw me looking and stopped,” says Marianne.

That night she stays with the same friend, who later marries her brother. The girls tell each other everything that night: Derk turns out not only to abuse Marianne, but also her girlfriend. Marianne’s girlfriend decides to inform her mother. At that moment she is fourteen and Derk is abusing her for a year and a half.

The next day there are elders from the congregation on the sidewalk, who listen to her story. Marianne does not dare to tell everything, the elders are suspicious according to her. Her father tells them that a child of fourteen does not invent such details, she recalls.

Afraid to report

The elders who questioned Marianne must, according to the policies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, work on the matter. Because Jehovah’s Witnesses do not like to use the world court, they have established their own rules for dealing with undesirable behavior. These are recorded in the elders’ book, which is secret to ordinary believers.

The main rule when it comes to abuse: there must be two witnesses before a ‘committee case’ comes, the Jehovah equivalent of a lawsuit, in which the elders act as judges. Because both Marianne and her best friend Derk accuse of abuse, there are two witnesses.

Marianne’s father has little faith in the elders and takes his daughter to the police station. But if he hears what kind of questions Marianne must answer – whether she has given Derk cause to commit to her by wearing seductive clothes, for example – he scribbles back. Afraid of filing a complaint, Marianne and her brother Marcel say.

In the elders’ book, it says that Jehovah’s witnesses cannot stop each other from going to the police, but also that the ‘dish of the unbelievers’ is not the best choice. In addition, whoever puts a person or the community in a negative light, can be accused of slander and be condemned internally. That is what Marianne’s father is most afraid of, and fourteen-year-old Marianne is just as good.

Derk is called on the mat by the elders and confesses the abuse. He shows deep remorse. The elders follow the prescribed rules: if a perpetrator of sexual abuse confesses and regrets, he may not be expelled from the community of Jehovah.

He must offer his excuse and his privileges as the function of elder and the opportunity to speak in the meetings are denied him. Marianne: “From the stage, it was announced that Derk stopped as an elder, but not why.” At Marianne that week a small note is on the mat. She has kept it all those years.

“Dear De Voogd family,

In this letter, I want to confess to you that I have been guilty of what your daughter has charged me with. I am deeply ashamed of the things that have happened. What made it come true, I wrote extensively in a letter to the body of older men. If your disgust at my deed is reduced, do you want to give me forgiveness? I pray you, therefore. Also to Marianne I want to ask for forgiveness for my unchristian act. Please do not see my wife for the things I have done then I will be very grateful to you.”

Past business

Derk has lost his responsibilities and the elders see the case as being dismissed. But Marianne is with Derk week after week in the same room, which is traumatic for her. “I always thought: yawn, there is someone in the front who has ruined my life and nobody knows that. The worst thing was that the children from the municipality just kept coming home to him. “

According to the rules in the elders’ book, the latter is not allowed: the perpetrator must, if the abuse is proven, be monitored by the elders and no longer be allowed to do activities with children. One of the elders says that this seems unlikely to him in Derk’s case and that it could only have taken place outside his field of view.

At the age of eighteen, in 1981, Marianne was expelled from the congregation because the elders thought she had sex with her boyfriend while she was not married-that is not allowed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The abuse continues to haunt her: for example, she can not stand when people walk behind her at the station. She goes into therapy, which lasts for years.

Just a decade later, in 1990, she sends an angry letter to Derk asking for an explanation. She soon gets a letter back, which she has also kept. With Derk’s Paws, Derk writes:

“Even now I ask you to forgive me for my wrong course of action, not on the grounds of the threatening language that you use in your letter, but with the background to be in a right and peaceful relationship with you and all who I have committed mistakes in. are allowed to live. “

The reason why she craves this is not mentioned. When Marianne hears a year later that Derk has moved to Eindhoven, she writes a letter to the elders telling her what happened to her. To warn them. An elder calls her. Marianne remembers his words: he called Derk a respected member of the municipality, where especially the children like to come over the floor.

Epilogue

Marianne currently lives in the Portuguese Albufeira, where she has opened a pub. Derk died about three years ago. Because he can no longer defend himself as a result, his real name is not used. That real name is known to the editors. Marianne still has the feeling that her justice has not been done. “Jehovah’s Witnesses keep their hands above the heads of perpetrators. Abuse is solved by the first best farmer who is an elder who has no knowledge of it. “

Two former elders of the municipality in Meppel, where the abuse took place, confirm the abuse and the story as Marianne and her brother Marcel tell. Their names are known to the editors. The elders regret that the abuse has taken place, they say. One of them dealt with the abuse case itself. He believes that this has been handled carefully.

Investigate Jehovah’s Witnesses

Trouw did a long time research into sexual abuse at Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Netherlands. This showed that the way in which the religious community deals with sexual abuse is traumatic for victims. Matters are handled in-house, abuse is almost never reported, revealed by interviews with victims and (ex-) members and internal documents held by Trouw.

According to the people involved, perpetrators are held over their heads. This creates a very unsafe situation for children. These findings are in line with a report that a national Australian research committee published in November on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The conclusion: children are insufficiently protected against abuse and the organization does not deal adequately with accusations.

Who wants to say something about sexual abuse at the Jehovah’s Witnesses can report via abuse@trouw.nl