This morning, “the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has released 85 recommendations aimed at reforming the Australian criminal justice system in order to provide a fairer response to victims of institutional child sexual abuse.”
You can read a brief summary of the report here, but note a few very exciting victories for those concerned about child sex abuse and Jehovah’s Witnesses:
Grooming children and those around them
From the report: “Legislation should be introduced or amended to adopt a broad grooming offence that captures any communication or conduct with a child with the intention of grooming the child to be involved in a sexual offence.
Furthermore, governments should introduce laws to extend their grooming offences to the grooming of persons other than the child, such as a parent or carer. This helps to protect the child and recognises that grooming behaviour can also harm those who care for the child.”
This would be an interesting law as applied to Jehovah’s Witnesses; we know that many of those guilty of molesting children within the religion “groomed” those children and their parents beforehand, by taking the child in the preaching work, having them to their home for bible studies, and the like. The religion will need to create far more oversight of these types of activities, and may be held liable and accountable for how elders make car groups for preaching; I would also wonder if they need to temper their constant instruction to “obey” the elders, and include more instruction to parents and congregants that they most certainly should not “obey” the elders who want to separate children from parents for any reason. (See this post for more information.)
Failure to report and the religious confessional
The report recommends “making failure to report child sexual abuse in institutions a criminal offence. This recommendation extends to information given in religious confessions. Clergy should not be able to refuse to report because the information was received during confession.
Persons in institutions should report if they know, suspect or should have suspected a child is being or has been sexually abused.
The Royal Commission heard of cases in religious settings where perpetrators who made a religious confession to sexually abusing children went on to reoffend and seek forgiveness. The report recommends there be no exemption, excuse, protection or privilege from the offence granted to clergy for failing to report information disclosed in connection with a religious confession.”
This is self-explanatory. This would mean no more excuses from elders that they “respected” the child by abandoning them to handle matters on their own. No more excuses for why they don’t call the police and have them handle this entire matter from start to finish.
Failure to protect a child within an institution
From the report: “Failure to protect a child within an institution from a substantial risk of sexual abuse by an adult associated with the institution should be made a criminal offence.
The Commission heard of many cases where perpetrators were moved between schools and other sites operated by the same institutions when an allegation against them was raised. They continued to abuse children in new locations.
All states and territories should introduce a failure to protect offence. The legislation already introduced in Victoria provides a useful precedent.”
See this post to better understand the legislation in the Australian state of Victoria to which they are referring.
This truly steps things up a notch; by making the failure to protect a criminal offense, elders in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses may then face criminal sanctions. Whether the punishment would be fines or actual imprisonment, they would certainly then have a criminal record! I would wonder how many elders would also risk facing criminal sanctions for the sake of the religion, if they were ever given instructions to keep things confidential, or any such information from the Watchtower headquarters in conflict with these proposed laws.
Proposals, Not Laws
This is a very important note; this information from the Australian Royal Commission is just a proposal to legislators. These are not laws that have suddenly gone into effect. However, note that the entire purpose of a Royal Commission Inquiry is to suggest new laws and legislation to lawmakers. The change of laws in Victoria, as mentioned above, is proof that lawmakers pay very close attention to these recommendations.
We will need to wait and see how the next step is handled in Australia, but the very nature of this Commission and these recommendations themselves is a huge victory for activists, and of course victims of child sex abuse in the religion. It is also proof positive that quite a bit of good can come from these Inquiries and related commissions, who need our full support.
Everyone in the community of former Jehovah’s Witnesses is grateful, I’m sure, to the Royal Commission, and of course to the activists in Australia who worked so hard to ensure Jehovah’s Witnesses were included in this Inquiry, and a special thank-you to the victims who were brave enough and strong enough to come forward and retell their horrific stories of abuse. The fight is not over yet, but, as I’ve said before, brick by brick, dollar by dollar, we’ll take our victories as they come.
Please visit this news story from ABC News in Australia for more details.
Update: Visit this link for all the documents, exhibits, and other information regarding the Australian Royal Commission’s final recommendations.