Jehovah’s adjust their abuse policy, critical members call it a ‘wash nose’
Marinde van der Breggen and Rianne Oosterom
A year after Trouw’s investigation, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have adjusted their abuse policy. Critical members call it a paper reality.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have adjusted their policies on sexual abuse. This spring, a document was circulated to elders in which members and office bearers are urged to make a declaration. The witnesses also explicitly acknowledge for the first time that the internal legal system with which they deal with abuse is not a substitute for, but a supplement to, Dutch case law. This message is special because in literature for the witnesses the world outside the religious organization is portrayed as the terrain of Satan.
The witnesses state in an attached letter that this document is based on a position that ‘they have been taking for years’. But some instructions, such as urging a report, are missing in the secret elder’s book and other policy documents that have been in the hands of Trouw since last year. The newspaper investigated the organization’s abuse policy. This showed that the internal legal system ensures that children are not properly protected and offenders often go free.
Four current members, two of whom are former ex-elders, with whom Trouw spoke about changes in the past year, say that the way in which abuse is talked about has not changed and the new policy document calls a paper reality. They still do not dare to express their criticism internally. And because the community is so closed, members or officials do not quickly go to the police with abuse cases, they say.
Previously, elders were not allowed to actively urge a victim, nor to discourage a report. Now the organization is going to instruct elders, even if legally not obliged, to make a declaration when a minor is still in danger of being abused, or if there are other legitimate reasons. “In this context, reference is made to a bible text from Galatians. It says ‘that everyone must carry their own burden’.
This is countered by victims of abuse within the organization, united in the Reclaimed Voices foundation. “By that they mean: if you make a declaration, the consequences are for you. Because Jehovah’s Witnesses distrust the world and always communicate it, many members do not dare to take that risk, “ex-witness Frank Huiting knows from his own experience and that of others. He is now a representative of the foundation, which has now received more than three hundred reports of abuse.
Huiting calls the recognition of the Dutch case law in the document, a ‘wash nose’. Also the four critical Jehovah’s Witnesses do not consider this comment worth much. One of them notices that he gets repellent responses when he starts talking about abuse. “Like:” You profane Jehovah’s name, or biblical texts are used that show: we are not democratic, but theocratic. ”
The policy document also states that if someone in the municipality is found guilty of sexual abuse, parents of underage children must be informed in the municipality. This did not happen before, or only if there was permission.
The four witnesses say that something can only really change if the organization is closed less and recognizes the problem. The Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse so far to institute an independent investigation into the approach to sexual abuse in their own ranks.
The House of Representatives now wants the government to set up an investigation itself, said the spokesman Michel van Hilten called ‘shooting with a gun on a mosquito’. He said he knew a ‘handful of incidents and reports per year’. Van Hilten does not want to answer questions from this newspaper about the new policy document.
Abuse of 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 handled indoors, and abuse is almost never done. Read all articles back in our file.
Critical Jehovah’s: ‘The new abuse policy is a paper reality’
What has the attention to abuse within the faith community brought about among the members? After a year, critical Jehovah’s do their story.