Oct 13, 2018

Ex-Jehovah’s Witness, abuse survivor launches nonprofit

Shomik Mukherje
October 11, 2018

A woman who said she was repeatedly sexually assaultedthroughout her childhood by a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Fortuna, an experience she recounted in a televised documentary in May, has now launched a nonprofit organization to help fellow survivors of sexual abuse.

Romy Maple has registered SAFE 707 — which stands for Sexual Assault Fighters Elite — as an official nonprofit. She hopes to become a certified life coach in order to aid fellow survivors, especially those who have left behind religious organizations and are at risk, she said, of simply joining another one upon leaving.

“Once you leave a cult, you might walk away but you’re still not free,” she said. Leaving everything behind often leaves individuals without spiritual independence, she said, which further leads some to give into the same type of emotional blackmail elsewhere.

In May, Maple appeared prominently in an A&E documentary series, “Cults and Extreme Belief,” hosted by journalist Elizabeth Vargas.

A&E stated it contacted Jehovah’s Witnesses, which declined to comment on the allegations, but provided producers a copy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ position on child protection.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse and view it as a crime. We recognize that the authorities are responsible for addressing such crimes,” the policy states. “The elders do not shield any perpetrator of child abuse from the authorities.”

The months following the documentary’s airing have been a “viral” awakening in Maple’s life to the impact of telling one’s story, she said.

Many dozens of other abuse survivors have reached out to Maple, sharing their own experiences, she said.

“A lot of people have spoken to me,” she said. “It was almost overwhelming. I was so honored to know that people trusted me after watching what I said on TV.”

Shortly after the documentary episode focusing on Jehovah’s Witnesses aired on A&E, Maple shared her story with the Times-Standard.

She said she was drugged and raped for much of her childhood by an individual who, like her, was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Fortuna. At the age of 11, she said, she tried alerting elders in the congregation to the repeated abuse, but all ignored her. For years afterward, she said, she struggled with suicidal thoughts and feelings of loneliness.

The alleged incidents happened far longer ago than the statute of limitations for rape. A few weeks ago, Maple said, she confronted her alleged abuser, offering him forgiveness and asking for an apology. She said she didn’t receive one.

Maple currently lives in Fortuna. The town still carries a culture of silence, she said. She often drives by the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she said, and wonders if children in there are still being abused.

Despite leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses, which she said exposed her to “God fraud,” Maple said she retains her faith. Observing nature’s beauty, thinking about the people who have come into her life — down to the editor of her book — still convinces her that a larger power is at work.

Maple will soon embark on a days-long retreat, which she hopes will further help in her healing. Her ultimate goal, she said, is to help those who are in danger of “cult-hopping.”

“If you don’t have the training or education, you’re going to fall back into the same type of vibration,” she said. “That’s what you’re primed for.”

Maple has started a fundraiser for her efforts on the website GoFundMe.

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.


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