BBC Radio, Jehovahs Witnesses maintain protection of child sex abusers. Ex members speak to doctrine

BBC Radio, Jehovahs Witnesses maintain protection of child sex abusers. Ex members speak to doctrine


there are over 8 million Jehovah’s
Witnesses around the world to be a follower of Jehovah involves a total
belief in an ancient and literal interpretation of the Scriptures the
Bible is not just for worship it dictates day to day life for all its
members and because of one particular rule the organization has been accused
of covering up thousands of cases of child sex abuse around the world I’m
David kook and in this edition of heart and soul for the BBC World Service I’m
trying to understand why obscure passages of the Bible are still being
used by church elders effectively protecting sexual abusers when I was
around about 6 or 7 years of age my mother became a Jehovah’s Witness as a
consequence of that I was brought along in the same belief system not long after
my mom became a Jehovah’s Witness she was a single parent by then she met male
Jehovah’s Witness who she’s subsequently married but it turns out that he was a
pedophile and even before they got married he started to groom me and I
underwent a physical mental and sexual abuse for a period of about five years
this is Nick French he now lives outside Glasgow on the west of Scotland he says
he was unable to tell anyone at his non-religious school about the abuse he
was suffering because of the religion strict teachings about the dangers of
the outside world anything outside the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses is an evil
place you would go to school because the state says that you had to go to school
we certainly wouldn’t be involved in anything out with the group because it’s
under the control of Satan the devil and you just limit any association with
people outside of the organization there are Jehovah’s Witnesses in over 200
countries around the world the largest number are in
America where the watched are the organization’s headquarters is based
it’s home to the governing body seven men who believe that they are anointed
by Jehovah and a guardians of the doctrine each local congregation is
overseen by another group of men known as elders they lead services Bible study
and attempt to the pastoral care of the congregation my grandparents on my mom’s
side were actually born and raised chosen nieces and so my mom was jobs
witness and then my dad was actually a Catholic and when they got married my
mom took him to studies Bible studies and so now he’s a Jonas Candace Conti is
from California growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness she wasn’t allowed to
celebrate Christmas because of its association with pagan customs she was
told that birthday parties displease God and evolution was a myth I always
wondered about dinosaurs I always wondered where the dinosaurs came from
the dinosaurs aren’t in the Bible and I asked the elders where are the dinosaurs
you know what happened to the dinosaurs dinosaurs didn’t exist well but we have
fossils we have all these things you know that say you know what about
evolution I was going into that that’s going into the evolutionary side of
things and they don’t believe in evolution
I met Candace at an international conference in London where people had
gathered to share their experiences of dealing with sexual abuse in the
organization she told me about her abuser. He had a way of being very
forceful and seems to take a really big liking to the kids in the congregation
and he ended up molesting me over a course of a couple years and you know I
think at that point in time I was too afraid to really say anything there was
a lot of turmoil in my own family and I I was scared to try and understand more
about some of the beliefs that the Jehovah’s Witnesses follow
I’ve come to Hamilton just outside Glasgow in the West of Scotland to meet
someone who can help good thank you okay so now in the grounds of Hamilton
old Parish Church of Scotland you’re the Reverend Ross Blackmon that’s
correct yes all the minister here for this passion of this church but you used
to be a Jehovah’s Witness yes that’s right yes with Christ along and
interesting varied career but yes that’s right I I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness
third generation my father was one of those that went across to some of the
conventions in the USA in the 50s and all my extended family pretty much our
job as witnesses as well well let’s go inside the church you can tell me a
little bit more about it the main core beliefs are that they do believe in
Scripture they believe it’s that the Word of God they believe there’s only
one God so they’re monotheistic they believe quite strictly the VADs is the
God whose name is Jehovah the God of the Old Testament and the new and whether
then start to maybe diverge slightly from mainstream Christianity is that
rather than accepting Jesus was also being God the Son of God they’ll accept
him as the Son of God only as much as he’s a creation they’re also quite
isolationist and so much as they would view themselves would be no part of the
world so their take no part in politics whilst at the same time usually they
would try to uphold local law and generally known as being honest
law-abiding clean living individuals the Jehovah’s Witnesses was founded at
the end of the 19th century in the United States by a small group of Bible
students led by Charles taze Russell he was said to be disillusioned by
mainstream Christianity and argued that it had strayed from the first century
vision described in the Bible the Bethel is the world headquarters of the
Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York State and it’s supervisors 90 branches
worldwide distributing Bible study materials and online sermons like this
things we go out and we preach we tell them about what Matthew 24 says in mark
13 and Luke 21 and second Timothy 3 that we’re living in the time of the end
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Armageddon the end of the world is
coming that the Bible instructs them to abstain from blood which rules out
accepting transfusions and that followers must live by strict moral code I’ve traveled to berry in South Wales
and I’m here to meet John Viney John was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for
over 50 years and for much of that time he was also an elder a pastoral leader
in the congregation John David from BBC World Service helped
me a bit nice to see you where are we where are we we are on a nice sunny day
we’re standing outside the kingdom hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the area of
Barry called Gibbons town and this is the main Kingdom Hall for this area
there’s a high metal fence all around it but for many many years you would be on
the other side of that fence worshiping in that Kingdom home yes I was very much
involved in the Barry congregation as an elder tell me what would happen if you
walked into that Kingdom hole today I think on the whole I would be viewed
with great suspicion at the moment I have many Jehovah’s Witnesses that would
walk past me we would call it shunning why why would they need to be careful of
you well only because I would I have been known now to speak out against some
of the practices and some of the the ways in which your home is witnesses
handle certain affairs and being specific I’m talking about child abuse I
was affected very very deeply because my own daughter Karen was abused by an
elder here in this very Kingdom Hall and it’s it’s left its mark both emotionally
and spiritually on me and my family what happened and what happened to Karen well
her uncle my brother-in-law took advantage of her
really and from the age of about 12 or 13 up until she was about 15 some some
bad things went on physically abusing her in a few ways and the matter was
reported to the police we did the Jehovah’s Witnesses did
and report the matter to the police to elder’s had to meet with Karen and
myself and we also had to meet with her abuser and in a room in this kingdom
Hall where we’re standing now the abuser said no I didn’t do that
his wife said no he didn’t do that because she was there and Karen had to
say in front of the two elders this is what he did to me and at the end of that
meeting the two elders report back to the the whole body of elders and they
have to decide if there’s a case to answer that did take place and it was
decided that since he was only Karen’s word against his and Jehovah’s Witnesses
require two witnesses to any sin then no action could be taken the to witness
rule meant no action was taken against Karen’s abuser for many years
Ross Blackmun the ex-jehovah’s witness who was now a Church of Scotland
minister told me where this belief comes from the Jehovah’s Witnesses try to root
their beliefs in Scripture and unlike most the nominations they’ll they’ll
pick on certain verses and lay them with higher order than others perhaps and
this is perhaps one good example of that I mean the to witness rule you do find
in in Old Testament you find in the book of Deuteronomy and a couple of different
chapters the first example to 2017 talks about in the case of the death penalty
actually that they wouldn’t give the death penalty to someone where there
wasn’t two witnesses and you can perhaps understand why that might be a prudent
way of going on but other places as well in the epistles in Corinthians and in
Timothy there are examples of two witnesses being expected to to prove
certain behaviors especially if someone in authority and held in the corrugation
were being accused of something where you would want to have two witnesses of
a kind of behavior the watched are the headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses
in the UK declined to be interviewed for this program but they did send me a
statement it says that they abhor child abuse and they’ve
as a heinous crime and a sin congregation elders do not shield
abusers from the authorities or from the consequences of their actions I’m David
Koch and for heart and soul from the BBC World Service I’m on my way to meet a
lawyer in London who believes the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a crisis that’s
on a par with the abuse allegations that have hit the Catholic Church certainly
the numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide are not as great as the number
of Catholics however when you look at the level of cover-up and the steps and
links that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are willing to go to to try and avoid
disclosing documents then I think that this is a scandal on that level
Kathleen Hennessey is a senior solicitor with the law firm bolt Burton Kemp in
2015 she represented a survivor of sexual abuse in the UK’s first civil
case brought against the Jehovah’s Witnesses we know that reports are made
to the watchtower here in the UK and that’s true around the world and a
record is kept of that report of abuse or alleged abuse but those documents are
never turned over to authorities when they find or they’re made aware of an
allegation of child sexual abuse how is that process managed what do we know
about it if there’s an allegation of child sexual abuse made to the elders of
the congregation we know that the first thing that they’re directed to do is to
contact the watchtower headquarters here in London to be given direction by the
legal department as to what steps to take and they then may depending on the
advice that they receive be directed to investigate the allegation the concern
with investigating the allegation is that this is where the to witness rule
is implicated so if there aren’t two witnesses to the abuse then the
investigation goes no further and it’s a grave concern that there are hardly ever
two witnesses to abuse as we all know and if that’s a requirement for there to
be an investigation and there’s no report to the authorities about the
allegation of abuse then not only our children continuing to be abused but the
perpetrator is still out there able to reoffended witnesses have been accused
of failing to address recommendations the child-abuse Royal Commission a year
and a half after a damning public hearing last year in Australia a Royal
Commission into child sex abuse released a critical report under the Jehovah’s
Witnesses and it was particularly scathing about the to witness rule the
Commission found this rule was devised more than 2,000 years ago and was still
applied inflexibly even in the context of child sexual abuse there were a range
of other reports said the absolute commitment to the to witness rule as
God’s Word showed the Jehovah’s Witnesses had a serious lack of
understanding of the nature of child sexual abuse and the weak disciplinary
system left perpetrators at large in the organization and the community when the
Australian royal commission analyzed the Jehovah’s Witnesses Case Files they
discovered evidence of 1,800 alleged victims of child sex abuse since the
1950s there were also over a thousand alleged abusers listed in the files not
one case it concluded had been reported to the police I have an order of
protection from the Superior Court of San Diego of California instructing that
I can’t talk about what I’ve got I can tell you that I have four years worth of
records that relate to known sexual abusers within the chose witnesses who
were in positions of authority lawyer Irwin Sulkin has also managed to get
access to thousands of documents detailing abuse allegations a court
order means he can’t talk to me about the files but he says they shine a light
on the organisation’s policy to not report serious crimes to the police
Java’s witnesses from birth or from whenever they become Tuhoe his witnesses
are so indoctrinated to believe that they cannot trust the outside world the
outside world has been corrupted by Satan so when they have a circumstance
like abuse they go to their elders who else would you go to but the righteous
elders and the elders will say to them listen this needs to be kept
within the congregation we don’t want to bring reproach against Jehovah you’re
not gonna get Jehovah’s Witnesses going to law enforcement and reporting in a
statement the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the UK told me that they are committed to
doing all they can to prevent child abuse and to provide spiritual comfort
to any who have suffered from this terrible sin and crime the victim and
his or her parents have the absolute right to report the matter to the
governmental authorities and whether the victim or parents decide to report the
matter is not contingent on the number of witnesses the Karen is remarkably
philosophical about it yes she’s very angry about what happened
to her I’m now heading over to Swansea in South Wales with John Viney and we’re
going to meet his daughter Karen who was abused by an elder over 20 years ago her
abuser was recently convicted nobody from the Chou’s witnesses told me to go
to the police or advise me to I knew I wanted to do it and even when I had said
to my dad that I wanted to do it my dad still felt like he needed to contact the
Jehovah’s Witnesses to find out whether we were allowed to or not they don’t
encourage you to do it by any means and none of them came with me none of them
would be supportive and how long did it take before action was finally taken
against the guy who abused you I think it was roughly about 28 years later when
eventually I went to the police for a second time and this time he when he was
arrested more victims came forward so it ended up going to court this time and he
was convicted how long for 14 years let me show you
something Karen this is a document that was published in January of this year
2017 and it’s the child safeguarding policy of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the
United Kingdom the Republic of Ireland it’s just something that you’ve seen
before no I don’t think I have seen this in it there’s a number of statements
about their policies and definition of child abuse and the action that they
will take and it says that the app or abuse of children they’re saying that
people can go to the police do you think this represents a change of policy
within the Jehovah’s Witnesses I wouldn’t trust any document from them
simply for the reason being that they still maintain the to witness rule so if
they suddenly were to say okay we appreciate that there aren’t gonna be
two witnesses to sexual abuse and we’re gonna put that in a document then I
might be inclined to think wow this is you know they’re really signed to
understand it according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses current child safeguarding
policy when an allegation of abuse is made elders are instructed to call the
Bethel the organization’s headquarters and ask to speak to the legal department
for advice the policy says that people shouldn’t be
discouraged from reporting abuse to the authorities yet there is no direct
instruction to do so one section says people may choose to report the matter
in some countries such as the UK this isn’t legal that are currently no
legislation here for the mandatory reporting of allegations of child sex
abuse House treated just the same as any discolors shipped person and so I became
a pariah and in the eyes of the community really and subsequently all of
my prior friends which the lifetime of friends had nothing to do with me and
that particular time pretty much all my family as well because what makes
attended family would you harass witnesses also back in Scotland
Ross Blackman is telling me what happened when he decided to leave the
Jehovah’s Witnesses after he started to doubt the theology of the organization
because you wanted to leave that meant everyone that you had associated with
family friends are the members of the congregation didn’t want to have
anything to do with you that’s exactly the case
yes exactly the case and as you can probably imagine from a social
perspective e-even that’s hasn’t very very difficult as something that’s very
difficult to bear even though I’d anticipated that that would be the way I
would be treated to actually come face to face with that kind of treatment he’s
a real shock to the system there’s no shadow of a doubt about that it does I
thanked you quite deeply you’re looking a little upset if you don’t mind me
saying just the memory of it is it’s still pretty upsetting yes I mean here
we are 15 years later and and talking about that particular facet of life is
deeply hurting and hurtful don’t suppose there’s any way it could be otherwise
really to have that sense of loss amounts of amount of loss is a
bereavement that are huge bereavement of a tragic scale for an individual we know
Ross yes when else’ll in Hamilton the other end of the town this time though
and we’re going to visit a friend of mine Nick French and Ross are two of the
people who run an online support group for people in the UK who have left the
Jehovah’s Witnesses we have around about 600 members and it’s a very active group
there are people that are posting almost on an hourly basis whether they’re
offering support or giving support and it really does operate 24 hours a day
just give us an idea of the type of issues people are dealing with well some
of the issues will be to do with the fact that people are find it difficult
with her the shunning aspect there will be other people who are finding that the
need support because of being survivors of child sexual abuse or it could be
people may be asking about different doctrinal issues maybe if there’s a
thunderstorm a lot of people will come online and because they it’s brought
back memories of being told that Armageddon is near just explain that to
me a thunderstorm can be upsetting to people who are ex-jehovah’s witnesses
Ross you’re not inked a leaflet that I’m sure Nagin will remember from the 80s
which had the word Armageddon emblazoned over it and lightning
two eyes all over it and we were raised with that and this this idea of an
impending doom was very much part and parcel of what we were raised with and
we would have seen images like that every week of life the Jehovah’s
Witnesses say anyone has the right to leave the organization but it does mean
that your family and friends will not be allowed to associate with you this
happened to nake after his stepdad was sent to prison for abusing him and Nick
decided to cut his ties with the church the family that I have that our
Jehovah’s Witnesses I have no relationship with at all and how did
they convey that that was going to happen to you I had an email from my mum
when she found out that I was no longer Jehovah’s Witness to say that this would
be the last communication that we have and I do not have any more communication
from her did she feel any sorrow or any regret about the abuse that you
experienced she did thankfully and she was a witness in the case against my
abuser however since the case I have had no no contact from them it sounds
particularly cruel that when people need that love and that support from their
family such desperately difficult times that’s when families walk away it’s
almost like a double whammy when you’re really needing that help than that
support which you do on an ongoing basis naturally the first people that you
return to are those closest to you those that you grow up with your blood
relation but they’re just not there they’re not available 12 individuals
listen to the story of my wife that you know I hadn’t told many people and they they proved them guilty in 2011 Candice
Conte took the Jehovah’s Witnesses to court in California a judge awarded her
a twenty eight million dollar verdict after it was shown that the organization
told no one that her abuser had a previous conviction for child abuse
child abuse is not an epidemic it’s a pandemic it’s everywhere so what can we
do to bring the transparency to these organizations to achieve a goal of
protecting children but it’s also kind of opened the door for what reforms can
we go into now you know what can we do now people listening to this who may
have their own experiences and may be contemplating going to authorities when
the stakes appear from the inside to be so high what’s your advice to people be
strong and have courage it’s terrible what happened to you it’s terrible
but think about the children that don’t have protection you know cuz you live
through it so be strong and have courage and and try to stand up and it’s tough
it’s hard but the only way that we’re gonna get change is if you have a voice
so have a voice witness protection was produced and presented by me David
Koch for heart and soul from the BBC World Service

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