Pat Garza was a victim of sexual abuse and had lived in abject fear for many years. However, there was a radical change in her perspective on life during her last months. Her death in June after battling with cancer was a source of grief to those who knew her. However, this was grief tinged with great pride in recognition of what she had faced and what she had become. The following personal observations by Bill Bowen of "silentlambs", received earlier today, are particularly poignant. I am honoured to pass these on by way of tribute to her.
I remember the first time I heard the name of Pat mentioned it was by a friend that had known her for many years. She described Pat as terrified of the Watchtower organization from the abuse she had suffered when she attempted to seek assistance for what happened to her when she was a child. Pat in good faith had written letters to the Service Department dating back to 1994 identifying her molester and trying to seek justice for other victims that she knew this man molested. What the response? They started a series of correspondence that put her off, attempted to ignore her allegations, sent local elders to threaten her, and finally in or around 1997, resulted in a “special” meeting with a District and Circuit Overseer. At last she thought she would get a hearing ear as well as a proper investigation to bring about justice. What happened? There was no interest in hearing her story or finding the truth, instead, Pat was basically told she was demonized and if she said anything more or wrote any more letters she would be disfellowshipped.
A part of Pat died that day she realized that the people in charge were controlled by evil men. The Circuit Overseer that was part of the “special” meeting is now a member of the governing body. As a result, for Pat it created a fear and paranoia for anyone in authority from the organization. This fear drove her into hiding she feared her phone was being tapped and that she was being watched. When I first talked to Pat she called me from a pay phone being too fearful that someone was listening from her home telephone. After a few conversations and just letting her know that she was believed I could feel Pat start to grow stronger. One day she called me from her home telephone it was a major step for her in taking back the power that was taken away. Not long after that there was a conference in her area. Pat asked to attend to meet me in person. She would be in disguise due to the continued fear but she wanted to meet me. When she arrived in a scarf and sunglasses, I gave her a big hug and she began to cry, I just held her as she shook uncontrollably for a few minutes. I could feel the pain and fear being released as she was surrounded by support and friends. At the conference I gave a talk and after doing so Pat asked to be able to speak. Still in disguise and looking so fragile, shaking like a leaf, she started to speak about what happened to her. Pat was still controlled by her fears so she altered certain things in what she stated to protect others involved as well as to protect herself. She did the best she could do and I was so proud of how far she had come. It was like seeing a small flame leap to life and start to grow in intensity. She cried as she talked, but she continued, she fought her way through it and finished what she wanted to say. Afterward after a big hug I told her how proud we were of her, in her eyes was a sparkle that had not been there before, it was a confidence and hope born from being believed.
After the conference Pat started to call me on a regular basis and talk about what more she could do. You could feel her strength continue to grow. About four months later Erica Garza’s court retrial came up and I called for people to come and support her. Pat lived about five hours away but she was one of the first to let me know she was going to be there. She had no money but she found a way to get there and we were grateful for the assistance of others that attended that helped her to have accommodations and food. When Pat first met Erica she gave her a big hug right in front of the Dateline cameras, it was a huge moment when her fears were overcome to support someone as a fellow abuse survivor. It meant much to Erica to have Pat and around thirty other people there to support her when previously over seventy Jehovah’s Witnesses had been present to support the child molester. On the other hand it was powerful for Pat to be there with the group and know she was part of the support for Erica. When we came back a month later for the sentencing hearing, again Pat was there. The judge asked if anyone wanted to speak on Erica’s behalf. I of course volunteered along with others, but much to my surprise Pat she wanted to go on record and speak for Erica. This was a major step for Pat as it represented her first time to go public as an advocate and speak for someone else on abuse. I will never forget as Pat approached the podium, she seemed so fragile as her hands shook and she paused a moment to get her composure. I thought she was going to walk away for a moment, but instead she began to speak, timid a first, but as she talked her voice got stronger and stronger. Her words were so powerful by the end she was no longer frail fragile Pat but she seemed like a roaring lion as she spoke about something she believed with all her heart. I was stunned, was this the person just six months ago was too afraid to speak to me on her telephone? She was forever changed and I was helped to see the power of support and belief, the reason that silentlambs was important in the lives of so many. You can listen to the trial testimony of Pat on this audio recording found on the silentlambs website.
After that day Pat went home with a new strength. She called her local radio, newspaper and television stations. She did interviews with all three bravely speaking out on abuse issues and no longer living in fear. She was not cured of the damage done to her as a child, sometimes she would call and cry as she talked, I would listen and offer support sometimes that is all you can do. It seemed Pat now lived with purpose and while her fears were never completely subdued she felt it was more important to speak out to help others than to live in silence. Her congregation punished her as a result they would not speak to her in public, openly shunning her to let her know of their disapproval. Did this intimidate Pat? She spoke to me about confronting her