How Are Child Abuse Victims Helped?
Jehovah’s Witness elders are directed to speak consolingly to those affected by child sexual abuse. They are to manifest an empathetic, compassionate, patient and supportive response. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 is quoted:
On the other hand, we urge you, brothers, to warn the disorderly, speak consolingly to those who are depressed, support the weak, be patient toward all.
As mentioned previously, the elders qualifications to deal with the traumatic effects of sexual abuse on a child are very poor. Indeed, their poor qualifications are highlighted in the fact that the letter from the Governing Body cautions elders, especially when they are dealing with women who have been sexually abused. It refers them to the Shepherding the Flock of God textbook, Chapter 4, paragraphs 21-28 which reads:
Encouraging Those Who Were Abused in Their Childhood
21. Those who as children were abused, sexually or otherwise, many times grow up to be adults with emotional scars. They are in need of much loving attention. Thus, you will want to be conscious of treating such ones with thoughtfulness, tenderness, and kindness. Such an attitude helps to assure them that you really care for them and that you are “like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm.” (lsa. 32:2) Like God, we should be “tenderly compassionate.” (Eph. 4:32) When offering encouragement to such ones, select from the body of elders those elders best qualified to give the needed assistance. Remember that elders have varied abilities; some may be more effective than others in handling these cases.-l Cor. 12:4.
22. It must be recognized that elders as such are not mental-health professionals or therapists but are spiritual shepherds. ( 1 Pet. 5:2) Consequently, you should not conduct sessions for what some may view as group therapy. It is not necessary to spend time reading secular publications dealing with worldly psychology or psychiatry. You should not take on a role similar to that of a professional therapist. Someone who has serious mental or emotional illness may need professional help. – w88 10/15 p. 27.
23. One way you can show sincere interest is by being a good listener. (Prov. 21:13; Jas 1: 19). The October 1, 1983, issue of The Watchtower, on page 28, cautions against telling a sufferer who seeks just to forget what occurred. Many have found great relief simply in talking with a sympathetic nonjudgmental elder who can provide “the good word” of encouragement. (Prov. 12:25). God’s Word has healing power. Jehovah can heal “brokenhearted ones. (Ps. 30:2; 147:3) Though you may need to ask tactful questions to help an afflicted one express himself, avoid probing unnecessarily or repeatedly into the details of the abuse, which can have a negative effect. After patiently listening, apply the soothing oil of God’s Word. (]as. S: 13-15). “The peace of God excels all thought,” including disquieting thoughts – Phil 4:7; Ps 94:19; w95 1/1 p. 9 para 18-20; g91 10/8 pp 3-11.
24. Sometimes a sister who suffered abuse as a child may approach a capable older sister for help. It is understood that a sister would not get involved in matters that need the attention of the elders. She can, however, give such a sister emotional support and encouragement as her circumstances and time allow. (w90 3/15 p. 28) If the elders are aware that a sister is offering such help, they should check with her from time to time as to the progress being made.
25. There are times when an emotionally distressed Christian may seek professional help. Whether a Christian or his family pursues treatment from psychiatrists, psychologists, or therapists is a personal decision. An elder should not assume the responsibility of recommending a specific practitioner or facility. He may draw attention to or discuss material in the publications that provides cautions regarding therapies that may conflict with Bible principles. (w88 10/15 pp. 28-29; w82 6/15 pp. 25-29; w75 pp. 255-256) ‘While participating in group therapy by a professional therapist is a matter for personal decision, there could be a revealing of confidential facts about other members of the Christian congregation during such sessions if a Christian does not exercise discretion.
26. Elders must recognize that the time they can spend in helping those who are disturbed emotionally is limited. Therefore, they must balance this shepherding responsibility with all their other responsibilities, which include caring for the spiritual, emotional, and material needs of their own family and assisting all in the congregation. In some cases an abuse victim may ask for more attention than you can give. Elders need to maintain soundness of mind. (1 Pet. 4:7) Some elders have found it beneficial to place limits on the time they spend in shepherding. It may take several visits to get the desired relief for the victim, if this is possible. If the individual approaches you looking for help at times when you cannot discuss the problem extensively, perhaps giving some brief words of encouragement, assuring that one of Jehovah’s love, reading an appropriate scripture, or offering a short prayer will affirm to the sufferer your interest and willingness to help to the extent possible. Also, discussing Biblical examples of some who had to endure a terrible childhood and yet succeeded in becoming faithful servants of Jehovah can help sufferers see that they need not be permanent victims of a bad family life.-w01 4/15 pp. 25-28.
Cautions Regarding Assisting Sisters
27. Elders and ministerial servants must never meet alone with a sister not closely related to them and should avoid becoming the sole confidant of an individual of the opposite sex who is experiencing marital problems. This includes lengthy phone conversations. Of course, this does not mean that it would be inappropriate for an elder to talk with a sister while in the full view of others at her home, at congregation meetings, or in the field service.-w06 9/15 p. 26 par. 7.
28. It is important never to meet alone with a sister who is a victim of abuse, suffers from depression, or for any other reason is in a delicate emotional state. A woman in such an emotional state may be more vulnerable and may be prone to develop improper feelings toward an elder meeting with her. So that this does not occur, it is the course of wisdom to have different pairs of elders involved in shepherding such a sister. This would serve as a protection for the elders as well as for the sister because it is possible for an elder to develop improper feelings for a sister he is comforting or counseling. -Jer. 17:9.
Are Jehovah’s Witnesses doing enough to protect children?
It’s clear that Jehovah’s Witnesses love their children and do want to protect them from child abusers and predators. However, there are a few issues with their current policy on child abuse:
- The archaic rule regarding the need for two witnesses to convict an abuser of a crime needs to be reconsidered as the scriptures referenced are clearly not in relation to child sexual abuse.
- Elders should be directed to inform those who make an allegation of sexual abuse that they should report the abuse to the police or other authorities.
- The elders should also inform the victim and his/her parents/guardians that the verses found in 1 Corinthians 6:1,7 do not apply and that they will not bring “reproach upon Jehovah” for going to the police.
- At least one elder in every congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses should get formal training on how todealwithandidentify child abuse in all it’s forms.