A harrowing memoir of one woman’s struggle to cope with sexual abuse and depression while living in—and eventually leaving—the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Born in England, Hayworth’s mother became a Jehovah’s Witness to cope with her own mother’s death as well as the upheaval of moving her young family to Australia. When first-time author Hayworth arrived in Australia, she and her brother were sexually abused by their paternal grandfather. Then, when the family moved to New Zealand, Hayworth was raped by a stranger on a tennis court and later molested by a much older man. Hayworth was split apart trying to cope with this trauma within the repressive environment of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, where reporting problems to the outside world was forbidden. Not only did she engage in self-harm, she created and began to rely on an internal reality with an “Inside Mum” who unconditionally loved and protected Hayworth’s “inside me.” She was thrilled to get married, even though her husband was 14 years her senior and she had only known him for a matter of weeks. Hayworth’s husband kept secrets—sexual, familial and financial—from her, and their first son had serious mental health and developmental issues. After two of Hayworth’s children were abused, Hayworth’s husband “opposed my taking the children to the police and counseling and [was] totally unsupportive.” Hayworth eventually disassociated herself from her faith, which cut her off from her entire way of life, including her mother. She struggled to provide for her children and work through custody issues with her now-ex-husband while going to school. More broadly, she mourned the “measure of security that disappeared” from her life when she was disassociated (aka “disfellowshipped”). With time, hard work and therapy, Hayworth eventually forgave herself for the past and turned to face her future. Her intimate look at life as a Jehovah’s Witness will be illuminating for those unfamiliar with the faith, and she expertly uses examples from her life to illustrate the danger posed by a religion that preaches “[t]he only place to stay safe was within Jehovah God’s organisation, and the only way to stay safe was to adhere strictly to its laws.” Hayworth occasionally goes into too much depth when discussing particular episodes in her life, and she devotes an entire chapter to discussing the plight of an asylum-seeker from Africa—a chapter only tenuously linked to Hayworth’s struggle with her faith. Cutting it, along with other tangential or overly detailed material, would make Hayworth’s story more powerful.
A blistering, if somewhat rambling, memoir that depicts the Jehovah’s Witnesses as desperate to maintain a united front, even at the expense of the faith’s women and children.