At least 20 former Jehovah’s Witnesses are suing the group over historical sexual abuse they say they suffered. The group has a policy of not punishing alleged child sex abuse unless a second person, alongside the accuser, has witnessed it – or an abuser confesses.
Jehovah’s Witnesses elders say they “comply with child-abuse reporting laws even if there is only one witness”, though, and always tell police if a child is in danger, but one former elder said it had been failing to involve the authorities.
John Viney, who says he was abused between the ages of nine and 13, by “a distant family member who was an active Jehovah’s Witness”, added children were still being abused and the religious organisation was “inadvertently” protecting their abusers and added:
“I know for a fact now that there are parents that haven’t done anything about the abuse of their children by others because they don’t want to bring reproach on Jehovah’s name.”
His own daughter, Karen was abused as a child and who has since spoken out about it publically and when she left the organisation, Mr Vinney disowned her, something he has regretted ever since. He stated:
“When I was an elder and a dad, I put being an elder absolutely first,”
He told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme;
“And that was a mistake. The way that Jehovah’s Witnesses handle matters within the congregation, it’s a closed shop,”
Mr Viney eventually reported his own abuser to the police, in 2019, after years of being too “ashamed”, only to be told the man had gone on to abuse other children and had died in prison. Some of the former members, said they had decided to seek compensation after asking the group for an apology only to find it “denying what has happened or refusing to engage”. Those taking the legal action say the organisation is “vicariously liable” for the abuse they say they suffered. Some claim it was negligent.
A Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman said:
“The only way that a child abuser can gain access to children in a religious organisation like ours, which does not have any programmes that separate children from their parents, is through parents themselves.”
He said that for “decades”, the organisation had educated parents “about the dangers of child abuse and how they can protect their children” and parents and victims were informed they had the right to report the matter to the authorities and added:
“If a congregant has been guilty of child sexual abuse, our elders inform parents with minors so that they can take measures to protect their children.”
If you have been a victim of child abuse and would like to speak to one of our specialist abuse lawyers in confidence, please do not hesitate to contact us. We can advise you on the available options for pursuing a civil damages claim. Jordans successfully represent and secure compensation for numerous victims of abuse and are experts in overcoming the particular challenges that arise in these sensitive cases. Our abuse team can be contacted on 0800 9555 094 or 0330 300 1103.