Defendants Did Not Report Child Abuse
Although evidence supports the claim that Watchtower Defendants routinely failed to report accusations of sexual abuse to law enforcement, as of January 1, 1997, in California, clergy members were added to the list of “mandatory reporters” pursuant to California Penal Code § 11165.7(a)(32).
As is found in the documents, Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Watchtower Defendants’ Motion to Strike in All Coordinated Cases, on pg. 9, and in Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Watchtower Defendants’ Demurrers in All Coordinated Cases on pgs. 8-9, Defendants excused their conduct of not reporting childhood sexual abuse in California by their own appointed agents on the claim that they were not required by law to do so before 1997. This defense is in regards to five of the six cases. (The seventh lawsuit in the coordinated action was filed October 2006 and not involved in the Napa coordinated action in March 2005 when the following brief was filed by plaintiffs.) Plaintiffs’ attorneys put to rest Defendants’ arguments thusly:
The only case where it is alleged that Watchtower Defendants were required to report consistent with Penal Code § 11164, et. seq., is Daniel West, et. al., on behalf of Shane Pence. The remaining cases allege Watchtower Defendants' failure to report incidents of childhood sexual abuse to law enforcement as a basis of their negligent conduct. This organization could have actively proceeded to protect the children entrusted to their care, but chose not to act in the best of the children. Instead, they chose to protect pedophiles. Plaintiffs contend the Organization's failures to protect victims of sexual abuse by, including but not limited to, failing to notify law enforcement is negligent conduct.
Plaintiffs contend that a reasonably prudent organization, like the Watchtower Defendants, should have notified Plaintiffs, Plaintiffs' families, and law enforcement that pedophiles were sexually abusing children within their Organization.
This cause of action has been asserted on behalf of Shane Pence, only, in the Daniel West, et a/., matter. As alleged in that complaint, Shane was abused by the perpetrator after January 1, 1997. As of January 1, 1997, Clergy members were added to the list of "mandatory reporters" pursuant to Penal Code § 11165.7(a)(32). Shane alleged that from approximately 1992 through 1997, he was sexually abused by Timothy Silva. (See West Amended Complaint at ¶¶ 26 and 57.) Shane also alleged that the Watchtower Defendants had actual and/or constructive knowledge as early as 1987 that Silva, who they appointed to a position of authority, was using his position of authority to sexual abuse children entrusted to their care. (See West Amended Complaint at ¶¶ 22 and 57.) The California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, enumerated in California Penal Code §11164, et. seq., became effective January I, 1997, which mandated that members of the clergy report suspicions of abuse to law enforcement. Shane alleged that the Watchtower Defendants failed to report to law enforcement the abusive and illegal acts of their agent, Silva, both prior to and after Shane was abused. (See West Amended Complaint at ¶ 58.)
Shane was abused after Penal Code § 11164, et. seq., was enacted and Defendants failed to report this abuse to law enforcement, despite their mandatory obligation to do so. They failed to uphold their legal duty, which allowed Silva to continue abusing Shane.
Yes, Defendants claimed they did not report child abuse before 1997 because they were not required by law to do so. This was the legal reason for not reporting, but after the law was passed they still did not report child abuse if they could get away with it. For all practical purposes, the rationale behind Defendants and the rest of this religious group to not report child abuse has always been “…to not bring reproach upon God’s name and his organization,” and not expressly to protect pedophiles, although I’m certain there were exceptions. But what does the expression, “…not bring reproach,” mean in real terms?
To gain adherents, the Witnesses maintain their group is a brotherhood where “true” Christian love exists; where members are superior in morals and values than adherents are in other religions—Witness beliefs make for better husbands, better wives and better children—so members insist. Without a doubt, negative publicity would spoil that carefully crafted image and hamper conversion to the religion. Insular religions such as Jehovah’s Witnesses are communities closed to “worldly gaze,” who do not want others to know they are not how they portray themselves to outsiders. They are like dysfunctional families who keep family secrets out of a misguided sense of loyalty, not wanting neighbors to know what really goes on behind closed doors.
Another reason why Jehovah’s Witnesses were not encouraged to report child sexual abuse, which is difficult for non-Witnesses to comprehend, is because Witnesses viewed sexual child abuse as a “sin” not a crime; Men who molested were sinners—not criminals—and there were rules in place how to deal with sinners, though attitudes have changed on this subject due to recent publicity. Speaking of Witness rules, read what one prominent Watchtower official, Richard Abrahamson, now deceased, who taught at one of the 1994 Kingdom Ministry Schools told elders on November 26th: “The principle of two witnesses must stand when dealing with any accusation of wrongdoing. On the other hand if there is a clear case of child abuse that has substance it would be handled as any other charge of judicial wrongdoing in the congregation.” Clearly, this leaves out reporting child abuse to the authorities.
Even after exposure of hidden child abuse within the Witness organization, elders, who are “clergy” for the group, are still not instructed to report child sexual abuse in states where it is not mandated for clergy to do so, and even now do not encourage members to report child abuse to the authorities. However, since at least the 1970s, Witness elders have been mandated to report child abuse accusations to Watchtower leaders who promulgated very specific policies, the most important of them was that elders had to call Watchtower’s “Legal Department” for direction when there were allegations of child sexual abuse. Elders were required to gather evidence, question witnesses and render judgments about what punishment, if any, would be imposed on a child abuser. They were forbidden from revealing the results of their investigations to law enforcement authorities, but would report the results of their investigation to the Watchtower Legal Department.
However, these policies were designed to prevent cooperation with secular investigators. For instance, when an elder called the Legal Department he would be asked what state he lived in. If that state required clergy to report child abuse to law enforcement, a recommendation was made that the elder make an anonymous call from a telephone booth. No doubt this was done so that law enforcement authorities would be unable to contact them for more information.