Over the course of about six decades, more than 1,000 members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were accused of sexually abusing Australian children, according to a new report. Victims were ordered to keep quiet. Not one of the alleged perpetrators were reported to the police.
Now, a royal commission in Australia has found the church demonstrated a “serious failure” to protect children from the risk of sexual abuse and relied on outdated policies and practices to respond to such allegations.
A 107-page-long report released Monday detailed a number of ancient policies that exhibited what the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse referred to as a “serious lack of understanding of the nature of child sexual abuse.”
One such practice, derived from scripture, requires church elders investigating incidents to secure a confession from the person accused or the testimony of two “credible” witnesses to the same incident, two witnesses to separate incidents of the same kind, or strong circumstantial evidence testified to by at least two witnesses. The accuser also has to justify his or her allegations to church elders, often in front of the alleged perpetrator.
The commission’s findings were based on a close examination of the allegations — which averaged one a month for 65 years and were recorded in sealed files along with the church’s responses — along with the findings of a 2015 public hearing.
The report found that the Jehovah’s Witness organization’s internal system for responding to complaints of child sexual abuse was not child or survivor focused, “in that it is presided over by males and offers a survivor little or no choice about how their complaint is addressed.” READ MORE