CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE AMONG JWs

(Investigator 179, 2018 March)


INTRODUCTION

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



WORLDWIDE

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 pending.

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 previous ruling:

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 losing arguments."


VICTIMS SILENCED

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 constraints:

•    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 reoffend.

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 their father:

…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 Jehovah."


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 continue.

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 three witnesses.”

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 three observers.

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?



REFERENCES:

ABC News 2017, March 10
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-10/uniting-church-in-australia-apologises-to-victims/8344496

BBC News 2017, November 20
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-42025255

Daily Mail 2018, January 11
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5255629/Jehovahs-Witnesses-leak-sheds-light-child-sex-claims.html

Dutch News 2017 December
http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2017/12/dozens-come-forward-to-report-abuse-by-jehovahs-witnesses/

Financial Penalties
https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Jehovahs-Witnesses-Face-LegalFinancial-Penalties-in-Court-Case-456790543.html

Newsweek 2018, January 10
http://www.newsweek.com/secret-documents-sex-scandal-jehovahs-witnesses-church-faith-leaks-776796

Reveal News
https://www.revealnews.org/blog/australia-does-what-u-s-wont-investigate-jehovahs-witness-cover-up/

Royal Commission Report
https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/media-releases/report-jehovahs-witness-organisations-released

San Diego Reader 2018, January 12
https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2018/jan/12/ticker-jehovahs-witnesses-settle-sex-abuse-case/

The Charity Commission For England And Wales 2017, July 26
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/investigation-leads-to-improvements-in-safeguarding-at-jehovahs-witnesses-charity

The Guardian 2015, December 1
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/dec/01/jehovahs-witnesses-fostered-distrust-of-secular-authority-royal-commission-counsel

The Guardian 2015, December 8
https://www.theguardian.com/info/2015/dec/08/daily-email-au

The Guardian 2016, November 28
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/nov/28/jehovahs-witnesses-did-not-protect-children-from-abuse-inquiry-finds

The Telegraph 2017, November 20
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/20/jehovahs-witnesses-claim-told-not-report-child-sex-abuse-organisation/

United Church Observer, 2018 January
http://www.ucobserver.org/justice/2018/01/jw/


[For more information about JW policy see "The Royal Commission and Jehovah's Witnesses" Investigator #164]


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