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France: Jehovah’s Witnesses targeted by incest in Lorient

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French Headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses

The public prosecutor’s office in Lorient has opened an investigation following a complaint of rape by a female member of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She accuses her father of having raped her when she was a child.

Originally published in French on France Bleu by Ninnog Louis on Friday May 21, 2021.

A preliminary investigation was opened in Lorient (Morbihan) after a complaint from a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who accuses her father of having raped her when she was a child, and accuses her community of having “covered up” these acts. “The investigation is ongoing,” the Lorient prosecutor’s office exclusively told AFP on Friday. According to a source close to the investigation, Hélène S., 33 years of age, the parents of the complainant were taken into police custody on May 3 for 24 hours, then released. The complainant, in her 30’s, now married and mother of three, says she was the victim of rape and sexual assault by her father between 1995 and 2008, when she was aged 8 to 21.

She claims that her father had forced her to have anal penetration “as soon as he could“. Her mother is alleged to have “repeatedly” asked her to sleep with him, calling her “stuck-up” when she complained of her father’s sexual abuse, according to the complaint. The complainant also refers to the mistreatment suffered by children looked after by her mother as a maternal assistant. According to Hélène S, in August 2013, after the revelation of the facts with those close to the complainant, the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Lorient had organized a “judicial committee“. “One of the Elders said that we could make a formal complaint, but the others said it was going to bring reproach on Jehovah’s name,” she said.

An “even stronger” law of silence

According to the young woman, an investigation was opened in June 2019 in Lorient and her mother had her maternal assistant approval withdrawn. But “my parents are fully supported by the community,” she says. “If my parents fall, the community of Lorient falls because there are too many people who know about it.” “In matters of incest, there is already a law of silence but, there, it is even stronger“, insists her lawyer Karine Shebabo, who wishes to launch a “call for witnesses” to find people that her client may have forgotten.

This situation hurts us greatly, because the victim, if the facts are proven, may suffer for a long time from the attacks suffered. Our first thought is therefore a thought of compassion“, reacted the Bethel, a French subsidiary of Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to this source, the line of conduct “in terms of reporting child sexual abuse” is for “ministers of religion” to invite “the adult victim to reveal the facts to the authorities” or to ask the parents to do so if she is a minor. “This recommendation has been followed for many, many years“, explains the Bethel.

As for the “judicial committee” mentioned by the complainant, it “serves only to decide whether the accused person can remain a member of the congregation or not” and its action “does not interfere in any way with the legal proceedings brought before the authorities“, he assures. In 2005, a former Jehovah’s Witness was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment at the Assize Court (Criminal Trial Court with a jury) in Gironde for the rape of his daughter. Fourteen years earlier, Jehovah’s Witnesses had brought the man before the “body of elders” and decided to expel him from the community without, however, reporting the case to the authorities.

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