reprint of the Jul/Aug 1994 Free Minds Journal

RAPE and Jehovah's Witnesses

by Diane Wilson (author of Awakening of a Jehovah's Witness: Escape from the Watchtower Society)

Dear Randy,

Enclosed is the article on "rape" that you requested I write. In doing this, I drew upon my own personal experience. It just came flooding out, so I wrote it as I felt it. It feels odd/ scary/ embarrassing/ etc. to submit these feelings for critique, but since you offered to help me with this project, here it is. --Diane Wilson

I have researched the Watchtower Society's (hereby designated as WTS) view of this "rape" issue as far back as I have the resources to do so. I have their 19351980 "comprehensive" index, and the earliest listing is in 1964. Since my personal library only goes back to 1969, my husband went to the Kingdom Hall and made copies for me of the 1964 and 1968 articles. (Funny how making copies of the Society's old literature is always suspect, isn't it!)

I suspect the WTS has printed articles prior to 1964 on "rape" and is up to their old tricks of leaving selected articles out of their "comprehensive" new indexes. I have caught them doing this on other topics, but I have no way to check it.

My Discovery

Sometimes it is better to fight the rapist, but sometimes it is NOT. The point is that the woman should be able to make that decision, not a group of old men sitting sheltered and protected in New York who have never encountered this predicament.

I took a brief course at the YMCA on self defense for women. I learned that most of the fighting that women do when they are suddenly attacked is useless and can further antagonize the attacker, unless the woman has knowledge beforehand on the pressure points where a man is most vulnerable, and knows the various hand/foot strikes to deliver a blow to those vulnerable body areas. Also, if she can act with the right timing and swiftness and clarity of mind to selectively aim her strikes with precision, THEN it would be of use to fight.

What it comes down to is a judgment call based on the woman's instinct at the moment of the attack. She alone has the right to that decision, which is what the WTS denies the woman. By their punishing attitude, the WTS makes victims of the victims all over again.

These type of dogmatic views of the Society are so hurtful. For me, they severely affected my relationship with God. I felt, "If God is like they are portraying Him, then I don't like God very much." It is sad because they are misrepresenting God, which causes people to draw away from Him and feel very angry and alone. I am finding this kind of damage very difficult to recover from emotionally.

The WTS boasts of their work of "making known God's name," but I feel they turn many people away from God through their subtle programming of people's minds. For example, take the "rape" issue. When they say "rape is fornication if the woman doesn't scream," and merits disfellowshiping (which means eternal destruction in their view), that gives the JW mind a lot of impressions about God that are very negative and hurtful. It makes people think that God does not understand a woman's fear or emotions, and that God is unjust and uncompassionate. It seems that God goes by appearances, rather than reading the person's heart and knowing their true motives. Even though the WTS may never come forth with suchlike statements about God, they do infer such things by saying that "rape is fornication if the woman does not scream."

My personal suffering as related to this matter did not come as a result of anything the elders said to me. In fact, they never said anything to me about the rape! It came as a result of this sort of accumulation of the WTS's mental programming over many years. What angers me especially is the hurt they have caused to many women over this issue, and the callous way the WTS has of dealing with people's emotions. When they write articles that deal with emotionally-charged issues such as rape, I really doubt that they consider what effect their ever-changing view on it will have on the poor women who have gone through this terrifying experience. There is no excuse for this kind of callous behavior on their part. Note the following zigzag changes the WT has made over the last few years:

Thus Saith the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses on the subject...

"Is Rape Fornication If the Woman Does Not Scream?"

The answer, according to the WTS at various times, has been:


WT 1/15/64 p.63

"... if she should submit to the man's passionate wishes, she would not only be consenting to fornication or adultery, but be plagued by the shame."

My Comments: Rape is not an act of passion, it is an act of violence! Is the God of the Watchtower so limited that He cannot read the heart of the victim so as to know it is rape and not fornication?

WT 1/15/64 p.64

"A Christian woman is entitled to fight for her virginity or marital fidelity to the death."

My Comments: The Bible does not mention that screaming and fighting to the death is a Biblical requirement! How many Jehovah's Witness women died needlessly over this?

WT 6/1/68 p.347

"An issue of integrity to Jehovah's laws is involved here. So by no means would it be proper quietly to submit to rape, as that would be consenting to fornication."

NO (inferred)

1969, 1971 Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 1371+, 601

"RAPE is defined as unlawful sexual intercourse without the woman's consent, effected by force, duress, intimidation..."

"FORNICATION: Sex relations by mutual agreement between two persons not married to each other.

My Comments: According to the Society's definitions, these two terms are opposite in meaning. One cannot be the other. Fornication indicates mutual agreement. It does not involve force, intimidation, etc. When force or intimidation are involved, it becomes rape.


Awake! 3/8/74 p.14

"... if she did not scream, she would be as good as dead anyhow." "Also, that if she did not scream, she would ruin her relationship with Jehovah God and the Christian congregation; that then she would be disfellowshiped or excommunicated from it."

My Comments: Now rape becomes a disfellowshiping offense!

The woman is the victim of the rapist, and again becomes the victim of the WTS. Just who is the villain here? Most would think it is the rapist. The Watchtower evidently thinks it is the victim.

NO (inferred)

Awake! 7/8/80 p.5,6

"How Most Victims React"... "Often coupled with the fear is confusion and uncertainty. For example, a 19-year-old explained: 'I never physically fought him off in any way, partly because I was frightened, mostly because in my naivete I thought a girl has to do what she's told. I was overwhelmingly confused and defenseless against the whole sudden suddenness.' She reacted as many others have under similar circumstances." "Profound terror in the face of physical threats simply renders most women helpless." "Rape is the fastest growing crime in America."

My Comments: The WTS shows a softening of attitude by writing this article, entitled "The Growing Terror of Rape." They portray rape as causing terror. The woman is spoken of as a victim, words certainly not fitting their definition of "fornication." The article reflects a feeling of compassion as it relates the experience of a rape victim, acknowledging the confusion and inability of some women to fight back due to the profound terror they feel. Yet they are still referring to it as "rape." This article recognizes rape for the violent crime that it is, and not as fornication.

Perhaps Witness women who had been raped could now feel some relief that God, as represented through his organization, really does understand a woman's emotions after all.


WT 10/15/80 p.7

"... She told him that if he touched her she would scream as he had never heard anyone scream before. She explained that if she did not, she would ruin her relationship with Jehovah God and the Christian congregation."

"A Christian woman is under obligation to resist, for the issue of obedience to God's law to `flee from fornication' is involved."

My Comments: Whatever relief women may have felt due to the previously compassionate article was short-lived. Only 3 months later, The Watchtower affirms their former view about rape! It is again a disfellowshiping offense for a woman to be raped if she does not scream.

One may wonder why being attacked by a rapist would ruin a woman's relationship with God. Does not God understand her fright, her disorientation, her confusion? Does He not know of her innocence? Can He not read her heart?

The Society is portraying rape without screaming as fornication, and for that fornication the woman deserves to be disfellowshiped (which, according to WT beliefs is as good as an everlasting death sentence with no resurrection possible). One may wonder, "Since when is fornication the unforgivable sin?" The Society acknowledges on other occasions that sins such as fornication can be forgiven if one repents. So why would rape be classified as worse than deliberate fornication, punished by eternal death? Since when is rape the unforgivable sin? Does this view of the WTS teach people that God is loving and just? Does the view of the WTS honor God?


WT 3/15/83 p.30

"What do we understand here by "fornication"? The Greek word in this text is porneia.

"A male or female who is forcibly raped would not be guilty of porneia."

My Comments: The WTS here in a footnote unequivocally states that one who is forcibly raped is NOT guilty of fornication. Maybe now once again, the women of Jehovah's Witnesses who experienced rape could breathe a sigh of relief... they had been acquitted!


Awake! 2/22/84 p.2

"But the rapist is asking a person to break God's law by committing fornication."

My Comments: Not even a year later, the acquitted women are guilty once again of fornication!

"Treat Him Respectfully" "... a woman should not cower in fear and permit a rapist to intimidate her, at the same time she should treat him understandingly as a fellow human."

More Comments: Rubbing salt in the wound, the WTS demands that the victim treat the attacker with respect(!) and to treat him with understanding! This flies in the face of a woman's natural reaction to defend herself, and it is in direct contradiction with the instructions given in the Awake! 7/8/80 p.12: "May she properly inflict damage on her assailant? Indeed she may... she may use any means at her disposal to resist intercourse."

One could only wonder how respectful and understanding a Governing Body member would be if he got raped by a man!

Awake! 2/22/84 p.25

"If I gave in and he raped me, I would eventually die and have no hope of a resurrection."

My Comments: Now the crime of rape is so offensive to God that the victim deserves to die eternally without hope of a resurrection! The WTS is, in effect, saying that to be raped and not to scream is in actuality the unforgivable sin.


Awake! 6/8/84 p.28

"For the victim to be considered guilty of fornication there would need to be proof of willing consent."

My Comments: Four months later, the WTS again reverses itself... the victims of rape are again exonerated.

YES (inferred)

Awake! 5/22/86 p.23

"Your conscience will be clear. Even if you are raped, you will not sacrifice your cleanness before God."

My Comments: Listed as one of the reasons why you should resist an attacker from the first moment: By screaming and resisting, you would ensure your cleanness before God. It insinuates that if she did not scream/resist, she would not be clean before God, thereby being guilty of fornication.

NO (?) (an ambivalent response)

Awake! 9/22/86 p.28

Four months later, the Society states rather weakly (upon pressure from readers) that: "True, the woman has to respond according to her assessment of the danger to her life."

My Comments: Is it no longer necessary to die to keep one's cleanness before God? Are we to think God changed His mind on this? They even try to wheedle out of the situation by stating: "...we believe that is covered in the advice given in the box on [p. 23, 5/22/86 Awake!]. However, it is NOT! If it had been covered, the reader would not have written to the WTS to complain about their advice!


Awake! 3/8/93 p.5

"MYTH:A rape victim bears part of the blame unless she actively resists."

"FACT:Rape by definition takes place when force or the threat of force is used to gain sexual penetration, of any kind whatsoever, against a person's will."

"Thus, a rape victim is not guilty of fornication."

"When a woman is forced to submit to a rapist out of terror or disorientation, it does not mean that she consents to the act. Consent is based on choice without threat and is active, not passive."

My Comments: Here the WTS comes out smelling like a rose with their reasonable view of rape. They present as "MYTH" those views which heretofore they insisted were "TRUTH."

They do not mention that this is a changed viewpoint. For the last few years they had taught the exact opposite viewpoint, and demanded that women obey them even if it meant losing their life. (WT 6/l/68 p.348. (also see Awake! 3/8/74 p.14)

The WTS accepts no responsibility for the deaths that most likely have occurred to Witness women because of the WT's view. They offer no apology for the guilt the WTS inflicted upon these unfortunate women.

One could wonder: Because of feeling such despair as a result of the Society's viewpoint (that rape was fornication if the woman did not/could not scream), how many women gave up on God completely? How many turned away from such an uncompassionate God? How many of these women perhaps committed suicide or turned to a debauched way of life out of depression as a result of feeling so rejected by God?

Awake! 3/8/93 p.7

Presents a caption, "Profile of a Potential Rapist," which might be more aptly captioned, "Profile of a Spiritual Rapist." It is interesting to note that six of the twelve characteristics of a potential rapist applies to the attitude of the Society:

"Emotionally abuses you by insulting you, ignoring your views, or getting angry or annoyed when you make a suggestion."

"Tries to control elements of your life, such as how you dress and who your friends are..."

"Gets jealous"

"Talks down about women in general." "Intimidates you ..." "Can't handle frustration without getting angry." "Doesn't view you as an equal."


At times it may be better to fight a rapist. At other times it may not be. This is a judgment call which should be based on the woman's instinct at the moment of the attack. It is this judgment call that the WTS denies the woman. By their punishing attitude, the WTS makes victims of the victims all over again.

The WTS's dogmatic view about this issue of rape severely affected my relationship with God; I felt, "If God is as the WTS portrays Him to be regarding this issue, I don't like God very much!" This is an understatement, because deep down they really made me hate God for being so unjust, and that He goes on such shallow appearances rather than reading the person's heart and knowing their true motives. I am finding the damage they did to me over this issue very difficult to recover from emotionally.

As Daniel Silverman, Senior Supervisor of Boston's Beth Israel Hospital Rape Crisis Program says: "Some rapists won't be stopped no matter what; and no woman should feel guilty if she didn't successfully fend off a rape." "Just surviving is the greatest achievement."

If the future of the WTS continues to be a repeat of their history, women will continue to feel like the ping-pong ball played between the yes-and-no paddles of the WTS.

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