The Australian Royal Commission and Child Sex Abuse Among Jehovah’s Witnesses
According to their website, “The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is investigating how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse. It is the job of the Royal Commission to uncover where systems have failed to protect children so it can make recommendations on how to improve laws, policies and practices.”
During their 2015 inquiry, Jehovah’s Witnesses were case number 29, and many elders, overseers, and even a member of their governing body were all questioned. You can read the transcripts and see the exhibits submitted at this site, but I’d also like to share some of my personal observations here as to what we learned about Jehovah’s Witnesses and how pedophilia is handled, or should I say grossly mishandled, in their religion.
According to the inquiry, 1006 pedophiles were known to be among Jehovah’s Witnesses, dating back to 1950, with not one case reported to police by elders. Not one. What is significant to realize from this is that many of these pedophiles had more than one victim, and it’s safe to assume that not all pedophiles were reported or recorded in their records. If 1006 were known to be in the religion, how many are there in reality, and how many victims have there been over the past few decades? Twice that number? Three times? Five times? The real number is probably staggering. Remember that a pedophile usually does have more than one victim, and if a person was raping and molesting a child within the walls of the Kingdom Hall, who is to say that other children were any safer? That molester may have a child who brings home friends from school, may live near a playground, have younger relatives, etc., all of whom are in danger. Yet, one elder seemed indignant at the suggestion that they take any steps to protect those children, as I bring out in this post.
POORLY ORGANIZED, DESTROYING NOTES
One of the first things I noticed about the testimony of the elders about past cases is that these men are poorly trained and downright poorly organized when it comes to investigating cases of child sexual abuse. If you read their transcripts for one such case (Investigative Notes), you see how their notes are handwritten, sloppy, and difficult to make out.
It was also brought out notes are outright destroyed after meetings are held to investigate certain claims; from the first day, testimony by elder Maxwell Horley:
This is important because one of the rules that Jehovah’s Witnesses live by when it comes to child sexual abuse is that there must be two witnesses to the crime before they take any action; they now consider a second victim to be that second witness. However, they cannot establish that there has been a “second witness” or even a second victim when notes are virtually incomprehensible and outright destroyed. Very often, the men questioned about past sexual assault accusations had difficulty remembering what was said, and their notes were of little help.
If Jehovah’s Witnesses took accusations of child sexual assault seriously, wouldn’t they have very organized, comprehensive notes that explicitly outlined everything brought out at such meetings and which could serve them as quality references for years to come? Police take extensive notes and have them meticulously organized when they’re investigating crimes, and these notes are stored indefinitely. Considering that paperwork today can be scanned and stored digitally, there should be no reason to destroy notes and certainly they should be more well-written and informative.
It seemed obvious to me that the elders don’t take these accusations seriously; they aren’t concerned about how future accusations would bring about the need to clearly reference past accusations. Even they couldn’t decipher their own notes and showed little concern for how destroying them may affect future accusations against an individual, instead only being concerned with keeping those notes out of the “wrong hands.” By destroying notes, they were destroying any chance that even their own flawed and limited system may have removed a child molester from their midst, as this meant no second victim could be established and in turn, no second witness to the person’s crime.
WOMEN ARE STUPID, UNTRUSTWORTHY, AND CAN’T FLY PLANES
While the inquiry was not meant to discuss how Jehovah’s Witnesses view women, some points did come to light. Note:
Women cannot be trusted to respect confidentiality
When asked about destroying notes, the elder above mentioned that notes shouldn’t fall into the “wrong hands.” When questioned about who would be considered the “wrong hands,” the elder responded:
So the first group of “wrong” people who can’t be trusted to be in the same room as these notes is their wives. Of course, I’m not saying that wives (or husbands, children, parents, etc.) should automatically know the private business of others outside the household, but consider that in the eyes of JWs, women are so untrustworthy and irresponsible that notes need to be outright destroyed, not just stored in a locked location. If I were married to someone who had to keep confidential information in the home – a lawyer, accountant, psychiatrist, etc. – and he had a locked filing cabinet with paperwork inside, it would never occur to me to try to get my hands on those papers. I’m a grownup adult who can respect the privacy of others and realize that my husband’s business information would need to remain confidential.
Consider too that women may have their own careers and be in situations that demand they respect confidentiality. Women work as lawyers, doctors, accountants, counselors, etc., and must respect the confidentiality of their clients and others. Paralegals, secretaries, translators; these ones all keep the confidentiality of their employers. Even as a freelance writer, I need to keep information about my clients and their projects confidential and don’t share things I’ve written for them, fees I’ve charged, etc., with anyone.
Yet, despite the fact that women themselves may have jobs that require confidentiality and are quite capable of respecting the personal business of others, Jehovah’s Witnesses distrust them so thoroughly that notes must be destroyed. Women are considered to be the “wrong hands” for these notes and information; they can’t even be stored in a secure location in the home, under the same roof as these lowly women.
Women’s testimonies cannot be trusted
The most telling and disturbing aspect of how Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t trust women is the testimony of the second victim of child sexual abuse, who told how she and her mother testified that her father had molested her and all three of her sisters. Yet, despite the testimony of these women (and note that the daughter was in her late teens by the time she told elders this, not a child), their words were dismissed by the elders. Jehovah’s Witnesses say that they need two witnesses to establish child sexual abuse, and they had those two witnesses, yet they were dismissed. The elders stated that it the man said he was guilty but he often lied so they couldn’t determine if the sexual abuse happened based on his words, but the words of the women were not good enough for them either, apparently.
Women can’t fly planes
One aspect of the inquiry was to make the point that women are not part of the investigative process when it comes to child molestation, and how difficult this can make it for female victims. The chairperson asked governing body member Jackson about women’s involvement, and he emphasized that women cannot be elders because “a plane cannot have two pilots.”
For non-JWs, let me briefly explain. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in a patriarchal arrangement in the congregation and family, meaning ruled by men. Men have authority over their wives, who must be in submission to their husbands and silent in the congregation. (“She does not belittle him, manipulate him, or usurp his position. Rather, she is supportive and cooperative. When his decisions are not to her liking, she may respectfully express her thoughts, but she remains submissive. If her husband is not a believer, she may face challenging situations, yet her submissive conduct may move her husband to seek Jehovah.” Keep Yourselves in God’s Love book, page 43) Jehovah’s Witnesses often justify this arrangement of giving the husband the final say in all matters and giving him absolute authority over his wife by saying that a ship cannot have two captains, a car cannot have two drivers, or a plane cannot have two captains, etc.
The chairperson made the point that, while a plane cannot have two pilots, women can be pilots. Jackson seemed to miss the point and stayed adamant about leaving women out of the investigative process when it comes to child molestation. He stated that this way of doing things had stood the test of time, which was very disturbing to me personally, having seen so much physical violence, verbal abuse, and other such behavior from men at Kingdom Halls, many of whom would then chastise women or just gloat and smirk at these ones who still needed to “be submissive” to their horrific abuse.
Unless they’re “worldly” women
While women are apparently regarded as being untrustworthy and not able to assist or be part of any investigative process within the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, what is interesting is that women were used as legal counsel and as an expert witness for the JWs. The Witnesses called on Dr. Monica Applewhite to provide “expert” testimony about their education of congregation members on matters of sexual abuse of children; there were also women who assisted or acted as legal counsel for JWs.
As legal counsel and as an expert witness, these women would have been privy to all sorts of confidential information when it comes to how JWs handle their judicial processes, and would have had access to the statements of the elders along with anything else they would have deemed necessary. These women were trusted to testify in front of the inquiry for the Witnesses and to provide counsel to them. Yet, in the congregations, women are not trusted to be in the same building as these confidential bits of information and cannot be trusted to provide advice on investigative processes.
The misogyny is monumental, but the hypocrisy is also worth noting. If women are not supposed to know confidential things, shouldn’t that apply to all women? Why can you hire outside women to do jobs that you’re not supposed to allow JW women to handle? Either your arrangement says that women should be in subordinate positions, or it doesn’t; you shouldn’t be allowed to set aside your “divine directives” when you’re in trouble and need legal assistance or an expert witness. If “worldly” or non-JW women can be trusted with this information and the responsibility of giving advice to JW men when they’re facing a serious inquiry, why can’t they be trusted to respect confidential information when someone is investigating a case of child molestation in the congregation? It’s as if the governing body is saying, “When we need help, we’ll hire whomever we want, but if you children need a comfortable and fair hearing for your accusations of being molested, well, tough. Talk to those men or no one at all.”
OBSCENE LACK OF CONCERN
What stands out most of all from the inquiry is how the elders that were questioned obviously felt virtually no concern for the children who came to them to report being molested, or for any children. This was displayed in a few ways:
Lack of concern for children in general
As I bring out above and in this post, one elder was even a little angry when questioned why they don’t call the police when they know there is a pedophile in their midst, stating defensively that they cannot protect “every child in Australia.” As said, no one was asking them to protect every child in Australia, but what about the children of the pedophile, the children who live next door to him or her, or other children they may come into contact with?
One of the women testifying also brought out how she would come to the Kingdom Hall with welts on her back from being beaten so severely by her father, something apparently overlooked by the “spiritual shepherds” of the congregation. She then told of how she told an elder that the black eye she was sporting was because her father had literally kicked in the bathroom door while she was inside, and the elder outright laughed at her.
Why would you ever laugh at a statement like this from a young woman? I wasn’t there to see the exchange but I can’t imagine she said these words to him while laughing herself, as if she was making a joke. If she says something this serious, and is standing there with a black eye, wouldn’t that warrant at least a follow-up question as to whether or not she was actually joking?
Abusers confronting them
This lack of concern extended to the meetings that the victims of child molestation were forced to have with the ones they were accusing; not only were they made to sit in a room with the person they were accusing of molestation but they also had to tell disgusting details of their abuse in front of three elders, who obviously did little to protect the victims even in the face of threats of violence:
So perhaps the elders should be congratulated for physically stopping a man who was threatening to kill his own daughter? They did nothing, absolutely nothing else to protect this young lady from the threats and harassment she was getting from her father. It’s significant to note that there was no judicial committee meeting, no discipline given to this father for outright threatening to kill his child, or for the obscenity of accusing your young daughter of seducing you. Elders felt no need to protect this child from someone who was obviously violent and vile, and who outright admitted to sexually molesting his daughter by putting the blame on her. If I witnessed this exchange, there is no way that little girl would go home to that man and I would have child protective services at his door as fast as I could dial my phone.
Sending victims home to abusers
It was also brought out that elders had no issue with victims being in the same home as known abusers. One elder seemed to be irritated and then laugh at the question regarding this problem, as if it was ridiculous that anyone would question why a violent, abusive man who was known to have raped all his daughters would be sent back home to those children:
THE SHORTFALL OF THE JUDICIAL COMMITTEE PROCESS
What also stands out from the inquiry is the shortfall of this judicial committee process, something required before anyone can be removed from the congregation. For non-JWs, let me quickly explain. For someone to be disfellowshipped (excommunicated) from the religion, a judicial committee of three elders (always men; women are not allowed to be elders as JWs) needs to be formed to hear the accusations against that person and then listen to their response. There are several horrific shortfalls in this process that were illustrated by the RC inquiry:
Elders are often friends of the accused
If an accusation is against another elder in the congregation or a man who is friends with elders, this doesn’t exactly create a neutral, fair setting for an accusation to be heard. It would be nice to think that elders could set aside their own feelings in order to fairly hear an accusation, but there is a reason why a court of law asks potential jurors if they know anyone associated with the trial; even if you know an attorney on the case, you’re excused as a juror. Judges also excuse themselves from trials and assign a case to someone else if they have the slightest connection to anyone in the trial, just to be sure the accuser gets a fair audience.
Accusers questioning; no full disclosure
Not only would the men who are elders being friends with the accused interfere with a fair hearing for the accuser, note from the victim’s statement above how she was reluctant to offer a full disclosure of the abuse. This was also brought out by another victim, who mentioned that this was also because of her abuser being able to freely interrogate her:
Having the accused being able to plead their innocence is all well and good, but not even in a court of law can an attorney representing the accused have full reign to do whatever they want, say what they want, etc. In court, a lawyer must be respectful and not threatening, and must keep their questions within appropriate boundaries.
All men doing the questioning; no support
It was brought out many times during the inquiry that Jehovah’s Witnesses only allow men to be elders, and men are the ones to handle these judicial committee meetings and ask victims about their abuse. This includes victims who are young women, and who may not find it very comfortable to speak to men about the details of being sexually abused.
It was also brought out that elders are outright told that no one should be present during judicial committee meetings to provide “moral support.” Note this direction, taken from “Shepherd the Flock of God,” the handbook used by elders:
This is directly opposite to how law enforcement handles cases of sexual assault, as explained by RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network; this site):
Having someone there for support can make a victim more comfortable when talking about sexual assault, and in turn, not only are they protected from being traumatized again but they may be able to talk more truthfully about their case. This would make such support beneficial for everyone, including those charged with investigating the complaints, yet it’s absolutely not allowed, not even for those who were victimized as children, within the investigative process of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Untrained, uneducated men
Elders who question victims of any type of molestation have no training in rape crisis counseling, in speaking to child rape victims, psychology, criminology, or anything along those lines. This too is a real issue as Jehovah’s Witnesses then rely on untrained, uneducated men to somehow come to proper conclusions about accusations they hear and trust them to do this without somehow traumatizing the victims all over again.
Note how the victim spoke of the ordeal of having to speak to these men; they interrogated her and acted as if she was insulting them by her accusations. They made her feel as if she was to blame for the entire situation. As if this wasn’t bad enough, note what else was said about how the elders questioned the victims:
I wasn’t there so of course I can’t say whether or not the elders were actually getting off on what was being told to them, but the bottom line is that the victim felt as if they were enjoying the process of asking her these questions, either sexually or just as an exercise in their power over her. This too is why it’s vital that only those who are properly trained in asking questions of such victims handle these types of investigations; they can ensure they ask the right questions in the right tone and setting so that the truth can be revealed and so that no one feels victimized all over again in the process.
NOT ALLOWED TO SPEAK TO ANYONE ABOUT ABUSE, NOT EVEN FIANCE
A very disturbing part of the inquiry came when it was revealed that the elders counseled one abuse victim about talking to others about the abuse, including her fiance:
There are a few disturbing things here; one is that a person should be allowed to speak to others to get support for having been abused, and especially to one’s fiance. Abuse, and especially sexual abuse, can affect a person for years if not decades and obviously may affect their marriage. Sexual abuse can affect a person sexually, and it’s only fair for both parties that they speak openly and honestly about these things. It’s downright obscene to think that elders should be involved in private, intimate conversations between engaged couples and should feel that they can dictate what can and cannot be discussed, especially when you note that the bible says that a husband and wife are “one flesh.”
It’s also disturbing to think that the elders applied a scripture about gossiping and meddling and “being unoccupied” to a case of wanting support for having been abused and molested for many years. This wasn’t idle gossip and this woman wasn’t “meddling.” A victim of sexual molestation needed support and comfort and instead, got only counsel and chastising.
Note too how the elders said that this would be “unloving to other members,” and I can only assume they mean unloving to the abuser. Well, what about the love to the victim, the child who was abused and molested for so many years? Shouldn’t their emotional health and well-being come above any type of courtesy given to someone who would viciously molest and rape a child? The elders are concerned for how loving everyone is to him, but again, show little concern and outright callused disregard for his victim.
DISFELLOWSHIPPED FOR CALLING POLICE
After the man who molested her was being welcomed back into the congregation, one of the victims said she wanted to call the police as children were in danger from him. An elder told her that because he was her “brother” or congregation member, she was forbidden from taking him to court and threatened her with disfellowshipping if she did that.
Think seriously about what this means; a girl wanted to call the police on a man who molested her and who was quite likely to molest other children, and she was threatened with ostracism and shunning.
THE “LOVING” CONGREGATION
What is also noteworthy is the response that one victim got from the congregation after her own mother told people what her father had done to her:
Don’t dismiss her words, as this is all too common in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As I bring out in this post, elders blame domestic violence victims for their assaults, and are also taught that they should use “discernment” about a woman claiming to have been raped based on her “mental disposition” and if she delayed making a report (this post). This suspicious, victim-blaming attitude is easy to convey in the congregations and if the elders show such a dismissive, callused attitude toward child rape victims as was demonstrated by the RC inquiry as a whole, why would anyone assume the congregation would be any different? I personally saw very little “love” among congregation members when I was an active Witness and instead, lots of pettiness, gossip, cliques, and downright sneering at others. While that was just my own experience, it seems to be reflective of this victim’s experience as well.
Something else to note during the inquiry was that one elder and even the governing body member who were questioned lied while under oath. They lied. In this post I bring out how governing body member Geoffrey Jackson lied when asked about corporal punishment; he evades the question and then when asked outright for the third time if “you” allow corporal punishment, he said no, then clarified that he meant that he personally did not approve of corporal punishment. As said in that post, this is an outright lie because he knew the chairperson was referring to “the church,” as he said repeatedly, and not Jackson personally.
There was also an accusation, although disagreed with, that an elder who was questioned about Jackson’s responsibilities on the governing body purposely misled the inquiry so that Jackson would not be summoned:
An elder also apparently testified that the elders tell families that they have the right to call the police in cases of child molestation, but it was then pointed out to him that their actual instructions are to do this if they are asked. The elder tried to weasel out of the question by saying that the printed information was incomplete but could not show any printed instructions that backed up his own words:
These are a lot of half-truths and outright lies from a religion that says it follows the bible and that disfellowships and shuns members who are caught lying.
NOT A SAFE PLACE
During the inquiry, it was repeatedly put to the elders that their practices, including those of having the victims confront their abusers without any support, having those victims answer to a near-inquisition of men who were often friends of their abusers, and sending victims home to abusers in the family were not safe for the victims or conducive to their well-being. This was even brought out during the questioning of the expert who was brought in by the Witnesses to offer testimony on their behalf:
When your own paid expert needs to openly admit that your processes are lacking and detrimental to someone’s psychological well-being, there is a problem. This expert tried to repeatedly say that Jehovah’s Witnesses were far ahead of other religions because of providing information in their literature about child sex abuse, but it was brought out that this had nothing to do with their practices of handling allegations of molestation. As I bring out in this post, it also means nothing when the abuser is in the family and elders do nothing to protect children and even send them home to that same abuser, or threaten the victim with disfellowshipping if they should call the police on this person.
RESPECT YOUR ABUSER
One of the most disgusting things I saw during the entire inquiry was the information that was part of the elders’ notes that were made when investigating the case of a man who raped and beat all four of his daughters. As I bring out in this post, when the daughter who was bringing accusations against him expressed her anger, she was told to “respect” him. Yes, she needed counsel about showing respect to her violent, raping, cheating father. As I bring out in that post, why should she? Because he is her father? Making a woman pregnant in of itself shouldn’t just earn you some type of special regard; men do it all the time. Doctors can do it in an office with a test tube. When a man viciously and mercilessly beats his own children, rapes his daughters, and cheats on his wife as this man was doing at the time, he doesn’t deserve an ounce of respect; he deserves the death penalty.
What was also disturbing about this is that one of the elders investigating the accusations said that after he heard the allegations, he himself got angry:
This man tried to plead his case, saying he was a father himself and he was so sympathetic to the victim, and etc. However, I might ask, what business did he have getting angry? He wasn’t the victim. No one beat him until he had bleeding welts on his back. No one gave him a black eye. No one raped him and his sisters. Why was it okay for him to get angry rather than show “respect” to this man, but the man’s victim needed a lecture about her attitude?
One thing I noticed about the testimony from the elders and even governing body member Jackson is that these men are just downright embarrassing. They were disrespectful to those asking questions, nervous, flippant, and obviously ignorant of how they appeared to the outside world. They defended the worst policies and proceedings when it came to horrific child abuse, pleaded ignorance as to the well-being of children, couldn’t read their own notes, and didn’t seem to understand the problem of having men rape and abuse children and then create an atmosphere where those victims were made to feel guilty. I couldn’t help but to think that if they were angry and annoyed at being asked questions of an inquiry, how angry were they at victims? If they seemed flippant when questioned by an attorney and chair of such an inquiry, how flippant and dismissive were they to the ones who came to them for help? At one point, an elder even admitted that he couldn’t be bothered to read the testimony of the victims, which begs the question, did he listen to her when she first approached him?
Remember that these elders hold the fate of many people in their hands; they make decisions that congregation members must abide by or face disfellowshipping and shunning by everyone around them. Congregants live in a very insulated world where they’re taught mistrust of anyone who is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so they often turn to elders for guidance and protection when it comes to just about any matter. Seeing these uneducated, unskilled, incompetent, angry, bitter, disorganized, flippant men with very bad attitudes sit there and try to answer the simplest of questions made my head hurt and my heart ache. They couldn’t even conduct themselves with an ounce of dignity, intelligence, decorum, or respect when being asked simple questions regarding their own processes; how can they be entrusted with such delicate and important matters like child molestation, domestic violence, rape, fornication, and other reasons for them to sit in judgment of their congregants or for when those same ones need support and encouragement. They failed miserably to answer some simple questions during this inquiry, which is no doubt indicative of how miserably they fail their victims as well.
Please see the section Australian Royal Commission Inquiry 2015 for more information.
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