Sep 8, 2018

A survivor’s story: Local woman says Jehovah’s Witnesses ignored years of abuse, trafficking

Sister Star, a survivor of human trafficking, says she was drugged, sexually abused and filmed over two days at Eureka hotel at the age of 7. – José Quezada — For the Times-Standard
Eureka Times-Standard
August 26, 2018

Sister Star, a survivor of human trafficking, says she was drugged, sexually abused and filmed over two days at Eureka hotel at the age of 7. – José Quezada — For the Times-Standard

At the age of 7, Sister Star said she was drugged, sexually abused and filmed over two days at Eureka hotel by a family friend and fellow member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who had promised to take her to the beach.

She said she remembered being hungry and thirsty, but was only given more drugs by the men and woman who abused her and another young boy.

“All I kept thinking was I wanted to go home and be with my brother,” Star told the Times-Standard. “That’s all I wanted to do.”

Two months prior, she said her grandfather and other men had done the same to her in the backyard of her grandparent’s Los Angeles home.

These memories of abuse were suppressed for years, Star said, which she said more than likely contributed to her having stroke at the age of 38, causing a permanent disability.

Now 41, Star — who did not wish to provide her full name — said the woman who brought her to the Eureka hotel is still alive. The state’s statute of limitations, however, does not allow for Star to file criminal or civil charges against her abusers. But Star filed a report with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office regardless. She said she will no longer be a victim, and is now a survivor speaking out against the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization that she said allowed for years of abuse to be dismissed and ignored and has forever tarnished the lives of many people.

“I’m hoping that there is going to be more people feeling safe to come out and tell even if it was 40 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago,” Star said. “It’s all about telling the truth and what you have gone through and what you’re escaping. But by telling you story you can help save children now inside this organization.”

The Times-Standard contacted the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ World Headquarters for comment. The organization responded with a document outlining explaining its “scripturally-based” position on child protection.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse and view it as a crime. (Romans 12:9)” the document states. “We recognize that the authorities are responsible for addressing such crimes. (Romans 13:1-4) The elders do not shield any perpetrator of child abuse from the authorities.”

Star said her experience was far different.

Star said she is a fourth generation Jehovah’s Witness, but was born out of wedlock, which she said brought shame to her mother and family.

“I was born to a family that didn’t want me. I was used,” Star said. “ … The religion set the stage to have people abuse me constantly, like I was around nothing but abuse day in and day out.”
At the age of 14, Star said she told her mother and eventually the elders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Visalia about the sexual abuse by her stepfather, who she said molested her from age 4 to 14. She feared he would eventually rape her.

Star said she remembered telling the elders what her stepfather did to her, with her stepfather in the room at the same time.

After two days of consideration, Star said the elders said that because there was not two witnesses to the abuse, they would take no action.

She said after the decision, her stepfather walked over to her and whispered in her ear, “Even Jehovah says it’s OK what I did to you.”

Star said she left the Jehovah’s Witnesses at 21, but said she didn’t blame herself for what happened to her. At the age of 34, Star said she remembered the instances of sexual abuse and trafficking she suffered at the age of 7.

“Because they were so horrific,” Star said about why she those memories were suppressed. “And I hadn’t been safe until that time.”

At 38, Star said she suffered a stroke which caused her to lose feeling in parts of her body.
“I was paralyzed and I couldn’t move,” Star said about being at the hospital after the stroke. “I was looking at myself and I was like, ‘OK Star, you’re not tied up, you’re not drugged, people are feeding you.’ Because it symbolized to me the same thing because I lost my voice being drugged and I lost my body being drugged at 7. Then here I am in this situation where I’m having the same problems, but it’s my brain doing it to myself. And they still haven’t figured out why I had this stroke.”

Carole de Gery is a retired San Mateo County sheriff’s deputy working pro bono to investigate Star’s case. De Gery said it was significant for the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office to accept Star’s report of the Eureka abuse despite the statute of limitations preventing any possibility of prosecution.

“But a lot of times, just to have the answers and put all those pieces of the puzzle together, that helps your mind find closure,” de Gery said.

At the same time, for survivors to share their story will empower others to speak out and report what happened to them.

De Gery said speaking out could also result in potentially serial offenders being apprehended if cases are connected.

In 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 813 which made offenses of rape, sexual assault and other sex offenses committed in 2017 and onward no longer be subject to a statute of limitations.

“It’s these people that hurt children need to be held accountable,” Star said. “You can’t just go around hurting kids. There has to be accountability and that’s why I made a report of all of this. Because there has to be accountability.”

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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