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Brainwashing "Perfect Victim"

from Perfect Victim by Christine McGuire and Carla Norton

In the book Perfect Victim a man kidnaps a grown woman and keeps her in his home as his slave. There he whips her and abuses her and he keeps her for seven years. After three years of captivity the victim was slowly allowed to go out and eventually held a job. Every night she faithfully went “home” back to her captor and his wife, turning her salary over to them.

Eventually she got free and returned to her parents and the kidnapper was arrested and put on trial. During the trial a Dr. Hatcher testified about the nature of the control her kidnapper had over his victim - a control so strong that even when it was possible for her to flee, she always returned to the home of her captor and abuser.

During the court proceedings, Dr. Hatcher, a specialist in hostages, terrorism and victim behavior discussed 16 methods of mind control. Dr. Hatcher states that not all of the techniques need be applied nor do they need to be applied in any particular order -- three or four of them on certain individuals would give the desired result. Dr. Hatcher’s work is based on the use of these techniques on adults. I have used this with abuse survivors who identify most of these techniques were used on them as children. I have also used this with women who were abused by their partners. Both groups say most of the techniques were used on them by their abusers.

I will address each technique first from the perspective of the child abuse victim and then from the perspective of the JWs.

1. Separation and isolation from environment (outside world); refuse to answer questions; restrict environment; control clothing; begin humiliation and degradation.

Child abuse victims: Children are, by definition, isolated from the outside world. In a healthy home this isn’t an issue. However, in a dysfunctional home the child is at the mercy of abusive parents. Abusive parents may control whom the child sees and talks to, what they wear, what they eat, bedtimes, etc. While these things in themselves are not bad the control exhibited by an abusive parent is disrespectful of the child as an individual. Name-calling and put-downs are typical behavior.

JW: JWs are strongly encouraged to have nothing to do with non-JWs. Many activities are discouraged. There is a strict dress code. Those who ignore the “encouragement” can be marked as poor examples. The entire hierarchy of the WTS discourages the asking of questions. Members are constantly reminded of their imperfections and inability to lead moral lives without the direction of the WTS. And leaving the organization ultimately leads to failure.

2. Physically or sexually abuse; expose vulnerability.

Child abuse victims: Control over a child is often exerted through physical discipline. In a healthy family discipline is used to help the child. In an abusive home discipline is used to control the child. The child is often blamed for the feelings of the parents and can be held responsible for the parent’s problems. The child learns very early that they have no personal power, no choice. They learn very early that they are vulnerable to the emotional needs of the parents.

JW: On an organizational level physical or sexual abuse is not a method of control in the JWs (although it might be in some families). However, the high level of participation demanded of members often leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. Personal needs are ignored in an unending attempt to meet the organizational demands.

Members are constantly reminded that the need to do more is essential to their good standing in the congregation. The fear of becoming marked or shunned is a real threat to their standing as a member. The threat of discipline exposes their vulnerability to the demands of the WTS.

3. Remove normal day/night sleep/wake cycle.

Child abuse victims: While this might not be a factor in many homes, even those who do abuse their children, I have spoken with many people who have said their parents would keep them awake at night or wake them up in the middle of the night. Sleep deprivation is a strong determinant of whether people can assert themselves.

JW: While I don’t think this is an issue for many JWs I do recall how my elder husband stayed up many nights preparing talks or getting ready for elder’s meetings. Many nights he was out late dealing with judicial committee issues. I have to wonder how the lack of sleep affects elders who work to support their families and then do another several hours a day working for the organization. And I wonder how this impacts on any elder’s ability to think clearly about the decisions they make and how caring/ethical/scriptural those decisions are? Perhaps some elders here could comment on how the lack of sleep affected them.

4. Control bodily functions (urination, defecation, menstruation); remove privacy.

Child abuse victims: For children this can be a huge issue. Parents intruding into the bedroom or bathroom and open discussion of bodily functions can certainly affect the privacy needs of children especially as they get older. Certainly for children who are sexually abused the privacy of their body is invaded repeatedly.

JW: While the WTS doesn't control the first part of this they certainly remove privacy from individuals. Members are often reminded to report to the elders if they have seen unacceptable behaviors. JWs are cautious about what they do and say in front of others due to the fear of being reported fro some infraction. During judicial committees members are expected to relate in great detail what can be extremely embarrassing information.

5. Control food intake.

Child abuse victims: This can be an issue in some families.

JW: Not really an issue unless you are at an assembly or a district convention and you are expected to be in your seat, paying close attention at all times. However there are rules about eating anything with blood in it or hasn't been properly bled.

6. Punish for no apparent reason.

Child abuse victims: Many children learn quickly that a parent can lash out for no reason. They learn to expect the unexpected and in fact many develop anxiety when things are peaceful for too long.

JW: Many people develop anxiety because the rules are always changing. Keeping up-to-date on all the current positions on issues can be a real challenge.

7. Require victim to ask permission for things or behaviors (ask to speak, go to the bathroom).

Child abuse victims: Abusive parents often demand to know everything the child does. Permission must be asked before many activities. While asking permission to go to a friend’s house is a normal part of childhood the abusive parent go beyond what is normal.

JW: Years ago I thought this didn’t apply. I am reconsidering this. It seems to me that JWs now ask the elders to do many things that they should be able to decide for themselves like going to a wedding of a non-JW or a funeral or how to deal with Disfellowshipped family members.

8. Establish a pattern of physical or sexual abuse.

Child abuse victims: Children learn to read the feelings of those around them. They learn to anticipate the actions of their parents, recognizing that if dad comes home in a certain mood they need to be careful. They learn that there is a time frame between blow ups and can sometimes trigger the blow-up to reduce the anxiety caused by the expectation.

JW: At any time a Witness can be called into the back room with the elders and questioned about some supposed wrong. One of the strongest fears is that of having to talk to a committee of elders

9. Continue to isolate (people, food, information).

Child abuse victims: There is a refusal to allow the child to grow up. As the child enters school and seeks relationships outside the family the abusive parent will seek to undermine or prevent those relationships. Activities such as sports or visiting non-Witness friends are not allowed. Friends may not be allowed to visit. As the child matures the rules become stricter to maintain control over the child and stifle their development.

JW: One would expect that as a person matures in their faith, they would attain more freedom. But like the controlling family, the WTS st4rives to keep their members in a child-like state, always expecting them to limit their friendships and associations and continue to feed on the WTS’ spiritual food alone.

10. Present a model of approved behavior.

Child abuse victims: Children are often told what is expected of them. In healthy families these expectations are based on the child’s abilities. In the abusive family the expectations are often unreasonable and not age-appropriate. Young children are often given the responsibility of the care for younger siblings or household chores. Little acknowledgement is given to their ability to perform the task.  And there is an unending list of behaviors demanded of the child that are most often for the parents? benefit rather than the child’s.

JW: JWs have very specific written and unwritten list of behaviors that are acceptable to remain in good standing. Men are constantly reminded to reach out for responsibilities and women are reminded to be in subjection. Members are constantly reminded of their need to conform to the required behaviors. At assemblies and conventions and in their literature certain members are used as models of acceptable behavior.

11. Threaten loved ones or objects.

Child abuse victims:
Many child victims are threatened with being sent away or losing favorite items, pets, or toys. Victims of sexual abuse are often told that if they do not comply with the abuse the abuser will hurt one of the siblings.

JW: For JWs this might apply to the threat of losing one’s family and friends if disfellowshipped. Losing one’s life at Armageddon can create fear in the individual and compliance with the rules.

12. Threaten that worse will happen if the run away or do not obey.

Child abuse victims: “Nobody will love you like we do.” “No one understands you or cares for you like we do” Most children realize they cannot manage to survive without their families.

JW: Where will we go? Survival rests solely with the WTS.

13. Continue to beat/punish/torture at irregular intervals.

Child abuse victims: Once a child learns the patterns of abuse within the family, suddenly the rules change and they become unsure of what to expect next.

JW: N/A unless someone can think of something

14. Grant small privileges for no apparent reason.

Child abuse victims: Abusers will sometimes feel guilty for their mistreatment of the child and grant favors or give a gift. This then is used as “proof” of the parents? love for the child. Some abusers do this because they want something and desire the child’s obedience (especially if others many be watching).

JW: Privileges may be given and later taken away at a moment's notice.

15. Obtain confessions about supposed wrong-doings to be used against the victim.

Child abuse victims: Many parents continue to bring up old mistakes or accidents the child has had and uses these against the child. The effect is to make the child feel bad and work harder to be “good”.

JW: JWs are encouraged to go to the elders with their problems and disclose their “sins”. Few realize that this becomes part of the written record that can be used as reference for future problems or that it can follow them when they move congregations.

16. Incorporate new behavior goals.

Child abuse victims: Always more is expected. It is never enough or good enough.

JW: Always more is expected. It is never enough or good enough.


Now all of the above is compounded when the parent is a JW. The effects of the above will be stronger if the person is raised as a JW from early childhood. And certainly, if only 2 or 3 of these controls are effective on an adult, just imagine how powerful they are on a child.

How do you score?

Most of my abuse victim clients scored in the 14-16 point range. Only a couple of them came from cults. 

It is reasonable that some people will use some of things some of the time. The problem comes when they are a pattern of behavior that enforces the will of one person over the other, denying them their human rights.

Remember: Recovery is possible!



Copyright 2004, 2014 Lee Marsh

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Lee Marsh,
Mar 17, 2014, 3:03 PM