Jehovah’s Witnesses who allegedly suffered child abuse accused denominational leaders of telling them not to report abuse, saying it “would bring reproach on Jehovah.”
Male and female Jehovah’s Witness (JWs) child abuse victims, hailing from five different U.K. towns, who allegedly suffered at the hands of fellow JWs told the BBC that members of the denomination warned them not to report anything to the police. The U.K. branch of the JWs responded to the allegations and said that any accusation they shielded abusers was false, but a victim who allowed herself to be named, Louise Palmer, shared a personal story contradicting her denomination’s claim.
“I asked [the organization], ‘what should I do? Do you report it to the police, [or] do I report it to the police?’ And their words were that they strongly advised me not to go to the police because it would bring reproach on Jehovah,” Palmer told the BBC.
Palmer said she was raped by her brother, who is now serving a 10-year prison sentence, starting at 4 years old.
“I believe children aren’t safe. No child is ever going to feel like they can come forward,” Palmer added, according to The Sun.
Other anonymous victims allege that children and others are not only afraid to report their abusers, but also feel that doing so would be futile because of the JW’s “two witness rule.”
“In order for [victims] to take allegations of sexual abuse further, they have to have two witnesses to the abuse,” child abuse lawyer Kathleen Hallisey told the BBC. Hallisey said she believes there could be thousands of child abuse victims in the U.K. that have yet to come forward in part as a result of policies that make it harder for them to report their abusers.
The “two witness rule” means that two witnesses must come forward in relation to any sin or crime reported, or the elders will take no action; however, it is rare for there to be a second witness to instances of sexual child abuse. The victims also alleged that the JW organization teaches its members to avoid contact with authorities outside of the denomination or to bring another JW into a legal dispute, as they could be excommunicated for doing so.
The JWs released a statement denying any cover-up, and saying that the victims were right to come forward and would not have been prevented from doing so by the number of witnesses to their alleged abuses.
“Any suggestion that Jehovah’s Witnesses covered up child abuse was absolutely false,” the statement read, according to the BBC. The statement also said that the victims had “the absolute right to report the matter to the governmental authorities” and that their right to report it was “not contingent on the number of witnesses to the offence.”
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