Six decades after reporting her sexual abuse to elders of the religious congregation her family attended, Queensland woman Diane Lynn is still waiting to be heard.
Ms Lynn was sexually abused for a number of years from before she was five years old by members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
She reported the allegations to the organisation multiple times, but no action was taken.
In August 2022, Ms Lynn was offered the full extent of compensation under the National Redress Scheme (NRS).
For the 65-year-old, it was “validation”, and she hoped to finally be heard.
“It was one of the most powerful moments in my life.
“It’s validation that someone actually listened and acted for the first time in my life.”
However, Ms Lynn never anticipated that an initiative designed to help victims of child sexual abuse would become her biggest challenge.
“It’s really, really trying on your mental, physical, emotional health,” the Sunshine Coast-based woman said.
“It’s just as raw as that five-year-old girl waiting for an answer and waiting for something to be done.”
Lack of response exacerbates pain
The compensation offer presented to Ms Lynn includes counselling, money and a direct personal response (DPR) from the institution responsible.
A DPR is an opportunity for victims to receive an apology from the institution responsible for their abuse.
Ms Lynn has not yet received her personalised response despite contacting the Jehovah’s Witnesses three months ago — a requirement of the compensation offer.
She said the lack of response caused trauma to resurface and inflicted more pain.
“Every day, I check to see if there is a message and every day, I check to see what’s going on and sometimes, twice a day before I go to bed as well.
“Some nights, I sleep only three hours. I’ve put on weight. It’s not pleasant.”
A spokeswoman from the Department of Social Services said institutions were required by law to provide a direct personal response.
“The scheme is responsive to any complaints and feedback from survivors who are having difficulty accessing their direct personal response and will work with the survivor and institution,” a spokesperson said.
“The scheme interactions with individual survivors and institutions cannot be disclosed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of applicants.”
The ABC contacted Jehovah’s Witnesses for comment.
Spokesman Tom Pecipajkovski said the law prevented the institution from commenting on individual cases .
Thousands seeking justice
The National Redress Scheme has received more than 21,500 applications since 2017.
In that time, more than 10,000 payments relating to institutions across Australia have been approved, totalling about $920 million, an average of $87,960.
Brisbane-based organisation knowmore — an independent and free legal service for survivors of child sexual abuse — received 23,000 calls for help last year.
Principal lawyer Simon Bruck said that demand was bolstered by the NRS.
“People can call and ask for advice about childhood sexual abuse that has occurred, and what compensation or redress options might apply to them,” Mr Bruck said.
He said they also supported survivors throughout the emotionally triggering and “daunting” process with social workers, counsellors and cultural advisors.
A lifetime of fighting continues
Ms Lynn said waiting for her personalised response was the latest delay in the process after the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion took three years to join the scheme.
“It’s like they’re still trying to look for a loophole to get out of this,” Ms Lynn said.
“It’s really important for me to have the religion accountable finally.”
Ms Lynn hopes to use the direct personal response to initiate changes to the institution’s policies and procedures — including to abolish the “two-person witness rule”.
“There needs to be two or more witnesses to the same criminal act of child abuse before the child or young person is believed,” she said.
“I want to go to New York [to receive the response] because it is a New York-based headquarters, and only they can make the change, an Australian branch can’t.
“If we don’t have change, what was the reason for all of this?”
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended in 2017 that the rule be removed, but it remains.
Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman Mr Pecipajkovski said the rule did not prevent elders from reporting child sexual abuse to authorities.
“The Bible requirement of two witnesses is related solely to a religious determination whether an ecclesiastical judicial committee can be formed to determine whether the accused should be expelled from being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Mr Pecipajkovski said.
“Criticisms of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ ecclesiastical process are all the more unfounded and unfair.”
Ms Lynn hopes the changes she’s fighting for would prevent other families from experiencing the compounding impacts of child sexual abuse and the toll of paying more than “$100,000” for therapy.
“It would be a life fulfilled,” she said.
“And it would be what I wanted to always to do — to make change to protect children and have children in a safe environment.”