Elders accused of playing rape tape to victim, 15; case goes to Utah Sup. Court

by Corney 11 Replies latest watchtower scandals

  • Corney
    Corney

    A woman is suing a local congregation ("Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roy, Utah, an unincorporated association"), individual elders and Watchtower NY after, she claims, a judicial committee forced her to listen an audio recording of her own rape. The trial court summarized the facts as alleged by the plaintiff as follows:

    At the time of the judicial committee, Plaintiff was fifteen years old. However, at the time of the conduct which led to the judicial committee, Plaintiff was only fourteen years old. This judicial committee was convened to determine if Plaintiff had engaged in pomea, defined by Jehovah's Witnesses as serious sexual sin. At this committee, Plaintiff was subjected to intense scrutiny and harsh questioning for several [four to five] hours. As part of their interrogation of Plaintiff, the members of the judicial committee played an audio tape which had been given to them by Defendant Williams. This audio tape contained a recording of Defendant Williams allegedly raping Plaintiff. Members of the committee forced Plaintiff to listen to the tape, stopping it at different times and requiring Plaintiff to describe what was happening and repeatedly accusing her of consenting to the conduct.

    In 2016, the woman brought suit for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress (she initially also sued for negligence, negligent supervision and failure to warn but withdrew those claims at the pre-trial stage). The district court dismissed the lawsuit as barred by the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment (separation of church and state). The judge described the elders’ alleged conduct as “nothing less than reprehensible” and remarked that "it is... disturbing to this Court that Defendants apparently had no qualms with not only possessing but listening to the contents of an audio recording that included sexual conduct by a fourteen year old girl" and “if this conduct had occurred in a secular setting, the Court would have no hesitation in sending this claim to the jury.” Nonetheless, he concluded:

    Plaintiffs claims expressly implicate key religious questions regarding religious rules, standards, and discipline, most prominently how a religion conducts its ecclesiastical disciplinary hearings. While the allegations are certainly disturbing, this Court is unable to disentangle Defendants conduct from the setting and context in which they took place <...> Despite this Court's revulsion at the allegations, it cannot hear this case without excessively entangling itself in religion, and thus declines to do so.

    The appellate court unanimously affirmed that ruling. In its view, allowing the suit to proceed would require the district court "to assess religiously prescribed conduct", "the manner in which the Church conducted a religious judicial committee", and therefore "to unconstitutionally inject itself into substantive ecclesiastical matters."

    The plaintiff then petitioned to the Supreme Court of Utah. The petition asks the Court to hear the case and decide how the Establishment Clause applies to intentional tort claims - whether the First Amendment "bar[s] all claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of religiously motivated conduct". In addition to local lawyers, the plaintiff is represented before the Court by The Zalkin Law Firm, P.C. and DC-based Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protectionat the Georgetown University Law Center.

    Will the Utah Supreme Court grant the petition and hear the case? The chances are pretty slim - that Court grants only about 1/7 of petitions filed. Moreover, in the first six months of this year it has already granted 16 petitions, whereas in 2011-18 it didn't grant more than 24 petitions a year; in other words, its docket is almost full. Its decision on the petition will become known in the next two months.

    Sources:

    Petition for a writ of certiorari + lower courts' judgments (added as annexes) [Archived].

    Case docket (docket number (search term): 20190422).

    Jehovah’s Witness Elders Accused of Playing Rape Recording to Victim, JWsurvey (Oct. 28, 2016) [comments are prety noteworthy].

    Utah Jehovah's Witnesses church forced woman to listen to audio of her rape, lawsuit says, The Salt Lake Tribune (Oct. 16, 2016).

  • I believe in overlapping
    I believe in overlapping

    Plaintiff was only fourteen years old.

    This judicial committee was convened to determine if Plaintiff had engaged in pomea, .....

    At this committee, Plaintiff was subjected to intense scrutiny and harsh questioning......

    As part of their interrogation of Plaintiff, the members of the judicial committee played an audio tape which had been given to them by Defendant Williams.

    This audio tape contained a recording of Defendant Williams.... raping Plaintiff.

    Members of the committee forced Plaintiff to listen to the tape, stopping it at different times ..........and requiring Plaintiff to describe what was happening ...........

    and repeatedly accusing her of consenting to the conduct.

    Ok a lot of the details don't sound very truthful, or a lot of stuff is being left out or twisted. First of all, a 14 year old girl being tied up and raped by an adult in a car, jumps from being a separation of church and State 1 Amendment clause to a serious Criminal crime worthy of going to court and being tried by a jury. And it would be such an easy case for a jury since the idiotic Defendant willing taped himself raping the girl and then handed the tape or evidence over to the elders to listen to the act. This would make the elders or the organization liable in a civil suit case regardless. It sounds more like a porn-hub skit.

  • Corney
    Corney

    I don't know whether the allegations are true but it looks like there is some misunderstanding here.

    First of all, a 14 year old girl being tied up and raped by an adult in a car, jumps from being a separation of church and State 1 Amendment clause to a serious Criminal crime worthy of going to court and being tried by a jury.

    The cause of action is elders' conduct, not the rape itself.

    And it would be such an easy case for a jury since the idiotic Defendant willing taped himself raping the girl and then handed the tape or evidence over to the elders to listen to the act.

    But those events allegedly took place in 2007-2008, and it's highly unlikely that the tape still exists.

  • road to nowhere
    road to nowhere

    Is the same courts that allow polygamy with children? NOT That is a religious belief for both the adult man and the girl . Find my previous comments about prurient committees

  • road to nowhere
    road to nowhere

    A 14 yo cannot consent, so it is rape

  • Finkelstein
    Finkelstein

    What a creepy thing to do , particularly for a 15 year old.

    Goes to show the unrestrained power that some JWS elders have within their self assuming stature.

    I hope she wins the case.

  • zeb
    zeb

    Lets hope the case gets a full and clear airing in a court. My question to elders

    • Did you listen to the tape prior to playing it at the 'judical inquiry'?
    • HM times did you listen to it?
    • Were you alone when you listened to it?
    • Which other elders were there when it was played?
    • HM have discussed this tape and its contents before this became a 'judicial inquiry'?
    • did you find it arousing individually or as a group?

    Such questions would be no less than what has been done to other victims. Lets hope the case is aired and the wt revealed for what it is....once more.

  • Anony Mous
    Anony Mous

    I would sue the elders for obtaining, having and exposing a child to child pornography. This is child pornography pure and simple, there is no reason for anyone to have this, the (I'm assuming adult) creep (according to the paper the person was an 'instructor' which is apparently what they substitute for elder) recorded the session.

  • Corney
    Corney

    I understand why someone can be skeptical. But isn't it the jury that's best situated to evaluate the credibility of the accusations and to decide on the matters? The question before the Utah SC is whether claims of such nature can go to the jury or whether they are totally nonjusticiable.

    Anony Mous,

    1) The legal definition of child pornography in Utah doesn't "cover an audio recording without any visual aspect" (the district court opinion, fn. 7). See also Utah Code, 76-5b-103(1).

    2) He was a 18-year-old publisher; he was neither an elder, nor a MS, nor even in good standing. Note that the plaintiff voluntarily withdrew her negligence claims (the appellate court opinion, ¶6).

  • Corney
    Corney

    Well, it looks like the OP lacks some important details. Let's fix it.

    The allegations as summarized by the appellate court:

    ¶2 Williams and her family attended the Roy Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.<1> In the summer of 2007, Williams met another Jehovah’s Witnesses congregant (“Church Member”). Williams and Church Member began seeing each other socially, but the relationship quickly changed and throughout the rest of the year Church Member physically and sexually assaulted Williams, who was a minor.

    ¶3 In early 2008 the Church began investigating Williams to determine whether she engaged in “porneia,” a serious sin defined by Jehovah’s Witnesses as “[u]nclean sexual conduct that is contrary to ‘normal’ behavior.” Porneia includes “sexual conduct between individuals who are not married to each other.” The Church convened a “judicial committee” to “determine if [Williams] had in fact engaged in porneia and if so, if was she sufficiently repentant for doing so.” A group of three elders (the Elders)<2> presided over the judicial committee. Williams voluntarily attended the judicial committee with her mother and step-father. The Elders questioned Williams for forty-five minutes regarding her sexual conduct with Church Member.<3>

    ¶4 After questioning Williams about her sexual conduct, the Elders played an audio recording of Church Member raping Williams. Church Member recorded this incident and gave it to the Elders during their investigation of Williams. The recording was “several hours” in length. Williams cried and protested as the Elders replayed the recording. The Elders played the recording for “four to five hours” stopping and starting it to ask Williams whether she consented to the sexual acts. During the meeting Williams was “crying and physically quivering.” Williams conceded she was able to leave but risked being disfellowshipped if she did.<4>

    <1>. “Because this is an appeal from a motion to dismiss under rule 12(b)(6) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, we review only the facts alleged in the complaint.” Franco v. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2001 UT 25, ¶ 2, 21 P.3d 198 (quotation simplified).

    <2>. Elders are leaders of local congregations and are responsible for the daily operations and governance of their congregations.

    <3>. Williams alleged in her complaint that although church policy requires elders to conduct judicial committees to investigate claims of sexual abuse, the Church does not train them on how to interview children who are victims of sexual abuse.

    <4>. Disfellowship is expulsion from the congregation. When someone is disfellowshipped, an announcement is made to the congregation that the member is no longer a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but no details are given regarding the nature of the perceived wrongdoing.

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