In April of 2018, Jehovah’s Witnesses released an information packet titled, “Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection,” through the Legal Resources page of their website. That web page says, “The welfare of children is of utmost concern to Jehovah’s Witnesses. This document provides an explanation of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ response to allegations of child abuse.”
Below are my responses to the information presented in this packet:
“1. Children are a sacred trust, “an inheritance from Jehovah.”—Psalm 127:3.”
“2. The protection of children is of utmost concern and importance to all Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is in harmony with the long-standing and widely published Scripturally based position of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as reflected in the references at the end of this document, which are all published on jw.org.”
A) Jehovah’s Witness elders are instructed to call their branch office (a type of distant headquarters of the religion) when presented with allegations of child sex abuse, to be advised if they are legally obligated to notify authorities. Since many areas of the world do not have mandatory reporting laws, and such laws can sometimes be set aside in favor of clergy-penitent privilege, the vast majority of these allegations are not reported to authorities by elders.¹ This betrays the claim that “protection of children is of utmost concern and importance.”
B) Jehovah’s Witnesses allow corporal punishment for children, and personal stories of beatings and other such “discipline” abound in the religion, also betraying their claim that “protection of children is of utmost concern.” (See this post.)
C) A minor child can be disfellowshipped [excommunicated] and may face shunning, even while still living at home (this post). This betrays the claim that children are a “sacred trust.”
“3. Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse and view it as a crime. (Romans 12:9) We recognize that the authorities are responsible for addressing such crimes. (Romans 13:1-4) The elders do not shield any perpetrator of child abuse from the authorities.”
A) An October 1, 2012, letter to all Jehovah’s Witness elders worldwide, and an August 1, 2016, letter to all Jehovah’s Witness elders worldwide, both refer to child sexual abuse as a “sin.” A September 1, 2017, letter to all Jehovah’s Witness elders worldwide was the first instance of child sexual abuse being referred to as a “crime.”²
B) “Elders do not shield any perpetrator of child abuse from the authorities” is demonstrably false. In the State of California, U.S.A., in the cases of Osbaldo Padron v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. (Super. Ct. No. 37-2013-00067529-CU-PO-CTL) and Lopez v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. (246 Cal.App.4th 566) Watchtower refused to comply with discovery orders that mandated they produce records of alleged abusers in the religion. California’s Superior Court levied a $4000 sanction against Watchtower for every day they refused to comply with the order. For some two years, Watchtower continued to defy the court and refused to produce these records; instead, Watchtower appealed this sanction several times, eventually settling with the plaintiffs and terminating the sanction. This betrays their claim that they do not shield perpetrators of abuse from authorities. (Please see this post for more information regarding these sanctions and the court’s rejection of Watchtower’s final appeal.)
C) Phoning the branch office to be informed if an elder is legally obligated to report an allegation of abuse also betrays the claim that elders do not shield a perpetrator from the consequences of their actions. By withholding information about such allegations from authorities, elders are, in effect, shielding that person from the potential legal consequences of their actions.
“4. In all cases, victims and their parents have the right to report an accusation of child abuse to the authorities. Therefore, victims, their parents, or anyone else who reports such an accusation to the elders are clearly informed by the elders that they have the right to report the matter to the authorities. Elders do not criticize anyone who chooses to make such a report.—Galatians 6:5.”
A) During the Australian Royal Commission Inquiry (2015), it was revealed that elders threatened a victim of child sex abuse, who wanted to report the abuse to authorities, with disfellowshipping. (Case Study 29, Transcript, Day 148, page 15291, lines 25-39):
B) The rights of victims and parents to report to secular authorities was only first mentioned in the August 1, 2016, letter to elders; “In all cases, the victim and her parents have the absolute right to report an allegation to the authorities.” The instructions for elders to notify victims and parents that they have the right to inform, and that elders are not to criticize those who do report, only first appeared in the September 1, 2017, letter to elders; “Therefore, the victim, her parents, or anyone else who reports such an allegation to the elders should be clearly informed that they have the right to report the matter to the secular authorities. Elders do not criticize anyone who chooses to make such a report.—Gal. 6:5.”
“5. When elders learn of an accusation of child abuse, they immediately consult with the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses to ensure compliance with child abuse reporting laws. (Romans 13:1) Even if the elders have no legal duty to report an accusation to the authorities, the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses will instruct the elders to report the matter if a minor is still in danger of abuse or there is some other valid reason. Elders also ensure that the victim’s parents are informed of an accusation of child abuse. If the alleged abuser is one of the victim’s parents, the elders will inform the other parent.”
A) “Compliance with child abuse reporting laws” is of no consequence if there are no such mandatory laws in a particular area. Failure to report abuse for any reason does nothing to protect potential victims from the alleged abuser.
B) Elders in local congregations, and representatives at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, are in no position to determine if a child is still in danger of abuse; this is a matter best left to properly trained authorities.
C) Instructions to inform a second parent has never been included in any letters to elders, or elsewhere.
D) If an abuser is the victim’s parent, reporting the matter to a second parent may do little to protect the child if the second parent:
1) doesn’t believe the child,
2) is a victim of abuse themselves and is afraid of reporting the matter to authorities or of confronting the abusing parent,
3) is not mentally and emotionally capable of reporting the abuse and protecting the child,
4) would be afraid of their spouse leaving them and withdrawing financial support because of reporting, and so refuses to report,
5) already knows of the abuse and is complacent or complicit.
E) The religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses requires women to be “submissive” and “obedient” to husbands, even if he is physically abusive, so that a mother may feel it is not her place to defy her husband and report his abuse. (See this post.)
“6. Parents have the primary responsibility for the protection, safety, and instruction of their children. Therefore, parents who are members of the congregation are encouraged to be vigilant in exercising their responsibility at all times and to do the following:
• Have direct and active involvement in their children’s lives.
• Educate themselves and their children about child abuse.
• Encourage, promote, and maintain regular communication with their children. —Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; Proverbs 22:3.
Jehovah’s Witnesses publish an abundance of Bible-based information to assist parents to fulfill their responsibility to protect and instruct their children.—See the references at the end of this document.”
While protecting children is primarily the responsibility of the parents, any organization or religion that:
a) brings strangers into direct contact with children, such as through bible studies and preaching activities apart from their parents, and therefore exposes them to the risk of being abused by those strangers,
b) teaches parents and children that they are required to “be obedient” and “submissive” to other individuals in the organization, even if they disagree with these ones or are being abused by that person (as in the case of elders³ or abusive husbands),
c) teaches congregants that those outside the organization or religion are bad or not to be trusted for any reason,*
d) has put known abusers in positions of authority over others,
e) requires victims of abuse to discuss that abuse in detail with untrained, unqualified, often unsympathetic men,
f) threatens members who do not stringently obey all that is required of them with shunning, including minor children and including being shunned by their own family members,
g) requires its members to be in consistent contact with other members, even members who are alleged or known child molesters,
h) fails to adequately warn members of their organization of any credible danger to their children from other members
must also bear responsibility for the consequences of their own actions.
“7. Congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses do not separate children from their parents for the purpose of instruction or other activities. (Ephesians 6:4) For example, our congregations do not provide or sponsor orphanages, Sunday schools, sports clubs, day-care centers, youth groups, or other activities that separate children from their parents.”
This is demonstrably false.
A) Congregation members who wish to engage in the religion’s preaching activity will meet in one large group, and smaller car groups are then arranged. A man in the congregation will typically have oversight as to how these smaller car groups are formed, and he can readily ask that a certain child accompany him in his car, separate from his or her parents. A man may also offer to study the bible with a child, separate from his or her parents. As congregation members trust other members, and are outright told to be obedient to elders especially,³ a parent may not hesitate to allow their child to be alone with a man for these and other such occasions.
B) When someone wishes to be baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they meet alone with an elder to cover a series of questions, to ensure that person “qualifies” for baptism. This questioning is usually conducted over at least three separate sessions, each session with a different elder, and each conducted in private. These sessions are held with any minor child who wishes to be baptized, which then also separates that child from his or her parents, and puts them in private proximity with various elders in the congregation.
“8. Elders strive to treat victims of child abuse with compassion, understanding, and kindness. (Colossians 3:12) As spiritual counselors, the elders endeavor to listen carefully and empathetically to victims and to console them. (Proverbs 21:13; Isaiah 32:1, 2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; James 1:19) Victims and their families may decide to consult a mental-health professional. This is a personal decision.”
A) Jehovah’s Witnesses have published a bible storybook for children that blamed a bible character for her own rape (this post), have blamed women for rape in general and for raising rapists (this post), and have told women to treat a potential rapist “respectfully” and “understandingly” (this post). Jehovah’s Witnesses have also stated publicly that accusations of being permissive to pedophilia in the religion are “apostate-driven lies and dishonesties” (this post), and the religion demands a second witness to the crime of child sexual abuse before the abuser is removed from the congregation. These actions all demonstrate a systemic lack of “compassion, understanding, and kindness” when it comes to the matter of sexual assault and abuse as a whole.
B) Elders in local congregations have reportedly asked child rape victims if they enjoyed their abuse (this post), have demanded that a rape victim demonstrate how far apart her legs were spread during her rape, in front of her own attacker (this post), dismissed the occasion of a father examining his underage daughter’s vagina despite knowing that the man went on to otherwise molest the child (this post), allowed an accused father to scream threats against his daughter while counseling that same daughter to “respect” her abuser (this post), and so on, all demonstrating a lack of “compassion, understanding, and kindness” to victims.
C) The “two-witness” rule that is used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, wherein they insist on a second witness to such abuse before taking action against the accused, is itself a demonstration of their lack of “understanding.” In all but the rarest of cases, child sex abuse is committed privately, without the potential for a second witness.
D) Despite the religion’s stubborn insistence that demanding this second witness is necessitated by bible commands, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not demand two witnesses to “discern” if a woman is telling the truth about being raped versus having committed fornication, and don’t demand two witnesses to decide if adults committed fornication because they spent the night together under the same roof (this post). This hypocrisy alone also betrays a lack of “compassion, understanding, and kindness” to child sex abuse victims.
E) While Jehovah’s Witnesses are allowed to consult with a mental health professional as needed, they are also instructed, “Christians should be sure that any treatment they pursue does not conflict with Bible principles.” (Awake, December 2014) This may cause a conflict for many victims; for example, if the perpetrator is the victim’s father, a mental health professional might advise that the man be put out of the home. A wife might see this as conflicting with the bible principle that she must be submissive to the man’s headship. In these and other such cases, the demands of the religion may then trump the advice of a mental health professional, to the detriment of the abused child.
“9. Elders never require victims of child abuse to present their accusation in the presence of the alleged abuser. However, victims who are now adults may do so, if they wish. In addition, victims can be accompanied by a confidant of either gender for moral support when presenting their accusation to the elders. If a victim prefers, the accusation can be submitted in the form of a written statement.”
A) The handbook used by elders, “Shepherd the Flock of God in Your Care,” published in 2010, pages 89-90, stated specifically that accusations should be made in the presence of the accused:
This directive was first changed in the August 1, 2016, letter to elders, which said, “Elders should remember that during the investigation process and during the judicial committee process, a victim of child sexual abuse is not required to make her allegation in the presence of the alleged abuser.” (The word “remember” is somewhat deceitful, as this was the first instruction elders received regarding these accusations not needing to be made in the presence of the alleged abuser.)
B) The “Shepherd the Flock of God In Your Care” book, page 90, specifically stated that moral support should be withheld from those involved in these allegations:
“10. Child abuse is a serious sin. If an alleged abuser is a member of the congregation, the elders conduct a Scriptural investigation. This is a purely religious proceeding handled by elders according to Scriptural instructions and is limited to the issue of membership as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A member of the congregation who is an unrepentant child abuser is expelled from the congregation and is no longer considered one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (1 Corinthians 5:13) The elders’ handling of an accusation of child abuse is not a replacement for the authorities’ handling of the matter.—Romans 13:1-4.”
In 1993, a congregation member by the name of Jonathan Kendrick was caught fondling the breasts of his underage, sleeping stepdaughter. When local elders wrote to their branch office and asked for advice on how to handle the matter, the branch responded by referring to the incident as a “minor uncleanness,” and said that no judicial committee would need to be formed. (See this post.)
During the Australian Royal Commission Inquiry (2015), one victim of child sex abuse testified that two separate elders told her that they would not hear her allegations of being molested by her father before she spoke to her father personally, and would not speak to her without her father present. She was rebuffed from having those allegations heard on at least three separate occasions. (Case Study 29, Transcript, Day 148, page 15286, lines 19-39):
These instances, and others like it, betray the claim that Jehovah’s Witnesses take allegations of child sex abuse seriously, or view it as a “serious sin.”
“11. If it is determined that one guilty of child sexual abuse is repentant and will remain in the congregation, restrictions are imposed on the individual’s congregation activities. The individual will be specifically admonished by the elders not to be alone in the company of children, not to cultivate friendships with children, or display any affection for children. In addition, elders will inform parents of minors within the congregation of the need to monitor their children’s interaction with the individual.”
A) Showing “repentance” to elders in a congregation is not an indicator of the person’s likelihood to re-offend. According to one study presented by Scientific American, “The 15-year recidivism rate is 13 percent for incest perpetrators, 24 percent for rapists, and 35 percent for child molesters of boy victims.” While these rates may be considered relatively low, it does demonstrate that there is a credible risk that a child sex abuser will repeat their crime.
B) Restricting an abuser’s activities in a congregation and “admonishing” that person to avoid children does little to protect children from abuse, especially if the victim was the abuser’s own child or children. Informing other parents in the congregation of the need to monitor their child also does nothing to protect children outside of that congregation (this post).
“12. A person who has engaged in child sexual abuse does not qualify to receive any congregation privileges or to serve in a position of responsibility in the congregation for decades, if ever. —1 Timothy 3:1-7, 10; 5:22; Titus 1:7.”
A) Jehovah’s Witnesses have repeatedly adjusted their opinion on this matter; the October 1, 2012 letter to elders stated, “It cannot be said in every case that one who has sexually abused a child could never qualify for privileges of service in the congregation.” The August 1, 2016, letter to elders stated, “One who has engaged in child sexual abuse does not qualify to receive any privileges in the congregation for many years, if ever.” The September 1, 2017, letter to elders stated, “One who has engaged in child sexual abuse does not qualify to receive any privileges in the congregation for many years, if ever; this includes minor privileges.”
B) This statement is also the first use of the word “decades” when describing how much time would pass before an abuser could have “privileges” or “responsibility” in the congregation.
A) Jehovah’s Witness elders are still not instructed to phone police for all allegations of child sex abuse in their religion, and to cooperate with a police investigation, letting trained professionals handle each case. Instead, elders are repeatedly instructed to phone their branch office, to be informed if they are legally obligated to notify authorities; if there is no legal obligation, elders rarely, if ever, report such allegations to authorities.
B) While current instructions note that elders should proactively inform victims and parents that they have the right to notify authorities, elders are not instructed to ask victims if they need assistance in notifying authorities in these matters. Assistance from a trusted confidant can be vitally important for younger victims and victims of child rape in their own home, and especially when one parent is not present in the home, is mentally or emotionally incapable of supporting the child, or is complacent about the abuse. This lack of support leaves victims abandoned to their abuses, from those who are referred to as their “spiritual counselors.”
C) Jehovah’s Witnesses still see little need to protect children outside their own religion from an alleged offender, by not phoning authorities or alerting any parents other than those in their own congregations as to this risk to children (this post).
D) This information does not rescind direction to elders that dismisses “a situation in which a minor who is a willing participant and who is approaching adulthood is involved in sexual activity with an adult who is a few years older than the minor.” (September 1, 2017, letter to elders.) This direction allows elders to determine for themselves if a minor child was a “willing participant,” and also gives no consideration to any type of grooming process that is often prevalent with child sex abuse. In turn, a minor child may face retaliation from the congregation, including being disfellowshipped and shunned, for being deemed “willing.”
E) Elders in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses have no formal training in child psychology, criminology, counseling, or any other field that would instruct them on the most effective way to discuss matters of child sex abuse with alleged victims, to preserve the feelings of these victims, and to ensure any future testimony they might offer during a legal proceeding is not tainted.
F) To date, Jehovah’s Witnesses have never offered any type of apology to victims in the religion, or shown any type of acceptance of their responsibility for creating the atmosphere that has allowed pedophilia to flourish. This includes their insistence on a second witness to the abuse before putting such an abuser out of the congregation, and threats made to victims who have wanted to report this abuse. Jehovah’s Witnesses have also offered no apology to victims for the trauma inflicted upon them by being made to sit through overly personal, accusatory, and often obscene questioning at the hands of elders, with no support from any other party, and from being made to confront their abusers in person, even family members who are free to retaliate after such confrontations. Instead, the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves have referred to such accusations as “apostate-driven lies and dishonesties” (this post) and have blamed homosexuals for pedophilia in general (this post).
For more information about pedophilia and the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including updates on various liability lawsuits currently being heard, please click on the Pedophilia category of this site.
¹The Australian Royal Commission Inquiry (2015) uncovered some 1006 alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse in the religion, with not one being reported to authorities by elders.
²To read these letters in their entirety, please download the Attorney Handbook on this site; these letters are located at the very end of that PDF file.
³”When we as individuals respect the authority of Christian elders, we are obeying Jehovah.” (Keep Yourselves in God’s Love book, published in 2008, chapter 4, pages 36-39)
*”Many in the world do not even realize they are on Satan’s side.” (Watchtower simplified edition, May 2018, page 20) “Then faith and godly wisdom will protect us from Satan’s clever designs and from the world’s evil spirit.” (Watchtower simplified edition, February 2018, pages 18-20)