“In places where such laws exist, elders endeavor to comply with secular laws about reporting allegations of abuse. […] When they learn that someone in the congregation is accused of child abuse, elders endeavor to comply with any secular laws about reporting the matter, and then they conduct a Scriptural investigation.”
Why had The Watchtower writer(s) used “endeavor to” instead of “always” when it comes to reporting child abuse?
“Our inquiry into the institutional response of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation to child sexual abuse revealed a disturbingly high number of incidents of child sexual abuse. The Jehovah’s Witness organisation files contained allegations, reports or complaints relating to at least 1,800 alleged victims of child sexual abuse and over 1,000 alleged perpetrators. […] We found that at least until 1998, individuals making complaints of child sexual abuse were required to state their allegations in the presence of the person against whom the allegations were made. […] Allegations were investigated by elders, all of whom were men and had no relevant training” (Emphasis ours)
Source: Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Final Report: Religious institutions, Volume 16: Book 3, section 15.5, page 107.
“As foretold in the Bible, the last days have been marked by individuals with wicked attitudes that go from bad to worse. (2 Tim. 3:2-4, 13) This is seen in a rise in the number of cases of child sexual abuse reported in our branch territory. In the last service year we recorded 160 cases of molestation, and the number of calls received regarding child sexual abuse, some of which involving brothers taking the lead in the congregations,
has increased significantly.” (Emphasis ours)
“We are writing further to recent telephone calls regarding Brother [Name withheld], who has recently confessed to very serious wrongdoing. As stated on the phone, it is necessary for certain restrictions to be applied and certain steps taken, in the interests of child safeguarding. […] Brother [Name withheld] should also be reminded, kindly but frankly, of the need to avoid any potentially compromising situations in his interaction with children, other than his own. […] Brother [Name withheld] should not be included in a field service group that includes minor children, other than his own.” (Emphasis ours)
The Australian Royal Commission who investigated all institutions that work with children, including religious organizations such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, found that since 1950 to 2015, there were no less than 1800 victims of abuse perpetrated by more than 1000 persons. And to add insult to injury, up until at least 1998, the victims had to face their abusers as part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses judicial process. Unsurprisingly, for those familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses, none of the elders dealing with child sexual abuse and any relevant training.
In a communication from the Brazilian Branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the World Headquarters reveals that there were 160 cases of child sexual abuse in 2014 alone and some of the perpetrators involved elders. Despite the shocking number of cases, the group’s leaders didn’t provide direction immediately.
In 2016, a letter from the British Branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses to a congregation in Ireland, reveals that an individual they refer to as “Brother” was involved in serious wrongdoing that involved children. Despite this, they had no issue with him interacting with his own children. AvoidJW has since discovered that the secular authorities took the children into care.
“We found that in deciding the sanctions to impose and/or the precautions to take in relation to a known or suspected perpetrator of child sexual abuse, the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation had inadequate regard to the risk that the person might reoffend. Alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse who were removed from their congregations as a result of allegations of child sexual abuse were frequently reinstated. We found no evidence of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation reporting allegations of child sexual abuse to police or other civil authorities.” (Emphasis ours)
Source: Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Final Report: Religious institutions, Book 3, section 15.5, page 107.
“As the secular authorities are investigating this matter, if approached, please arrange for two elders to telephone the Legal Department at the branch for legal advice before discussing the matter with the authorities. Naturally, we respect the right of the authorities to handle the matter as they see fit, and we want to ensure that anything done in the congregation does not interfere with that in any way. (Rom. 13:1) May we also remind you that it is most important for elders to follow the organization’s policies on maintaining confidentiality and the clear direction provided on the handling of legal matters. Elders have a clear Scriptural obligation to maintain confidentiality.” (Emphasis ours)
“As you are aware, the circular letter to bodies of elders dated September 1, 2017, (Re: Protecting Minors From Abuse), paragraph 5, states that “in some jurisdictions, individuals who learn of an allegation of child abuse may be obligated by law to report the allegation to the secular authorities.” In the past, our Legal Department studied this matter to verify if this would be the case in Brazil. If so, elders who became aware of a child abuse case in the congregation, besides needing to care for the matter theocratically, may also have been under obligation to report the matter to the authorities. However, that was not our conclusion at the time, as explained below.
“There is nothing in Brazilian legislation that obligates citizens to report crimes, even in cases of child abuse. There are incentives to do so, but these do not constitute a legal requirement. Thus, when someone becomes aware of a crime, he is not punished if he does not report it to the authorities, as long as he does not assist or contribute in some direct way to the illegal conduct, of course.[…]
“However, on April 5, 2017, a new law was signed in Brazil (Federal Law 13,431/2017) that deals with protection of children and adolescents. This law will become effective in April of 2018, and we are sending a translated copy for your consideration. […] With this article, we now would have in Brazil the legal obligation to always report cases of child abuse to the authorities. According to the legislation, knowledge of the fact is all that is needed to make one responsible to report such cases. Once again, the law did not stipulate a punishment for those who fail to comply. However, failure to comply could be the basis for a suit for damages in the civil sphere or could constitute a relevant omission, since now the duty to act is explicitly stated in law.”
The World Headquarters Legal Department responded with the following questions:
(1) Are there are any exceptions in the new law or your other laws to the reporting requirement in the new law? For example, some child abuse reporting laws provide exceptions for ministers of religion and lawyers. (2) Does Brazil presently have a professional secrecy privilege or law that requires or allows ministers of religion, including our elders, to not disclose a confession or confidential communications? If so, does the new child abuse reporting law specifically abrogate such professional secrecy privilege or law? (3) What does “has knowledge of” mean under the new law? Does an elder’s receipt of any allegation or accusation of child abuse trigger an obligation to report the matter to the police or secular authorities? ” (Emphasis ours)
Source: Letter from Brazil Branch to the Legal Department at World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses (with response from Legal Department, and Governing Body Coordinators Committee copied).
The Australian Royal Commission found no evidence that Jehovah’s Witnesses report allegations of child sexual abuse to the secular authorities. Of the more than 1800 cases of abuse, spanning 65 years, not one was reported to the police or other civil authorities.
The August 2016 letter from the British Branch to the Irish congregation also revealed that the secular authorities were investigating the abuse committed by one of their members. There is no direction in the letter for the elders to work with the authorities to help them in their investigation. Rather, they state that it is most important for elders to maintain confidentiality, even claiming that they have a scriptural obligation to do so. Additional to this, they request that elders review the August 1, 2016 letter regarding child abuse and the November 6, 2014 letter regarding procedures when legal issues are involved. While the 2016 letter does not discuss how to deal with the investigating authorities, the 2014 letter states, “When someone seeks confidential information: You should never reveal confidential information to anyone unless theocratic procedure requires it or the branch office has instructed you to do so (Persons seeking confidential information may include an investigator, a solicitor, a policeman, a detective, other law enforcement officers or government officials, school personnel, parties to a lawsuit, family members [whether they are Jehovah’s Witnesses or not], and even other elders or other persons who may not be entitled to the information.) This applies to written materials and unwritten knowledge possessed by the elders.”
In 2018, the Brazilian Branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses sent another communication to the World Headquarters in the United States. This time it was directed to the Legal Department. In it they revealed that under the child abuse legislation at the time, that even if there may have been an obligation to report abuse to the authorities, one was not punished if they failed to do so. However, a new law came into effect in April 2018. The law requires that all have a duty to zealously guard the dignity of children and adolescents, protecting them from any inhumane, violent, terrifying, vexatious or coercive treatment. Article 13, paragraph 2 states that a party who fails to act to prevent a harmful outcome to a child could be held criminally liable. In cases where the victim is still a minor and nothing is done to remove the victim from the situation or risk, Brazil recommended to the WHQ that the matter should be reported to the authorities. The WHQ legal department didn’t agree immediately. Instead, they asked Brazil to look for loopholes in the law, such as professional secrecy privilege so as to exclude elders from reporting.”