In their May 2015 broadcast of their online TV channel, Jehovah’s Witness governing body member Stephen Lett made reference to the “apostate-driven lies and dishonesties that Jehovah’s organization is permissive toward pedophiles.”
A person could argue for hours about whether or not Jehovah’s Witnesses are permissive toward pedophiles; I’ve certainly spent many precious hours here on this site talking about the problem. There is an additional problem with their statements, however, which directly affects pedophile victims and accusers.
To understand it, first note this quote from David M. Allen, M.D., when writing for Psychology Today (this site) as to why many victims of child sexual assault hesitate to come forward about their abuse:
“Some of those who do reveal suffer negative consequences, such as being blamed for “seducing” the perpetrator or being accused of lying … Other victims are told that no one will believe them.”
Note too this quote from the website Stop It Now:
“There are many understandable reasons why a child victim of sexual abuse is not likely to tell anyone about their abuse. Often, the abusive adult will convince the child that they won’t be believed or that they are somehow responsible for the abuse and will be punished for it.”
The connection is this; children often don’t want to talk about their abuse because they think no one will believe them, that they will be called liars. Adults may have a hard time understanding this, thinking that of course the children will be believed when they come forward with stories of abuse or accusations of mishandling their claims, but what does Lett himself say? From his own mouth, accusations that the organization drops the ball on matters of pedophilia are “apostate-driven lies.”
When children hear these things, do you think they would then be more inclined to report their abuse, or less inclined? If a child speaks up about being abused by an elder, another member of the congregation, or someone in their own family, and they are dismissed or ignored, what then?
If children in general have a hard time reporting abuse because they think no one will believe them, what about children who grow up in a religion that refers to such accusations of mishandling as apostate-driven lies? There is no hinting, no meta-messages here; their own governing body comes out and says that if anyone accuses them of not handling pedophilia claims properly then they are liars, are dishonest, and are apostates.
To really understand the depths of how damaging this statement can be to victims inside the religion, you also need to also understand the use of the word “apostate.” This word is used to describe persons who are absolute enemies of Jehovah’s Witnesses; those who have left the religion are referred to as apostates and have even been called “mentally diseased.” (July 15, 2011, Watchtower) Not only is this word very slanderous, but note how Jehovah’s Witnesses are told to treat apostates:
“We should not allow apostates into our homes or even greet them, for such actions would make us ‘sharers in their wicked works.’” (January 15, 2006, Watchtower)
The fear of reprisal or punishment is common for any child who is the victim of sexual abuse, as the quotes above show. However, it can run even deeper for children growing up in the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as they have the risk of being labeled an apostate and then shunned by their entire family and social network.
If they dare speak up and criticize the organization, the elders, the policies of needing a second witness to the molestation, or anyone or anything in the religion when it comes to child sexual abuse in any way, they can be called apostates and face outright ostracism. Stephen Lett already said as much in the video.
Children who are the victim of sexual assault already have a hard enough time coming forward; read the entire articles at the two links above to find out more about what holds them back from talking about their abuse. Having your religious leaders, the leaders of the entire world you live in, call your accusations “lies and dishonesties” and also call you an apostate, only makes it worse. They may very well fear the punishment of being shunned and ostracized for coming forward.
If this seems like an extreme thing to say, note the testimony of one of the victims during the Australian Royal Commission, regarding her fear of being disfellowhipped and ostracized for any discussion of being sexually abused by her father, and the outright threat she received to be disfellowhipped if she were to approach the police about the matter:
In the video, Lett said that the organization protects children, but the facts speak otherwise. He himself used the words “lies,” “dishonesties,” and “apostate” in the same sentence as talking about sex abuse claims; the treatment of these victims by the elders, as brought out in this woman’s testimony, also betrays Lett’s claim of protection. With the very real threat of being labeled a liar and being punished with ostracism if a victim were to speak up, it’s no wonder that so many cases of pedophilia go unchecked in the religion.
Whether or not it ever occurred to Lett or the persons who wrote those statements that they were calling the victims “liars” and “apostates,” the bottom line is, Lett did a huge disservice to those victims with his words, and no doubt made them even more fearful than ever before to talk about their abuse and ask that they be taken seriously. There seems to be just no end to the hurt and pain they cause to these ones, no matter what they would have the outside world believe.
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