‘Jehovahs themselves must want research’
Politicians believe that justice must always take action in the event of abuse within religious denominations. Schools also have a role.
Reports about sexual abuse within the Jehova community put politics in a difficult question. What can the government do to protect children if they are part of a closed community that takes advantage of sexual abuse through an internal legal system, instead of reporting it to the police?
SP Member of Parliament Nine Kooiman and PvdA Member of Parliament Attje Kuiken see a role for social institutions that come into contact with children, such as schools and consultancies. They can identify problems and offer children protection. According to CDA Member of Parliament Madeleine van Toorenburg, it is important that these authorities eventually bring in police and justice, so that perpetrators do not get away with impunity.
The MPs respond to Trouw’s revelations about sexual abuse among Jehovah’s Witnesses. From stories of victims and internal documents it appears that perpetrators are being held over their heads.
The government can set up a special investigation into a specific community. SP and PvdA pleaded for this on Saturday, as did National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children Corinne Dettmeijer. In Australia, a special government committee last year published a report on sexual abuse that took place in the past few decades at the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Not everyone is equally enthusiastic about such research. “Anyone who abuses children must be prosecuted by the Public Prosecution Service,” says VVD member Foort van Oosten. “That is the best way to make it clear that internal justice does not suffice for such serious matters.” The stories in Trouw are about cases from the past, and the law has now happily been modified so that sexual abuse can not lapse. “
Because even though an organization has an internal legal system, police and justice can still act. This is not only the case with religious societies, but also with the Groningen student association Vindicat, for example. The Public Prosecutor decided to prosecute members for abuse during the dejuvenation, after they had already been punished according to an internal procedure.
Van Oosten thinks that it makes little sense to investigate old cases if a community is not open to it. He points to the investigation that a committee led by former Minister Wim Deetman in 2010 and 2011 carried out into abuse in the Catholic Church, at the request of the church itself. “Such research works best when it is both independent and supported by the community.”
In the abuse in the Catholic Church, the House also faced the dilemma of whether the government can force a religious organization to reopen legally-obsolete cases. PvdA, SP and GroenLinks wanted a government investigation. Most political parties preferred to see the church clean itself. At newer abuse cases, the Chamber preferred to refer the victims to justice at the time, which the suspects can prosecute.
Political pressure in 2011 did mean that the Deetman Commission went to work. That committee was appointed by bishops, but consisted of independent experts, led by Deetman. Tens of thousands of children were abused between 1945 and 2010, especially in boarding schools. Two thousand victims received help and compensation.
Once there has been a political investigation. In 2010, a committee headed by Rieke Samson set to work on research into sexual abuse in governmental institutions. Then it was about children who had been under the direct responsibility of the government, so it was the state itself that had to make a clean ship.