How do Jehovah’s Witness Elders deal with Child Sexual Abuse?
The letter from the Governing Body to All Bodies of Elders tells them exactly what they are to do.
Note: The word “should” is used instead of “shall” throughout the letter. This is somewhat confusing as it gives the impression that the directions from the Governing Body are recommendations only and are not necessarily a requirement. Bearing in mind the content discussed in the letter and the fact that the Legal Department is to be called immediately when there is an allegation of child abuse, we’ll assume that the word “shall” was meant to be used.
- If the elders in a congregation are faced with an accusation of child sexual abuse, two elders are to call their Legal Department immediately for legal advice. The Legal Department will then provide them with legal advice based on applicable local laws.
- They are recommended to help the parents of the child realize that they have primary responsibility for their child’s welfare. This direction does not take into consideration the possibility that one or both of the parents may be the abuser(s).
- When elders learn of an accusation, in addition to the letter from the Governing Body, they are to carefully review the direction outlined in the Elder’s 2010 manual Shepherding the Flock of God, chapter 12, paragraphs 18-21, where it states:
8. You should immediately call the branch office for direction if you learn of an accusation of child abuse, regardless of the age of the victim now or at the time of the alleged abuse, even if it occurred before the alleged perpetrator’s baptism. The branch office will then give direction based on the circumstances involved in each situation.
19. Child abuse is a crime. Never suggest to anyone that they should not report an allegation of child abuse to the police or other authorities. If you are asked, make it clear that whether to report the matter to the authorities or not is a personal decision for each individual to make and that there are no congregation sanctions for either decision. Elders will not criticize anyone who reports such an allegation to the authorities. If the victim wishes to make a report, it is his or her absolute right to do so. – Gal 6:5.
20. When a known child molester moves to another congregation, the Congregation Service Committee should send a letter of introduction with full and complete information about his background and current situation. Any letter from the branch office concerning the child molester should be photocopied or sent to the new congregation. However, the new congregation should be clearly informed of any restrictions imposed by the branch office. A copy of the letter of introduction should to sent to the branch office.
21. In a case in which a brother denies an allegation of child abuse and he has been accused by only one witness, the following direction is given if he moves to another congregation. The elders should consult the branch office before sending any information regarding the accusation to the elders in the new congregation. It would be helpful if your letter to the branch office provided a detailed summary of the matter and explained the spiritual condition and personal circumstances of the accused and the accuser. With regard to the accused, the following questions should be answered: (1) What is his interaction with children? (2) Does he admit to any activity with the accuser that could have been misinterpreted by the accuser as sexual abuse, or does he claim to have a poor memory of the accusation? (3) What is his response to why the accuser has made the allegation? (4) Has he had to be counselled for any other matters of a sexual nature, such as inappropriate conduct with adult sisters or pornography? (5) What is the level of his spirituality? (6) Do all the elders on the body believe that he can be trusted with children? The following questions should be answered with regard to the accuser: (1) What is the level of maturity of the child or youth? (2) Is he (or she) describing conduct that one his age would not normally know about? (3) Is the child or his parents known to be serious, mature? (4) Is his memory consistent, or is it intermittent, or does it involve repressed memories? (w95 11/1 pp. 25-26) (5) What is the reputation of the parents? (6) Are they spiritually and emotionally mature? After carefully considering the matter, the branch office will then give you direction as to what information about the allegation should be shared, if any, with the elders of the new congregation.
Firstly, It should be pointed out that, although the directions in the Shepherding the Flock of God textbook states in bold letters that an elder should never suggest to anyone that they should not report an allegation of child abuse to police or other authorities, it does not direct them to suggest reporting an allegation. Furthermore, only if they are asked about reporting the incident to the police, the elders are directed not to give any support to the victim in this regard. Instead, they are to inform the victim that this is a personal decision for each individual to make.
Secondly, the Shepherding the Flock of God textbook is only available to Jehovah’s Witness elders. Victims who do not have a family member who is an elder would not be privy to the directions detailed above. This provides an unfair advantage to victims whose parent may be an elder, and also to elders who are abusers, as they would know before hand how their case would be handled by the elders.
Thirdly, it should be made clear that many Jehovah’s Witness abuse victims may not report the incident to the police because Jehovah’s Witnesses are directed to avoid bringing another brother to court because it would “bring reproach on Jehovah’s name”. The Watchtower 1986, Nov 15, page 20, para 18 states:
It is better to suffer financial loss than to bring reproach on Jehovah’s name as well as the congregation and disrupt our unity by taking a believer to court. Of course, even though court action is not taken, some form of congregation action may be necessary if dishonesty is involved.
Although these sentences are referring to bad business deals between Jehovah’s Witnesses, the inference is there: It is better to suffer … than to bring reproach on Jehovah’s name … by taking a believer to court. Compare 1 Corinthians 6:1,7.
- Shockingly, Jehovah’s Witness elders are “not authorized by the Scriptures to take congregational action unless there is a confession or there are two credible witnesses”. The two scriptures they quote for this archaic rule are Deuteronomy 19:15 and Matthew 18:16 which read as follows:
No single witness may convict another for any error or any sin that he may commit. On the testimony of two witnesses or on the testimony of three witnesses the matter should be established. – Deuteronomy 19:15
But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. – Matthew 18:16
In the vast majority of child sex abuse cases, there is only one witness – the child. How is a child going to get another witness to the matter? Really, when you read the above scriptures, it’s very clear that they are not referring to child sexual abuse. But yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses will do NOTHING unless they have a confession from the abuser or the abused has another witness to the crime.
- The only steps that “loving elders” take in relation to protecting children is to allow a child abuser remain a member of the congregation if they determine that s/he is repentant or if there is a lack of witnesses or lack of a confession. They can disfellowship a child abuser if s/he confesses to abusing child. Or, in the unlikely event that the abused child manages to get a second witness , the elders can also disfellowship the child abuser if they determine that s/he is unrepentant.
They are to be mindful of those who have been child abusers and are to inform newly appointed elders of such persons. The congregation as a whole are never made aware of any child abusers within their midst, except for those who have been abused, and their parents or guardians. Elders may also caution convicted child abusers to refrain from displaying affection to children, to avoid hugging or holding children on their lap, never to be alone with a child (other than their own), not to allow children to spend the night in their home, not to work alone with one while preaching (hence, they should always be accompanied by another adult), and not to cultivate friendships with children. This is intended to protect children and help prevent those who have sexually abused a child from putting themselves in the way of temptation, being subjected to an unfounded accusation, or doing things that may cause concern to others in the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
If the child abuser does not heed the elders’ caution, then the elders are to immediately call the Service Department for advice, as s/he may be a predator. In such cases, and only after receiving direction from the Service Department, elders may inform parents of minor children that there is such an individual in their midst. The child abuser is also informed that parents have been warned.