Jehovah’s Witnesses are Abhorrently beyond Disgusting and Perverted
On September 3rd 2021, the The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) released its September 2021 report into Child protection in religious organisations and settings.
Below are some of the observations made by the Independent Inquiry regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses in England and Wales.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have more than 131,700 members in England and Wales. Their records showed 67 allegations reported to their Branch Office within the previous 10 years. This included 25 allegations against elders, 32 allegations against ministerial servants and 10 people accused of abuse within an institutional context (such as abuse at a place of worship by a congregant or non-Jehovah’s Witness).
Mark Sewell was a ministerial servant in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, later becoming an elder. PR-A7 was abused by Sewell between the ages of 12 and 15.
After the sexual abuse, Sewell would often say a prayer, during which PR-A7 was expected to sit quietly and join in with ‘Amen’. On two occasions, when she was aged between 12 and 15, PR-A7’s parents approached Sewell with concerns about his behaviour towards their daughter – on both occasions, he told them that their daughter had “misunderstood”, as had they.
When PR‑A7 was 16 years old, she disclosed her abuse to her parents, who reported it to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ elders. Three elders attended PR-A7’s home and she had to report what happened without any supportive adult present. At a subsequent meeting in the Kingdom Hall, PR-A7 had to recount her abuse before her father, three elders, Sewell and Sewell’s wife.
The elders contacted the Britain Branch Office of Jehovah’s Witnesses for advice. In response the Branch Office replied that: “the victim should consider going to the police or, if the victim did not want to, their parents should go to the police or the elders should search their consciences and consider whether they needed to go to the police.” PR-A7’s father, who was a congregation elder at the time, reported the allegations to the police. The police declined to press charges.
PR-A6 was abused by a ministerial servant in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Peter Stewart, who would quote scripture to her and tell her that Jehovah wanted them to spend time together, and that it was important to be obedient and respect her elders.
In some cases, the impulse dissuading disclosure may be more subtle. In 2020, the High Court heard a case concerning alleged child sexual abuse within a Jehovah’s Witness family where issues were raised about what certain elders in the congregation knew about the alleged abuse. The mother in that case told us [IICSA]:
“The Elders informed me that I had to think about the consequences of my actions as mentioned, I wanted to go to the police but the message I felt I was receiving was that police involvement was not the appropriate thing to do. I fully accept that this was not … being said to me but this is what I was feeling. “The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a child protection policy in place which is comprised of four core documents.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a child protection policy in place which is comprised of four core documents, each of which has a specific purpose and a specific target audience:
- Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection – Available to congregation members and the public on the Jehovah’s Witnesses website
- The Watchtower (May 2019) – which “explained and expanded on” the worldwide policy and is studied and read by Jehovah’s Witnesses in group classes. This issue contained four articles that was discussed by congregations worldwide during the period July 1st 2019 to August 4th 2019.
- Shepherd the Flock of God – For congregation elders only
- Child Sexual Abuse – Guidelines for Branch Office Service Desks – Further guidance for elders in the Service Department, a department within the Branch Office.
All four of the documents are rooted in religious texts and written in ‘scriptural language’. However, the Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection, designed to be used and looked at by all members of the Jehovah’s Witness congregations, does not provide practical guidance on recognising signs of abuse.
The Watchtower (May 2019), again, intended to be studied by all congregants, does not provide information on how to contact statutory authorities when there is concern.
The two documents produced only for elders provide more detailed information as to how to refer matters to statutory authorities but these documents are not circulated to members of the congregation.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not undertake vetting and barring checks on elders, ministerial servants (who provide practical help and assist the elders), or those who run the organisation regionally or at a national level.This fails to recognise that the mere presence of parents does not prevent those in positions of trust from developing inappropriate relationships with children, or being able to groom both the children and their families.
The recent case of Lancashire County Council v E & F and Ors  EWHC 182 (Fam) provides an example in which the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ process for reporting allegations failed. In 2016, a mother disclosed to elders that her daughter had been sexually abused by the daughter’s father. Despite the alleged abuser continuing to live in the same household as the child, the elders did not report the abuse to the police until July 2019. During subsequent family proceedings, the Jehovah’s Witnesses resisted requests, and ultimately a summons, to provide statements from the elders involved about the investigations they carried out.
This case illustrates that prior to the introduction of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ 2018–2019 child protection policy, there was a risk of elders not referring matters to the statutory authorities because of misguided assurances given by parents. In this case, a referral to the statutory authorities should have been made by the elders when they first learned of the complaint. Mrs Justice Lieven, who heard the case, commented that it raised “very great concern about the safeguarding of children within the Jehovah’s Witness community”.
Only a very small minority of statutory inquiries undertaken by the Charity Commission concerned matters relating to child protection in religious organisations and settings. Among these were an inquiry into the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain (another charity operated by the Jehovah’s Witnesses), which is ongoing. In announcing the opening of the inquiry in 2014, the Charity Commission noted that its:
“concerns have been amplified by recent criminal cases concerning historic incidents of abuse involving individuals who appear to have been connected to Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations and/or the charity. In addition, there has been growing public interest in how the charity and congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses deal with safeguarding matters”.
There has been considerable criticism from the Jehovah’s Witnesses of the Charity Commission’s handling of this investigation. Mr Paul Gillies, the Director of the Office of Public Information for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, told us that an ongoing inquiry in relation to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain is “manifestly unfair” and “allegedly premised on unidentified complaints, which have never been disclosed”. He also said that the five-year inquiry had been “spasmodic” but that Watch Tower Britain had “taken all reasonable steps to engage with the Charity Commission”.
Mr Harvey Grenville, Senior Technical Advisor for the Charity Commission, did not recognise “the characterisation or implication that somehow the Watchtower charity and the Branch Committee are fully co-operative with us”, and noted that the level of legal challenge undertaken by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the context of the two inquiries was “simply unprecedented”. In 2020, the Jehovah’s Witnesses initiated a judicial review of the Charity Commission’s statutory inquiry, which had not concluded at the time of the finalisation of this report.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of few religious organisations which have an internal disciplinary process which can lead to the expulsion of members. The rule [‘the two-witness rule’] is not intended to be a safeguarding measure. The rule’s capacity to cause harm to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse is clear. We have received first-hand evidence of this harm.
As it presently operates, the Jehovah’s Witnesses internal disciplinary process for disfellowshipping members bears no relationship to how sexual crime happens. The continuing use of this rule shows a disregard of the seriousness of the crimes involved and their impact on individuals. It also lacks compassion for the victim, and serves to protect the perpetrator.
Few religious organisations provided any form of professional or support services for those who were abused, or offered any systematic access to counselling or therapeutic support. The services that were offered were ad hoc and very much dependent on access to local support services. The provision of spiritual care and pastoral support by religious leaders is important. However, this does not replace the provision of therapeutic services and these therapeutic services are often not offered by religious organisations.
The IICSA Report concluded that the following items will be addressed in its final report:
- mandatory reporting;
- vetting and barring;
- regulation of the voluntary sector in respect of religious organisations and settings; and
- introducing primary legislation to provide that voluntary settings adhere to basic child protection standards.
This damning report demonstrates beyond any doubt that Jehovah’s Witnesses are abhorrently beyond disgusting and perverted in their deliberate mishandling of cases of child sexual abuse in their religion.
The report also comes on the heels of the just concluded 2021 Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in which David Splane (a Governing Body Member who are among others, vets each of the four child protection policy documents described above), without making any direct reference to the upcoming IICSA report, said the following in the lecture “Put up a hard fight for the faith”! at the said Convention.
This lecture really highlights the strong, distasteful distrust and abnormal aversion that Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to have for reports that criticize their faith, such as the September 2021 IICSA report:
So Jude is talking about false brothers who are presenting a real danger to the congregations — in some ways, a greater danger than outright persecution. And did you notice what Jude said about those false brothers? They had “slipped in.” They were sneaky. Well, that was true back then, and it’s true today, as we’ll see.
And, brothers, this is a very serious matter that we’re considering today. Think of this: Was the Christian congregation brought down by persecution in the second and third centuries? It wasn’t. It was brought down by false brothers and apostate teachings. And so the Devil can use an outright attack. He can use persecution to try to batter the structure of the Christian congregation. But sometimes he uses rot from within, a subtle means to attack us. But whatever method he uses, we have to fight. Our faith is involved, and our faith is worth fighting for. It’s a gift from Jehovah. We have to hold on to it. It’s a product of his holy spirit.
So we have to put up a hard fight for our faith. So in this talk, we’re not going to discuss persecution. We’re going to discuss two of the subtle means Satan uses to weaken our faith: apostasy and negative reports about Jehovah’s Witnesses in the media.
So first, let’s talk about apostasy, and we’ll call it spiritual poison. Now, think about poison. What’s the best way to avoid being poisoned? Well, we have to recognize poison when we see it, and then avoid it. And the same principle applies to teachings that could destroy our faith. And that’s not always easy. No, not many of our brothers and sisters would deliberately get involved with apostates, but it could happen without our realizing it.
Now let’s consider the second challenge we face: negative reports about Jehovah’s Witnesses in the media.
Now, here’s a good principle to follow — Proverbs 14:15. I’ll give you a moment. At Proverbs chapter 14 and verse 15, it says: “The naive person believes every word, but the shrewd one ponders each step.”
Now, this matter of Jehovah’s people being the subject of malicious reports isn’t new. Think about the days of Queen Esther. Wicked Haman brings a bad report to King Ahasuerus. ‘The Jews don’t obey our laws. They’re a danger to society.’ Does Ahasuerus check the facts? Does he demand proof? No. Ahasuerus is naive; he allows himself to be taken in by Haman.
Well, there are a lot of modern‐day Hamans today, and they use similar tactics. As a result, some government officials are taken in. They believe the slanderous accusations of the apostates. Now, if they just took the time to check the facts, they’d see that they’re being lied to, but they don’t check the facts.
So, brothers, let’s not be naive; don’t believe everything you read. Just because an article is called a news report doesn’t make it true, and an editorial is someone’s opinion — and that someone may be wrong. And TV producers may have their own agenda, prejudice, and viewpoint.
So, what do we say in conclusion? Our faith is under attack, and we have to fight. And Jehovah gives us what we need to fight with. One of the things he gives us is good associations. Satan will try to lure us away from good associations. He’ll try to weaken our faith by getting us involved in bad associations without our knowing it, but Jehovah provides good association in the congregation. These are people we know. These are people we love. These are people who have our best interests at heart.
The apostates have nothing to offer us, brothers. All they have to offer is hate. All they have to offer is criticism and negative talk. But, oh, how upbuilt we feel when we’re with those who love Jehovah! So Jehovah provides us with good, wholesome associations. He also provides us with his Word of truth, and an accurate knowledge of the truth is the best defense against apostasy.
False rumors are often spread during wartime. Brothers, this is war. We need to put up a hard fight for the faith as if our life depended on it — because it does!