Children Jehovah’s poorly protected from abuse
Marinde van der Breggen & Rianne Oosterom – 4:30, 21 July 2017
Victim calls the society with its own legal system a ‘paradise for pedophiles’.
The way in which Jehovah’s Witnesses deal with sexual abuse in-house has traumatic consequences for victims. Perpetrators easily get away with the abuse, say victims, members and ex-members with whom Trouw spoke. This creates an unsafe situation for children.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that their internal legal system is beyond the ‘worldly authorities’. Male elders act as judges. They follow the guidelines of the international headquarters in the United States, according to internal documents that Trouw holds.
Abuse Victim Marianne de Voogd: “Jehovah’s Witnesses keep their perpetrators over their heads. Abuse is solved by the first best farmer who is an elder who has no knowledge of it. “Another victim calls the Jehovah’s Witnesses a ‘paradise for pedophiles’.
If abuse is discovered, it is difficult to come to a conviction internally. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, two witnesses are needed for this. They are hardly ever misused. If it comes to condemnation, for example, the perpetrator can no longer precede prayer.
Only if the perpetrator does not show regret, can he be expelled from the community. Other members are not informed about any danger, because talking about a case without conviction is conceived as slander or defamation. On that ground someone can be excluded.
Trouw’s findings are in line with a report published by an Australian research committee in November. The conclusion: children are insufficiently protected against abuse and the organization does not deal adequately with accusations.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian society with around 30,000 followers in the Netherlands. About fifteen years ago the organization said in Trouw that it only registered cases of abuse by office bearers. The spokesman ‘had never heard of such abuse’.
Yet three of the four victims that Trouw spoke said to have been abused by an elder. The Dutch headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Emmen indicate that they would now ‘nuance’ the earlier statement. The organization does not want to discuss individual abuse cases.
She says she works to make children and families ‘resilient’ and discuss sexuality without a ‘veil of secrecy’. And: ‘The protection of our children is taken extremely seriously’.
That reaction is indicative of the way the organization tries to stay out of range, says Frances Peters, ex-Witness and coach for people from compelling religious group cultures. “They say: the children must become more resilient, while they should protect them.”
Perhaps more victims
The abuse that Trouw talked to victims took place in the eighties and nineties. Victims and experts say that the abuse still takes place today. There are virtually no indications that the policies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been adjusted.
However, the organization says to this newspaper “to continually review its procedures in order to improve the way we deal with such issues.” And: “When it comes to child abuse, Jehovah’s Witnesses have […] a clear Bible-based policy.”
According to Peters, the organization stressed in 2002 and 2003 during a training course for elders that abuse is a crime that must be dealt with by the government. “It is allowed on paper to report this to the police. But that change has never been communicated to the members. “
No recent reports of (ex-) Witnesses are known at committees and hotlines for sexual abuse. The Sektesignaal hotline does not want to mention names of organizations, but states that “reports of this kind are coming across all sorts of groups”.
That there are no reports from Witnesses, according to Peters, says nothing: “Victims often blame themselves for the abuse. If things are handled internally, it means that someone has dared to open their mouths. But the chances are that there are many more victims who have never dared to do that. “