In a Heartbreaking Interview, BBC Radio Speaks to Victims and Attendees From the Reveal Conference

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.

The Victims

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.

The Epidemic

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. The database 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 (according to her comment below, she was speaking of the IICSA) 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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10 replies »

  1. I am waiting regards being interviewed regards my childhood of being a victim to abuse sexually and physically by my brother and sister which went on for 10 years. I know for definite that my now ex father (As I have disowned him and the rest of my family) who was an elder at the time for part of this period knew something was happening.
    It has had such a massive impact on me into my adult live.
    I am not a disfellowshipped JW, but I no longer attend their meetings, and feel trapped in it as I got baptised at an age where I wasn’t fully aware what was happening to me was wrong if that makes sense??
    After seeing all the terrible reports from the Australian royal commission I just wanted to add my support in the hope that more can be done to protect victims and stop it from happening and destroying young life’s as it has mine.
    I’m not sure how serious sibling abuse is taken but I wish all victims my very best wishes and hope justice prevails – Jason

    • Jason, I can only say how sorry I am for the terrible abuse you have suffered. Sibling abuse is just as serious as any other abuse: it is just as wrong and damaging, and you are courageous to talk about it. I went myself to the Independent Inquiry’s (ICCSA)Truth Project to talk about my own experiences as a kid, and I found the people there very supportive. I am confident you too will be supported throughout.

      Just to let you know, and to let Alexandra know too, I am helping to prepare a proposal to ICCSA along with Kathleen Hallisey, a leading solicitor who has a great deal of experience in dealing with sexual abuse cases among Jehovah’s Witnesses. The proposal is that the JW organisation in Britain be investigated in relation to its history and policies on child safeguarding and child sexual abuse. I hope we can soon bring some good news that an investigation will indeed go ahead. It is so needed to protect all those children now in the organisation, and to bring, as you say, justice to all of us who are survivors of child rape and sexual abuse, abuse that in all honesty has been enabled by the leaders of this denomination.

  2. Thank you for this report. I listened to the podcast and have shared it. It was very clearly presented. Just to clarify: my understanding is that the Oxford law professor and barrister, Laura Hoyano, was speaking about the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (not the Charity Commission) investigating JWs. It is important that this body investigates Watchtower Britain, either as a specific investigation of the organization or as a case study for a broader investigation into smaller Christian denominations in the UK. The Inquiry has wider powers than the Charity Commission, though the latter’s investigation is also important.

      • Yes it is. I recently attended a private hearing for the Inquiry’s Truth Project. I felt really listened to and was really well supported for weeks before and after. I would encourage any survivors to share their voice, too. I hope to add my voice further by making a formal request of the Inquiry’s panel to investigate JWs in Britain. I have just emailed Laura Hoyano to ask her advice about this. I would like to get more involved. Thank you, Alexandra, for keeping this at the forefront of our minds.

    • Christopher Monk is correct; I was referring to the independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. I am instructed as counsel for abuse complainants in several investigations within that Inquiry.

  3. But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.
    II Timothy 3:1‭-‬7‭, ‬13 NKJV
    Test their spirits to see if they’re truly from God.

  4. This is great news. The worst thing you can do to a victim of any kind of abuse is to tell them to be quiet! It will be therapeutic for them to be able to have their stories revealed! These elders must be “outed”. Ministerial servants are just as bad. One will lie and the other will swear to it! It didn’t take long for me to realize that. Meanwhile, the wives of the elders and ministerial servants are being “quiet”, the way they are supposed to be. What person can call themselves human and not tell someone when they know something is going on, especially involving children?

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