Injustice in a Watchtower Pedophilia Case

Jerry Bergman Ph.D.

(Investigator 98, 2004 September)



A recent Canadian court decision should disturb any person who is concerned about protecting children against sexual abuse. The case concerns Vicki Boer, a young woman who was sexually molested by her father between the ages of eleven and fourteen. She went to her Watchtower elders in an attempt to stop the abuse, and they told her not to seek outside help, nor even to report the abuse to the authorities. Rather, they told her, she should confront her abuser and allow him to "repent" of his sins.

Trying to do what was right, she dutifully followed the Elders advice. Vicki later said that the forced confrontation was very traumatizing for her and led to a rocky adolescence that eventually caused a nervous breakdown. It also caused her to be ostracized by her family and friends and others in her small southern Ontario community of Shelburne, about a hundred kilometers north of Toronto.

In an effort to deal with her past, Vicki was encouraged by the insight she gained from her psychiatrist (and others) to file charges against the church, which condoned the abuse and prevented her from getting the help that she needed earlier in life. She eventually prevailed in court, the judge ruling that the Watchtower Society was clearly negligent in their treatment of Ms. Boer. Although Vicki sued for civil damages of close to over three quarters of a million dollars, the judge, her Honor Justice Anne Molley, awarded her only the pittance of five thousand dollars!

This amount did not even cover her direct legal expenses. After a later court hearing to determine court costs, Justice Molley ruled on September 29, 2003, that Vicki Boer should pay all legal costs to the Watchtower back to the year 2001. The Watchtower claimed their costs amounted to $142,000! Plus she had to pay her own legal costs, which were an additional $92,000. The total she had to pay was nearly a quarter of a million dollars! In Canada the party that loses a case is normally required to pay all of the court costs of both sides.

For a child victim of a sexual assault to be required to pay a quarter of a million dollars after prevailing in court is a good example of why so many people are contemptuous of the justice system. Canada is a Western nation that claims to be a Democracy and a supporter of human rights. The reason the judge gave for assigning the victim legal costs was that the Watchtower offered $20,000 to settle the case, then during pretrial motions they raised their offer to $56,000 and an apology (but required her to sign an overly broad gag order). The gag order stated if Vicki (or even her family) let slip the terms of settlement, they will be liable for millions of dollars in damages! Vicki rejected the offer on the advice of her lawyers but, more importantly, also on the advice of the pretrial judge! As a result of accepting the advice of these learned men, Vicki will likely be in debt for the rest of her life. This outcome will no doubt put a serious strain on her marriage, and her ability to care for her children.

Ironically, the lawsuit was handled largely by W. Glenn Howe and Associates, a firm in which all the lawyers and secretaries must sign a vow of poverty and volunteer their time without compensation (except for room and board) at the church's Canadian headquarters in Georgetown, Ontario, northwest of Toronto. There was no material dispute of the events leading up to the court case. All agreed that the plaintiff was repeatedly sexually assaulted. Vicki and her husband are not able to appeal because they have exhausted their finances pursuing the case thus far. The cost of justice is beyond the means of ordinary people in Canada. Just to obtain the court transcripts alone will cost them over $10,000!

In an article in the Canadian press, Vicki said, "They took away my childhood; they took away so much from me, and now the justice system makes it so they can take the rest of my dignity and what I have left of my family." (Cameron, 2003). She originally sought over $700,000 from the elders involved for negligence of their duty to protect children, but she has been ordered to pay the losing party in the case one-quarter of a million dollars! In her words "The organization that protects child abusers makes money off of me."

It also seems the message is quite clear: if you were abused and traumatized as a child, there is no point in seeking justice in the courts because you may end up being abused even more. In Vicki's words, "I felt like I was raped again." This case is not a matter of "he said, she said" allegations as is so common in these kind of cases. Vicki was clearly under-age, only a child when the sexual assault occurred and, therefore, consent claims are irrelevant. By comparison, a 55-year old man was convicted by an American jury recently of incest with his daughter. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison by Judge John F. Surbeck, Jr. (Eaton, 2004, p. 6c). The sex offenses occurred when the girl was from age 15 to 16.

Nor is Canada always lenient with pedophiliacs. The Catholic diocese of Sue Saint Marie, Ontario, was just ordered to pay almost 1.5 million dollars to a man who was molested by a priest. Why the enormous difference in sentence disparity? One case involved homosexual behavior and the Catholic Church; the other case, heterosexual pedophilia and the Watchtower Society. Why do we allow such enormous disparity to occur? As one lawyer told me, even if you have a solid case, going to court is like playing Russian roulette. If the judge had a bad day, you could end up having a bad life.
 

References

Boer, Vicki. 2003. Interviews, various dates.
Cameron, Peter. 2003. Women who won $5,000 in a sex abuse case against church must pay legal costs, Toronto (Canadian Press Report)
Eaton, Sara. 2004. "Father Handed 24-Year Term for Incest." The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Feb. 26, p. 6C.
Molloy, Anne. Reasons for Judgment Released June 26, 2003. Court File No. 9K-CV-154117
 
 

Postscript

The Watchtower Society, likely due to adverse publicity in this case, have since this case was decided now agreed not to require Vicki to pay their court costs. Likely they realized that she could never pay their claimed costs anyway. This is an ironic state of affairs because the convicted "criminals" in this case displayed more justice and compassion than the court that convicted them! Vicki still must pay her own legal costs, and is thus saddled with an almost 100,000 dollar debt.


More articles by Jerry Bergman about JWs on this website:

http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

http://ed5015.tripod.com/