The Shunned Speak Out
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Years Out: 37
Helen Travers remembers the woman wearing pearls and a tweed suit who came to her family farm. Helen’s mother sat with the woman every week pouring pots of tea while they studied the Jehovah’s Witness Bible. When Helen was around 10 years old, her mother asked Helen and her siblings to join the organization.
Helen became devout. She and her sisters were pioneers, as full time evangelizers are called. Then, she married a man whom she met at work and who claimed he was interested in joining. Their life together became a series of late nights drinking in nightclubs with Helen dodging his peculiar sexual requests. And when they ran out of money, he proposed prostitution. "Look you’re sitting on a gold mine. You can earn money with sex. You can earn more in a day than you’d earn in a week," he said. Helen gave in. Her identity as a Jehovah’s Witness eroded. She attempted suicide three times -- twice by hanging and once by overdose.
One day Helen made an offhand remark about the doctrine that offended her mother. Weeks later, Helen’s mother mailed a letter that said she would no longer be in contact.
Helen Travers began sending two cards to her mother every year. That was their only communication for twelve years. Helen’s mother, who is a 90-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, only responded once, begging her to return to the organization.
"Those two years and on I always sent her loving cards to let her know that I loved her" - Helen Travers
Despite the anger Helen felt at her mother for cutting off communication, she said the anger she felt at the religious mandate of shunning was greater.
“I can't describe the resentment and anger towards the Watchtower Society for putting its members through that." - Helen Travers
In the mid-1980s, after she quit sex work and divorced her husband, Helen met a former Witness through a mutual friend. "In the first 15 minutes of speaking to her, she cleared my head. I think I was ready to find out it wasn’t the truth," said Helen.
Helen began volunteering her time helping other former Witnesses in online communities devoted to recovery.
After twelve years of shunning, Helen Travers now enjoys a cordial relationship with her mother and some of her siblings.