On April 26, 2017, in London, Reveal News hosted a conference regarding the problem of Jehovah’s Witnesses and child sex abuse. The conference was attended by a host of lawyers, journalists, and even law enforcement officials, as well as movie producers, activists, and victims of the policies of Jehovah’s Witnesses and child sex abuse.
Reporters from the BBC were in attendance and interviewed victims of the religion’s policies, including Nick French and Candace Conti, as well as reporter Trey Bundy from Reveal News, attorney Irwin Zalkin (U.S.), and barrister Laura Hoyano (UK). You can listen to the link above; the online podcast of the interview can be found here. The segment regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses starts at about the 26:30 mark.
Nick French relates the story of how his mother became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses when he was just a child, and she soon married a JW. The man turned out to be a pedophile, very skilled at grooming both Nick and his mother. Nick suffered mental, physical, and sexual abuse for some five years. The point is made that, even though Nick was going to school, he was unable to tell anyone what was happening to him because of the mentality taught to children, that everyone outside the religion was evil.
Candace Conti speaks of her experiences with abuse as well, noting that she discovered years later that senior members of the congregation knew her molester was a convicted child abuser. (Read more about the man who abused Candace and how elders neglected to protect children from his abuse at this post.)
Both Candace and Nick finally got the strength to seek out help to stop the abuse, but when they and their families approached the elders, “it was like talking to a brick wall.” The nefarious “two witness” rule was brought up; since it was a child’s word against someone else’s, each of these matters were dropped.
Trey Bundy speaks of the “two witness” rule, and then John Viney, a former elder, is interviewed. Viney notes, regarding the elders:
“They are not trained to deal with it. There is no training to deal with such things.”
Attorney Irwin Zalkin talks about how Jehovah’s Witnesses simply aren’t going to go to law enforcement, but he notes a letter sent to elders dating back to 1997, telling elders to send to the religion’s headquarters detailed information about abusers. While Zalkin has some four years of records on that database, it is heavily redacted, and he is under legal restrictions as to what he can share. Viney later emphasizes that elders have informed him that they fill out forms to send to the religion’s headquarters, so he is also sure that the headquarters has a record of thousands of alleged abusers in their ranks. Zalkin stated, quite succinctly:
“I call it a crisis of silence.”
The Australian Royal Commission Inquiry was then mentioned, and their very critical findings against the religion. Over 1000 alleged abusers were known in the congregations, and yet elders did not report one of them to the police. (See this post for more information about the ARC.)
The UK Charity Commission was represented during the interview; the presenter noted that their inquiries into the safeguarding policies of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been a “frustrating experience.” It is also noted that the level of litigation returned by the Watchtower, fighting the Charity Commission investigations, was “unprecedented.” (See this post for information about the status of the Charity Commission Inquiry.)
Digging In Their Heels
Laura Hoyano, Barrister, Associate Law Professor at the University of Oxford, is introduced. Hoyano has an international reputation in all criminal, civil, and human rights aspects of child abuse. She notes:
“The thing that is particularly significant about the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they are continuing the practices that they have been following for decades.”
Hoyano notes that an inquiry in the UK (and I believe she was speaking of a Charity Commission Inquiry) would be the best choice to ensure that their database of offenders in the congregations is produced.
Shunning the Victims
Candace Conti and Nick French have both left the religion, and of course they are now both shunned by everyone inside, even their own family. French said:
“When my family found out that I was no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they decided to shun me… Sadly, I no longer have a relationship with my mother, my brother, my sister, their children. I assume they live in the same areas that I knew a few years ago, but they may well have moved. As far as they’re concerned, I’m dead to them.”
Despite their obvious pain, they both encouraged fellow victims who may be contemplating going to authorities, when the stakes are so high, to be strong and have courage. As it was said, other children are going through what they went through, and having victims speak up is the best way to encourage those in authority to hold the Watchtower accountable, and to effect change.
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