The Shunned Speak Out
Location: Santiago, Chile
Years Out: 13
Violeta Dias had a happy childhood as a Jehovah’s Witness. She grew up Santiago, Chile, in the 1990s and her life was full of religious activity shared with her parents, her younger brother, and their local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She loved traveling around the country to visit her five aunts who were special pioneers, as full time evangelizers who do an extra amount of preaching are called. The only downside of her childhood was being bullied in school. But the bullying made her even more proud to be a Jehovah’s Witness, she said.
"Even the not-so-nice memories have their nice part which was having the support of my family" - Violeta Dias
Despite her family’s deep involvement, Violeta ended up going to university full time, a rare privilege for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
"I wasn’t one of those Jehovah’s Witnesses whose parents didn’t let them go to college. My parents valued education," she said from her office in Santiago, Chile, where she works as a research and development engineer.
College was her first time feeling completely accepted by her peers and being proud of her faith at the same time. During her first year, when she still lived in the family home, Violeta fell for a guy that she couldn’t resist. But he wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness. For Witnesses, dating only happens as a precursor to marriage and only with a chaperone present. Dating outside of the organization is forbidden.
"I felt really guilty. I remember the first time I kissed this person, I spent the night crying." - Violeta Dias
The first kiss Violeta shared with her college boyfriend was an ugly mix of emotions. "It was supposed to be a beautiful experience, but I felt so guilty," she said. She hid the relationship from her parents, telling them she was with a Witness friend when she spent nights with him. When another Witness saw Violeta with her boyfriend, he blackmailed her: two months to come clean or he would report her to the elders.
Violeta confessed and the judiciary committee disfellowshipped her. Relatives who lived in the home could to speak her in small amounts, but other interactions would be limited.
After a few years of sporadic attempts at returning to the organization, Violeta felt her belief system collapse. Her family initially maintained some contact, but her mother sent a text two years ago saying that they could no longer be in touch.