Jehovah’s Witnesses rely on legal privilege in the abuse case
Kristel van Teeffelen
The Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse the Public Prosecution Service to hand over the conversation reports between elders and an abuse suspect.The organization relies on the right of non-disclosure. This means that witnesses may be silent if a criminal case, for example, involves a family member. Professionals such as doctors, lawyers and pastors also have a right of non-disclosure.
Despite the lack of reports as evidence, the suspect is convicted. The 31-year-old Samet G. received a suspended sentence last week of three months of juvenile detention for the systematic sexual abuse of his younger niece. This happened largely when both were underage, hence the now grown-up G. was sentenced according to juvenile criminal law. The PPS had demanded unconditional juvenile detention for three months, which the suspect could have served as an ordinary prison sentence.
Two elders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses against whom G. in part acknowledged the abuse in 2011 were heard as witnesses. The Public Prosecutor acknowledges that the interview reports have been unsuccessfully requested. “That’s how it works with the legal privilege,” according to a spokesman, who confirms that this right also belongs to the elders of the Jehovah’s. “We have something to do with that.”
There has been criticism of the way in which the Jehovah’s Witnesses deal with sexual abuse within the community. Reports are often dealt with via an internal legal system. Trouw wrote earlier this week that a document was recently circulated within the organization stating that this legal system is not a substitute for the Dutch court. But a number of members call this change a ‘paper reality’. The community is still very closed and a road to the police in case of abuse is often avoided.
Samet G. appeals against his conviction. He acknowledged that he had been with his niece, but according to him, he did not go as far as the victim and other witnesses explained.
Trouw did a long time research into sexual abuse at Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Netherlands. Interviews with victims and (former) members and internal documents show that cases are dealt with in-house, and abuse is almost never reported. Read more in our file.