I had intended to do a summary of recent stories on Jehovah’s Witnesses in the news, but I can’t put this in as a story among others. It illustrates the extreme of a general tendency fostered by Jehovah’s Witnesses, however they may try to deny it.
Twice-divorced foster mom Eunice Spry, of Tewkesbury, Glos, has been found guilty at Bristol crown court of 26 charges of cruelty and assault. This Jehovah’s Witness has shown no sympathy for her victims, nor accepted any blame for torturing three children over a period of almost 20 years.
Spry, 62, routinely beat, abused and starved the two girls and a boy as punishments. The victims, now in their late teens and early 20s, said the devout Jehovah’s Witness forced sticks down their throats, made them eat their own vomit and rat excrement, drink washing-up liquid and bleach and locked them naked in a room without food for a month.
Spry claims that the children were possessed by the devil. Sandpapering their skin seemed like a good solution.
Child A, now 21, came into Spry’s care when she was five. She said: “We were regularly beaten. We were starved or made to eat blocks of lard, drowned in the bath and kicked down the stairs.
“Mum had an array of sticks and would beat us with them and kick us until we were bruised and collapsing with pain. If we screamed, she would push the sticks down our throats. The pain was unbearable. These things happened all through my childhood.”
Child B, a girl also now aged 21, said: “We had no friends. We were told not to speak to anyone.” Child C, a boy of 23, told Bristol crown court: “One summer, when I was seven or eight, we were starved for a month.
“We were kept locked in a room with no clothes on and had very little to eat.
“If we wanted to go to the toilet we had to do it in the corner. I remember being made to eat my own excrement off the floor.”
Spry, 62, who faces jail after she was yesterday convicted of child cruelty, wounding, assault and perverting justice, kept her savage regime secret by refusing to send the children to school. She taught them at home and rarely let them to leave the house.
The children were routinely punished for supposedly misbehaving by being made to swallow rat droppings, dog food, bleach, washing-up liquid and the antiseptic TCP.
Prosecutor Kerry Barker said that interviews with the victims resulted in a “horrifying catalogue of cruel and sadistic treatment,” but the case relied heavily on evidence from forensic scientists.
Police described Spry as intelligent and clever who had showed no emotion when she was questioned. Det Con Victoria Martell said: “Most mothers who’d been accused of such things would have shown something. She didn’t and it was quite chilling.”
Although a spokeman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed that the faith does not tolerate physical abuse, her behavior was clearly fueled by JW beliefs. Fanatical Jehovah’s Witness Eunice believed the two girls and a boy were possessed by the Devil – she wanted to “purify” them. At a local Kingdom Hall, Spry made one of the children wear a sign on back which said: “This child is evil. Do not look at her or talk to her.” Did anyone intervene? Nah. This nasty woman was considered a pillar of her local community.
Yes, clearly this story is beyond the pale of any kind of acceptable behavior. Why does it matter that she was a “devout Jehovah’s Witness”? It matters because the authoritarian/perfectionist mindset of JWs contributes to the pathology of individuals like this. In such simplistically totalitarian groups (and JWs are not alone), there is simply more child abuse, more domestic abuse, more sexual abuse, and more violence.
Despite their “pacifist” beliefs about not fighting in wars (which really have to do more with their separation from the world and this “system of things” – like their refusal to vote), the internal dynamic of the followers of the Watchtower Bible and Tract corporations encourages behaviors of domination and control. In a very real psychological sense, they are controlled and thus abused, and often become abusers themselves. As any non-JW family member can tell you, kindness is not at the top of their list of priorities. This is especially so for men, although this case involves instead a woman. I hope to hear more about the background – I think the history here must be very convoluted.
I never saw an elder chastised for cruelty. I never saw a single JW interfere with physical, abusive “correction” of children (or women). The man is head of the household. This book excerpt describes a common situation that I observed in my own youth.
When I was twelve years old, my nineteen-year-old sister married a Jehovah’s Witness, and one year later she delivered a beautiful baby boy. Sadly, Jon would come to know at a tender age of one the frustration I experienced sitting on that anthill during those long sermons in the Kingdom Hall. When Jon started fidgeting, his father grabbed him by the arm and literally dragged him to the restroom to beat him. Jon’s beating became such a ritual that when his daddy reached for him during a meeting, he knew it meant a beating. He cried and pleaded “No, Daddy” as he buckled his legs, refusing to walk willingly to meet his fate. Everyone in the Kingdom Hall could hear his screams. The sound that echoed from the blow varied; sometimes Jon’s father used his hand, sometimes a belt. After ten or fifteen minutes, they would return with Jon hyperventilating, desperately trying to catch his breath. Beaten into composure, he would sit still for a while longer. Usually he stared motionless into space, his eyes bloodshot from crying. If fate smiled on him, Jon fell asleep in my arms for the duration of the meeting. If not, then back again to the restroom he would go for another beating and the cycle continued, until the closing prayer. One heart-wrenching day in particular is forever seared into my memory. My sister confided in my mother, father, and me that Jon, then two years old, had asked his father to hit him on his hands with the belt instead of his buttocks. When asked why he wanted to be punished that way, he replied, “Because my butt is too sore.” Within a year, my sister had another child and his fate, sadly, was no different than Jon’s. Meanwhile, my sister’s husband was rewarded for his devotion to the faith. He was made an Elder.’ – from Out of the Cocoon: A Young Woman’s Courageous Flight from the Grip of a Religious Cult by Brenda Lee.
Punishments are inflicted – even at the Kingdom Hall itself – to try to create the perfect submissive JW child who will never make a mistake of any kind. That kind of situation was the subtext of a poem I wrote about how I learned to re-imagine my role in order to navigate through difficult situations. My mind was always my realm of freedom. As a child, there are some things you can’t escape. I was hit with a belt, but not nearly as much as some others. Sticks are also common, since they seem to remind people of the “rod.”
While the actions of this horrible woman are not typical, they are on the same continuum. The protective paranoia of the group, which considers all “worldly” authorities to be ruled by Satan, discourages reporting to outsiders. They don’t trust psychologists, psychiatrists, or child development specialists. They don’t trust the police or the legal system or any part of government. They discourage reading outside their publications, and think that education is a waste of time and energy. People who are so controlled sometimes do odd and destructive things, like this. She would have been horrible without the JWs, but this gave her the ideology and rationalization, and the cover, to do it. She was also able to pull the kids out of school (for “home-schooling”) when concerns arose about their neglect, possible starvation, and the environment of “austere” parenting. Children, who may grow up thinking that abuse is “normal,” should be better protected.
- Blind Eye to Mrs. Evil – Sunday Mirror
- It was all in the name of God – The Sun
- Missed chances of ending 20 years of cruelty – The Guardian
- Two decades of abuse went unseen – BBC News
- Children thought ritual beatings and humiliation ‘was normal’– 24 Dash
- Timeline of Abuse – BBC News
- Sadistic foster mother’s 19-year reign of terror – Daily Mail
- Foster mother guilty of ‘sadistic’ abuse – Telegraph
- Kids’ life of misery – Herald Sun
- Never Let the Evil Woman Out – The Mirror
- Blunders left foster mother free to torture – This is London
- Statement from the Fostering Network on the foster carer Eunice Spry – Adoption Net
- One in four parents who home-educate children provide little or no teaching – TES
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. – C.S. Lewis