The Shunned Speak Out
Location: Bronx, NY
Years Out: 9
For Amneris Cruz, a 43-year-old former Jehovah’s Witness from Puerto Rico, recovery is a line in the sand drawn by her own hand.
Amneris Cruz’s family didn’t have a car when she was growing up in Puerto Rico, and the woman who gave them rides was a Jehovah’s Witness. When Amneris’s mother began to go to meetings with the woman, she was drawn in by the kindness of the congregation. But when Amneris went, something didn’t seem right to her.
"I always thought it didn’t make sense. But I didn’t say anything because I was too shy," she said.
"I called her and she treated me so cold. In my mind, I said this is the last time I'm going to reach out." - Amneris Cruz
Around the same time, Amneris’s father, who also joined the religion, began to sexually abuse her. The abuse continued throughout her early childhood. "I still have to have my door closed to sleep. I still have fears. I had nightmares for years," Amneris said. Her father sexually abused Amneris, from around the ages of five to nine years old. It came out that her father had also abused 15 other girls. A Jehovah’s Witness rule, however, requires two witnesses to be present for abuse to be verified so he wasn’t punished. Amneris thought when her mother would leave when she found out, but she didn’t.
She found out later that her mother already knew about her father’s pedophilia. He had been arrested and put on trial for abusing other children when Amneris was a toddler, but had been released.
Afterwards, when the family moved from Puerto Rico to Indiana, Amneris continued practicing as a Jehovah’s Witness, but she couldn’t forgive her mother for not taking action when she found out the sexual abuse. Even so, Amneris feared losing her relationship with her brothers and sisters-in-law. In the end, her doubts won.
Amneris stopped practicing and mother and brothers stopping speaking to her. She barely spoke English and she didn’t know anyone in the states.
"I didn't know anybody here in the United States. It was just the Jehovah's Witnesses and my family." - Amneris Cruz
Since Jehovah’s Witnesses do not encourage going to college, Amneris found herself unable to find a job and with no marketable skills. But she was buoyed by an insistent vision: her life would be better, not worse, after leaving the organization and she wouldn’t be like her mother. She eventually became a certified massage therapist and fell in love with Ruben Ortiz, the founder of an ex-Jehovah’s Witness recovery group on Facebook with over 10,000 members. Together, they have started a new life.