Many former Jehovah’s Witnesses are familiar with the abhorrent way that men in the religion handle cases of child molestation accusations, including demanding a second witness or second victim to the abuse before taking any action, destroying notes regarding allegations of abuse, and never calling the police in these cases. You can read testimony regarding these things given during the Australian Royal Commission Inquiry.
Instructions regarding how to handle these accusations is mostly found in the book, “Shepherd the Flock of God,” a super-secret handbook meant for the eyes of the elders only, and a letter that went to all elders worldwide on October 1, 2012. However, on August 1, 2016, another letter went to all elders that was meant to replace that October 2012 letter, and it contained one very big change, and what I consider a victory for activists and victims.
How They Did Things Before
First note how elders in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were instructed to handle accusations of any sort, including allegations of child sex abuse:
If the accused contends that he is innocent, the witnesses to the wrongdoing should be presented and their testimony should be given in the presence of the accused. It is best that the witnesses give their testimony in person, However, it may be that the witnesses live a great distance away or for some reason are not able to be physically present. If so, their testimony may be presented in the hearing of the accused by a secure phone call or perhaps submitted in writing and read to the accused.
~ Shepherd the Flock of God, pages 89-90
I’m all for an accused person having every opportunity to give an answer to accusations, but consider this in the setting of child sex abuse. A child rape victim needs to face their own [alleged] rapist and give an accounting of their accusations? They would do this with only elders present; the book also states clearly that observers should not be present for moral support during the internal judicial process. Note, elders are not trained in matters of child psychology, legal questioning, and so on.
Don’t underestimate what happens in those closed-door meetings at Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses in these cases. You can read this post, about elders who insisted two child rape victims face their rapist even after the man had gone to jail for the crime; they were asked if they had “enjoyed it at all.” They were 5 and 10 at the time of their abuse. You can also read this post, of a man who had been accused of raping a young woman and who was allowed by elders to insist she demonstrate how far apart her legs were spread so that the man could somehow prove that he couldn’t have raped her in that position.
You can also note that post above for the Australian Royal Commission and see how one victim, whose father was raping her and her three sisters, was threatened by the man, who outright said that he would kill her and who wasn’t stopped by the elders until he began to lunge across the table at her. Both victims questioned during the Inquiry said that being grilled in this fashion meant that they couldn’t disclose the full details of their abuse.
The change is now noted in the August 1, 2016, letter, one sentence of which reads as follows:
Elders should remember that during the investigation process and during the judicial committee process, a victim of child sexual abuse is not required to make her allegation in the presence of the alleged abuser.
Well, that’s quite the switch.
Note, it doesn’t say how exactly accusations would be handled, if elders would hear the allegations and the accused person would listen from another room, or elders would speak to each one individually, etc. I also don’t mind pointing out that Jehovah’s Witnesses still have a long way to go when it comes to the proper handling of child sex abuse allegations, but this in of itself is a victory for activists and those victims. These ones no longer need to sit across a table from someone who may have viciously raped and molested them for many years, and somehow find the strength to retell that abuse in front of them.
No doubt this change is the result of the information revealed during the Australian Royal Commission Inquiry, and the long legal battle fought by the UK Charity Commission to move forward with their Inquiry against Jehovah’s Witnesses. For those not up to speed, the UK Charity Commission decided to launch an Inquiry against the Witnesses after hearing of one of the cases mentioned above, where an actual ex-convict was allowed to question victims regarding his molestation of them. The UK Charity Commission has been fighting Jehovah’s Witnesses in court for two years for their rights to move forward with this Inquiry, and the Witnesses lost their final appeal to the UK Supreme Court in July of this year (see this post). This practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses, of insisting that victims meet with their rapists in person, is what put them on the radar of the Charity Commission in the first place. Chances are, this is also one reason why JWs have decided to change this policy.
Of course, this begs the question of why Jehovah’s Witnesses had this policy in the first place; if they’re directed by some sort of magic holy spirit from god, and they always base all their practices and beliefs on the bible, why do they need to change those practices yet again? Were they not being directed by holy spirit back then, or does this magic holy spirit that directs Jehovah’s Witnesses wait until a legal Inquiry begins before it decides to tap JWs on the shoulder and tell them the right way of handling things?
It also doesn’t let Jehovah’s Witnesses off the hook or excuse the damage done by this policy to this point; it doesn’t take a child psychologist or legal expert to know how horrific it is for a child rape victim to face their own rapist and be asked if they enjoyed being raped at age 5 or 10, or to relive their rape all over again by demonstrating their physical position in front of anyone, much less the rapist himself. The obscenity of this practice, that it went on at all, is inexcusable.
Also, Jehovah’s Witnesses are still not outright instructed to call the police the minute they hear of such allegations and allow law enforcement experts to handle these things, and the letter still allows pedophiles to (eventually) be put in positions of authority over others.
However, this is a victory for activists and victims as it means there is at least one less trauma for those who are molested in the Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Of course we still have much work to do in order to ensure that no child is ever harmed in this religion again, but activists and those evil “worldly” institutions outside of the religion went toe-to-toe with the great and holy Watchtower of God and made them blink, at least just a little. We got some protection for the victims from those nasty, obscene elders and the ones who actually enjoy questioning their victims. It’s not much, but brick by brick, dollar by dollar, body by body, I’ll take it.
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