As many persons know, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), in the UK, “will investigate whether public bodies and other non-state institutions in England and Wales have taken seriously their responsibility to protect children from sexual abuse, and make meaningful recommendations for change in the future.” This Inquiry should work much like the recent Australian Royal Commission Inquiry (ARC), questioning organizations about their policies and practices that are related to child sexual abuse within their ranks, and presenting their final findings and recommendations to lawmakers. These legislators would then use that information to create laws aimed at safeguarding children while in schools, orphanages, youth groups, churches, etc.
Unfortunately, the IICSA will not include Jehovah’s Witnesses in this Inquiry. This is disheartening and discouraging, to say the least; however, we activists, and those on our side in this fight against the Watchtower, do not take defeat easily. Solicitor Kathleen Hallisey, a UK attorney who has filed many liability cases against the Watchtower on behalf of child sex abuse victims, is reportedly gathering firsthand accounts of victims to present to the IICSA, in the hopes of convincing them to include Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Inquiry.
I thought about doing the same, but there is no need to repeat Ms. Hallisey’s efforts, and it’s very indelicate and inappropriate for anyone in the exJW community to be outright soliciting for detailed stories of child sexual abuse. Instead, I thought that the IICSA may take note of more correspondence from actual companies and organizations, rather than just individual activists. With that thought in mind, I composed a letter to Professor Alexis Jay, the chairperson of this Inquiry, on the letterhead of Exodus, the company founded by Bo Juel and I for our own activism projects, and put it in the post today. Here is a transcript of the letter in full:
August 7, 2017
Professor Alexis Jay, OBE
Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse
PO Box 72289
London, SW1P 9LF
Dear Professor Jay,
I am writing to you with a heartfelt request that the IICSA consider the inclusion of the International Bible Students Association (IBSA), also known as Watch Tower, commonly known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, in this Inquiry.
While I fully respect that pedophilia and child sex abuse can happen in any setting, please allow me to briefly outline why the IBSA is very unique when it comes to the risk to children in their congregations, as well as this organization’s risk to the general public.
Internal Investigative Process
- Jehovah’s Witnesses have an internal investigative process that is followed when a congregant is accused of any type of wrongdoing, including child molestation. This hearing is conducted by what is called a judicial committee, composed of three or more elders, who are always, without exception, men. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for female victims of child sex abuse to make full disclosure of their abuse.
- There is no training given to elders regarding this process; many previous cases have revealed that these men routinely ask intrusive, grossly inappropriate, and evenly sexually suggestive questions of the victims.
– Two victims of convicted pedophile Jonathan Rose were asked if they had “enjoyed” the experience, despite being age 5 and 10 at the time of their abuses.1
– A victim of congregant Mark Sewell was instructed to demonstrate how far apart her legs were spread at the time of her attack, as Sewell, a rather rotund man, argued that he could not have raped her in that position.2
– In both of the above cases, as with many others, these questions were made in the presence of the abusers.
- For an accused person to be removed from a congregation, there must be an actual second witness to the abuse, if there is no confession from the accused. This is commonly referred to as the “two-witness rule.”3
Pedophiles In the Congregation, In Authority
- If the internal investigative process of Jehovah’s Witnesses deem a proven or confessed pedophile to be “repentant,” he or she may remain in the congregation.4 Only in extreme and rare cases are parents in the congregation told of this person’s past actions.5
- Known or suspected pedophiles may hold positions of authority in the organization.6 As congregants are repeatedly told to “obey” elders and those with such authority, parents may unwittingly leave their children alone with such ones, if so requested.7
Danger to the General Public and Community
One very important reason to consider including the IBSA in your Inquiry is that this religion poses a very real, tangible, and unique threat to the general public. All members of this religion who are in good standing, including accused and “repentant” pedophiles, are absolutely required to engage in this religion’s proselytizing work.
There is no instruction to elders in local congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses as to how they should restrict or supervise the preaching activity of known or alleged pedophiles, so these ones may carry out this work with children in their congregation. This puts those children at risk of molestation, in a person’s car while in this preaching work, in restrooms of a restaurant or Kingdom Hall (their worship centers) during breaks and lunchtimes, and if a molester were to take the child to their own home after finishing their proselytizing. As said above, a parent may unwittingly allow their child to go with such a person in this work, as the religion fails to warn parents of a predator in their congregation.
This preaching and proselytizing also puts children in the general public in danger, as these known and alleged pedophiles will visit private homes in their own neighborhoods as part of this work. This gives predators ample opportunity to note homes where children may be home alone or otherwise lacking supervision.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also conduct personal bible studies with householders, in a householder’s own home, and the religion will allow these known and alleged child molesters to do the same; this also results in a child molester being in the private home of a family with children, who are then at potential risk of abuse.
Hope for Legislative Change
It is my hope that your Inquiry results in lawmakers seeing the need for legislation that would not allow unqualified individuals to question child rape victims in any investigative manner; at the very least, this should only be done in the presence of a trained and qualified investigator or child advocate, who can ensure abusive tactics are not used during such processes, and that any such questioning does not re-traumatize these victims.
It is also my hope that laws are put in place to restrict confessed pedophiles from engaging in door-to-door proselytizing of any sort, or that ensure the organization engaging such persons takes necessary steps for their proper oversight. These organizations must also face legal liability, including sanctions by the State, if they fail to ensure reasonable oversight.
A Plea for Inclusion
Because of these unique circumstances and policies surrounding the IBSA, I would respectfully but strongly request that this organization be part of your overall Inquiry. If lawmakers were aware of the damage done to child sex abuse victims when forced to endure the type of questioning that is common inside this religion, in the setting insisted upon by Jehovah’s Witnesses, they would no doubt consider such future legislation. This danger to the general public also needs to be addressed legislatively, as the IBSA adamantly refuses to consider the danger that pedophiles in their congregations pose to those outside their religion.
As a special consideration for you and your staff, in late 2015, elders in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were given explicit instructions to destroy, “All agendas and minutes of elders’ meetings,” “All personal notes taken at elders’ meetings,” and, “Any other personal records, notes, or correspondence that refer to particular individuals.” (See “2015 Checklist for Audit of File” enclosed.) This order was in direct opposition to the instructions from the IICSA that all records regarding child sex abuse be preserved. It is apparent that the IBSA willfully and woefully disregards the civil rights of those in their congregations, and has shown a blatant disrespect to your Inquiry itself.
I am aware that solicitor Kathleen Hallisey, of Bolt, Burdon, Kemp, is collecting firsthand testimonies of persons who have been victimized by the IBSA, both by child molesters in the congregation and by the elders who have conducted these internal investigations. I hope that you and your investigative staff give full weight and consideration to the words of these victims, and remember that they are deserving of having their stories told. They are also deserving of having these abuses exposed so that they may pursue appropriate litigation and recompense, and so that other children in your country are protected from such abuses.
If you have any questions or need any further information, please contact me directly via email, ***@***.com.
Thank you for your kind consideration in this regard, and I look forward to hearing that the IBSA will be included in this Inquiry.
Senior Editor, JWvictims.org
enc: October 1, 2012, Letter to All Bodies of Elders
August 1, 2016, Letter to All Bodies of Elders
2015 Checklist for Audit of File
cc: Solicitor Kathleen Hallisey
Trey Bundy, Center for Investigative Reporting
The letter includes a page of references corresponding to the above citations, as well as the letters and checklist mentioned in the enclosure lines.
To answer your immediate question, I considered including information regarding the ARC, but the IICSA can only deal with victims and stories in the UK. As said, Kathleen Hallisey will be providing them with firsthand accounts. I also felt the letter was long enough (four pages, not including the page of references) as is.
It was also my intent to stress the unique danger that Jehovah’s Witnesses present to the community, in allowing proven and confessed pedophiles to engage in their preaching work! Hopefully concern for children all across the country, and not just in this religion, will help spur the IICSA to change their minds on the inclusion of Jehovah’s Witnesses in their Inquiry.
I have no idea if this letter will do any good, and I’m sure the IICSA will receive dozens, if not even hundreds, of pieces of correspondence from individuals all over the world. I will definitely keep this site updated with any new developments.
Editor’s Note: After the publication of this post, Mr. Irwin Zalkin contacted me and requested I remove the information regarding a database of molesters, stating that we only discussed files that he was working on regarding his cases against the Watchtower. I will remove that information out of respect for his request and send a followup clarification to the IISCA. That information aside, the plea for inclusion based on the danger to the general public posed by Jehovah’s Witnesses is valid and worth noting by the IISCA.