Religious privilege undermines abuse victims’ access to justice
Posted: Mon, 22 Aug 2016 10:40 by Richard Scorer
Richard Scorer, a specialist child abuse lawyer at Slater & Gordon draws attention to organisations seeking more lenient treatment over child abuse-connected matters because they are religious and makes the case for no concessions being given.
Which is more important: religious freedom, or safeguarding children from abuse? Should churches and religious organisations be exempt from secular standards of child protection? Two recent court cases involving the Jehovah's Witnesses raise this issue in its starkest form.
Some background. Over the past two decades a significant number of abuse cases have emerged in the Jehovah's Witnesses. Clients of mine who allege they have been abused within the organisation describe a culture which is profoundly collusive with child abuse. It's hard enough for abused children to speak out in any setting; in the Jehovah's Witnesses, it's bordering on the impossible. The organisation is notorious for its "two witness" rule: anyone who accuses an adult of abuse must have a corroborating witness. Since the vast majority of child abuse occurs in secret, the effect of this rule is to silence abuse victims. Moreover, if there is no corroborating witness, the complainant is often treated as having made a false accusation. This leads to the complainant being "disfellowshipped", or ostracised by other Witnesses. A terrifying prospect if, like most children growing up in the Jehovah's Witnesses, your entire family life revolves around them. In this way, victims say, the culture of the Jehovah's Witnesses facilitates and protects abusers.