Elders in Jehovah’s Witnesses who suspected child abuse – did not go to the police

Elders in Jehovah's Witnesses who suspected child abuse - did not go to the police
Originally published on Danish Media, TV2 by Jonas HR Moestrup  

Police and experts believe that the elders in Jehovah’s Witnesses were required to go to the authorities with this information.

Lotus Luca from Næstved was 14 years old when she came home one day and told her mother that she had been the victim of an assault.

According to Lotus Luca, she had been forced to have oral sex with a young man.

The mother contacted one of the so-called ‘elders’ in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ congregation in which the family was affiliated. ‘Elders’ are the religious leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A meeting was arranged where Lotus Luca told the elders what had happened.

According to Lotus Luca, who is now 19 years old, there was a man from another congregation in Jehovah’s Witnesses who assaulted her in 2014.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ elder handbook, this case is serious and must be dealt with by the elders for the possible expulsion of the offender. Therefore, Lotus Luca and her mother went to an elder.

– As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we learn that when we have a problem, we go to the elders. And we don’t mix the authorities into it, says Lotus Luca.

She remembers that she told the elders about the assault, but that nothing more happened after the meeting.

Police were not informed

An elder who was present at the meeting confirmed that Lotus Luca told them it was an assault.

TV 2 had been in contact with him, but he did not want to participate in an interview. He referred them to the Jehovah’s Witnesses Scandinavian branch office in Holbæk.

In a mail, the branch office wrote to TV 2 that since 2003, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Denmark had consistently “advised the elders that all child abuse allegations should be reported to the authorities”.

But a review of Lotus Lucas’s documents with the municipality and the police showed that no notification of abuse to the relevant authorities had been filed in her case.

– Crimes must be investigated by the police

At South Zealand and Lolland-Falsters Police Station, police inspector Kim Kliver believes that it is completely unacceptable that the elders did not immediately go to the police.

– If a person tells some adults that they have been subjected to abuse, then – no matter how closed an environment you are in – you must understand the seriousness of such a crime, and have it reported to the police. Crime must be investigated by the police, she says to TV 2.

Kim Kliver emphasizes that all suspicions of such crimes must be handed over to the police:

– According to the Criminal Justice Act, it is the police and only the police that can investigate such cases, and if you have a suspicion, you must give it to the police, who will have the needed resources to determine whether a real crime has been committed.

Didn’t think about reporting it herself

Lotus Luca told TV 2 that the elder asked about her relationship with the young man. She said they had written messages to each other and that it was their first meeting when the assault took place.

– He (the elder, editor) asked why I had done it and why I didn’t say no. I felt very much that it was my own fault, says Lotus Luca.

Did you talk about going to the police?

– The police did not arise in the conversation at any time. I don’t even think it was something we were considering.

Did you ask yourself if you should report it?

I don’t remember giving any thought to the police getting involved in this,” she says.

Professor: There should have been a reaction

One of Denmark’s leading experts in religious law and professor at Roskilde University, Lisbet Christoffersen, is in complete agreement with the police. She refers to the obligation to notify Social Services.

– The whole idea of the obligation to notify is that one has a special responsibility for caring for those who have come to us, she says.

Lisbeth Christoffersen does not think it changes anything, whether Lotus Luca had chosen to go to the police.

– We are talking about a person who was under the age of sexual consent and who informed some leaders of the faith who had a duty to inform the authorities that there had been an assault on her – it should have been responded to.

Today, when Lotus Luca looks back on the process, she is sorry that the authorities were not involved.

– Things could have been very different. I might have received some psychological help to deal with it, so that I shouldn’t go on with these feelings of guilt all those years. It still resurfaces occasionally, she says.

Today, Lotus Luca is no longer a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Jehovah’s Witnesses: If we’ve done wrong, we will take care of it

In a mail to TV 2, the Jehovah’s Witnesses Scandinavian branch office in Holbæk wrote that the organization apologizes if any former members of Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that abuses had not been reported to the authorities.

– If so, we apologize. However, we will mention that the victims can still report this to the authorities. If the authorities then conclude that we have acted incorrectly, we will naturally take care of it. As an organization we are constantly looking to do things better, it says in the mail.

TV 2 would have liked to ask additional questions of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the organization did not want to be interviewed. TV 2 had been in contact with the young man whom Lotus Luca claimed forced her for oral sex. He explained that he has a different view of the even, but he does not want to elaborate further. The man says he was subsequently called to meet with the elders, but he didn’t want to say what came out of the meeting.

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