There is something inherent in controlling authoritarian communities like the JWs that helps to produce – and serves in some ways to protect – sexual predators of all kinds and, for some reason, especially pedophiles. There was at least one such in my own congregation, who described me as a “perfect little doll” to my parents and who gave me the permanent creeps. He was in his seventies before any charges were made, but I knew deep in my heart that they had to be true. He was convicted – but although he is on lifetime parole, he appears to be a JW member in good standing and according to his stepdaughter even goes door to door and is available for bible studies to families. Three elders of my childhood knew about this (Richard V, Arnold E & Richard M) – and I was simply stunned, even now, to know that not only did they essentially do nothing to protect the children under their care (including me!) but that they didn’t even warn the congregation in any way. While Ralph was “disfellowshipped” for a short time, he simply moved from one congregation to another and in any case we were not told why he was being disciplined. In this case, the predator admitted his guilt and served… one year. This is only one of many such stories.
One of the elders mentioned above was someone that I trusted – he and his family were close friends with my family when I was young. I liked them. After my parents each had their various issues and ins and outs with the JWs, they were less friendly – but I always remembered a very happy time with them at the beach. It’s just another one of those little disappointments. I would have thought he might have done better.
With this going on, they were still pretty keen to accuse me of sexual misconduct based on testimonies from people never named to me – and I was innocent, but gossip spread like wildfire anyway. Yet in my own congregation this was happening and he was allowed to grab me at a wedding and dance “powerful close” to me, the scent of him with his horrible after-shave cologne and his greased hair, his body pressed close to mine making me want to scream and run away. And no one blinks. Here was this known abuser, this pedophile, this control freak, this sadist, walking around smiling. Then there’s me – supposedly this “rebellious youth” – singing Kingdom songs at the top of her lungs at every meeting, trying to be kind and good, being gossipped about and maligned and slandered. When I was later raped (by someone who was not a witness at least) do you think I would go to the JWs for help in a million years? No, I knew better. Because of their views on the nature of God, I even thought that I was being punished by Jehovah for not being more active, for not getting baptised, for asking questions, for not trusting the elders enough… So what DID help? Going to a female psychologist, just long enough to find different ways of thinking about things. Playing the piano. Drawing. Reading fiction. Writing things down to work them out. Taking walks. And, finally, making outside friends, finding outside interests. Most of all, for me, finding a more authentic spiritual path, and discovering – with the help of many fine teachers from all walks of life – how to ask better questions.
The official Watchtower site currently has an biblical quotation at the top of their site: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.”—Matthew 5:3
Very ironic. One of their articles on child abuse states that
“AFTER using children to satisfy perverted lusts, after robbing them of their security and their sense of innocence, child molesters still want something else from their victims—SILENCE. To secure that silence, they use shame, secrecy, even outright terror. Children are thus robbed of their best weapon against abuse—the will to tell, to speak up and ask an adult for protection. Tragically, adult society often unwittingly collaborates with child abusers. How so? By refusing to be aware of this danger, by fostering a hush-hush attitude about it, by believing oft-repeated myths. Ignorance, misinformation, and silence give safe haven to abusers, not their victims. For example, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops concluded recently that it was a “general conspiracy of silence” that allowed gross child abuse to persist among the Catholic clergy for decades.”
Is this for real? They talk about exactly what they did as silent complicit enables, and then point to the Catholic version? The next step is to talk about the responsibility of the child and his/her parents not to become an “ideal victim”? Sheesh. They do give some tips on protection, but there is no discussion of action at the level of the elders or the organziation. They are very careful. There isn’t even any reference here to their requirement for two witnesses. On the next article, they say (of course it’s “they” because we don’t know the author), “Isolation, rigidity, and obsessive secrecy — these unhealthy, unscriptural attitudes are trademarks of the abusive household.” Dear dear JWs – These are of course the very attitudes that they foster, and they are also the trademarks of the abusive congregation, the abusive religion…. While they claim that wife-batterers don’t often change, they seem to think that pedophiles (with an even more intractable cluster of problems) will. Meanwhile, there isn’t much of a sense from any of their articles here that they would encourage reporting the molestor to the authorities. There are a couple of throwaway lines about some victims or family members who might feel they should report it – just in terms of the laws of some places requiring it, but immediately they invoke the possibility that justice might not be served.
The truth of the matter is that JWs like secrecy and control. In many ways, they treat their people like children – and that family is not always a safe place to be. The propaganda wing at The JW Office of Public Information doesn’t have a contact form, but there is a phone number to call with questions should you be so inclined. Evidentally, they don’t want any kind of paper trail. It’s interesting that they have a separate number for journalists. For any kind of discussion you are redirected to the local level. They’ve got it all worked out – very neat.
If you want to understand more about this issue and why many people think that the organization bears some of the responsibility (and may even have restructured the corporation to prepare for lawsuits), check out Silent Lambs and the Watchtower News Service. They both have a lot of information.
For myself, I think that the pattern of abuse of all kinds (check out those news stories!) is a symptom of large, deep problems. I actually laughed out loud when I saw that they were doing things on the official site with the topic of women’s rights – wow, what a strange idea since in that group women are definitely second-class despite being in the majority in most congregations. They talk about their good works around the world – but look a little closer at what those good works actually entail in terms of “what” and “for who.” However they present their official “face” to the world, JWs are in fact taught to believe that the outside world is an inherently evil place and that all authorities of that world are controlled and ruled by Satan the devil. People in the congregation are taught to distrust all outsiders, including police, judges, and psychologists, and they are even encouraged to lie as a “theocratic war strategy.” While predators (especially male ones) seem to have avrious protections, heaven help the victims of abuse, the confused, the ones with psychological issues, the ones who want a deeper spiritual or intellectual understanding beyond rote repetition, or to have a dialogue or debate. None of the above have any resources in the group itself – none. They are on their own.
If you are a JW who has been physically or sexually abused – please – report it to the police and other appropriate authorities. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can only pray on it and wait for Jehovah. Don’t concern yourself about any so-called “disciplinary action.” You have to have a higher priority. First things first! Stop the abuse before it leads to further incidents – like rape, like murder. Protect yourself. Protect your children if you have them. Do not engage in any interior conversation about not trusting worldly authorities – get out, get help, report it to the police and, if you want, to the elders. There are women’s crisis centers in any moderately sized city. If you are paralyzed with indecision or fear, or even if you somehow feel that you “deserve” what is happening to you, call a hot line, get help. You are NOT on your own in this matter and you can get help. You are taking a big risk if you simply trust the organization to do this – their record is just…not exemplary.