Legislative Pressure and Culture Change among Jehovah’s Witnesses

by Harvinder Singh, University of Birmingham, UK

The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, or as they are more commonly known as Jehovah’s Witnesses have been criticised by the Australian Royal Commission in 2015 for their handling and practices of child safeguarding. This centralised international religious organisation defends its practices with first-century biblical principles, claiming that it possesses spiritual truth. My study tests the hypothesis of whether this religious organisation adjusts to local variations of child safeguarding laws in the United States of America, England and Australia. This organisation’s local adaptations to child safeguarding laws in these three countries are a challenge to their universal truth.

The methodology of my enquiry includes an analysis of textual sources ranging from WatchTower’s child safeguarding policy, letters, magazines and civil court cases concerning child abuse, in addition to the findings of the Australian Royal Commission and the response submitted on behalf of WatchTower. My exploration of civil court cases and the elder’s correspondence documents in section 5, offers an insight into where WatchTower has adapted their previous doctrinal practices of requiring a victim of child sexual abuse to confront their abusers.

My study finds that WatchTower has adapted its child safeguarding practices by introducing new methods which no longer requires victims of child sexual abuse to make an allegation by having to confront their perpetrators. In addition to this, victims of abuse can now be accompanied by a support person of any gender to make an allegation against a perpetrator of abuse to an elder. Thus, the analysis of this enquiry has established areas of WatchTower’s theocratic position which has been adjusted due to local legal pressures in these three countries. The legal framework of this dissertation has demonstrated that the elders responsibility to safeguard children vary due to the local legal requirements.Thus, states in America and particular provinces in Australia require different responsibilities from elders, in the form of acquiring background checks and adhering to mandatory reporting legislation. Of which, WatchTower confirms that they are willing to comply with. This study finds through the double hypothesis that if there are local variations from the global Jehovah’s Witnesses’ instructions, there are local legal requirements in these three countries. Where there are no local legal requirements, this study also finds that there are no local variations in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ documents and practices. This thesis finds that this religious organisation does not respond or adjust its doctrinal practices of child safeguarding in the face of criticism and recommendations of scholars, the mass media and the secular courts unless legislation requires it. The findings of my study therefore urge legislators to set clearer legal expectations for clergy penitent privilege. I argue that a Jehovah’s Witness elder and the penitent child abuser should both enjoy the privilege of confidentiality. However, on the contrary, any other elder who becomes aware of such abuse outside of that privilege, should be required mandatorily by law to report it to the authorities to ensure that children are protected from sexual abuse.

[Editors: Note Harvinder Singh’s Academic Paper on Jehovah’s Witnesses, PDF 76 pages]

Harvinder Singh, (BA, MA)

School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion

Department of Theology and Religion,University of Birmingham

Clergy Abuse

In light of the news surrounding the sexual abuse of children by members of clergy or religious organizations across the country, the Department of Justice is gathering information from the public regarding complaints of this nature in California.

Source: Clergy Abuse

Why I am a SCAARS Supporter (M.P.)

by Michael Paddock

For many years, I ministered as an elder in a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs). Looking back, I can say one thing for certain – we were not adequately trained to deal with complex issues. There were schools and letters specifically created by those guiding the religion that I was raised in to help elders manage complicated situations. Nonetheless, the instructions were focused on organizational policy, not how to assist people with serious psychological issues as a result of child sexual abuse or other severe mistreatment.

For instance, survivors of child sexual abuse need ongoing support and help to recover from this most devastating attack on their innocence. Although this appears like an obvious statement, too many individuals in today’s world ignore this stark reality and do not back or assist efforts to provide appropriate care.

JWs are a prime example of their leaders not meeting the challenge of assisting those who are suffering from the many debilitating effects due to child sexual abuse. This is because within this religion, there aren’t any trained and paid clergy. Elders [only males] are “volunteers” who are taught how to spiritually “care for the flock” and instructed in how to perform mundane tasks aimed at operating a place of worship.

The psychological effects of child sexual abuse include lower levels of self-esteem, higher rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self-mutilation, and suicide. Each of these categories requires a specialized level of training for anyone hoping to adequately address these issues. The effects are life-altering and can devastate the victims for decades.

The focus of the training elders receive about abuse issues is merely on the internal procedures developed by JW leaders of what to do when a JW accuses another JW of sexual abuse. These procedures include elders:

  1. talking to the victim to hear the “accusation” of abuse.
  2. calling JWs Legal Department, which represents their legal corporation, the Watchtower, to see if the “accusation” should be reported to the authorities.
  3. assessing whether the “accused” should face an internal judicial committee made up of three JW elders.

In the past, a JW victim of child sexual abuse tragically had to face and accuse their JW abuser of wrongdoing face to face. Although this practice recently changed, it demonstrates the lack of understanding and assistance common in their internal policies.

Reporting a case of child sexual abuse to JW elders is still a needlessly stressful event for victims since they are expected to recount their abuse in front of at least two male elders. Often, the elders ask very uncomfortable, and sometimes inappropriate questions to determine whether sexual abuse occurred, the frequency of the act and whether the victim was a willing participant.

Furthermore, since JWs are trained to view all outside organizations as being part of
“Satan’s world,” they will not encourage a victim to seek professional counseling. This lack of training and support leaves victims in an impossibly difficult position.

SCAARS believes that anyone who volunteers for a position of authority in an institutional setting that might include hearing reports of child sexual abuse, must receive suitable training to understand how to properly support the abused; and volunteers must insist that the victim or caregiver report the abuse to the authorities.
Victims need a safe environment as described in the document, “Child Safe Organizational Cultures” (https://scaarscaorg.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/child-safe-organizational-cultures-revised.pdf).

If individuals truly want to help victims of child abuse survive and thrive beyond their
abuse, they should be thoroughly and properly instructed as to how to meet the challenge.

Why I am a SCAARS Supporter (B.P.)

by B.P. in Illinois

My father was a man of great integrity who abhorred religious hypocrisy. In his youth, he boldly marched in front of churches in Brooklyn, NY, with a sign that read, “Religion is a Snare and a Racket.” He never backed down from speaking against the piousness of the clergy or the sins they committed in God’s name. As a matter of fact, it was his favorite subject!

Therefore, I was raised with the conviction that devotion to God and to truth was to be first in my life. Whenever I had any questions, Dad would always tell me to do the research. He was convinced that he had found “the truth” and it could stand up to any scrutiny. “Don’t take my word for it – look it up.” he’d say.

Sadly, my father died in 1988, before the Internet made it so easy to do research. If alive today, I think he’d be appalled to learn that child sex abuse had infiltrated powerful religious institutions. I can just imagine his anger to find out how religious leaders covered-up this crime, and that perpetrators were protected by using spin and legal posturing.

Like my father advised, “Do the research to find the truth,” that’s what I did when I began to question the structure of religion; claims of ecclesiastical privilege, along with what I saw as an immense misuse of power.

After discovering that many religions were founded not on candor with transparency, but largely on “malfeasance of office” and sanctimoniousness, I realized that a secret and dangerous culture developed over the centuries. This has culminated in some of the most scandalous cover-ups we’ve ever seen in our time.

Events of the past have proven that appealing to the clergy’s moral principles and humanity has not worked in changing their culture. Therefore, it is our belief that the best way to end sexual and spiritual abuse is by effective action to change secular laws. For instance, if Grand Juries were convened in the 50-states, (similar to the Australian Royal Commission), more crimes would be uncovered which would force institutions into supporting the weak and taking humane actions toward the injured. It is only then that healing of the innocents can begin.

As I became acquainted with the founders of the SCAARS group (Stop Child Abuse – Advocates for Reform and Safety), I realized that we were kindred spirits. Years before the #MeToo Movement began, these courageous people showed their devotion to justice in behalf of those less fortunate, by exhibiting a spirit of activism both in word and deed. Like my colleagues, I have never been sexually abused, but feel the need to speak out with them on behalf of those who have.

As a Victim’s Advocate and a Mandated Reporter, I’m committed to the cause of helping individuals crushed by religious institutions that abuse power. And I am honored to champion truth-telling and to help bring about cultural change with my friends at SCAARS. If my Dad was still alive, he surely would be proud of all of us who are determined defenders of truth and advocates for reform.

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia Launches Hotline for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Clergy

WASHINGTON – The Superior Court Division’s Sex Offense and Domestic Violence Section and the Victim Witness Assistance Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia are launching a hotline and e-mail address for survivors to report child sexual abuse by clergy, U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu announced today.

Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia Launches Hotline for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Clergy