Jehovah’s Witnesses have a strange way of handling pedophilia and other forms of sexual and domestic abuse. They require at least two witnesses to testify to the abuse before they will take it seriously. Since they are also loath to involve “worldly authorities,” they often don’t report abuse to the police. Sometimes they even punish the messenger – the victim of abuse – for speaking.
If you are a Jehovah’s Witness that has been abused, sexually assaulted, or beaten – don’t bother trying to seek help from the elders. JW elders have no special training or insight. They simply follow rules, and the instructions that they have been given are not written for your benefit. Seek help and refuge outside the Kingdom Hall. You are so much better off finding help elsewhere!
If you are a kid – of any religion! – who has been abused, talk to some adult that you trust. Or call a hotline, contact social services, go right to the police station – whatever you feel safest doing. Do it! Do not hesitate! The person who abused you is the one who is in the wrong. Seek help. Please.
JW elders, who completely rule the congregations at the local level, will take the word of the (usually male) abuser much more seriously than any testimony from women or children. The man is the head of the household, and elders are elevated even further – whether that status is merited or not. One of America’s most wanted was protected for years, and is most likely still being protected since he can blend in to any congregation with the right JW-speak. Known pedophiles have switched congregations when things got awkward. That congregation isn’t warned, and such a person is often left unsupervised with children for bible study, door-to-door work and so on.
Even pedophiles and other abusers deserve their basic human rights. Christian congregations ought not to bar any sinner. The priorities here are seriously skewed, however. I think it very strange that JWs can be disfellowshipped for bad attitude, for celebrating Christmas, or for smoking – but abusers can remain in good standing just as long as only one person has the courage or ability to testify to their bad conduct and victimization of others.
Given their doctrines and mindset, it’s not really very surprising that they create abusers, but you would think that the average JW would have seen enough people disfellowshipped to wonder why the 2-person witness rule only seems to apply in this situation.
Other christian denominations – the Catholic church most visibly – have had to face their problems in this area. Jehovah’s Witnesses have made no changes to their policies.
So far, there has been no debate or discussion on this topic in Kingdom Halls. Why? Because debate isn’t allowed. The ideal is to be a sheep of the organization. Independent thinking, as any JW can tell you, is against their religion.
Even if it hurts or kills people, their members will obey without question the “divinely inspired guidance” of the Watchtower leadership at corporate command in Brooklyn. Why? They believe that Armageddon will happen at any time, and they want to survive it – no matter the cost in loss of freedom, destruction to families and individuals, and even the squelching of basic kindness. A disfellowshipped (shunned) JW is cut off from their family and most if not all of their friends – they are said to be ruled by Satan. They believe that God prefers people who prioritize orders from their publishing empire to common sense, basic ethics, or empathy for others. It never stops amazing me, what fundamentalists of all stripes can do to a message of love and forgiveness.
So now the leadership makes noises about educating their people – but they still discourage reporting to authorities. They still discourage seeking psychological help, too. They haven’t changed their rules or procedures at all – they’ve only invested in restructuring efforts, real estate scams, and an army of attorneys. I don’t expect much to change.
I’m guessing that they had to shell out some serious cash to settle all these cases with gag orders attached. Maybe that will start some people thinking. One can hope.
Many JWs are decent, good people. They are trying to do what they believe God wants of them, and many of them do so at personal sacrifice. Their mistake is in substituting the direction of a few flawed men at the head of a publishing empire for a relationship with God.
Sex abuse victims challenge Jehovah’s Witnesses – By ROSE FRENCH, The Associated Press
NASHVILLE – A victims’ rights group released documents Thursday that showed the Jehovah’s Witnesses recently settled civil suits with 16 people who claimed they were sexually abused by church elders or that church officials failed to act on the allegations.
The group, called silentlambs, held a news conference in Nashville to demand the denomination change its policy for responding to abuse reports.
Settlements were reached in late February and early March, according to court records obtained by silentlambs and posted to the group’s Web site. Fourteen of the cases were filed in California; the other two were in Oregon and Texas.
Details about the settlement terms could not be disclosed under confidentiality agreements negotiated between the parties, said Stephen Owens, a plaintiffs’ attorney involved in the California cases. Other cases are still pending, according to silentlambs, which couldn’t say how many.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose headquarters are in Brooklyn, N.Y., said Thursday that they were pleased to see the lawsuits resolved, declining further comment.
“Our loving heavenly Father makes it clear in his Word, the Bible, that he abhors child abuse,” a statement from the denomination said.
“As an organization, we will continually strive to educate families and congregations with sound Scriptural teachings that they can use to protect their children from child molesters. And we will continue to do our utmost to protect children from this horrible crime and sin.”
William Bowen, silentlambs’ founder, was a Jehovah’s Witnesses elder from Kentucky who quit the denomination after he said it took no action against a molester. Bowen said the settlements were bittersweet.
“On one hand, we’re glad a few victims are finally getting some financial help,” he said. “On the other hand, we’re sad and worried because they’ve essentially been forced to give up their right to protect others by speaking out about their abuse to the public.”
Bowen’s group has 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 such Bible 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.
There are about 1 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States, and followers are known for distributing Awake! and Watchtower magazines door-to-door.
Bowen also said Jehovah’s Witnesses have a long-standing policy of not reporting molesters to police. He claims that the denomination has a secret database of accused abusers that they have not shared with law enforcement officials.
“They keep putting innocent kids and unsuspecting families at risk of horrible crimes because they value their secrecy and reputations more than they value children’s safety,” Bowen said.
Since establishing silentlambs in 2001, Bowen says about 7,000 people who claim they were abused have contacted his group.
Associated Press reporter Allison Hoffman in San Diego contributed to this report.
On the Net: www.silentlambs.org
- Jehovah’s Witnesses Settle Abuse Cases – Guardian Unlimited, UK – May 10, 2007
Angelique Taylor, 42, a silentlambs member from St. Louis, said she was molested by a Jehovah’s Witnesses elder when she was about 12. Taylor said she told her father, who was also an elder, and he said she was making a big deal out of nothing. “I want every elder, every Jehovah’s Witness, whenever they suspect any abuse, they go to the police and tell them about the problems,” Taylor said. “The devastation of sex abuse is unbelievable.”
- Jehovah’s Witnesses urged to change policy on sex abuse cases – International Herald Tribune, France – May 10, 2007
- JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES PAY PEDOPHILE SETTLEMENT International Falls Daily Journal, MN – May 9, 2007
- Jehovah’s Witnesses settle sex abuse suits – Los Angeles Times, CA – May 11, 2007
- Jehovah’s Witnesses settle abuse cases – The Olympian, WA – May 10, 2007
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