According to their website, “The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was set up because of serious concerns that some organisations had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse.” Much like the Australian Royal Commission Inquiry, of which Jehovah’s Witnesses were a part in 2015, the UK’s IICSA is not a criminal trial, but an inquiry to determine recommendations to be given to lawmakers regarding needed legislation for proper handling of child sex abuse claims.
The Inquiry’s History
This Inquiry has not been without its challenges; it was previously referred to as the Goddard Inquiry because its progress was being overseen by judge Lowell Goddard, who left her position after some months (see this post). While the Inquiry itself has managed to somehow move forward with a new chairperson, it was questionable whether or not Jehovah’s Witnesses would make their final roster of organizations to question over how they handle child sex abuse allegations.
Getting the Watchtower on their schedule is vitally important, so many former Jehovah’s Witnesses and other professionals, concerned with how the religion handles, or more rightly, manhandles these allegations, continued to pound the pavement, pushing the IICSA to include JWs. Letters of protest and victims’ stories flooded the office of the IICSA, and our efforts were, thankfully, not without results. It was just recently reported by The Guardian newspaper in the UK (this link) that the IICSA may be considering adding Jehovah’s Witnesses to their roster of investigations.
IICSA would not say how many reports it had received about the Jehovah’s Witnesses but said there were a “considerable number”. It noted that both members of the public and MPs had raised their concerns, but would not say which politicians had spoken to them.
The article mentioned that Member of Parliament (MP) Alex Chalk had written to the IICSA after being approached by two of his constituents with concerns over how the Watchtower fails to properly safeguard children in their religion. I had the privilege of sitting down with one of those constituents, Marc Latham, to discuss his and his wife’s work in pushing this Inquiry forward, and to find out what other advocates and victims can do to assist, and to have their voices heard.
Getting an Audience
I asked Marc about the process of first getting an audience with his MP. This involved letter writing as a start (and Marc showed me his folder of correspondence, literally three inches thick), and having to face a lot of rebuffs from other MPs. The process was undertaken on his part to narrow down the MPs who would have an interest in pursuing the matter.
A letter also went to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools, and Families in the UK. His rejection included a statement that Jehovah’s Witnesses were an American religion, so the UK had no jurisdiction. A search then got underway for correspondence from the Watchtower on UK letterhead.
After losing an MP to an election, Marc had to start all over again with searching out a sympathetic ear from current MPs. This was very involved, as those outside the religion need to have the entire organization explained to them, including the notorious “two witness” rule, the threat of disfellowshipping, and so on. Marc’s process also involved having to explain what the goal was for him to approach his MPs, which is always about safeguarding children, since the Watchtower’s safeguarding policies are virtually nonexistent.
Have We Found the UK’s Answer to Angus Stewart?
Now, with a listening ear from Alex Chalk, it looks like we are finally making headway into a proper investigation of this religion. Mr. Chalk has reassured Marc on many occasions that he is taking this information quite seriously, and is determined to get the Witnesses on the agenda of the IICSA, and the subject of child sex abuse in institutions in front of the UK Parliament.
I asked Marc the next step in this process (as I’m ignorant enough of how the U.S. government works, much less the UK government), and his response was that it’s likely a debate in front of Parliament, where both parties work to determine how to move forward, if at all.
By gaining an audience with Mr. Chalk, Marc is also hoping to have the investigation being conducted by the Charity Commission join this IICSA Inquiry, putting them under one umbrella. This will ensure the investigation into the Watchtower’s charitable status has the support it needs, and that the religion’s standing as a tax-exempt charity is potentially revoked because of their failed policies.
How to Help and Get Involved
Moving forward, it’s vital that victims and others who are concerned about having Jehovah’s Witnesses involved in the IICSA continue to approach the IICSA, and all the MPs in the UK. Writing a letter is good, but not necessarily enough; if possible, advocates and victims in the UK should visit their own MP in person, with printouts of information about the Watchtower’s failed policies when it comes to protecting children. (Useful information explaining their policies can be found in my attorney handbook, which you are free to download and use as needed.)
To contact the IICSA directly, visit their website here.
This website has information about contacting MPs in the UK.
The Guardian is also looking for more stories of abuse that they might potentially include in future stories; visit their notice here.
I cannot emphasize enough the need to contact these persons directly, rather than allowing anyone else to collect your story for you. Details need to remain accurate, and it may have more of an impact if the IICSA and local MPs receive a deluge of individual stories. Marc and fellow advocate Louise Goode are working to educate Mr. Chalk and others on the significance of Watchtower’s failings overall, so those in a position of authority will know how the religion itself is liable in these cases; they are also in contact with many, many other news outlets in order to capitalize on their progress so far. No matter the outcome of the IICSA, the publicity surrounding this type of situation is a huge black eye for the Watchtower, and an opportunity for victims to finally be heard.
I would also strongly encourage everyone to keep up the momentum of activism with proactive, progressive, grass roots efforts to bring attention and awareness to the religion’s abuses. On August 10-12, 2018, there will be a protest in London which you can join; visit their Facebook events page here. The protests outside the religion’s headquarters in New York last November got the attention of reporters in Canada, and of the Watchtower themselves. Our voices also need to be loud so that victims inside the religion know that we are fighting for them, and will be here for them when they can make their way out. Never give up, no matter how discouraged you might feel; it’s taken Marc years to get an MP to listen and take these concerns seriously, but now we have one on our side, actually contacting the IICSA about the Watchtower! Persistence, patience, and professionalism; the three Ps of activism can and do pay off.
A huge thank-you in the meantime to Marc and Cora Latham and to Louise Goode for all their work, and of course to all the other advocates who have not let up on this Inquiry, flooding the office of the IICSA with letters and other correspondence. A special thank-you to the victims who have been brave enough to come forward and insist that their voices be heard. I hear you, the Lathams hear you, Louise hears you, Angus Stewart heard you, Alex Chalk hears you, so many other advocates hear you. Hopefully the world is finally starting to hear you as well.
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