CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE AMONG JWs
(Investigator 179, 2018 March)
Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse investigated 4000 Australian institutions.
Its final 17-volume report in December 2017 gave 400 recommendations to make institutions safer for children.
What follows focuses on JWs.
COMPARISON WITH UNITING CHURCH
The Australian newspaper The Guardian
reported that Australia's Uniting Church which has 1,065,000 members,
40,000 employees, and 30,000 volunteers, and runs 164 schools, provided
the Royal Commission with 2,504 child abuse complaints which occurred
since the Church's formation in1977. (December 1, 2015)
JWs have 67,600 preaching members in Australia. The Guardian reported:
|It [The Royal Commission] heard there were at least
1,008 survivors of alleged abuse, and 579 Jehovah’s Witnesses members
confessed. About 400 alleged perpetrators were expelled from the
congregation, and 230 later reinstated. The royal commission reported
514 perpetrators to police… (December 8, 2015)
The child abuse royal commission also heard that there were 1,006
alleged perpetrators of abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the
congregation did not report a single one to police. (10 March, 2017
The Royal Commission found that JWs did not report child sexual abuse to the police as a matter of policy.
Policy is decided by the Governing Body based in New York State, who
insist on unity among JWs in over 200 countries. Because of uniform
policies worldwide, the JW child-abuse problem could also be worldwide.
For example, Dutch News reported in December 2017:
Some 80 reports of sexual abuse involving the Jehovah’s Witnesses community have been made over the past month…
In total, 50 reports were made to the hotline set up by
the Reclaimed Voices foundation, while a further 30 were received by
the newspaper after it published a report on the growing scandal...
In the United States in recent years the Watchtower has paid out many
multi-million-dollar settlements to former JWs who suffered sexual
abuse as children. A case that drew worldwide attention was Candace
Conti who after appeals by JWs still stood to receive $2.8million. In
mid 2017 alone about 20 child sexual abuse lawsuits against JWs were
In 2016 JW headquarters defied court orders in San Diego County,
California, to turn over to the court internal files containing names
of congregations and of people accused, preferring instead to pay a
fine of $4000 per day. The sanctions started in April but JWs appealed
the decision. In November 2017 when the legal sanctions totalled
$2million a three-member panel of the state Court of Appeals upheld the
In the conclusion to
their 39-page ruling, the justices said: "... the superior court has
shown great patience and flexibility in dealing with a recalcitrant
litigant who refuses to follow valid orders and merely reiterates
Spokesmen for the JW Organization usually state the following or
something similar: "Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse, and view it
as a heinous crime. Our journals have featured many articles on how to
protect children from abuse. Any child abuser faces expulsion from the
congregation. Suggestions that Jehovah’s Witnesses cover up child abuse
are false. Victims and their parents have the absolute right to report
abuse to the police."
Such declarations are true, but were often not fulfilled in practice
because of policies and standards imposed by the JW Governing Body.
Firstly, unless child abuse among JWs occurred in a state or country
where reporting it to police is mandatory the matter was handled
internally. Internal handling in turn is subject to the following
• JWs should not bring disrepute on the Organization;
• JWs should not take each other to court;
• Accusers must confront the person they accuse in the presence of a JW "judicial committee";
• To find someone guilty requires two witnesses (observers) to the offence or a confession by the offender;
• Accusers and their families must not discuss the alleged abuse with other people;
• If child abuse is confirmed
by two witnesses, the elders disfellowship (excommunicate) the
perpetrator until he is "repentant" after which he can be
reinstated. The congregation, however, is not told
what "sin" the offender committed, hence is unprepared if offenders
An example of the inadequacy of the "two witness" standard and the requirement to confront the accused appeared in The Daily Mail
(11 January, 2018). The article cites leaked documents by a
whistleblower group called "FaithLeaks" about the abuse of two girls by
…church elders were
unable to take the matter to an internal judicial committee because the
younger daughter was not 'emotionally prepared to defend herself
before' her father…
The matter couldn't proceed on the older daughter's
claims alone either, because church rules, citing Biblical passages,
required two witnesses or a confession for a matter to proceed,
according to the documents.
The United Church Observer is
"the oldest continuously published magazine in North America". In
January, 2018 it reported the case of "Milissa" in Canada who was
raised by JWs and abused by her father. When Milissa was 12 she
informed an elder:
His response? She
should keep quiet and respect her parents, or else she'd bring shame on
Jehovah (God). This scared Melissa because, like all Witnesses, she
believed in Armageddon [and] thought that if she mentioned the abuse
again, Jehovah would literally kill her…
The article quotes a Halifax lawyer who explains how the
disfellowshipping threat increases the power of the Organization over
its people and secures conformity:
"It’s [the threat
of], 'If you do this, you’ll never be able to talk to your family
members again; you’ll never be able to talk to friends again; you’ll
never be able to talk to anyone in your church again.'"
The Telegraph (20 November 2017) reported:
But leading solicitor
Kathleen Hallisey, who brought a landmark case against the Jehovah’s
Witnesses in 2015, claimed … that the internal teachings of the
organisation meant that the true scale of the scandal has been
suppressed… "There’s teaching which is that you shouldn't take another
Jehovah's Witness to court. There's also a teaching to avoid
interaction with secular authorities..."
The Telegraph report mentions one woman who was raped by her JW brother and:
"I asked them [the
elders] what should I do?" … "Their words were that they strongly
advised me not to go to the police because it would bring reproach on
JW RESPONSE TO THE ROYAL COMMISSION
ABC News (2017, March 10)
reported that the Royal Commission was looking into whether JWs had
followed its recommendations for the protection of children.
The Commission heard that since the 2015 hearing, another 15
allegations of child sexual abuse among JWs had been reported to police.
A panel of representatives from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society
(WBTS) of Australia was present of whom Stuart McMillan outlined the
steps JWs had taken. He also declared, "I am deeply sorry that we
didn't protect and care in accordance with our Christian values for
those children… We pledge ourselves to continue to understand and to
implement the lessons that we've learnt through this royal commission."
However, the two-witness rule and the shunning of victims who deserted
JWs because they could not get justice in the congregation will
Terrence O'Brien, a director of the WBTS of Australia, said that
accusations by just one person are not accepted, "Because scripturally
we're not able to."
Rodney Spinks of the service department of the WBTS said shunning was
necessary: "Because the individual has taken the decision to no longer
associate, or to no longer be involved with congregation activities...
they've taken the decision to say: 'I'm shunning the congregation'."
A COMMENT ON THE TWO-WITNESS RULE
JWs quote Matthew 18:16 and I Timothy 5:19 the latter stating: "Never
accept any accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or
Critics have called the JWs' use of this rule "ludicrous" because child
sexual abuse is a secret crime rarely committed in front of two or
The two-witness rule was doubtless useful in ancient villages where
elders or priests arbitrated disputes that "Caesar" didn't bother with.
However, if law enforcement today relied on this rule and ignored
scientific methods of investigation, criminals would rarely be found
guilty and would remain free and on the streets!
Alternatively, why didn't JWs regard scientific methods and the experts
who do them as additional "witnesses" and let them do their job?
ABC News 2017, March 10
BBC News 2017, November 20
Daily Mail 2018, January 11
Dutch News 2017 December
Newsweek 2018, January 10
Royal Commission Report
San Diego Reader 2018, January 12
The Charity Commission For England And Wales 2017, July 26
The Guardian 2015, December 1
The Guardian 2015, December 8
The Guardian 2016, November 28
The Telegraph 2017, November 20
United Church Observer, 2018 January
[For more information about JW policy see "The Royal Commission and Jehovah's Witnesses" Investigator #164]