I have read an interesting article in the Law Society Gazette about the findings of the Australian Royal Commission on the response of Jehovah’s Witnesses to allegations of sexual abuse by their members.
The Law Society Gazette is a magazine for Solicitors who practise in England and Wales.
The article concludes that the Organisation is facing an international abuse scandal on a scale equivalent to that of the Catholic Church.
The policy of the Organisation is that Officials of the Congregation encourage victims to report their allegations to the Elders of the organisation rather than the Police. The statistics investigated by the Commission showed that the Organisation had recorded complaints of sexual abuse by 1,006 members but none of these complaints were ever reported to the Police.
The members are taught not to engage with authorities which include the Police because to do so could bring the Organisation’s name in disrepute. They are taught that to do so could result in severe consequences for them.
The Commission reported that Jehovah’s Witnesses follow a policy of “ disfellowshipping” which is a rule that when a member commits a sin and the Elders believe that he/she is not sufficiently repentant he/she is extradited by the Organisation.
Therefore if a victim was to report an allegation of sexual abuse to the Police this would result in him/her becoming very isolated as they would be shunned by the members of the Organisation which would include his/her close family.
The report discussed that Jehovah’s Witnesses also adhere to the “two witness rule”. This rule states that for every sin committed there must be two witnesses irrespective of whether the member has admitted the wrong doing. In cases of sexual abuse there is very rarely a witness or an admission and therefore the complaint of the victim is ignored.
The Commission criticised this and other polices followed by the Organisation, “ The Organisation’s retention and continued application of polices such as the two witness rule in cases of child sexual abuse shows a serious lack of understanding of the nature of sexual abuse. “
Jehovah’s Witnesses have resisted any change to the policies and procedures. The Charity Commission in the UK in 2014 attempted to make Jehovah’s Witnesses change their polices to ensure that the children in their congregations would be protected.
This change was vigorously opposed by the Organisations and resulted in two years of litigation which ended successfully with the Commission being allowed to open an inquiry about the safeguarding procedures operated by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The findings of the Commission are shocking and show the extent to which the organisation has to change to ensure that the members and particularly child members are protected from sexual abuse within their Organisation. At present their members are prohibited from officially reporting their allegations which allows the perpetrators of abuse to continue to abuse and results in more victims suffering abuse, which could have been prevented.
The article can be read online on the Law Society’s Gazette Magazine issue dated the 20th February 2017.