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Silent lambs: Child sexual abuse and the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Best known for their door-to-door evangelising, Jehovah’s Witnesses are on a quest to save the ‘wicked’ from damnation. For victims of sexual abuse within the organisation, however, that quest has seen perpetrators shielded from justice. Amy Parsons-King has met several survivors as part of an investigation for The Spinoff. These are their stories.

Everything changed for Naomi Burnett in 1982. Born and raised as a Jehovah’s Witness in Christchurch, Naomi’s earliest memories are of a happy childhood, a loving, caring upbringing. And then, when she was 10, her uncle and aunt moved in.

“They’d been living in another country and were looking at relocating back to New Zealand, and we offered them the flat at the back of our house. That’s when things changed.”

At first Naomi enjoyed having her extended family so close by. They had a baby daughter, whom she adored. Alan Parkes, Naomi’s uncle by marriage, lavished attention on her. “I really relished it because I looked after my brothers a lot and was more the ‘carer’ than being cared for growing up,” Naomi says.

“I didn’t understand the attention I was getting from him was more sexual than I could understand.”

The sexual abuse began almost immediately, and continued across the years Parkes and his family lived in the flat. Even after he and his wife found their own home, still it continued.

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