Many cases of sexual abuse with the Jehovah’s Witness (JW) organisation go unreported to the Police. In some cases this is because the Elders tell people to not report, or do not report it themselves when they become aware of it. However, in lots of cases, the abuse never even gets reported to the Elders, let alone the Police. I believe this is because of the victim blaming and victim shaming that is common within the Jehovah’s Witness culture and literature.
I was sexually assaulted as a teenager by a JW Elder in my congregation. I am a fairly confident person who is not afraid to speak out and stand up for myself. However, it took me 20 years to tell anyone the full extent of the abuse and to finally tell the Police and then the Elders.
And I believe this is why…
Victim blaming is a devaluing act that occurs when the victim(s) of a crime or an
accident is held responsible — in whole or in part — for the crimes that have been
committed against them.[a]
Story 20 – Dinah Gets Into Trouble – My Book of Bible Stories.[b]
The idea is that parents are to read this book with their children from as early as babyhood. As the child gets older the parents will discuss the stories with them and will read the additional scriptures cited and ask the additional questions. This will be called a ‘family study’ or ‘family worship’ and is an integral part of a JW child’s day-to-day life. Children of JWs will have studied this book so much during their childhood that they will know the vast majority of the stories off by heart.
So, the story of Dinah is not the kind of story you will find in most books aimed at babies and young children, Dinah makes friends with some people who do not worship God. Dinah is raped and almost forced to marry her attacker but her brothers avenge her by committing mass murder, including murdering the man who raped their sister. It is no Disney fairytale! However, I believe it would be difficult to find a young JW who does not know this story.
The chapter in the “Bible Stories” book explains the circumstances which led up to this event and then asks the following question:
Why did Dinah bear a measure of responsibility for losing her virginity? (Galatians 6:7)[c]
Notice that readers are not asked if they think that Dinah should bear some of the responsibility, it is taken as a given that she should and readers are simply asked to explain why.
Readers of this article (often young children) are asked to explain how Dinah is a little bit to blame for getting herself raped, and quotes the scripture in Galatians 6:7 which tells us that we reap what we sow.
The answer children (or any readers) are expected to give is: Dinah was responsible for what happened to her because she should not have been hanging around with the Canaanites, they were bad association. If she had listened to God/her parents and not associated with them then she would not have found herself in a situation whereby she got raped. She was warned that they were bad people but she did not listen. So it’s partly her fault because she should have done as she was told and stayed away from them, and then she would not have been raped.
I don’t think I need to explain in detail how his kind of teaching is extremely harmful for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. It implies that the victim is somehow to blame for what happened or that they could have, or should have, prevented the situation.
The intelligent, morally correct answer to the question should be:
Dinah was in no way responsible for losing her virginity, she was raped, the rapist bears 100% of the responsibility for taking Dinah’s virginity and violating her. This is a serious crime and grave sin. Dinah is a victim of an evil act and needs love, care and support. She should not feel ashamed and is in no way responsible for what happened to her and anyone who tries to make her feel that way is supporting the rapist, not the victim.
Victim blaming not only emotionally damages the victim but it also supports the perpetrator of the crime, it releases some of the blame and shame that THEY (the perpetrator) should be feeling. If the victim is to ‘bear a measure of responsibility’ then the perpetrator does not bear it all. The perpetrator does not feel the full weight of his/her crime. The perpetrator is offered a little bit of hope that it’s not all their fault, they feel they are not 100% responsible for their actions, they start to believe that the victim could have prevented the act if they really wanted to, and they start to feel justified for their sin/crime.
By teaching young children this interpretation of the Bible’s account of Dinah, JW parents are teaching their children that if something bad happens to them they must question their role in it and what they could/should have done to prevent it. Were they hanging around with ‘bad’ people? Were they doing something that they shouldn’t have been doing? In what way are they responsible, wholly or partly for what happened to them? This is fine as long as the ‘bad’ thing that happened to them was as a direct result of a choice the child made, and the ‘bad’ thing is a direct result of some ‘bad’ that they have committed, for example, if they choose to steal some sweets, are caught and punished, then they have to accept responsibility for that and although the punishment may feel ‘bad’ they should realise that it was their choosing to do a ‘bad’ thing that led to this ‘bad’ consequence for them. Being punished for stealing is a direct consequence of being caught committing the crime of theft.
Yes, Dinah chose to associate with people who did not worship God, but she did not choose to be raped. Being raped is not a direct consequence of making friends with some girls that your dad doesn’t like! Being raped for making friends with girls who don’t worship the same God as you is not a suitable punishment, or consequence, for ignoring the advice of your parents! Dinah should not have to accept responsibility for being raped. Punishing a child for committing a crime like theft is not committing a crime against that child, it is teaching a valuable life lesson. Committing a crime against a girl and making her accept responsibility for it when she has committed no crime herself is not a valuable life lesson, it is abuse!
People get raped because of rapists.
This is the only reason that people are raped.
They are not raped because of what they wear, who they associate with or what ‘rules’ they ignore. They are raped because of a criminal who chooses to rape them. The victim’s choice is taken away and disregarded by the criminal. No one chooses to be raped, so no one should ever be forced to believe that they were in any way responsible for what happened to them.
Victim blaming is irresponsible and immoral. And above all, it emotionally damages someone who has already been a victim of an immoral crime and/or sin. Victim blaming can also silence a victim of a crime. It can make them feel guilty and ashamed so they don’t feel like they can talk to anyone about what happened. They may feel that if they did talk to someone then they may be blamed or held somewhat responsible for what happened to them. They feel unsupported and embarrassed by what happened because they have been taught that they are at fault also. As a JW, they may also feel that they are a ‘sharer in the sin’ and may feel like they are just as bad as the perpetrator because they are also partly responsible for the assault. This leads to feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, shame and sometimes depression and self-hatred.
The third ‘additional question’ posed regarding the Dinah story in My Book of Bible Stories:
How can young ones today show that they have taken to heart the warning example of Dinah? (Prov 13:20, 1 Corinthians 15:33 and 1 John 5:19)[c]
These scriptures tell the reader that you will fare badly if you have dealings with ungodly people (Pr 13:20)… implying that its your own fault if something bad happens to you if you have associated with a bad person. 1 Corinthians 15:33 is a well-known scripture to all young ones who grow up as JWs… and the application of it is that you mustn’t associate with anyone who is not a JW as they are BAD association. Again implying that Dinah was responsible for her rape because she associated with bad people, implying that it wouldn’t have happened to Dinah if she didn’t put herself in that situation. And implying that something bad may happen to you if you do not heed this warning. And then 1 John 5:19 is thrown in at the end to remind the reader that the world is a scary place as it is “lying in the power of the wicked one”… so don’t go hanging around with anyone who is not a JW because they are controlled by the devil.
By adding this fear and warning to this story of Dinah being raped, the child’s (or readers) fear of ‘worldly’ people (anyone not a JW) is enforced because it is implied that anyone who is not a JW is not only a BAD associate, but they are controlled by the devil and in extreme cases may even rape you. And if they do then its kind of your own fault for hanging around with them anyway because lets face it – you have been warned!! Dinah was warned but didn’t listen and look what happened to her!! I told you it was no Disney Fairy-tale!
Rather than using this Bible example to teach children the importance of respecting women and to learn about consent and to teach them how rape or sexual assault are serious sins and crimes and that the whole responsibility for these sins lies with the perpetrator and that they will face the consequences of their actions and be made to take full responsibility for it, the organisation uses this example to make children fear ‘worldly’ people (non-JWs) and if anything bad does happen to them while they are not following all the rules then they may be held partly responsible for the crime/sin committed against them. They will then be a sharer in this sin.
To quote the final paragraph in this chapter of the Bible Stories book:
“How did all this trouble get started? It was because Dinah made friends with people who did not obey Gods laws.”[b]
Dinah is not responsible for being raped. The man who raped Dinah is the criminal and bears full responsibility for his actions. Dinah did not choose to be raped. She was chosen by a rapist.
‘All of this trouble’ got started by a rapist, not by Dinah. Dinah did not ask for her brothers to seek revenge and murder people. Her brothers are responsible for their actions.
This chapter in the Bible Stories Book, and all of the other articles that have been written about Dinah, are responsible for making people think that a victim of rape, or any other sexual assault, can be somehow responsible, or to blame, for what happened to them. They make victims feel ashamed, they believe that they are somehow responsible and could have prevented the horrific attack. Feeling responsible for what happened to them leads to feelings of depression, anxiety, guilt and shame. Victims who feel ashamed and responsible are very unlikely to report the abuse. Victim blaming/shaming leads to silencing. The victim is silenced, and in turn the perpetrator is protected and his crime is covered up and kept secret and free to offend again, and again.
On the subject of blame and shame… who should take responsibility for silencing victims of sexual abuse? Who should feel ashamed?… the victim of a crime? Or the persons responsible for producing literature that inaccurately and immorally lays the blame on these ones?
In my next article I shall be discussing how the Watchtower organisation effectively silences victims by its use of victim blaming.
I would like to encourage anyone in the UK who has been affected by these issues to think about having your say at https://www.truthproject.org.uk/i-will-be-heard
“Shamed into Silence”, “Do you have a second witness?”, “Do not take your brother to court”, “Leave it with Jehovah”… coming soon!!
[a] “Victim blaming is a devaluing act that occurs when the victim(s) of a crime or an accident is held responsible — in whole or in part — for the crimes that have been committed against them.” – The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime – Victim Blaming – https://crcvc.ca/docs/victim_blaming.pdf
[b] My Book of Bible Stories © 1978, 2004 – Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania – the publishing corporation of Jehovah’s Witnesses – a book for young children primarily, but also for adults.
[c] Study Questions for My Book of Bible Stories – these are at the back of the 2004 edition of the book.