In Australia, findings are being released about an investigation into allegations of systemic concealment of child sexual abuse by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Washington Post is reporting that the international headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (called the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society) collected secret, internal files — more than 5,000 of them — that documented sexual abuse of more than 1,000 Australian children by members of that faith community. (The files were reportedly created between 1950 to 2014.)
With 8.2 million members around the world, no one knows (yet) the full extent of hidden child sexual abuse within the organization world wide.
The data about abuse in Australia was revealed through an Australian government commission to investigate institutionalized child sexual abuse.
Here are some of the highlights that are being reported about the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ response to child sexual abuse in Australia:
- The church received an average of one report of child sexual abuse per month for nearly 70 years;
- These reports involved more than one thousand (1,006) alleged perpetrators identified by the church;
- There is reportedly no record of perpetrators ever being reported to police (though some church leaders were demoted or dismissed);
- Church responses were recorded in sealed files;
- In forming their response, Church leaders “considered the spirituality and seductiveness of the complainant;” and
- Church officials reportedly destroyed documents about child sexual abuse allegations.
Avoidance, secrecy, victim-blaming — its an all-too-familiar story these days when it comes to institutions of trust and child sexual abuse. And, if history repeats itself, this is probably only the “tip of the iceberg” for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Victims of abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses need the support of the public. It takes great courage to speak the truth about the darkest parts of one’s community. But, there is hope for survivors in telling the truth. The team at Crew Janci LLP has seen it over and over again while representing victims of abuse in the Catholic Church, Mormon Church, Adventist Church, and other religious and secular organizations. Life can get better for survivors of child sexual abuse.