Activists in Australia have notified me of a recent, successful liability case, regarding child sexual abuse that was filed against the Watchtower in that country; the case was mediated last month, so there were no court proceedings to report on. However, the settlement in this case deals a huge blow to Watchtower, and is a victory for the victim as well as all advocates against this religion.
According to my sources, there is no “gag order” on the case, but it’s not yet available in the public domain and is still under confidentiality privileges. The case ran for 18 months, and involved a female survivor of child sex abuse from Western Australia. This survivor was apparently groomed at the Kingdom Hall, where she became the abuse victim of an elder there, who is now deceased (so there will obviously not be a criminal trial to accompany the civil case).
The victim testified that she was discouraged from making a report to police and from seeking other support, and the Watchtower was found to have failed in their duty of care. Noteworthy, too, was that the environment surrounding her at the time was distinctly male-dominated, which no doubt contributed to the unfolding of events.
The victim also now suffers from a diagnosable psychological condition, which is not surprising; child sex abuse affects victims for decades, if not their entire life, something that the Watchtower Corporation seems to fail to grasp. Despite her condition, this survivor was said to be an excellent witness to her case.
It was noted that, in this case, the Watchtower did handle the matter sensitively, but no policies have been changed as a result of the case, although none were specifically requested.
Because I am not able to interview this survivor yet myself, I asked my Australian contact, Lara Kaput, to explain some details of the case and what it means for us, as activists:
What is the impact of this case?
“This case means that more people will come forward. We want them to have the confidence to come out of the shadows. We want their cases to flood to the panel of lawyers chosen by the ARC [Australian Royal Commission; see this post for more information about that Inquiry].”
Why is it significant?
“We believe it’s the first child sexual abuse case [against Watchtower] in Australia. It’s history-making.”
What does this mean for activism in Australia?
“We are ramping it up. We could use help from ex JWs and from those who have never been JWs. We need people of all types. Allied health professionals. Child safety expertise. Creative people. Empaths. Law students. Life coaches. Media. The most important thing we need right now is a specific pathway to healing, designed by a professional.”
What does this mean for us, moving forward?
“We want people to build on the platform that the ARC has provided us. It’s been a safety net for people to start conversations that we never could before. Other cases are all stages of being filed. You are no longer alone. Take the next step. Speak to a law firm about your options. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so stay connected in an ex JW support group.”
The Old Boys Club
One final thought; it was noted to me that the Watchtower was represented by a female attorney. I thought this was significant, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do not allow women to hold any positions of authority in the congregation, or have any type of responsibility whatsoever. This includes not having women as part of the investigation process when allegations of child sexual abuse are made; it was brought out during the ARC Inquiry that female victims were very uncomfortable in having to relate their stories of abuse to a panel of all men.
It’s also noteworthy that a letter accompanying the book, “Shepherd the Flock of God In Your Care,” the handbook used by elders for investigating allegations of misconduct in the congregation, says specifically that women are not to even spiral-bind the book for an elder, as the information is to remain confidential:
How interesting that women in the religion apparently cannot be trusted with what the Watchtower deems to be confidential information; the bible, which they think is the word of god, can be shared freely with anyone, but the words of men, instructions to elders that affect those very same women, must remain a secret.
However, when the Watchtower needs legal representation against a costly liability suit, then suddenly they can trust a woman with reams of legal and confidential information. The misogyny in the religion is bad enough, but their hypocrisy of having to keep JW women in their place, while gladly using other women to defend them in court, is just sickening.
I will continue to follow up on this story and on the other cases being filed in Australia; in the meantime, I’m deeply grateful to Lara for her insight and information, and to the activists in that country who are truly effecting change when it comes to the Watchtower. Of course, the true heroes are the victims, in finding the strength and courage needed to face down the beast that is this religion, and especially after they’ve suffered so much at its hands already.
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