On January 24, 2018, in a Michigan courtroom, physician Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for historic cases of child sexual abuse. For those unfamiliar with the name, Nassar was a USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University (MSU) team doctor, treating female athletes and gymnasts.
According to court records, Nassar used his position to sexually molest more than 150 women and underage girls. Along with his indictment on these offenses, Nassar had already pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography and had been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on those charges.
Pedophiles Rarely Operate In a Vacuum
Nassar’s accusations and convictions didn’t stop with him; many of the women who came forward noted that they had tried to report his abuse to MSU, USA Gymnastics, and the U.S. Olympic Committee, but were rebuffed and even chastised by those organizations:
“Michigan State University had the audacity to tell me I did not understand the difference between sexual assault and a medical procedure.”
~ Amanda Thomashow, Nassar survivor
After it came to light that these abuses had been so grossly mishandled or ignored, many key figures from these organizations resigned, including MSU president Lou Anna Simon, MSU doctor Brooke Lemmen, MSU gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, the president of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, and three of the organization’s directors. An American Olympics team coach, John Geddert, has been suspended, and the dean of MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, William D. Strampel, took a medical leave.
This is only appropriate, as these persons were in a position of care over these girls, they heard of their complaints regarding their sexual abuse, and did nothing. They abandoned these girls to their abuses, and even lectured them about what was happening to them. This created an atmosphere where Nassar was free to rape child after child, and which no doubt contributed to the mental and emotional distresses felt by these girls.
The Similarities With Jehovah’s Witnesses
Jehovah’s Witnesses have a tremendous problem with child sex abuse within their ranks, with more and more cases being revealed every day, and I can’t help but notice the similarities between Nassar’s case and this religion. For one thing, there are no safeguards in place to reasonably protect children from a predator in the religion. An elder can request a child accompany him alone in their preaching work, and parents will allow it, as they’re told to be obedient and submissive to those taking the lead in the congregation.
In the religion, even if someone is a known pedophile, there are no warnings given to parents; when a congregant is disfellowshipped (excommunicated), reinstated into the congregation, or reproved in any way, there is no information shared about their conduct, so congregants have no idea why this person was facing discipline.
Women and children are told, time and time again, to be submissive and silent before the men in the home, which can lead to children allowing themselves to be abused out of a misplaced fear of a father’s authority, and women being afraid to put a stop to it for the same reason. Those who write this material, the elders who strongly enforce this doctrine, the women who buy into this authoritarian arrangement, and the other congregants who strongly counsel women to remain submissive, even to abusive men, then become complicit in any abuse that follows because of this silence and submissiveness.
Elders turn their backs on victims when allegations of sexual abuse are brought forward; they demand a second witness to the abuse before putting such an abuser out of the congregation, and out of the reach of other children in the religion. Elders may even determine that a confessed abuser is “repentant” so that he or she is not put out of the congregation at all, allowing them to potentially prey on other children.
If an alleged abuser moves to another congregation, elders go through a long checklist to determine if they should warn that new congregation of the accusations against them, even considering the “maturity” of the alleged victim’s parents.
It has also been shown that elders report such abuses to police only when absolutely required to by law, and even then, they may do everything they can to resist cooperating with police. (Please see “In Scathing Court Decision, Watchtower Loses Appeal of $4000 Per Day Fine“)
Don’t assume that elders are doing their best to help victims in all of this; anyone who listened to the Australian Royal Commission could easily see that these men were angry, deceitful, spiteful, arrogant, and dismissive of the victims, both when the abuse was occurring and during the Inquiry itself.
The Guilt Starts On the Ground Floor
The rank-and-file members are also not guiltless; Jehovah’s Witnesses have recently emphasized their adherence to their “two witness” rule, despite it being questionable from a scriptural point of view, and despite it being all but impossible in cases of child sex abuse. Their “doubling-down” on this policy was announced publicly, through a segment on their online TV channel, which rank-and-file members are strongly encouraged to faithfully view and follow.
In turn, congregants are not ignorant to this ludicrous, obscene rule that does nothing but protect pedophiles in their midst. Those congregants also have no choice but to go along with that rule; when you’re one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you must follow the rules of the religion, without question, and without exception.
Beyond that, many victims of abuse in the religion have recalled how other congregants accused them of lying, or got outright angry at their allegations. This also leaves those victims abandoned to their abuses.
I’m Not Unsympathetic
Don’t get me wrong; I still have family in the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including a younger brother and sister. My brother is not an elder and likes to avoid confrontation, so he and my sister both are just blindly waiting for the new system to get here and sort it all out.
However, as sympathetic as I am to them, I don’t let them off the hook for what goes on in their religion. I’ve given my brother a sound piece of my mind over his lack of backbone in standing up to this stupid, abusive little cult.
I do that because, when people tell me that all rank-and-file members of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses are just innocent, brainwashed cult members who deserve sympathy and pity, I think of the horrors that went on at MSU and at the Olympic training facility, beyond the pedophile himself. These girls were made vulnerable by the atmosphere of trust and compliance that was forced upon them. They had doors slammed in their faces by those in positions of authority, those who could and should have helped them.
I think of how so many children could have been protected, if the people around those victims had not failed to act on the first allegations brought to them. How is it different within the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Persons at MSU and the Olympic camp have resigned or been forced out because of public outcry about their behavior, and rightly so. However, this begs the question, why do we hold coaches, team organizers, and others in that situation to a higher standard than elders, parents, and congregants in a religion?
We show justified disgust at those around Nassar who turned a blind eye to his abuse, but are then quick to plead for “decency” for rank-and-file Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are sometimes just as complicit in the abuse of children as the abusers themselves. Asking for sympathy or pity for these ones is an insult to their intellect, as if Jehovah’s Witnesses are just too stupid to understand child molestation and why it happens so often in their religion, and are too stupid to realize how policies like demanding a second witness to child molestation are ludicrous and laughable.
I’m With Trevor
As I was researching this column, I came across a video of talk show host and comedian Trevor Noah, slamming Nassar’s “enablers,” saying that these ones should be sentenced right along with him:
I’m with him. If you know of, or have reasonable allegations of, child sex abuse, you have no excuse to ignore it and dismiss the victims. Doing so makes you an enabler, as we’ve seen in the religion.
The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and writers of the Watchtower magazine, can say whatever they want, but it’s up to individual elders to enforce their policies, and individual rank-and-file to also support their words. When they do that, it makes them all complicit in this abuse, and part of the reason why it can happen so easily in a religion like Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“They should have a law, that if they found that you were an enabler, if they found that you willfully ignored messages or information about something that was being done to somebody, you should get a piece of their sentence. Like commission. Because you’re like their agent. They’re the superstar, and they give you ten percent.”
~ Trevor Noah, host of “The Daily Show”
Remember that the next time you want to say that people should have sympathy and pity for all the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the religion; you’re including, not just pedophiles, but those who create the atmosphere that allows pedophilia to flourish, women who allow their own their children to be abused in order to comply with the “headship” arrangement, those who strongly encourage if not outright demand that those women and children be obedient even to abusive men, those who turn a blind eye to credible accusations of abuse, those who fight and argue with the courts when told to produce proper evidence to support victims of abuse, those who endorse practices like the “two witness” rule, and everyone else who abandons the victims in this religion.
I can only wonder how child sex abuse victims feel when they hear of someone’s deep, abiding empathy and pity for everyone in the religion who made their abuse possible.
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