During the 2017 regional conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the public discourse, “Safeguard Your Children From What Is Evil” is being presented to all locations, via video. In this discourse, the speaker repeatedly notes that parents are the “first line of defense,” and have the prime, “god-given” responsibility for protecting their children from child sexual abuse.
I’m not arguing this fact; it is a parent’s job to educate and protect children when it comes to child sexual abuse. However, as usual, Jehovah’s Witnesses are ignoring the special circumstances that typically surround children who are sexually abused in their religion, and ignoring their responsibility as a religion for creating this hurtful atmosphere and resultant abuse. This information also contains some very dismissive, victim-blaming comments that I found to be downright disturbing, and shows how the religion, again, abandons those victims to their abuse.
The Sequestered Life of a Jehovah’s Witness Child
About four minutes into the discourse, the speaker notes that child sexual abuse is usually committed by someone whom the child knows. He says that parents need to recognize potential dangers, including someone who singles out a child for special attention. He also mentions to note if a child has association with others in places that are beyond the vision of parents, such as “at sleepovers and social gatherings … and auxiliary rooms and restrooms of meeting places.”
This can be an immediate conflict for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who often feel flattered when an elder wants to take their child out in the preaching work, or study the bible with them. Jehovah’s Witnesses are also persistently told to “be obedient” to the elders, so it can be difficult for them to tell such a person “no.”
Note, too, that Jehovah’s Witnesses often put implicit trust in each other; also, as Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t make friends outside of the religion, other Witness children would be the only friends of their own children. If another congregant’s child asks a Witness child to a sleepover at their home, rarely would a Witness parent refuse this request.
Because of this trust, it’s also not unusual for children attending the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses to use the restroom on their own. If an elder wanted to talk to a child alone after a meeting (their church services), in an “auxiliary room,” I doubt a parent would even notice, much less say “no.” Again, the information they’re offering is useful on its own, but impossible to apply within the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
At about the 9:05 mark, the speaker notes that parents should teach their children the importance of wearing “modest clothing.”
Modest clothing? What does this have to do with sexual abuse, especially the abuse of children?
I realize that, as children get older and begin developing physically, they may need to be more mindful of their clothes and what they wear, especially around the opposite sex. However, this is for their own privacy, not because of some connection to sexual abuse.
As I bring out in this post, Jehovah’s Witnesses have outright admonished adult women for how they dress in the context of blaming women for being raped, stating that “you can’t advertise a commodity without expecting any buyers,” or some similar nonsense. As I bring out in that post, can Jehovah’s Witnesses not discern the difference between buyers and thieves? Buying involves consent of the owner; sexual abuse, rape, and so on, does not involve that consent. It’s not the responsibility of someone to hide what they have so that someone else doesn’t steal it. It’s immoral and despicable for someone to steal a car; all the more so to steal a person’s autonomy, security, sense of self, bodily safety, and their right to decide sexual activity on their terms rather than having it forced on them.
It becomes even more immoral when talking about children, which brings me to my next point. Saying that women should mind how they dress so they don’t get raped is bad enough; saying that children should be worried about how they dress is disturbing. No matter how children are dressed, if someone looks at them in a sexual way, the problem is that pedophile, not the child. Sexualizing children is a sickness in the mind of the pedophile, and it has nothing to do with a child’s clothing, or lack thereof.
Note, too, that this discourse was speaking about children of all ages; there is nothing to suggest that the speaker was not referring to very young children and their supposed need to wear “modest clothing,” to prevent child molestation. Anyone, absolutely anyone, who thinks that a six-year-old, or a nine-year-old, or any child for that matter, should dress “modestly” so that they’re not sex objects in the eyes of an adult is part of the reason why pedophilia flourishes today.
I also find it downright irresponsible that the discourse did not once mention pedophilia that happens in the home; extended family was noted, but not parents. There was nothing about the religion being there to assist any child who was being molested at home, and who felt that they couldn’t talk about it to anyone else.
Jehovah’s Witnesses create a fear of the outside world, while also putting full responsibility on parents to protect children from abuse; yet, what do they expect children who are being molested by those same parents to do? They’re afraid of the world outside the religion, but are not assisted with their horrific situation by those in the religion.
What a horrifically wasted opportunity to step up to the plate and ensure that their congregants are all cared for, especially the most vulnerable. Instead, the religion, again, decided to distance themselves even further from any involvement whatsoever. Again, they abandon those children to their abusive, captive situations.
To close the discourse, the speaker noted how Jehovah’s intervened and ensured that King Herrod did not kill Jesus during his infancy. However, appropriately enough, the speaker did not say that their god, or anyone for that matter, would intervene on behalf of children in the religion. He said Jehovah would “support and appreciate” the efforts of parents, but he had to stop short of saying that any intervention would happen for their children.
He couldn’t say that, as we’ve seen literally tens of thousands of children be victimized by child sex abuse in this religion, often by their own Jehovah’s Witness parents. Even the elders fail to intervene on behalf of the children, as we saw demonstrated at the Australian Royal Commission (read more here).
The religion itself even goes beyond a failure to intervene; they insist on a child having a second witness to their abuse, or there being a second victim, before they remove an abuser from the congregation. They don’t warn other parents of any abusers in the congregation, and can even simply “reprove” a confessed molester and keep that person in the congregation. Many abuse victims have testified to being threatened with their own expulsion if they reported matters to the police.
As is typical, the discourse began with a strong, PR-spun statement that Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child sexual abuse. Yet, they don’t abhor it enough to remove sexual abusers from their congregations. Not enough to acknowledge how their demands of obedience to elders and fathers, their sequestered lifestyle, and the implicit trust they expect congregation members to have in each other is all part of how and why that abuse is rampant in their organization. Even in this discourse, they say they abhor child sexual abuse, but they still refuse to take responsibility for it.
Thanks to Mike & Kim Brooks for sending me the original video recording.
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