It's time to investigate Jehovah Witnesses sex crimes, says Belfast abuse victim
A WOMAN has called for an inquiry into sex crimes by Jehovah's Witnesses after her Bible study class abuser was sentenced for subjecting her to years of abuse.
Laura Waring, who has bravely waived her right to anonymity, revealed she's been contacted by other people who say they were also victims of abusers in the church.
The church has been dogged internationally by sex scandals involving alleged abusers and major public inquiry was held into allegations in Australia.
Speaking moments after 77-year-old Charles Frederick 'Eric' Loyal was given a suspended jail sentence, Laura told Sunday Life: "It's a relief, you can't just forget about it and move on, it's a bit like a death - you don't get over it, but you learn to live with it.
"It's definitely relief as it has definitely brought our family closer together because we have all been working towards the one thing.
"It wasn't just for me that I did it, it was to protect other children and to know if anybody has been abused to come forward.
"If people don't believe me, it's not my problem any more.
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"I wanted him to say it and I wanted a court to say it, but that wasn't what it was all about."
Belfast Crown Court was told Loyal sexually abused Laura from the age of eight until she was 11 while they were both Jehovah's Witnesses.
Loyal, who was in his 30s at the time, would attack her while he attended weekly Bible study classes at her parent's Belfast home, while she was in their church and even when she babysat for him at this own home.
On Tuesday, the Recorder of Belfast, Judge David McFarland, sentenced the pensioner to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years.
Judge McFarland cited the relatively low level of offending, Loyal's lack of criminal record, the fact he is the sole carer for his blind wife, coupled with the delay in the case coming to court, as reasons for reducing his potential prison term.
"The validation is there, but it's still a hard thing to live with, that shaped your life and I always said he stole my life," said Laura.
Laura's daughter and sister were by her side to watch Loyal be told he will be on the sex offenders' register for 10 years.
"I didn't really want her (daughter) there, but she insisted on coming and it was quite uncomfortable for me, but she held my hand all through it.
"It probably did her good to see that when you tell the truth, it will come alright in the end."
After speaking to Sunday Life for the first time ahead of his sentencing, Laura said around 10 people have contacted her to reveal they too had been abused in churches across NI, though not all are Jehovah's Witnesses.
She criticised how the church handles claims of abuse.
Laura also called for an inquiry similar to the Royal Commission into abuse within the church in Australia to be set up in Northern Ireland.
The commission found the church has a "serious lack of understanding of the nature of child sexual abuse", with more than 1,000 allegations of sexual assault not reported to the police.
Said Laura: "It is an epidemic, when I first started all this, I would never have been in touch with ex-Jehovah's Witnesses.
"We were taught what we were taught and if you questioned it and if you did, you were an apostate and you would be removed from the congregation.
"It's like a cult. I believe if they told everyone one day to kill themselves ,they would do it because they are so blindly lead and they will accept anything, even to the point of accepting paedophiles."
When she first raised it with the church, it used its Bible-based "two witness rule", which requires evidence from two credible people regarding the claims.
It also brought Laura to a meeting at which Loyal was present to hear her allegations against him.
"If a woman is raped and doesn't fight and struggle it, she is as much to blame as her rapist, it's these old laws that should have been abolished centuries ago," said Laura
"It's a nightmare to live in, every single part of your life is controlled. You live in fear, from the age of two or three I knew to fear Armageddon was coming any day.
"When I went to school, it was worse because I was bullied because I was different, we weren't allowed to read certain books, we didn't celebrate Christmas or Easter.
"When I was asked at school what Christmas presents I got, I used to make ones up.
"I really want to highlight how bad it is and how bad the child abuse is, the Catholic church learned its lesson to some extent, but in 2019, this is still going on," said Laura.
"I thought it was a clean organisation until recent years, although I had been abused I thought it was a one off until I learned more about it.
"People now know so much more about it, they are not prepared to put up with it anymore."
When asked what her message to other potential victims is, Laura said: "Speak out, it will help in the end, it definitely will. Help yourself, help others and help protect other kids. Just speak to somebody, you'll be amazed at the help and support that's there.
"They can't get away with it, they just can't keep getting away with it."
A spokesperson for the Jehovah's Witnesses told Sunday Life Jehovah's Witnesses abhor child abuse, and view it as a heinous crime and sin. They said: "For decades, our journals The Watchtower and Awake!, as well as our website jw.org, have featured articles for both Jehovah's Witnesses and the general public on how to protect children from abuse."
n Laura has also offered to speak with anyone who may have been abused while a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses. She can be contacted via Sunday Life. Your approach will be treated in the strictest confidence.