In November 2016 the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard from two survivors of abuse from the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation.
Their stories, along with evidence from 12 institutional witnesses and an expert, led the Royal Commission to find that children are not adequately protected from the risk of child sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation.
In the words of the Commission, the numbers tell their own story.
History of Child Sexual Abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses churchSince 1950, the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation in Australia alone received at least 1,800 reports or complaints of child sexual abuse by members of the organisation.
Incredibly, not one of those claims was taken to the authorities outside the organisation. This is because the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation believes in internal management of such claims. The enquiry heard overwhelming evidence that condemns this approach, finding that the internal reporting procedure is not adequate to protect the children under their reach.
The Australian organisation is not alone in facing these claims. Claims across America have found their way to the courts, including Jose Lopez who was 7 years old when San Diego congregation leader, Gonzalo Campos, sexually abused him. Campos alone was linked to multiple claims.
Fundamental FlawsThe Commission uncovered further flaws within the organisation’s management of child sexual abuse claims. It was accepted that the church relies on an unrealistic rule that requires at least two witnesses to an allegation of sexual abuse before it is investigated.
In the past 65 years, this rule has prevented at least 125 allegations of child sexual abuse from proceeding to an internal organisation review. This rule is fundamentally flawed as child sexual abuse invariably occurs in private, where the only witnesses to the abuse are the perpetrator and the child victim.
The organisation also reinstates those who they judge to be genuinely repentant. Since 1950, 230 of the 401 ‘disfellowshipped’ perpetrators of child sexual abuse were later reinstated, 78 of whom where reinstated on more than one occasion. This suggests a serious lack of understanding about the nature of child sexual abuse and the risk of reoffending.
To access the November 2016 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation report click here.
Future Royal Commission datesThe Royal Commission will hold another public hearing to further inquire into the current policies and procedures of Jehovah's Witnesses and Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia Ltd in relation to child-protection and child-safety standards, including responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.
The public hearing will commence this week at the Royal Commission’s hearing rooms in Sydney. To find out more visit http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au
Written by Shine Lawyers on March 5, 2017. Last modified: September 6, 2018.