During the first day of the Australian Royal Commission Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, an elder who had handled an accusation of sexual misconduct against another elder was asked about calling the police to report the incident. He was questioned about an adult tongue-kissing a minor, fondling her breasts, and observing her in the shower, and if he had thought of how such actions are considered a crime:
Note; the matter involved a man whose family often hosted a teenage girl from their congregation in their home for extended sleepovers, as she would visit the family’s own daughter. The instances of tongue-kissing, fondling, and watching her in the shower were never argued, but the court asked this elder if he thought for a moment that such instances were actually crimes.
While he conceded that fondling her breasts may have been criminal, he “didn’t realize” that forcing yourself on a teenager so you could put your tongue in her mouth and watching her in the shower were crimes. He also didn’t even consider that police should have gotten involved in the matter.
Really, what is a crime to these elders in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and what would involve the police? In this particular case, there was physical contact (fondling, forced kissing) and an obviously disgusting incident of in-person “peeping.” As the counsel brought out, this would be criminal against an adult, but how much more so against a child?
The elder admits that he should have appreciated these things as crimes, but gave no consideration to reporting it to the police.
The Commission has found that 1,006 pedophiles were discovered in their congregations, dating back to 1950, and not one was reported to the police by elders. The most obvious question is, Why not? Well, we’re given an answer later on during the day’s questioning:
Within the first day of this hearing, an elder who eventually became a circuit overseer, questioned in this segment above, admits that they never think to call police, and that their concern was for the elder who committed these lewd acts, not the children who need protecting.
Ignorance of what is, or what is not, criminal in this case is inexcusable enough. We’re not talking about a father spanking his child; I don’t know myself if spanking is illegal in my area.
However, this wasn’t an episode of corporal punishment, and we’re not even talking about someone in their own family. We’re talking about physical contact, sexual contact, and watching a visiting teenage girl in the shower. Everyone should know those behaviors are illegal and that these acts should involve the police.
They should also know that if they’re not sure what is and is not a crime, if a child was being hurt or put in danger in any way, they should err on the side of caution and at least have a conversation with the police or child protection services of some sort.
The lack of common decency in not even checking with police, not asking experts to follow up, and not even asking the question of someone who would know, is also inexcusable. If Jehovah’s Witnesses, and elders especially, are this ignorant over criminal acts against children, perhaps they shouldn’t be allowed to even have children themselves, much less have them inside their own congregations.
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