Jehovah’s Witnesses and child abuse within

When child abuse is suspected within a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, “elders” in the church have a “child protection policy” to follow.

This involves reporting the matter to the church’s own legal desk – but not necessarily to the police. The organisation’s strict biblical interpretation means not only that the matter often remains a secret within the organisation, but also that victims can be sent back home to the abusive enviroment which they have complained of.

The Watchtower theocratic system as actually enabled paedophiles to continue to exploit children over and over. They hide these people in files that no one can see and try to use the “clergy penitent privilege” to justify NOT giving the names of Paedophiles to the authorities. You see, when a Jehovah’s Witness is faced with this problem, they are told to go to the elders first, not the police, and then let the elders make the decision.

So they do that and bring their child to the elders to explain and the elders hear the story and then bring in the accused. If the accused denies the charges, they leave it up to “Jehovah” to bring it out and go no further, unless there are witnesses. But in reality just how many witnesses are there for child abuse? In almost all cases just the victim and the abuser themselves. So here lies the problem.

What struck me was the lengths to which the Watchtower Society will go to deny or cover up allegations  of sexual abuse within their Church. The article states:

Many have criticized the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ policy that if an accused abuser denies the charge, two credible witnesses are required to establish guilt — due to literal application of suchBible verses as Deuteronomy 19:15 (“only on the evidence of two witnesses, or of three witnesses, shall a charge be sustained”).

If two witnesses are lacking, the accused is deemed innocent, charges remain confidential and — silentlambs says — parents who warn others are subject to disfellowshipping for slander.

Disfellowshipping is an extreme penalty that means a total cutoff of relationships by family members, friends and business associates who are Witnesses.

Sexual abuse is a crime of secrecy. Since most sexual abusers do not commit their criminal acts in the presence of witnesses the “two witnesses” requirement is one that would be next to impossible to meet.

To go even further by threatening victims who want to warn others of sexual abusers with being cut off from their family, friends and associates (the persons victims would turn to for help and support after being victimized) is perhaps an even greater betrayal than the sexual abuse itself.

Secret database protects paedophiles/child abusers and sex offenders

The Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation keeps a sex offenders register that nobody outside the church is allowed to see

Bill Bowen, who has spent his lifetime as a Jehovah’s Witness and nearly twenty years as an elder, says the organisation covers up abuse by keeping this database secret. His sources indicate there are at least 23,720 abusers on the list – who are protected by the system.

“They [the Jehovah's Witnesses] do not want people to know that they have this problem”. He continues, “And by covering it up they just hurt one person. By letting it out, then they hurt the image of the church.”

This is a abstract from the Elder’s secret handbook – normal rank/file Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have access to this

If a child molester denies wrongdoing, which is frequently the case in most child abuse cases, the Jehovah’s Witness elders will only acknowledge that abuse has taken place if someone other than the child witnessed the actual abuse happen. Elders are instructed by the Watchtower Society’s secret Shepherd the Flock of God book (which is only given to elders) to leave the matter in Jehovah’s hands. Basically, the Watchtower Society is openly telling the elders to do nothing.

It doesn’t stop there either. Elders have been known to bully victims and their families into not telling others what has happened, and go as far as threatening these ones with being disfellowshipped on the grounds of slander if they try to warn other families about a child abuser that’s present within the congregation.

Contacting the Watchtower Society First

Elders are told to immediately contact the branch office if they are informed about a child abuse allegation.This is against the law! State authorities should always be the first ones to know when a crime has been committed. No matter how much they view themselves above the standard Jehovah’s Witness, elders are NOT qualified to investigate issues as sensitive as child abuse – only the police are trained and have the relevant experience to do this. The Watchtower Society wrongly insists that the branch office should be the first to know so that they can micro-manage the situation and ensure the two witness rule is applied.

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ interpretation of the Bible, allegations of child abuse must first be reported to the organisation’s legal desk. The police are sometimes never told. Action can only be taken within the congregation if there are two witnesses to a crime or a confession from the accused.

The Jehovah’s Witness Two Witness Rule

If you’re not familiar with this rule, it goes something like this – an incident, no matter what it is, needs to be seen by two witnesses.

The Watchtower Society use the scripture found in Deuteronomy chapter 9, verse 15, which says “No single witness should rise up against a man respecting any error or any sin, in the case of any sin that he may commit. At the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses the matter should stand good.” They also like to use the scriptures in Matthew chapter 18, verses 15 and 16, which say “Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (16) But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter may be established.”

There is a problem with this rule though and I think you don’t need to press more than two brain cells together to see what that problem is. If a Jehovah’s Witness is about to molest an innocent young boy or girl, I doubt they’re going to go looking for another witness, unless that other witness is their victim. So you see, this argument falls flat on its face.

And if a member of the congregation is suspected or even convicted of child abuse, this fact is kept secret. Bill Bowen, from Kentucky in the United States, resigned as an elder in 2000 in protest at this child protection policy. He told Panorama:

“These men remain anonymous to anyone outside the organisation and anyone really inside the organisation unless you are personally reporting the matter.”

Watchtower Society (WTS) rules about abuse:

Christianity bases its beliefs and practices on the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). Three main themes in the Scriptures are:

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A person should forgive someone who has hurt or abused them.

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Individuals can be redeemed.

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People can change through prayer and spiritual support.

These biblical themes often come into conflict with secular standards, which may include beliefs that:

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Abusive paedophiles, hebephiles, and ephebophilies should be punished for their crimes against children.

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Child sexual abuse perpetrators typically molest dozens of children before they are caught. Thus, they have to be isolated from new potential victims, at least until they receive counseling and there is some confidence that they will not reoffend. 

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Parents need to be informed if a child abuser is in their group or neighborhood.

Every religious institution develops their own policies and regulations concerning accusations of child sexual and physical abuse. The Jehovah’s Witnessesorganization follows a biblical standard when investigating allegations of any offense on the part of a member. Proof that an offense has occurred requires either:

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A confession on the part of the alleged perpetrator, or

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The testimony of at least two witnesses to a single case of abuse,  or 

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The testimony of one witness to abuse, followed by testimony of a second witness to another instance of abuse. 

In the case of sexual abuse, the only witnesses are usually the perpetrator and the victim. As a result, proof cannot often be obtained unless the perpetrator is willing to confess to the crime. According to a 1995 article in the Watchtower, a publication of the Watchtower Society (WTS), if proof cannot be obtained, elders are to “explain to the accuser that nothing more can be done in a judicial (church disciplinary) way…the congregation will continue to view the one accused as an innocent person.” The article suggested that  “The question of his guilt or innocence can be safely left in Jehovah’s (God’s) hands.” Some victims ask for more.

At a trial in a Canadian court, a lawyer for the prosecution stated that the Witnesses imposes a three-year statute of limitations on behaviors like sexual abuse. Any charges brought to the elders of a congregation by an alleged victim must relate to recent abuse. 

If abuse cannot be proven, the elders of the congregation “are expected to report the allegation to the branch office of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in their country, if local privacy laws permit. Again, privacy laws permitting, a record is made a the branch office that the individual has been accused of child abuse….The aim is to balance the right to privacy of the individual with the overriding need to protect the safety of children.” 

Where child abuse can be proven, and the member is unrepentant, he or she is disfellowshipped. This involves being expelled from the organization. However, if they can convince elders that they have truly repented of their abusive behavior, they can be readmitted into the congregation. If repentant then she/he is not permitted to hold a responsible job in the congregation for at least twenty years. 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses has a dual policy concerning cases of child abuse which meet their standards of proof:

Local elders are required by the WTS to alert police and/or child protection services only in those political jurisdictions which require religious institutions to report suspected cases of abuse. Some states in the U.S. do not have mandated reporting. Other require certain professionals like physicians, teachers, and social workers to report, but allow religious leaders to remain silent. Some states have no laws at all in this area. 

Where reporting is not mandated by the state, their policy is to keep keep the matter secret. Communications between elders and members are kept confidential. They generally do not report abuse but attempt to handle it within the organization. An abuser will often be encouraged to confess to authorities. A disciplinary hearing may be held. However, only elders can take notes, which are later collected and kept in a secure location. No tape recordings are permitted.

Some members in the organization suggest that the latter policies can put WTS members and the rest of the public at risk. Sometimes confessed molesters will be allowed to remain in the congregation, with disastrous results in the form of continued molestation. One responsibility expected of members is that they do door-to-door evangelizing. An abusive paedophile or hebephile could use this opportunity to recruit new victims.The Witnesses hold that the privilege of clergy confidentiality applies to any confidential communication among its members, including statements at disciplinary hearings which involve multiple elders and witnesses.

Some examples of continued abuse:

The WTS’ policy of handling some suspected sexual abuse cases in secret has aroused a growing level of opposition inside and outside of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The main concern is that there is a very high probability that the abuse will continue. This is reduced by intensive counseling, but is never eliminated. There is a general consensus among mental health professionals that  pedophilia and or hebephilia (the sexual attraction to children) is unchangeable, much in the same way that one’s sexual orientation is fixed. What may be changed is the perpetrator’s actions. They can sometimes control their feelings and not act upon them. The average abusive pedophile or hebephile who is arrested has molested dozens of children. Counseling by WTS elders may or may not break this pattern of abuse, and may leave children vulnerable to molestation in the future.

Some instances that have resulted in court cases include:

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New Hampshire: A WTS member informed elders that her husband was physically abusing their children. They took no action. For years afterwards, the man sexually and physically abused children in his own family. He was finally caught, tried and given a 56 year prison sentence.

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Texas: In 1992, WTS elders ordered a teen-age boy to stop molesting his younger sister. The youth later sexually abused another sister. Police found out about the latter case when alerted by hospital staff after his victim attempted to commit suicide. In 1997, the perpetrator was given a 40-year prison term.

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Maine: WTS elders disciplined a member for child molesting. Later, the perpetrator molested a teen-age boy between 1989 and 1992. It was only after the second victim disclosed the abuse to a therapist that authorities were notified.

Letters from an Senior elder to Watchtower HQ

Dangers ignored

The story of one young Jehovah’s Witness from Scotland whom Panorama spoke to illustrates the danger of such a policy.

When Alison was abused by her father she followed the procedure she had been taught – she turned to one of the elders.

Unknown to her at the time, her sister had also reported her own abuse by their father in the same way. Despite having known for three years that Alison’s father was a paedophile, the same elders sent Alison back home, where she continued to be abused.

In the end Alison went to the police and her father was sentenced to five years in prison.

But the police had been the last to know.

Detective Sergeant Wallace Burgess of Strathclyde police said: “They had told several people before coming to the police and these people had not reported it either to the police or the social services.

“We have a duty to protect and if we’re not told, we’re unable to protect.”

Legal advice: “walk away”

“With regard to any allegation concerning child molestation, the first edict elders are given is to call the legal department”, says Bowen.

Little over a year ago, Bowen, as a concerned elder, rang the legal desk and asked for advice on how he should handle a suspected case of abuse in his congregation.

The advice was:

“You just ask him again: ‘Now is there anything to this?’ If he says ‘no’, then I would walk away from it…

“Leave it for Jehovah. He’ll bring it out.”

Despite this, the Head of Public Relations, J R Brown, maintains: “We have a very aggressive policy to handle child molestation in the congregations and it is primarily designed to protect our children.”

When asked by Panorama about the number of suspected paedophiles on the database, Paul Gillies from the Jehovah’s Witnesses Office of Public Information in the UK said: “It is not meaningful to focus on the number of names we have in our records”.

With regard to their policy on reporting abuse to the authorities, he referred us to the 8 October 1993 issue of Awake!, page 9, which states:

“Some legal experts advise reporting the abuse to the authorities as soon as possible. In some lands the legal system may require this. But in other places the legal system may offer little hope of successful prosecution.”

June 2012 - Jehovah’s Witnesses ordered to pay more than $20 million to woman who said she was sexually abused

In what both sides described as a momentous ruling, a jury in Oakland, Calif., has found that Jehovah’s Witnesses was partly responsible for the alleged sexual abuse of a girl by one of its members and must pay her more than $20 million.

The Alameda County Superior Court jury on Thursday awarded $21 million in punitive damages to the plaintiff, who is now 26 years old. That was on top of the $7 million in compensatory damages it awarded her on Wednesday.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entity, is responsible for the entire punitive damages amount and 40 percent of the compensatory damages, said Rick Simons, attorney for the plaintiff. Sixty percent of the compensatory damages was assessed against Jonathan Kendrick, the man accused of abusing her.

Candace Conti sued Watchtower, the Fremont, Calif., congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Kendrick in 2011. It’s msnbc.com’s policy not to identify victims of sexual abuse, but Conti agreed to be identified so that any other victims would feel they could come forward too.

“The ultimate goal of the lawsuit was to have a change in policy, to be able to ID these people, child molesters, to the congregation to protect children,” Conti told msnbc.com. “Secondarily, to have silent ones come forward and tell their stories and to bring to light that overall issue of violence and the hush-hush policy.”

Both her parents were Watchtower congregation members at the time of the abuse, she said.

“I was trying to be the best Jehovah’s Witness I could be at that time,” she told msnbc.com. Jim McCabe, attorney for the Fremont congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, said that he was “stunned” by the verdict and would appeal.

“This is the first case I know of where a church has been hit with liability involving a rank-and-file member,” he told msnbc.com.

“Mr. Simons has his twist on the facts and we will see how a court of appeals views the trial court rulings and the evidence,” McCabe said.

The jury found that the elders who managed the Fremont congregation in the 1990s and who were under the supervision of Watchtower knew that Kendrick, a member, had recently been convicted of the sexual abuse of another child, but they kept his past record secret from the congregation, said Simons.

Kendrick went on to molest the plaintiff, who was a Jehovah’s Witness member in Fremont, over a two-year period beginning when she was 9 years old, the lawsuit contended.

Kendrick was eventually convicted in 2004 of the sexual abuse of another girl, and is now a registered sex offender in California, Simons said. He has not been criminally charged with abusing the plaintiff, but Simons said the case is under investigation by law enforcement.

Kendrick was not in court for the trial and msnbc.com could not immediately find a contact number for him. The California sex offender registry lists two convictions for him: lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years of age and sexual battery involving a restrained person

The lawsuit alleged that Watchtower had a policy that instructed elders in its Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations to keep reports of child sex abusers within the religious group secret to avoid lawsuits.

“The verdict is significant because the policy of hiding sex abusers within the congregation was out in this case,” Simons said. He also said the judgment was “one of the largest in the country for a child sex abuse single victim in a religious institution molestation case.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses is a Christian denomination noted for its nontraditional interpretation of the Bible. Members are best known for their door-to-door preaching, distributing literature such as The Watchtower and Awake! magazines.

Conti filed the lawsuit after trying, without success, to get Jehovah’s Witnesses in Southern California and in Fremont to change the secrecy policy, Simons said.

“There was no settlement demand from her because she felt the only way to expose this policy and make it change was to bring this case to trial and make it public,” he said.

“The money is the only way left for her to force Jehovah’s Witnesses to stop keep hiding known sex offenders within their congregation.”

McCabe denied Jehovah’s Witnesses has a secrecy policy concerning child sex abuse. He called the verdict “unprecedented.” “We’re stunned by the verdict. We hate child abuse and everything to do with it.”

McCabe said he was not aware of any other case in which a religious organization has been found liable for wrongdoing by a member who was not in an official position of responsibility.

“We’ve got a long ways to go yet before this one is resolved,” he said of the planned appeal. Simons said Jehovah’s Witnesses has sufficient resources, including valuable real estate, to cover the judgment but an appeal could drag out for years.  

July 2013

Jehovah’s Witnesses hushed up child sex abuse

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CHURCH officials hushed up a child sex scandal in their ranks and refused to co-operate with police.

Jehovah Witness ministerial servant Gordon Leighton admitted sexually abusing a child when he was confronted by his church elders, a court heard.

But during the official police investigation, the 53-year-old – who made headlines in the 1990s when wife Yvonne, 28, died after refusing a blood transfusion after childbirth on religious grounds – denied any illegal wrongdoing.

And when detectives asked elders Simon Preyser, Harry Logan and David Scott to make statements about the confession, all three refused and said what they had heard was confidential.

For three years, the elders refused to co-operate with the criminal investigation and kept up that stance when the case was brought before Newcastle Crown Court after the victim made a complaint to police.

Each was issued with a witness summons which they fought to overturn before being ordered to testify by Judge Penny Moreland citing public interest.

Their barrister Richard Daniels said the men had a “duty to God” not to breach confidence.

He added: “Privileged communication between members of the congregation and ministers is an absolute right and duty and there is no power in law to breach such a confidence.”

Judge Moreland said: “It is apparent that the three elders who were present when this conversation took place are in possession of relevant evidence as to a point which is of real significance in this case.

“They claim the right of confidentiality, they claim that what they heard said by the defendant during the course of that meeting ought to be subject to privilege, as ministers of religion.”

Judge Moreland refused to withdraw the summonses and said: “Public interest is clearly in favour of this evidence being given.

“What was said by the defendant on that occasion is of great significance in the trial.”

Despite the judge’s ruling, the men still refused to make statements to police until just hours before they were called before the jury.

Leighton, who has since been expelled from the church at Lambton Kingdom Hall in Washington, denied two charges of indecency with a child and seven of indecent assault.

He was yesterday found guilty of two charges of indecency with a child and six of indecent assault. He was found not guilty of one indecent assault charge, on the direction of the judge.

He was remanded in custody until he is sentenced next month but warned he is facing a lengthy spell behind bars.

Prosecutor Katherine Dunn told the court the victim, who is now an adult, broke her silence in 2009.

The court heard how at a special church meeting, Leighton “admitted sexual abuse” and made excuses for his behaviour.

Miss Dunn said: “The elders conducted their own investigation. A meeting was arranged and the defendant was confronted with the allegations.

“After initially denying the allegations, he broke down and admitted sexually abusing the complainant.”

The court heard Leighton, of Wigeon Close, Ayton, refused to answer any questions when interviewed by detectives and claimed his confession at the meeting was limited to masturbation and reading pornographic material.

Throughout the six-day trial, Leighton denied all allegations and that he had confessed to the elders, telling jurors: “It never happened. It’s all untrue.”

Leighton had also denied unrelated assault charges, which he was found guilty of.