Julia Gutgsell

Julia Gutgsell: Researcher Shares Experience of Mandated Shunning


My earliest memories of the Jehovah’s Witnesses date back to when I was a young child, just before I started school. Our childhood home was visited by proselytizing JWs. Growing up with my grandparents, I observed my grandmother’s typically friendly demeanor; yet, she strictly forbade me from engaging with ‘those people.’

Transitioning into early adulthood, my curiosity led me to accept and bring home a Jehovah’s Witness magazine from street proselytizers. This action stemmed purely from curiosity – I’m a baptized, non-practising/lapsed Catholic – with no intention of joining a religious community. It was then that I uncovered my grandmother’s backstory: a friend of hers had joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses many years earlier and subsequently cut ties, branding my grandmother as part of ‘Satan’s world.’ The emotional weight of this rejection remained palpable even after all those years.

These experiences lingered until my postgraduate studies when the time came to write my Master’s degree thesis. At this point, I realized that despite five years of rigorous study, I still lacked the tools to understand religious harm and coercion. Recognizing this gap within both my own knowledge and the broader Criminology literature, I seized the opportunity to specialize in this area. Eventually, this culminated in a thesis exploring the long-term impact of mandated shunning on people born into or raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Since then, I have been actively involved in training other professionals, engaging in consultancy projects, and co-authoring a paper for the Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse within religious settings in England and Wales.

The prevailing societal inclination to shield religious groups from scrutiny often obscures the very real harm that can be inflicted within ideologically rigid environments, leaving little to no personal freedom for its members. This is why I immediately said ‘yes’ when asked if I wanted to be part of this global network, dedicated to officially recognizing mandated shunning as an abusive and unlawful practice.

Thank you for considering sharing your own shunning story with us. Your contribution strengthens our collective pursuit of a just and empathetic world.