What about the Jehovah’s, a year after the revelations about the abuse?
Marinde van der Breggen and Rianne Oosterom
What has the attention to abuse within the faith community brought about among the members? After a year, critical Jehovah’s do their story.
It was a first, tentative act of resistance: the moment that Raphael dropped a letter with a question about sexual abuse in the mailbox, addressed to his congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Just opening the conversation during a meeting in the Kingdom Hall – that is what the churches of the witnesses are called – he did not see. Incidentally, he is not such a loyal visitor anymore.
He had had doubts about the abuse policy of the witnesses for some time. The articles that Trouw published a year ago about how the community deals with sexual abuse confirmed what he already knew. Research from this newspaper showed that children are not well protected and perpetrators of sexual abuse often go free.
It took months for Rafaël to get answers to his questions. In his view, the elders did not respond with much substantive content, but mentioned a Bible text stating that the world lies in the power of the wicked, by which Satan is meant. “Those kinds of generalizations have to divert attention from details,” he says. “With that you can sweep every argument off the table.”
Since then he is working on what he calls ‘a mild form of underground activism’. “If the organization knew what I have done in the past period, I was excluded for a long time. I regret that I can not take many people in confidence about the cesspool that has opened up, which is still unacceptable within the organization. “That is why he, like the other witnesses in this article, does not tell his story. dare to do under his own name.
House of Representatives
It is now a year ago that the first articles about the abuse investigation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses appeared in this newspaper. This raises the question of what has changed in recent times within the organization, which has a small 30,000 believers in the Netherlands. Little is known about it so far.
Much has been written about what happened outside the walls of the four hundred Kingdom Halls in the Netherlands. According to Reclaimed Voices, the foundation set up to support victims, at least six of the more than three hundred victims who have reported to them have filed a report.
The politicians also let themselves be heard. The House of Representatives voted unanimously a month ago with a motion to enforce an independent investigation into abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, because the organization refuses to initiate it. Minister Sander Dekker of legal protection can not help but go along with that, let his spokesperson know when asked. In the autumn, more is known about the how and what.
In the past year, the Dutch board of the organization has been on several occasions with the ministry. For one of those interviews, a member of the head office was flown in from the United States. At the beginning of this year, the society published a new policy document explaining the abuse policy in the Netherlands, for members who have questions.
The document, which received Trouw from the members, shows that the organization has adjusted its rules, although it is stated in a covering letter that the policy is based on a position that the organization has ‘taken for years’. There are clear differences with earlier policy documents and the elders’ book, about which this newspaper reported last year.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses say for the first time explicitly that the internal legal system with which they deal with abuse does not serve as a replacement, but as an addition to the Dutch rule of law. That is special, given the fear within the organization for the ‘godless’ outside world.
The result of this fear is that members rarely go to the police. The stories of victims and former members also showed that they are afraid of giving the organization a bad name last year. Illustrative was the verdict of a circuit overseer, as a controller of the municipalities of Jehovah’s Witnesses is mentioned, about one of the victim stories in Trouw. “I think we should handle this kind of thing very well and it’s nice if you can do that internally.”
Now the organization seems to have changed course. The document states that the national administration will instruct the elders, managers responsible for the internal handling of abuse, to declare when children are at risk.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Peter and Marielle find that an improvement. “But is not it absurd that you have to write that up in a policy document? That already indicates how history has been. Reporting was not done because it harms the reputation of the organization “, says Pieter, who himself was an elder in his local community.
Pieter and Mariëlle know in their environment at least two people who say they are victims of sexual abuse. “But I do not expect them to report,” says Pieter. “It is difficult to understand if you have not grown up in such a culture. But criticism of the organization is equivalent to criticism of God. ”
Witnesses are afraid of two things: armageddon (the destruction of all that is evil in Jehovah’s eyes, at the end of time) and exclusion. The rules of the witnesses state that anyone who unjustly accuses his brother or sister is expelled from the organization for libel and slander. Pieter: “This exclusion regulation makes it difficult to blame someone. Because if you can not make that hard, you will get wet yourself. “There is nothing in the new document about that.
Other differences with earlier policies are that the Jehovah’s Witnesses will warn parents of minor children if there is a guilty abuser in the municipality. Abusers are excluded only if they do not repent of their actions. If they are sorry, they will be subject to restrictions such as no longer being allowed to pray openly in the service.
Stichting Reclaimed Voices endorses the criticism of the four Jehovah’s Witnesses in this story. She does not expect the new policy to change anything. “For example, there is nothing about the two-man rule: there will only be an internal case if there are two witnesses who accuse the suspect of abuse or if the perpetrator confesses,” says Frank Huiting, former member and representative of the foundation. He calls the document a ‘wash nose’.
Reclaimed Voices has published a comprehensive commentary on the policy on its website. In it they call the two-man rule a ‘stumbling block’, and the fact that the elders should inform victims about their right to make a declaration ‘too passive’. The biblical text behind that part of the text, each of which must bear its own burdens, also plays a role. Relying on personal responsibility makes it difficult for witnesses to do something that until recently was not allowed. “Actually, they say: if you make a declaration, the consequences are for you,” says Huiting.
What is also new to the policy is that it is now explicitly stated that seeking psychological help is ‘a personal choice’. There is a taboo within the religious organization, according to former members and members with whom this newspaper spoke last year. Victims now also have the opportunity to bring a mentor to the conversation with the elders about the abuse.
Ordinary witnesses have not noticed any changes in the way in which sexual abuse is discussed in the past year, Pieter and Mariëlle say. Also witness Thom (himself not a victim) joins this position. They attribute that mainly to culture. “Actually, there is no mention of abuse. People register the noise and do not think about it. I think it’s bad that they pretend nothing happened, “says Thom.
Accountability to God
He only dares to raise the abuse policy in his own environment, not higher up. “Almost most people answer:” You have to let it rest in Jehovah’s hands. “And if the organization does not deal with it in a good way, they say, then the people responsible for it must ultimately be accountable to Jehovah himself.”
He thinks that ‘you can always close your eyes to abuses.’ He himself chooses to remain a witness and inform people from the inside about how the organization deals with abuse and encourage them to think critically themselves. “If everyone obeys well and takes everything for sweet things, nothing will ever change.”
According to him, this is because people are systematically discouraged from researching things themselves. Pieter and Mariëlle recognize that. They point to various publications in the Watchtower, the internal magazine containing the Bible studies that Jehovah’s Witnesses use for their spiritual nourishment. In the past year many articles and passages have been published about which news you should and should not trust.
For example, in the August 2018 issue, there is an article entitled “Do you know the facts?”. The piece urges the faithful to be careful in their assessment of messages that come to them. They are advised to use the news channels of the witnesses themselves, such as jw.broadcasting, or jw.org where news reports are posted.
“We must be especially on our guard when we hear messages about Jehovah’s people,” says the article. “Never forget that Satan is the accuser of God’s faithful servants (Revelation 12:10). That is why Jesus warned that opponents would tell us “all kinds of evil lies” about us (Matthew 5:11). If we take that warning seriously, we will not be shocked by appalling reports about Jehovah’s people. ”
“Everything is seen as an attack,” says Pieter. “Members are being told that they will be persecuted for their faith. So criticism of the organization in the media comes from Satan, they say. While favorable reporting, as witnesses offer help after a natural disaster, is always brought to the attention. ”
That also disturbs Rafael. “The organization constantly warns against lying propaganda of this world, of media under Satan’s influence. They are also quick to call stories of people who are excluded propaganda from apostates, who want to bring down the organization. Your critical thinking is taken over, you are brainwashed by everything that the governing body in America has published and translated. ”
As witnesses only sail their own media and distrust everything out of it, they end up in a kind of jehovabubbel. The personal reality of the witnesses is that their policies offer good protection to children, according to all publications on the website jw.org. And judging by the words of spokesman Michel van Hilten in the Dagblad van het Noorden, sexual abuse involves a ‘handful of incidents and reports per year’.
That same picture is reflected in the mails received by Trouw after the publications last year from individual Jehovah’s Witnesses. The line of their story is that they strongly disapprove of abuse, but that things that have been handled badly must not be passed on to the entire organization.
They believe that the organization deals with abuse in many cases and give examples of this. The witnesses regularly quote passages from study material about the importance their community attaches to the protection of children. They also use bible texts to call the paper to order, such as: “But you, o man, who judges those who do such things as you do them yourself, do you sometimes think that you will escape God’s judgment? (Romans 2: 3). ”
As long as nothing changes in the culture of the organization, and the spokesman continues to speak about incidents, children are not well protected, fear the four witnesses. The new policy is then only a paper reality.
Pieter thinks that the head office in Emmen stops and waits for the noise to blow. “They probably think: we have to get through the media storm and keep people quiet.” He has now settled his hope on the minister. “If the government does not do anything, nothing will change.”
The names Rafaël, Thom, Pieter and Mariëlle are fictitious. They dare not express their criticism under their real name because they are afraid of being excluded and thus losing contact with their family. Their real names are known to the editors. Because of the possible traceability their ages are not mentioned.
Furthermore, this story is based on a new policy document that has been distributed among elders this spring. Use was also made of internal documents that were shared with Trouw last year and in the course of this year. Because many witnesses have emailed us in confidence, this story is not quoted literally from their stories.
Trouw has presented the board of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Emmen with a list of eight questions. The board refuses to answer those questions.
Abuse at Jehovah’s Witnesses
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.
Jehovah’s Witnesses adjust their abuse policy, but the criticism remains
A year after Trouw’s investigation, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have adjusted their abuse policy. Four current members, of whom two former elders, with whom Trouw spoke about changes in the past year, say that the way in which abuse is spoken has not changed.