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 reported 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 were included 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 their own child who brings home friends from school, they may live near a playground frequented by young children, or 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 that notes are outright destroyed after their internal 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 matters 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, they were only 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 a lack of notes would mean that 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 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 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 would realize that my husband’s business information needs to remain confidential.
Consider, too, that women may have their own careers and be in situations that demand that they respect confidentiality elsewhere. Women work as lawyers, doctors, nurses, accountants, counselors, etc., and must respect the confidentiality of their clients, patients, 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 demonstration that 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 (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 in this case, yet they were dismissed. The elders stated that the man said he was guilty, but that he often lied, so they couldn’t determine if the sexual abuse happened based on his words; however, 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 question why women are not part of the investigative process of Jehovah’s Witnesses when it comes to child molestation, and it was emphasized how difficult this can make it for female victims. The chairperson asked governing body member Geoffrey 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 pilots, 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.
Jackson 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.
I would also wonder if those female victims, made to tell their story in front of men without other women in the room, also felt that this arrangement has “stood the test of time.”
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 religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses called on Dr. Monica Applewhite to provide “expert” testimony about the religion’s education of congregation members on matters of sexual abuse of children; there were also women who assisted or acted as legal counsel for the 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 Jehovah’s Witnesses 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 informed 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 actually accusing his young daughter of seducing him.
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 at least three elders (always men;) 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 ARC 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 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, in 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
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 in order 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 a congregation member, she was forbidden from taking him to court, and he 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 ARC 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, saw 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 he 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
- 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 shouldn’t 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.
FOLLOW-UP, MARCH 2017
In March of 2017, the ARC conducted a brief followup with Jehovah’s Witnesses, to note if the religion had taken into account any of the recommendations given after their initial round of questioning.
Governing Body Refuses to Answer
We immediately see the horrific attitude the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has toward the ARC and victims of child sex abuse within their religion in general; Barrister Stewart notes that they have no authority to compel anyone from the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses to appear, as the religion and the governing body are located in the United States. The ARC requested that a member of the governing body answer questions of the ARC, either in person or via video conferencing, and the governing body refused.
As Barrister Stewart states, that is “a matter of considerable regret,” as the Australian branch of the Watchtower is subject to the control of the governing body.
It’s also regretful that the governing body obviously has such little concern for how their policies, procedures, and practices continue to hurt victims of sexual molestation in their religion, as those men can’t be bothered to appear, not even through a video link, and answer questions about desperately needed policy changes.
Failure to Respond Adequately
Barrister Stewart notes that Jehovah’s Witnesses have not responded adequately to matters of protecting children from child sexual abuse within their organization, most significantly:
- The organization does not have a practice of reporting abuses to police or any other such authority.
- Before 1998, a child sex abuse victim was required to make their accusation in the presence of their abuser.
- If there is no confession, there is an “inflexible requirement” that there be two eyewitnesses to an incident of child sexual abuse, or two or more witnesses of such abuse, before the accused is dealt with by the congregation (the “two witness” rule).
- “Women are absent from the decision-making process of the internal disciplinary system.”
- There is no provision for a survivor to be accompanied by a support person during internal disciplinary process.¹
- Limited and ineffective risk management practices.
- The practice of shunning those who leave, including survivors of child sexual abuse, is also noted.
It is noted that, during the 2015 Inquiry, Jehovah’s Witnesses committed to certain reforms, including:
- Mandatory reporting
- Consolidating multiple sources of policy into a user-friendly source that would be provided to, not just elders, but also survivors and parents
- The role of women during their investigations into child sexual abuse
The purpose of this review hearing conducted in March 2017 was to explore the progress of these reforms.
No Problems Complying, But Still Not Complying
Barrister Stewart notes that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe there should be no impediments to developing responses to many of the concerns brought up in the initial Inquiry. As he points out, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses had yet “failed to address many of the recommendations” that had arisen from that Inquiry:
- Barrister Stewart notes that one recommendation is that child sex abuse victims not be required to confront their abusers in person and that this should be communicated to victims, but, while this policy has changed, it has only been communicated in writing to elders and not to congregants.
- The “two witness” rule was mentioned.
- Barrister Stewart notes that the ARC recommended that women be allowed to participate in the “assessment of the credibility of allegations,” but that Jehovah’s Witnesses restrict the participation of women to doing no more than presenting allegations to elders and supporting the complainant.
- Putting it in writing that complainants are allowed support through the process was also recommended; it was brought out that “mature minors” are allowed to have a non-parent support person but the policies are silent as to the provision of support for younger survivors other than a parent, and none during the judicial hearing.
- There is also the mention that Jehovah’s Witnesses should have it as a policy that elders inform police of allegations of abuse especially when other children are at risk, and should actively seek permission from adult survivors to report these as well.
- The shunning of child abuse victims who choose to disassociate was also noted.
Keep in mind, that initial Inquiry was conducted in July/August of 2015, with this followup review being conducted a full year and a half later. Yet, this wasn’t enough time for Jehovah’s Witnesses to make changes to their practices that continue to victimize children who have been molested in their religion?
Programs That Separate Children
It is noted that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not sponsor programs that separate children from their families or that provides access to children without their parents, but this is not completely true. As I bring out in my response to “Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Scripturally Based Position On Child Protection“:
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.
B) A congregant, especially an elder, may 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, a parent may not hesitate to allow their child to be alone with another congregation member for these and other such occasions.
c) 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.
Our Voices Have Been Heard
Barrister Stewart notes that, since 2015, the Australian Royal Commission has received more than 1,165 pieces of correspondence from all over the world (the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Brazil, New Zealand, etc.) regarding sexual abuse in the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As he says, “the correspondence has been overwhelmingly critical of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ institutional response to child sexual abuse.”
Nice work, apostates.
After mentioning the many areas of improvement that were called for by those who have contacted the ARC, it was noted that “repentant” child molesters could be reproved rather than removed from the congregation, potentially giving them access to future victims.
It’s noted that the organization did not take any external advice as to what procedures should be introduced; the elder noted that they went through the reference materials provided by the ARC, but did not ask for advice from anyone else. This means they never consulted with child psychologists, criminologists, sexual abuse experts, or anyone else.
Secrecy Is Questioned
Barrister Stewart brings up the need to have a consolidated, easily understood document that explains the policies and practices of Watchtower when it comes to allegations of child sexual abuse, beyond the standard Watchtower articles read by congregants. He notes some correspondence sent to the branch office that is meant to be kept confidential even from branch secretaries, and asks why the secrecy of these “procedural” documents.
There is no sufficient reason offered by the Jehovah’s Witness elders as to why these letters are meant for the eyes of the elders only, even if it’s for their “function and role.” “Discretion required” doesn’t seem to satisfy Barrister Stewart, as he points out:
“Congregants are being kept from information in regard to issues that govern their lives.”
Minors “Approaching Adulthood”
The August 1, 2016, and October 1, 2012, letters to all elders regarding their handling of child sex abuse allegations noted that, from a congregation standpoint, they were not discussing situations of a minor “approaching adulthood” who was a “willing participant.”
It is put to the elders what exactly is meant by these phrases. The elders questioned didn’t provide specific details as to what ages would be indicated; one elder actually stated that they probably have a “stricter view than the law.”
Barrister Stewart notes that the law has exact legal guidelines as to when someone could and could consent to sexual intercourse, but Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t, and he says outright that it would make things a lot easier and lot clearer if they simply followed the law. The elder actually claims that this is a secondary consideration to the law and that Jehovah’s Witnesses “always” abide by the law.
Well, if that were the case, why is this even mentioned in those letters? As I’ve brought out in my handbook to attorneys, this statement actually gives elders the right to “look for” signs of willingness on the part of children; these victims have even been asked if they enjoyed their sexual abuse.
“Never Had a Practice of Not Reporting”
Barrister Stewart notes that in their earlier Inquiry, it was determined that Jehovah’s Witnesses had a practice of not reporting child molestation allegations to authorities; as you can note here, there were some 1006 alleged pedophiles reported in the organization in the last few decades, with elders reporting not one to the police.
The elders being questioned actually object and say that they’ve “never had a practice of not reporting.” Barrister Stewart presses the issue, and the elder says that it’s not that “the organization” doesn’t report, but it’s left to the elders who are to take the matter to the authorities.
When pressed again, the elder actually says that they report when it’s mandatory to do so, and if the child or other children are at risk, they will report. He also states that they “always” inform the parents or adult survivor that they have the right to report.
The lies in this section are sickening. It was proven, from the elders’ own mouths and own hands, that they absolutely do not report when multiple children are at risk, as was demonstrated by the victims who were interviewed during Case Study 29. One woman was being molested by her own father, who was raping all four daughters in the home; the elders had credible reports about this molestation from the four girls and the mother herself, and they did nothing in the congregation, nor did they report the matter to the police. They abandoned those girls, as they do so many other victims, to their abuse.
Barrister Stewart pushes the issue, asking where in their documentation it states that they should inform the police when another child is at risk of harm, and the elder notes that this is covered in elders’ meetings and branch meetings … but of course it’s not noted in writing, in letters to elders or other documentation. There is a mention of it in their new safeguarding policy, but as I mention in my response to that policy, Jehovah’s Witness elders and those at the branch office are not qualified to determine if a child is at risk of further harm from an abuser.
Right to Report Versus Encouraged to Report
Barrister Stewart notes that, while Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that they tell parents that they have the right to report allegations of abuse to authorities, they are certainly not encouraged to report. The elder tries to again weasel out of the question, saying that the statement is not correct, then repeating the very objection, that they inform victims that they have the absolute right to report. Not only is this statement very questionable, given their poor track record of reporting, but it doesn’t address the question about outright encouraging victims to report.
There is also the consistent question raised of what they would do if it was an adult who reported the abuse, but there would be other children still in danger (such as a younger sibling). What then? The elders seem to have had no idea, no answer to that question.
Again, this is something that needs to be addressed by a “worldly” organization and not something that Jehovah’s Witnesses take into consideration when it comes to being proactive in their child protection policies.
Why Do You Legalize It?
An outstanding question is asked by Barrister Stewart, when the elders could not give an answer to whether or not they report historical abuse of someone now an adult, if there is a minor child who may still be in danger:
“Why do you legalize it all the time and rely always on what the law provides? Why do you, as an organization, just not adopt a policy, as many other organizations do, of reporting as a matter of course, if there are still children who might be in harm’s way?”
Why is this so clear to so many other people but so muddy and complicated for this religion? Priority one, protect children. Priority two, see priority one. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that this is their practice, but cannot produce a written policy; why not? Again, their own history betrays this claim. If there had been a policy in writing, how many other children would have been spared such abuse? Such a legitimate, simple question.
Please Don’t Argue With Angus Stewart About Law … or Anything
Barrister Stewart notes that the ARC has strongly recommended that Jehovah’s Witnesses forego their stringent “two witness” rule, and acknowledges that they (JWs) feel this rule cannot be changed, according to the scriptures.
There has apparently been some correspondence sent back to the ARC that stated that the law required corroboration; Barrister Stewart was having none of that, pointing out that the courts and the law do not demand corroboration in cases of child sex abuse, easily rattling off the section of the criminal code that abolished the need for corroboration.
He referred to this statement as “misleading,” the Watchtower trying to argue that the law was in harmony with their need for two witnesses.
It’s absolutely embarrassing to see these uneducated elders try to “pull one over on” Angus Stewart, when it comes to the law. The man is a Rhodes Scholar, he attended Oxford, he’s licensed to practice law in two countries. The elders, on the other hand, reeked of bumbling incompetence, like they were teenage boys and Axe Body Spray recently released two new scents, Bumbling and Incompetence.
Trauma as Evidence
Barrister Stewart notes that, during Case Study 29, governing body member Geoffrey Jackson said that evident trauma of the survivor could be taken into account as corroborating evidence, as part of their discussion of the “two witness” rule and if that could ever be set aside.
Note that Jackson said it “would need to be taken into account,” not that it would be used as evidence itself. Considering that Jackson had not even read the statement of the victims during that last Inquiry, and no one from the governing body could even bother to hook up via video conferencing, and considering the lack of empathy any of them have shown to such trauma to date, I feel bad that Mr. Stewart even thought to ask if this was part of their discussions for areas of improvement, after they had finished with Case Study 29.
Practice of Shunning
The subject of shunning those who disassociate themselves from the religion, even child sex abuse victims, is considered.
The elders of Jehovah’s Witnesses tried repeatedly to stress that a sex abuse victim who disassociates is the one making the choice to leave, that it is not their (the JWs) policy to simply shun a victim of sex abuse outright.
The chairperson himself steps in and notes that, in many cases, it’s the victim feeling that they need to leave the religion for their own survival. He also points out that this decision may be because of “how they’ve been treated inside the organization,” and says that, if there is no action taken due to there not being two witnesses, this can lead to a “chain of circumstances” that make them (the victim) feel as if they need to disassociate.
“It’s a pretty cruel way, isn’t it, of dealing with someone who has suffered sexual abuse.”
The elders continuously double down on this policy, stating that this is what’s done for anyone who disassociates, and puts the responsibility back on the victim for having made the choice.
One elder states that the congregation takes the action, yes, when disfellowshipping someone, but in the case of someone who disassociates themselves:
“They’re actually taking the stand to shun the congregation.”
One elder says that they (the victim) can choose to be inactive, and he repeats the thought that the individual is making the statement that they are shunning the congregation; he says that they do not need to put themselves in that position as they can “walk away,” or just go to another congregation.
Barrister Stewart calls them out on their statement that the victim or disassociated one is shunning the organization and notes, quite rightly, that these statements, that an inactive one does not lose their social network, are “highly contested” by a lot of people. (Again, nice work, apostates. Let those voices be heard.)
Certainly it should be contested; perhaps the elders answering these questions didn’t attend the summer regional conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the year 2016. During these conventions, it was emphasized that even inactive ones may be, and should be, shunned. A personal experience was shared of a man whose mother was inactive but whom he thought was doing something sinful; he reported the issue to elders and then decided to limit his association with his mother while waiting for the elders to act.
The point is brought up regarding women being part of the process of investigating child abuse claims. It’s brought out that women can bring accusations to the elders and can give support to a victim. Decision making, however, can only be made by men; women cannot be part of the judicial committee process.
Right before closing, the Commissioner of the Inquiry’s board brings up a point about the grievous effects of child sexual abuse, that they are life-changing, and that victims need therapeutic intervention.
He asks about the Watchtower’s response to the 1006 files or claims mentioned during Case Study 29, whether the JW branch has assisted, or plans to assist, those victims with their needs for intervention.
The elder notes that they would do that, and it’s asked if they do that presently.
Of course they don’t do that presently; they just now hired lawyers to contact the solicitors of victims. The elders note that they will, as required by law, participate in a redress scheme, which brought about what I could so see was instant irritation from this Commissioner, who said:
“This is not really about the law. It’s about … compassion and actually providing people help for grievous psychological harm.”
Isn’t it interesting that a “worldly” person needed to point that out?
Please see the section Australian Royal Commission Inquiry 2015 for more information.
¹A letter sent to all elders worldwide, dated September 1, 2017, noted that elders should meet with victims of child sex abuse to provide “spiritual assistance,” and that this meeting should include a parent or trusted adult confidant of the minor; however, this letter did not state that such a confidant could be present during any judicial or investigative processes.
Share via social media below.