Rebekah Vardi has said she was sexually abused while growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, an ordeal her former community failed to protect her from.
Vardi, 41, opened up about her upbringing in a Channel 4 documentary Rebekah Vardi: Jehovah’s Witnesses and Me, which will air on May 16.
Jehovah’s Witnesses is a Christian denomination with approximately 8.5 million active members. The basic principle of the religion is that the destruction of the world is imminent.
In the documentary, Vardy returns to her hometown of Norwich, where many practicing family members still reside. She left Jehovah’s Witnesses at the age of 15, after feeling “shame” at being sexually abused and seeing her family ostracized due to her parents’ divorce.
“I grew up in a strict and controlling religious organisation,” Vardy said. “What happened to me during my childhood still affects me every day.”
Vardi said someone in the community sexually abused her between the ages of 11 and 15, something she said was covered up by “elders,” senior male religious leaders.
“From the age of about 12 I was abused and instead of getting support I was blamed, manipulated into thinking it wasn’t a good idea to take her to the police,” she said.
“I told my mom about the abuse I was going through. She cried, but she didn’t believe me,” she said. I think I was about fifteen. It was pointed out that I had misinterpreted the abuse as a form of affection.”
She added, “I knew I didn’t. I was well aware of what was right and wrong, and it was made clear that I could bring shame on my family, and I was basically manipulated into thinking it wasn’t the best thing to do to take her further and take her to the police.”
“It’s hard to see how I survived that.”
Vardy, who is married to Leicester City footballer Jamie Vardy, said her childhood was doomed to the belief that she would die during Armageddon if she wasn’t “perfect”, recalling the “disturbing” pictures of the apocalypse she was shown. She said they still give her nightmares as an adult.
When she was eleven, her family was ostracized by society after her parents divorced, with relatives and friends forbidden to associate with them.
The documentary also records Vardy meeting former Jehovah’s Witnesses, including a child abuse survivor and mother of a man who committed suicide after being expelled by the organization.
Vardy said that she initially “shut down a Pandora’s box” regarding her experience, and until the documentary she “didn’t want to reconsider that”.
Asked if the documentary gave closure to her childhood experiences, Vardy said: “Absolutely. I think that chapter has closed.
“It really was like that,” she said, “but I really wanted to do it when Channel 4 approached me, because I was so infatuated with it.”
“Knowing I have a voice, knowing my voice can help, and I hope there will be more people who come forward to share their experiences.”