I can still vividly recall the first time I was sexualized as a child. It was at my local Kingdom Hall. My mother and I were Jehovah’s Witnesses and I was raised that way since I was born. When I say “sexualized” and mention religion in the same paragraph I know most people’s minds go to the child abuse cover ups of the Catholic church or the ones that have happened within Kingdom Halls as well, pretty much in every religion sadly. But my story isn’t that bad. It was, however, wildly inappropriate and upset me for quite some time after.
There is a word that is used commonly in the real world – stumbling. To you, dear reader, this probably simply means to fall, to trip, or to perhaps trip another. In the JW world what that means is that you have stumbled your brother or sister in your faith. You have screwed up spiritually and have misled them to question their own spirituality and beliefs. It’s a fancy word for “offended” honestly and it’s overused in that faith.
When I was twelve years old I wore a dress that I’d had for a year or so to the Kingdom Hall. We all know how fast kids can grow at that age and I’d obviously gone through a bit of a growth spurt since the last time I wore it. I loved the dress, though, and since it still touched my knees my mom said I could wear it one or two more times before we passed it along. I felt pretty in that dress. It was black at the top with some pretty brown paisley patterns on the bottom of the skirt part. When I twirled it billowed out in a circle around me and made me feel graceful, like a dancer.
I was in the bathroom at the Kingdom Hall and reached up over the counter to get some soap to wash my hands. An older woman was in there as well. She was the wife of the one of the congregation Elders the people in charge of the religious education of everyone in the Hall. She was never one of my favorite people. She seemed harsh to my young self, and her kids picked on me relentlessly. One of them, her daughter, was even violent towards me. So to say I was intimidated by the family as a whole would be an understatement.
She said nothing to me in the bathroom but when I came out she was speaking to my mother. My mother didn’t look happy. As it turns out, the Elder’s wife had told my mom that my dress was so short that it was stumbling her. Me, a twelve year old girl, was stumbling her with my sexuality by showing “too much leg”. This woman was so insecure and so unhappy with her life that she had to pick a twelve year old girl to call out on being more attractive and sexual than she was.
My mom told me about it while the woman gave me dirty looks from afar. It hurt. I won’t lie. I remember, even at that age, asking my mom why I wasn’t allowed to say *I* was stumbled by an Elder’s wife making me feel uncomfortable at my place of worship. I don’t think my mom had an answer for me. She was always a really reasonable parent, and tried really hard to give me a balanced life, despite what some of the religious rules may have been. I love her for that.
We switched Kingdom Halls when I was nineteen and called out for stumbling someone yet again for holding hands with my fiance at the time. I had had enough. It was time to leave. Years later I would say the same thing and actually mean it.