The Jehovah’s Getuigen, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses are known in the Netherlands, wrote an open letter to the House of Representatives in The Hague in the Netherlands regarding government criticism of their handling of child sexual abuse. The following is that open letter signed by Michel van Ling, Dutch Branch Representative of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
To the President of the House of Representatives of the State General
2500 EA THE HAGUE
Emmen, 1 September 2020
RE: Open Letter
It is misleading and reprehensible that Minister Sander Dekker portrays Jehovah’s Witnesses as heartless and insensitive to victims of child abuse. We are therefore deeply offended by his incorrect statement in the letter of 27 August 2020 to the President of the House of Representatives that we prevent victims within our community from exercising their “right to help, care and justice”. We also find it deeply insulting and deeply discriminatory that the minister falsely labels Jehovah’s Witnesses as a “closed community” and that our children should be closely monitored by teachers and the educational inspectorate. In a modern society such inflammatory, offensive language has no place.
We therefore take this opportunity to rectify this and provide you with the facts.
Facts about the Utrecht report
Minister Dekker states that his claims are supported by the Utrecht University report of November 2019 (the UU report). What he does not acknowledge, however, is that three separate expert reports conclude that the report contains very serious errors and “has virtually no quantitative value” and is “unusable” for its intended purpose.1
Minister Dekker further states that the judge has also found Jehovah’s Witnesses wrong on appeal. But in fact, the Arnhem-Leeuwarden Court of Appeal in its judgment of 4 August 2020 (no.200.274.775) simply ruled that the appeal is no longer of urgent importance (section 5.3). The Court of Appeal has indicated that our appeal raises issues of principle under Articles 8, 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore in proceedings on the merits must be dealt with, instead of by means of summary proceedings (section 5.6). That procedure has not yet been found. We are confident that, once the trial takes place, the court will conclude that the report is fundamentally false, unreliable and discriminatory.
Minister Dekker also omits to mention that, despite many gross errors, the report nevertheless concluded that compared to the general population in the Netherlands, Jehovah’s Witnesses are much more willing to report an allegation of sexual abuse to the police. Among the general population, only 9% of allegations of sexual abuse are reported to the police and just 3% of the cases are reported to the police.2 In comparison, Jehovah’s Witnesses are 3 times more likely (27% vs. 9). %) willing to report to the police and 10 times as often (30% vs. 3%) to report (see pages 38-39 of the report and diagram 4). It is noteworthy that the minister does not recognize this fact, since the “willingness” of Jehovah’s Witnesses to report allegations of abuse would be the main reason why the House of Representatives has called for the report. Given these facts, why does Minister Dekker turn to Jehovah’s Witnesses for his widely reported false accusations in the media, even though he knows that the vast majority of adherents of all other religions and non-religious groups in the Netherlands do not report allegations of sexual abuse? He does not answer this.
Minister Dekker also does not acknowledge that the focus of the report was on persons who are or were Jehovah’s Witnesses at some point in their lives. Only 4% of allegations (15 charges) were made against an “elder or other authority within the community” over a 70-year period.3 The remaining 96% of allegations, which related to alleged abuse by family members, friends , neighbors, and others, thus had nothing to do with the faith community of Jehovah’s Witnesses (report, page 37, chart 3). No other research in the Netherlands, certainly not one commissioned or approved by the government, has been based on such a discriminatory definition of ‘sexual abuse’ whereby the only requirement was that the alleged victim or perpetrator was life would adhere to a particular religion.
Why has Minister Dekker not commissioned a comparable study into sexual abuse by adherents of the largest religions in the Netherlands, namely the Catholic Church, the Protestant religions, Judaism or Islam, which together make up 49% of the population? Especially since research shows that 33% of children in the Netherlands (not to mention adults) are victims of sexual abuse or sexual violence? 4 The 2011 study ‘Sexual abuse of minors in the Roman Catholic Church’, to which Minister Dekker referred in his letter to the House of Representatives, were not ordinary members of the Catholic Church. That study was limited to allegations of child sexual abuse against “representatives of the Roman Catholic Church Provinice – clergy, religious, pastoral workers with church employment.”5. Again, Minister Dekker provides no explanation for his discriminatory focus on Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Facts About the Beliefs and Practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Minister Dekker has also made incorrect statements about the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so we take the opportunity to rectify this by providing you with the facts.
Jehovah’s Witnesses provide comfort and spiritual assistance to victims of child abuse and their families. We believe this is our moral obligation. We adhere to the Bible, which condemns child sexual abuse as a crime.
439/5000Jehovah’s Witnesses also view child sexual abuse as a heinous sin against the victim, a sin against the Christian congregation, and above all, a sin against God. We don’t believe we are immune to this global scourge. We are committed to fighting this evil at its source by providing Biblical guidance in our congregations and providing continuous education on the topic of child sexual abuse.
Hence, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been publishing material in The Watchtower and Awake! Magazines for over 35 years. and in religious books and videos that provide parents with clear, timely and practical advice on how to protect their children from the harms of child sexual abuse. Such publications have appeared in hundreds of languages and hundreds of millions of copies have been printed. This material is freely accessible to our congregations and the general public, both in printed form and on the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses (www.jw.org).6
In 2018, a worldwide policy document for the protection of children by Jehovah’s Witnesses entitled “The Biblical Position of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Protection of Children,” incorporating the guidelines and assistance for protecting children from sexual abuse outlined in previous religious publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been published. This global policy is published on the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, www.jw.org, and is available in dozens of languages.7 The policy states that elders in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses will enforce legal reporting once they become aware of an allegation of child abuse.
In jurisdictions without a legal duty to report, such as the Netherlands, elders will still actively report a child at risk of being abused by the accused. In all cases, the elders will inform the adult victim or the victim’s parents of their unconditional right to report to the legal authorities.
Additionally, in July 2019, all congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Netherlands (and the more than 119,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide) in three consecutive one-hour religious services covered three study articles from The Watchtower of May 2019, openly discussing the subject of child sexual abuse. was discussed. More than 10 million copies of that issue of The Watchtower have been printed in more than 275 languages. A further 6.7 million copies have been downloaded from the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, www.jw.org.
Those three Watchtower study articles examine how to protect children from sexual abuse, how elders act in the interests of the congregation, including reporting such allegations to authorities, and how parents can protect their children . The articles also covered how to comfort those who experienced sexual abuse in their youth.8
To our knowledge, no religious institution has made such a worldwide effort as Jehovah’s Witnesses to address the subject of child abuse point by point in all of its congregations during religious services open to the general public. In each of the three weekend services, more than 8.5 million people worldwide participated in these discussions.
Contrary to what Minister Dekker claims, Jehovah’s Witnesses are an open and transparent faith community in which everyone’s privacy is respected. We take our faith seriously, but do not live in secluded communities separate from the world. We enjoy a completely normal life in society. The vast majority have full-time jobs, own or rent their own home, enjoy relaxation, and spend time with friends and family. Our children attend regular schools, go shopping, watch TV and movies, use the Internet, play sports and spend time with their peers. At the same time, it is logical that we primarily form friendships and seek association with those who share our beliefs and moral values.
It is insulting to anyone who actively provides assistance to the victims and their family members that Minister Dekker falsely claims that victims lack “accessible emotional and practical support”. The opposite is true.
The elders of our congregations seek to take a loving and active interest in the spiritual and emotional needs of those in the congregation. One way that elders do this is through pastoral support, which is always provided at no cost. Pastoral visits are an integral and regular part of the religious activity of the elders. They make pastoral support a priority, especially in cases of child sexual abuse. If the victim is female, the elders may be assisted by experienced women in the congregation. But elders recognize their limits. They are not healthcare professionals. Whether someone is looking for professional guidance is a personal decision.
In addition, Minister Dekker completely ignores the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Netherlands, including victims of child sexual abuse, can call our national religious office to discuss their concerns in confidence.
Internationally acclaimed experts outline serious shortcomings in the UU report. We would like to draw your attention to the expert report of 7 January 2020 from Holly Folk, Massimo Introvigne and J. Gordon Melton9
In the Netherlands, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a legacy of integrity that spans more than 110 years. According to a study by historian Tineke Piersma, there were at least 468 during the Nazi occupation
Witnesses arrested. 126 of them (108 men and 18 women) died in captivity, mostly from disease and deprivation. Others were executed. In Zwolle, a memorial commemorates Herman van Elburg, who died for his faith in Dachau concentration camp and left behind a wife and two young children10. 75 years later, more than 30,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses make a positive contribution to Dutch society. We therefore firmly distance ourselves from the false charge that we fail to care for victims of child sexual abuse.
We thank you for the opportunity to present these facts.
On behalf of the board of
Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Netherlands
M. van Ling
- expert report dated 12 February 2020 from James Rothman (NL and EN);
- expert report dated 7 January 2020 from Holly Folk, Massimo Introvigne, J. Gordon Melton (NL and EN);
- expert report dated January 10, 2020 by Eileen Barker (NL and EN).
1 See expert report 12 February 2020 by expert statistician and researcher James Rothman, at points 24, 50 and 70; expert report January 7, 2020 from sociologists and researchers Holly Folk, Massimo Introvigne, J. Gordon Melton, at items 9, 101, 13-16,19-21, 23, 28, 30; see also expert report 10 January 2020 by sociologist Eileen Barker, at points 11-13; 19 and 36.
3 None of the allegations in the anonymous online questionnaire used by the report have been confirmed. The authors of that report admit that they “do not engage in truth-finding in this study” (report, page 29). The authors of the report also admit that because they used an anonymous online questionnaire, it was impossible to know whether: (1) each respondent who visited the questionnaire was an actual person and not just the same person who entered the questionnaire. (or parts of it) completed several times; (2) each respondent lived in the Netherlands; and (3) each respondent mentioned a different allegation and not the same allegation reported by someone else (report, p. 33)
4 National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children, On Good Ground – Tackling sexual violence
against children, The Hague, 2014, paragraphs 2.2.4.
5 W. Deetman, Sexual abuse of Minors in the Roman Catholic Church – Part I, Publisher Balans Amsterdam, 2011, p.18.
6 See Awake !, October 2007, “How to Protect Your Children,” pages 1-11 (available at https://www.jw.org/en/library/magazines/g200710/protect-your-children/); “How can parents teach their children about sex?” (2015), www.jw.org (available at https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/parents-teach-children-about-sex/); animation “Protect Your Children” (available at